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Thursday, 7 February 2013
Page: 439


Mr FLETCHER (Bradfield) (13:15): I am pleased to rise to speak on the National Disability Insurance Scheme Bill 2012, which sets out the framework of the National Disability Insurance Scheme. In the brief time available to me I want to make three points: firstly, that the impact of disability on the lives of many Australians and their families is powerful and pervasive; secondly, that the National Disability Insurance Scheme is an idea which is supported by the coalition; and, thirdly, there is a huge gulf between concept and execution. Based upon this government's track record, there are serious grounds to be concerned about how this gulf is going to be filled.

Let me turn firstly to the proposition that the impact of disability on the lives of many Australian families is a powerful and pervasive one. As a member of parliament, your eyes get opened very quickly to this impact and to the number of people who are living with disability. Indeed, within weeks of being preselected as the Liberal candidate for Bradfield in 2009, I was approached by an energetic group of parents from the wonderful St Lucy's School in Wahroonga led by Karen and Peter Hickmott, who came to talk to me about their children and the impact on them and their families of the disabilities that their children suffer from. They also spoke to me about the outstanding work done by St Lucy's School in Wahroonga—until recently under the very capable leadership Jo Karaolis. I have visited that school on a number of occasions and have been extremely impressed by the work they do for children with disabilities and the focus they have not on the disabilities of those children but on their capacities and their potential. I could say similar things about the many other fine schools in my electorate which serve children with disabilities such as St Edmund's School in Wahroonga, which serves high school aged children; Sir Eric Woodward School in St Ives; and Cromehurst School in Lindfield. It has been a privilege to visit each of these schools and to learn something about the work they do.

I have also had the privilege of spending some time with another wonderful organisation in my electorate, Studio ARTES in Hornsby. This organisation has a focus on adults with disabilities. The very dynamic convenor of this organisation, Wendy Escort, explained to me that what she learnt, as many people discover, is that while there are extensive services for children with disabilities, once you get to the age of 18 it becomes a lot more ad hoc and there is a real gap. Wendy and other caring people set out to fill that gap and have created this wonderful service for adults with disabilities. Some of the clients of Studio ARTES include Daniel Bodimeade, Julia Francis, Matthew Elliot and Oliver House, and Studio ARTES convenors and clients came to parliament House just last year to explain to a range of parliamentarians and parliamentary advisers the work that is done by that service and the impact on the lives of the clients of Studio ARTES and their families of the disabilities they face.

I also want to mention Adam Johnson, who was a member of the Liberal Party locally and who suffers from a disability which confines him to a wheelchair. Adam has done excellent work in this area and indeed has made many submissions drawing on his legal skills and training. I would like to mention organisations like Sunshine Home, which held an NDIS related function at its facility in St Ives, and Ability Options in Hornsby, which also held an NDIS related function.

I would like to mention a significant number of my constituents who have come to meet with me to explain to me and to educate me just a little bit about the impact on them of having a disabled child. I want to mention Heather and Roger Parkes and their daughter Georgina; Katrina Clarke, Heike Fabig and Bill Craig; and Margaret Colbeck, who met with me regarding services to the hearing impaired.

The many people I have been fortunate enough to meet involved with the issue of disability and involved with the reality of having a disability themselves or caring for somebody with a disability has allowed me to draw out a number of observations from the explanations that have been given to me. The first observation is the financial burden of caring for either a child or an adult with a disability—the costs of wheelchairs, of specially adapted vehicles, of getting specialist therapy and counselling and the many other expenses which come with caring for a person with a significant disability.

The second observation, which is by no means original, is the random and capricious nature of disability and the way that it hits without warning and can affect anyone of us be it a disability from birth or one incurred due to accident or disease. A third observation, again not an original one, is the random and capricious nature of the extent of assistance available to someone with a disability, which depends in an inconsistent and unfair way on a range of factors such as which state you happen to live in, whether the disability is congenital or acquired, and, if it was acquired, whether that occurred in the workplace, in a motor vehicle accident or in another context. The people who have come to see me have also explained to me the administrative burden and the advocacy burden they face in finding the services that are needed, in getting the benefit of those services and in dealing with the limitation and the number of places available, the long waiting lists and so on.

Another difficulty, which I know has been mentioned by a number of speakers in this debate, is the one repeatedly raised by adults who are caring for adult children with a disability, the concern and the worry they face about what will happen to their adult child with a disability after they die. Where will their child live, who will take care of him or her and how will this child cope with the traumatic realisation that their loved parent and carer is no longer there? The death of a parent is a difficult thing for anybody to experience, but if you are a person with a disability and deeply dependent upon the care being provided to you by a loving parent, the loss of that parent is obviously going to be particularly traumatic.

I want to reiterate the point, which has been made well by a number of my colleagues before, that the NDIS is an idea supported by the coalition. We supported the original referral to the Productivity Commission of an inquiry into the notion of a national disability insurance scheme and we have supported each milestone on the road to the NDIS, including the $1 billion allocation in the most recent Commonwealth budget, the five launch sites and the agreement between the Commonwealth and New South Wales, and, as has been made crystal clear, we support the bill in front of the House today. There is much in the legislative scheme which reflects key coalition principles, including the notion of the person-centred and self-directed funding model, which is akin to a voucher allowing the person who needs the care to exercise choice in who is going to provide the care. It fits with the coalition's objectives of empowering individuals, of removing government from people's lives and reducing red tape. Indeed, so strong is our commitment to these principles that we have made the offer of a cross-parliamentary committee to be chaired by both sides of politics to oversee the implementation of the NDIS. We do that because we believe that getting the scheme right will require bipartisanship. It is troubling that the present government has chosen to reject that approach.

There is a huge gulf between concept and execution. That is true in every policy area but it is certainly true in the case of the NDIS. We have in Australia today a government which tends to assume that announcing something is the same as delivering it. You could look at the multiple instances in which Labor members of parliament have sent newsletters to constituents claiming to have delivered a budget surplus in 2012-13, only to have Treasurer Swan come out in December last year and admit that in fact a surplus is not going to be delivered.

When it comes to the NDIS, good intentions are not enough. The nuts and bolts of detailed implementation are critically important. Good administration is just as much of a moral imperative as are good intentions. Sadly, the implementation record of this government in areas like the Julia Gillard memorial school halls program, the Home Insulation Program and the slow motion train smash that is the National Broadband Network does not leave the objective observer with any degree of confidence that this government is likely to effectively, speedily and in a cost-conscious way implement the NDIS.

Key design decisions have not yet been taken and we know that a lot of detail is missing. Indeed, the bill before the House today is nothing more than a broad framework which establishes the transition agency, the board and so on, but the mechanics will need to be established in the rules dealing with such matters as eligibility and assessment criteria. It is true that a discussion paper has been released but it contains very little information and, if anything, is more a series of questions than a series of detailed rules. We also know that agreements with many of the states have not been concluded; yet, if NDIS is to succeed, it will need to operate on a cooperative basis between the federal government and eight state and territory governments, bearing in mind that state and territory governments presently deliver a wide range of disability services and also have existing schemes covering, for example, those injured in motor vehicle accidents. There can be no full NDIS without an intergovernmental agreement with each state and territory.

It is unfortunate that the present federal government has engaged in political pointscoring directed at the premiers of some states over whether or not those states will host trial sites. That is particularly unfortunate when you consider that the Productivity Commission never suggested or envisaged that every state needed to host a trial site.

Another area where real concern must be raised about implementation is the very basic question of how the NDIS is going to be financed. It is hard to understand or have confidence in this government's program to finance the significant commitments that will be required for the National Disability Insurance Scheme. The commitment in the federal budget most recently was $1 billion over four years from 2012-13. Yet the Productivity Commission said that $3.9 billion would be necessary over the forward estimates for the first phase of the NDIS. This is a gap the government needs to close if it is to be credible. But there is a further point.

According to a report issued by the Centre for Independent Studies, drawing on a review conducted by the Australian Government Actuary, which was obtained under freedom of information legislation, the cost of the NDIS by the projected first year of operation, 2018-19, is likely to be around $22 billion a year—substantially greater than the $15 billion figure usually quoted—and the costs are likely to rise each year.

To point out this simple fact is not to oppose the NDIS—far from it. It is simply to highlight that the full cost of this policy is likely to be very large, and it is vital to have a credible and comprehensive plan as to where the money will come from. Unfortunately the present government is not very good at delivering credible and comprehensive plans to do with public finances and it is even worse at living up to the plans that it does deliver.

I conclude by observing that the current arrangements for support to those with a disability are capricious and unsatisfactory and that, at base level, is why the concept of a national disability insurance scheme has bipartisan support. Today's bill goes some short distance down the road towards fleshing out the concept of a national disability insurance scheme. To that extent, is has the support of the coalition. The real challenge here is the gulf between concept and execution.    Given this government's very poor track record of implementation across a whole range of policy areas, it is extremely difficult to have any confidence in the capacity of the present government to turn the NDIS into a reality in an efficient and cost-effective way. Nevertheless, the coalition is committed to offering bipartisan support for the NDIS and, should we come to government, we are committed to pursuing this key initiative.