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Tuesday, 12 March 2013
Page: 1597

Mrs MIRABELLA (Indi) (12:56): It gives me great pleasure to speak on the National Disability Insurance Scheme Bill 2012. We on this side of the House stand ready to work with the government to ensure that a successful and working NDIS is delivered as soon as possible for all those in need. It is an increasingly rare event for parliaments across the country to consider a piece of legislation so universally supported. That is because the NDIS is all about a fair go for those Australians who need help and support structures to ensure that they can more fully participate in our community. It was Winston Churchill who once said that you measure the degree of civilisation of a society by how it treats it weakest members. It is a statement that I believe most members in this place would agree with.

Providing adequate care for people with a disability is absolutely core government business. I make this point at a time when government is larger, more intrusive and more bloated than ever before. I am reminded by the whole debate leading up to this bill why we are actually here: we are here to protect and improve the lives of all Australians, including disabled Australians.

Last year alone, there more than 250 pieces of legislation passed through this parliament. In many cases, those bills had the effect of increasing regulations and limiting freedom. The pursuit of freedom is something that many opposite place a lower degree of importance on than we on this side of the House. But that pursuit of freedom, both in a personal and community sense, is ingrained in the DNA of the opposition. The bill before us today is unusual in that it will increase the size of government, and most certainly increase expenditure but, at its core, will have the effect of dramatically increasing the freedom of so many people in this country who suffer from a disability—and, in fact, it will dramatically increase the freedom of their carers.

This is no small thing. In 2009, 3.5 million Australians were reported as having a specific limitations or restriction. About 1.3 million people had a profound or severe core activity limitation. There is a huge section of our society whose daily freedoms are restricted through no fault of their own. If there is anything that we as national legislators can do to improve the daily lives and increase the freedoms of a large portion of our society then we should do whatever we can in order to achieve this.

I want to briefly go over some statistics that help paint a picture of disability in Australia. These figures were presented in a PricewaterhouseCoopers report a little over a year ago. The report notes that people with a disability in this country are some 50 per cent less likely to be employed than those without a disability. Beyond that simple fact, a lack of employment obviously leads to financial stress and has an impact on a person's freedom, their confidence, their living standard and their ability to pursue other life objectives. For someone who has recently acquired a disability, the loss of employment often has a more dramatic result. In that instance we often see a rapid downward spiral. It is imperative that we do everything that we in this place can to enhance the opportunities of people with a disability to seek, gain and retain employment.

The next statistic is shocking, particularly when you compare the figure with those from other comparable and, relatively speaking, wealthy nations. When you know that 45 per cent of Australians with a disability live in poverty you realise how grim things are. This is more than 2.5 times the rate of poverty experienced in the general population and more than twice the OECD average, which is 22 per cent. On this issue, we rank a lowly 21st out of 29 OECD countries. When we look at other OECD figures, we see that the OECD average for relative poverty risk is approximately 1.6, which means that those with a disability have a poverty risk 1.6 times higher than those without a disability. Australia has a relative poverty risk of 2.7, making us by far the worst performer in the OECD. These figures are grim and should give all of us reason to pause and think.

It would be naive to suggest that the NDIS will be the answer to all our problems. It will not be. It is important that we do not present this program as some type of magical cure or panacea. Indeed, one of the authors of the PricewaterhouseCoopers report that I referred to earlier said that the NDIS could help drive greater workforce and community participation for those with disabilities but only if it was accompanied by a broader cultural shift. He went on to say: 'Without other things happening, an NDIS won't deliver its full potential. If kids with disability can't get into education or access transport to get to a job, we'll continue to fall further behind, even with an NDIS.'

The PricewaterhouseCoopers report suggested that the implementation of an NDIS could support an additional 370,000 people with disabilities into the workforce by 2050. An additional 80,000 carers could also enter the workforce as they were freed from their daily caring responsibilities. This would be terrific. But let us not forget that if there are around 4.5 million Australians who suffer from a form of disability and if a large proportion of those people are already living below the poverty line then we cannot expect an NDIS to make all problems in this space go away—and certainly not overnight—through some miraculous stroke of the pen. This is a very important scheme, but it would be foolish of us to raise expectations where the point that the inevitable reaction of the Australian community is one of disappointment.

Having said all of that, the coalition obviously approaches this bill in the most constructive spirit possible. We supported the initial work by the Productivity Commission, we supported the $1 billion in the budget last year and we supported the five launch sites. We support this legislation because we want the NDIS to be a success. Also, we will support measures in the months ahead to ensure that we get a robust and workable NDIS that services our community.

I want to thank all of the parents in my electorate who took the time over the last few years to come and see me and relate their very personal stories, very painfully and very emotionally at times, to me. I know that many of their fellow carers have done the same with my colleagues on this side of the House and with members of the government. They need to be given particular credit. They take time out from their very important commitments to care for family members. Without their persistence and perseverance—they give the issue of disability care and disability services a very real and human aspect—I suspect we may not have reached this point at this particular time. I want to thank them and acknowledge their contribution in standing up and demanding of government what they need, what their families need and what any civilised society ought to provide in order to give those in our community with disabilities, and their carers, the freedom to more fully participate in our society.