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Tuesday, 12 March 2013
Page: 1599


Mr TURNBULL (Wentworth) (13:07): I begin where my friend and colleague the member for Indi finished, speaking about the sacrifices that so many parents and families make supporting loved ones, especially children, with disabilities. It is long overdue that we are debating a national disability insurance scheme and that we are on the verge of seeing a national disability insurance scheme actually realised in Australia. It is a testament to the significance of this reform that we have seen so many members from both sides of this chamber add their voices to this debate. As the Leader of the Opposition has said, this truly is an idea whose time has come, and the coalition are strongly committed to an NDIS and have been since we supported the government's referral to the Productivity Commission of an inquiry into a national disability insurance scheme, in 2009. That report was released in 2011 and it confirmed that our current system of support for people with a disability was utterly inadequate, a finding that, while disheartening, we recognised and acknowledged called for action from governments at both the federal and the state level. Australia's funding and support system for those most in need is clearly broken, and this National Disability Insurance Scheme has been a long time coming.

I am proud to say that along with all the other members of the coalition—and I note in particular the advocacy work of Senator Mitch Fifield—I support this proposal to support people with disabilities and their families. It should be a thoroughly core government business. A federally funded scheme that will provide people with a disability, and their carers and families, with regular care and support and with the therapy and equipment they need to live a dignified and fulfilled life is a challenge that faces us all, but it is one that we must all confront to ensure that parliament turns this dream—apparently a bipartisan dream—into a fully functioning and fully funded policy.

It is very important that the government, through this debate, stop trying to represent the National Disability Insurance Scheme, the NDIS, as being a Labor reform. It is not a Labor reform; it is a reform that has the wholehearted support of all sides of politics and it is one that will be more compelling and more likely to come to realisation if it is seen as being one of those causes, those political or social reforms, that is not the property of one side of politics or another. There are some issues and causes in this House that are very much the property of one side of politics—some that the government holds dear to but we would disown, and vice versa. But this is one that we should all stand united upon because it is a huge challenge. It is huge in the scale of its complexity, dealing with so many people, each with individual needs and each with thoroughly unique needs. The scale of the resources needed is formidable. An increase in funding from $6 billion to $12 billion towards disability services is not a trifling amount of money. I might say that it underlines the need for prudent economic management, for prudent use of government resources and to ensure that we have a strong and growing economy that will generate the government revenues that will be needed to meet the requirements of this scheme.

The concept, as the Productivity Commission has recommended, would see all Australians contributing to and, should they need it, having access to a well-funded individualised scheme for their own care where individuals needing support would receive vouchers they would be able to spend on service providers, who, over time, would start to provide competitively the service that individuals need. This system will be one where support is based on need, where the individual has more control over the support services, aid and equipment they need in order to live their life to the full and to be able to rise above their disabilities.

As I noted earlier, the coalition supported the initial reference to the Productivity Commission, we supported the $1 billion allocated in the last federal budget, and we have supported the five launch sites as well as the agreement between the Commonwealth and the New South Wales government to extend the trial to a full state-wide rollout following the Hunter region launch. It has been encouraging, too, to see this concept of a national disability insurance scheme endorsed at COAG.

Many of my own constituents in the electorate of Wentworth have raised this matter with me directly. Whether it is principal Ian Gallan from the Wairoa School in Bondi, or Dr Chris Blackwell, one of our local clinicians, or the many other parents with stories as heartrending as they are profound, they have supported this important initiative. I am a proud patron of SailorswithdisABILITIES, which is a not-for-profit organisation in my electorate of Wentworth that is committed to changing not only the way those with disabilities view themselves but also society's perception of those with a disability. SailorswithdisABILITIES helps over 4,000 disabled children and adults annually through their sailing programs and has an extensive network of volunteers from the local community offering their support.

As a thoroughly able-bodied seaman I know just how difficult sailing can be, certainly in some conditions. It is wonderful to see SailorswithdisABILITIES not only build the confidence of those living with a disability by demonstrating just what they can achieve, but also developing the skills and showing the benefits of working in a team. The founder of SailorswithdisABILITIES, David Pescud, said that he could never accept being written-off because of his disability. He said, 'I was always more interested in what you can do rather than what you cannot do.' That goes to the heart of what an NDIS should be all about. It is about enabling those with a disability to fully participate in all aspects of life. It is about giving those living with a disability the opportunity to maximise their potential, to give them the dignity, the lifestyle and the independence they deserve.

Last year the SailorswithdisABILITIES crew completed the Sydney to Hobart race, crossing the finishing line after three days, 20 hours, four minutes and two seconds at sea. Their crew of disabled sailors beat 50 other boats in the international blue water race, led by the organisation's founder, David Pescud, and president, David Leslie, both of whom are sailors with disabilities. Brett Pearce, a member and volunteer, said of the organisation, 'Being part of SailorswithdisABILITIES is about being part of an organisation that empowers disabled people to achieve more than they thought capable.' Of a National Disability Insurance Scheme David Pescud said the benefits for the members to have the decision-making power to decide who, how and where they choose to spend their funds for their services that they require 'empowers people to make decisions for themselves and the opportunity of the governance of their own lives'.

Another institution in my electorate, which provides education and other services to students with intellectual and physical disabilities from four to 18, is the Wairoa Special School at Bondi. Every year, at our annual Christmas party, we raise money for that school—and it receives support from many other generous people in the community. As Wairoa school and its supporters, families and teachers will be all too aware, it is absolutely vital that those living with a disability get the proper care and education early, before those difficulties multiply—and this is the fantastic service that Wairoa offers, by providing the physical environment which specifically addresses the varying needs of their many students and fosters a culture of support both at school and at home.

For Wairoa, one of the biggest issues is ensuring children are properly assessed. Those who are better-off financially often have more opportunity to have their child assessed properly; and then, if they are assessed as acute, they can receive the maximum level of care. At Wairoa, 50 per cent of the children cared for have autism—and yet their needs differ greatly. Wairoa's experience is that determining the level of care that is required for a child with mild autism or acute autism is like comparing chalk and cheese, as often the children are not assessed properly, because their symptoms are all so different—and, as I said earlier, early assessment is absolutely critical. What Wairoa hopes for in an NDIS is to have a more structured assessment process and a more structured level of assistance to parents so there will be surety and equity of care. One of the main concerns for Dominic Sweeney, a teacher at Wairoa, is the level of care the children receive once they leave the school—the support they get there is fantastic, yet there is a failure at every level, he says, to provide adequate care for them once they move on. An NDIS should be able to address this.

Windgap, another organisation, just outside of my electorate in Eastlakes, knows just how important education and support for those with disabilities are to ensure they reach their full potential and raise community awareness to their needs and aspirations.

Another institution in my community that would have a remarkable difference made to it by an NDIS is Jewish Care, which runs a disability support program for 140 members of the Jewish community with an intellectual disability and provides support for 180 more with a mental illness. The clients of Jewish Care rely almost entirely on the community-raised income for their support. Claire Vernon, of Jewish Care, tells me of a 61-year-old woman living in Department of Housing and Community Services accommodation and attending Print-35, a fantastic initiative established by Jewish Care, which I visited, which employs people with disabilities to produce quality printing while contributing to their personal development and sense of worth. However, to enable this lady to manage in the community, Jewish Care provides a case manager and 16 hours of drop-in support every week—of which eight hours are contributed by the New South Wales government. She is like many with a disability: as they age their needs become more complex. Providing individuals with the funding to enable them to continue to live independently in the community, to direct support to the services they need the most, would, in Jewish Care's opinion, be a wonderful initiative. The need for flexibility and a person-centred approach is something that Jewish Care has recognised and acted on through its flexible funding program which provides $3,000 to $5,000 to families to purchase therapy and respite support.

As Jewish Care knows all too well, for too long families have had to negotiate the maze of services and the lottery of gaining a spot in a program or service. The great virtue of a NDIS is that funding is linked to the needs of each individual and the maximum autonomy and independence is accorded to that individual as their care plans and services are identified.

While there are clearly great prospects and great needs for a NDIS, many concerns remain. So much of how the scheme operates will depend on the rules that are still being finalised and on establishing the long-term funding arrangements to guarantee lifetime support. Above all—and I emphasise this not in any sense of partisanship—the prudent economic management of the government of the Commonwealth is absolutely critical. All of our compassion, all of our concern, for people with disabilities, all of our aspirations for an NDIS, will be only so much warm thoughts and warm words if we cannot afford to pay for them. It has often been said that a vision without resources is nothing more than a hallucination. We cannot afford to fool ourselves about a reform of this scale.

This will be one of the great social reforms of our time—indeed, of any time. It has the coalition's utmost support. We are committed to it and we are, above all, committed to ensuring that if we are returned to government later this year the economy, the business of government, of this nation will be managed in a way that we can well afford to show in real terms—in financial terms—the backing that our compassion calls us to provide.