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Tuesday, 12 March 2013
Page: 1602


Mr IAN MACFARLANE (Groom) (13:22): I congratulate the member for Wentworth on his very well-chosen words in relation to the National Disability Insurance Scheme Bill 2012. We have heard many eloquent and heartfelt speeches from both sides of the House attesting to the wide support for a national disability insurance scheme.

There is clearly wide acknowledgement in the community and in this parliament that we need a scheme such as the NDIS. That support is visible wherever you go. Everyone in this chamber will have spoken with people in their own electorates, as I have, who can attest to the fact that the current support system for people with a disability does not work. There are people in our local communities who are carers or who need support, but there can be no one rule that applies to everyone and that works with the same level of effectiveness—disabilities are so varied; families are so varied; the pressures on families are so varied; and the ability of families to deal with a child or children with a disability are varied. A lot of it equates to time; a lot of it equates to money; and some of it even equates to the ability to actually deal with the issue itself.

The level of support a person with a disability receives can therefore depend on a number of factors, both within the family and outside it. Some of those factors include where they live. Are they are on a rural property 60, 70 or 100 kilometres from the nearest town? Are they in a small town, perhaps in western Queensland or eastern Western Australia or some other isolated place where the level of support simply is not available? Is the disability congenital or was it acquired and, if so, when was it acquired? What was the person's position in terms of economic security when it was acquired? There is a whole range of factors. Of course, if the disability is the result of an accident there may be support mechanisms through workers compensation and motor vehicle insurance in some states.

So, again, the issue is not just the disability but how the disability occurred and whether or not the disability occurred as a result of an accident. Particularly if you acquire a disability later in life, the handling of the whole issue is much more difficult—you have to contend with the extra issues of queues and waiting lists. This results in many people with a disability being left without the assistance that they need. There is no doubt we need a new system of support based on need, rather than rationing of an entitlement for support spread across the disabled community. We need to ensure that we deal with this area better. The individual needs to be at the centre of the support. The individual needs to be in charge—to be able to pick the support, aids, equipment and service providers of their choice. This is the vision of the Productivity Commission's landmark report into the long-term care and support for people with disabilities. This is the vision of the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

I grew up with a disabled brother. He has achieved far more in this world, because of the assistance and support he was able to get, than anyone probably thought possible when they looked at that five-year-old with cerebral palsy and wondered if he would ever be able to speak in a way which people could understand, to walk, and to be a productive member of the community. So when I talk about disability insurance and the need to support people with disabilities I think of my brother Neil. He has achieved an extraordinary amount in his life, for many reasons. The first is that he is one of the most determined and stubborn people I have ever met. When he was old enough to understand, he made up his mind that he would overcome his disabilities as best he could. He was able to do so because he was given the support he needed. Obviously, a great deal of that support came from the family. We are a determined family in our own way—I know people would be shocked to hear that!—and when we set our minds on achieving something we usually achieve it. The family has certainly been a great support to him, but, in the end, what really made the difference was the support and services that he got.

He was, of course, supported in another age—the age of institutions. They are out of favour these days—I think sometimes they are unfairly. The Spastic Centre has, in the past, achieved some phenomenal results, but sending children away to a centre like that is now not seen as socially acceptable, and that makes me wonder just how many people like Neil are currently missing out on the opportunities that he was given. The Spastic Centre at New Farm in Brisbane, with the support of our family and the determination of Neil, were able to produce an individual, an adult, who I taught to drive. He ended up getting married and having a child. He worked for most of his life as a public servant. Before that he was even more productive as a farmer. He is now retired. He has achieved a great deal. But, in all honesty, I have to say that Neil is the exception rather than the rule in terms of people with severe disabilities. When we look at people like my brother and what they have achieved, we also have to realise that we are a family who had the wherewithal to do what was needed, and that was in his favour.

The reason we need to look at what can be implemented in an NDIS is that, in the end, we need to make sure that everyone has the opportunity to achieve their maximum possible outcome in regard to their disability and their potential. So we need a scheme that, as I say, is individual in the way it operates—that is, not a one-size-fits-all scheme.

The coalition are committed to the National Disability Insurance Scheme. As the Leader of the Opposition said at the National Press Club recently:

The Coalition is so committed to the National Disability Insurance Scheme, for instance, that we've offered to co-chair a bi-partisan parliamentary committee so that support for it doesn't flag across the three terms of parliament and among the nine different governments needed to make it work.

Really, this is about being totally bipartisan. If this issue becomes political—if this becomes an issue which people try to gain votes or political points on—it will simply bogged down. The reality is that the government should accept our offer of a parliamentary oversight committee. The coalition intend to give the government, the Greens and the Independents an opportunity to accept our hand of cooperation by moving an amendment to this bill to establish a nonpartisan oversight committee. That offer should be accepted.

It is so important to note that every government in Australia and every opposition in Australia supports the NDIS, so the issue is not whether we should have an NDIS but whether we should make it happen now rather than haggle over the political issues and not see it happen anytime soon. People in our communities and community organisations are of that view as well. When I talk to the people in Toowoomba who run the Endeavour foundation or to the many other groups that deal with the enormous challenges faced in providing opportunity, care, therapy and treatment for people with disabilities, they are not interested in things that need to be argued about, detailed and sorted out; they just want to see it happen. Parents come to see me and talk about their children, some of whom are, literally, 55 or 60 years old. These parents wonder how their children will be looked after when they, the parents, are no longer around. They are not interested in the politics that often surrounds this place; they just want to see it happen.

Again I refer to my own experience and say that we were lucky in that we were able to do something, but parents with disabled children carry an enormous burden for the whole life of that disabled child. Things are different in a family with a disabled child. No matter how you adjust—and we adjusted pretty well—there are things that need to be done for that child which put pressure and strain on every member of that family, be they child or parent. We need to address this issue and soon. Parents are carrying an enormous weight out there. As I say, our family was fortunate. We banded together. Neil was determined and he has led a relatively normal life. I see families whose every waking moment, almost 24 hours a day, is spent caring for a disabled child. That is why it is imperative that we resolve this issue. That is why it is imperative that we get ourselves into a position where this scheme is affordable.

The member for Wentworth mentioned, and I support him 100 per cent, that the real issue here is that we move forward with our support for an NDIS and work out the implementation passage, but also that we have a government that can govern and provide the money to support the scheme. In the end, with all the intentions, good wishes and cooperation in the world, this will boil down to money and a serious amount of it. We need a government that can manage its budget, and that is part of the issue we are facing: no matter how well-intentioned we are in this House and no matter how much we agree, we are going to have to pay for this. And the problem we have at the moment is that this government is broke—absolutely stone motherless broke. It is broke to the point that it has borrowed hundreds of billions of dollars. So part of the challenge in making sure that this scheme comes about is getting a government that can run a budget in surplus.

As we look at the period ahead, let's hope that we do get that government, but in the meantime we all need to focus on ensuring that we continue to take this path to implement an NDIS. It will require cooperation, and the coalition has offered that. It will require bipartisanship, and the coalition has offered that. It will require that we all sit down around a table and, as we say, co-chair a committee to make this happen. The challenge for the government is to accept that and join with us in making this happen.