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Wednesday, 15 May 2013
Page: 3327

Mr ANDREWS (Menzies) (18:19): This parliament has a shared commitment to a better deal for Australians with a disability. In the words of the Leader of the Opposition, Tony Abbott, 'the NDIS is an idea whose time has come'. All in this chamber know that the system of support for Australians with a disability is broken. The level of support a person with a disability receives can depend on a number of factors: what state they live in, whether the disability is congenital or was acquired and, if acquired, whether it was in the workplace, a motor vehicle accident or some other context. Workers compensation and motor vehicle accident insurance provide coverage in some states, but if you are born with a disability or acquire a disability later in life it can be a different story: waiting lists and queues. The result is that many people with a disability are left without the assistance that they need. So we need a new system of support based on need rather than rationing, with the entitlement for support going to the individual. The individual needs to be at the centre and in charge, able to pick up the supports, aids, equipment and service providers of their choice. This is the vision of the Productivity Commission's landmark report into long-term care and support for people with a disability. This is the vision of the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

It is important to note that this is also a shared vision of every government in Australia and every opposition in this country. The federal coalition, for its part, has enthusiastically supported each milestone on the road to the NDIS that has reflected the work of the Productivity Commission. We support the six launch sites. We welcome the agreements between the Commonwealth and the states and the territories for full jurisdiction-wide rollout. We support the NDIS Act passed in March. And Tony Abbott, the Leader of the Opposition, has demonstrated his personal commitment to Australians with disability by raising over $1.2 million through the 2012 and 2013 Pollie Pedal charity bike rides for Carers Australia. Each year, along the 1,000-kilometre routes, Mr Abbott has met with people with disability, carers and disability organisations—and I recall meetings on this year's Pollie Pedal in Mount Gambier and other places along the route, particularly with young carers, older carers and those caring for kin and other Australians. The next Pollie Pedal will also be in partnership with and raise funds once again for Carers Australia. This is not just a professional commitment on the part of the Leader of the Opposition, it is also personal.

All comments, questions and suggestions by the opposition in relation to the NDIS have been offered in a constructive spirit in an endeavour to help ensure that the NDIS is the best that it can be. The coalition has always stood ready to work with the government and see the NDIS delivered as soon as possible. The coalition believes that the full implementation of an NDIS would be nothing short of a new deal for people with disabilities and their carers. We have to get this right.

Because the NDIS is a once-in-a-generation reform that will unfold over the life of several parliaments, it should be the property of the parliament as a whole on behalf of the Australian people rather than any political party. To get this right will require a very high level of consultation and attention to detail, not just today, not just in the next few weeks or months, not just in the launch sites, but from now until full implementation. The coalition has called for the establishment of a joint parliamentary committee to be chaired by both sides of politics to oversee the establishment and implementation of the NDIS. A parliamentary oversight committee would lock in all parties and provide a non-partisan environment where issues of design and eligibility could be worked through cooperatively. We believe that the government should accept this offer for a parliamentary oversight committee.

I reiterate that the coalition has supported the establishment of the National Disability Insurance Scheme every step of the way. We want the NDIS to be a success and we want it to belong to all Australians. It is too important to become a partisan football. We want to ensure that the NDIS is a reality as soon as possible and on a secure footing. The best guarantee for the NDIS in the long term is good economic management, good budget management and a government that prioritises and lives within its means. Economic policy and social policy are not alternatives. They are not in competition. You need a good economic policy to afford a good social policy.

The Productivity Commission, for its part, recommended that the NDIS be funded from consolidated revenue—core government business funded from core government revenue. Our view has long been that the problem under this government was not that Australians did not pay enough tax; rather, this government has not been a good steward of the ample taxes paid. We long predicted that the government's wrong priorities, waste and excessive spending would compromise their ability to fund the NDIS from consolidated revenue, as recommended by the Productivity Commission. Until a few weeks ago the Prime Minister was also of the view the NDIS should be funded from consolidated revenue. She categorically ruled out a levy or the need for one as recently as December. Instead, the Prime Minister found everything she could possibly find to spend money on and made no provision for the NDIS, hence the government's levy proposition in this bill.

Our view is straightforward. We did not propose a levy. There should not be the need for a levy. The government is only proposing a levy because they have blown the bank and failed to prioritise. We do not like tax increases but we do not think that Australians with disability should miss out on a better deal due to poor decisions by a bad government. That would not pass the fair-go test. Although this legislation will pass with our support, we view the Medicare levy increase as only a temporary measure until the budget has been repaired and is in strong surplus.

Let me put our decision on the NDIS Medicare levy increase into a broader context. We know that the Productivity Commission did not recommend funding the NDIS through a new tax on Australians. We understand that many families in this country are doing it tough and that tax increases are an impost on the household budget. That is why we took our time and soberly considered the government's proposition rather than respond immediately. We know that Labor's mismanagement of the economy and the state of Labor's budget do not currently allow for the NDIS to be funded from consolidated revenue without further borrowings on top of already quite significant borrowings by this government. Australians with a disability and their carers want the confidence that the NDIS means a permanent change in the way that our country supports people with a disability. People with a disability should not have to wait any longer than is necessary for the support they need. So for these reasons, the coalition is prepared to support the government's proposed increase to the Medicare levy.

But it is important to recognise that the Medicare levy increase does not cover the full cost of the NDIS. The levy does not cover the difference between what governments currently spend on disability and the full cost of this new scheme. When you take into account the 25 per cent of levy proceeds that the Commonwealth will give to the states and territories for 10 years, the levy covers perhaps 40 per cent of the Commonwealth's required contribution to a NDIS over the longer term. So before this legislation passes both houses of this parliament, the government should outline how the remaining 60 per cent of funding will be provisioned.

Despite promising to do so on budget night, the government has failed to outline where the balance of the funds will come from beyond the NDIS launch period. On page 4 of the budget related paper DisabilityCare Australia there is a graph headed 'Meeting the costs of DisabilityCare Australia'. It covers the period 2012-13 to 2022-23. It purports to show full funding of the NDIS. It includes a category called 'Other long-term savings—selected long-term savings from 2013-14 Budget and 2012-13 MYEFO'. These are unnamed and unquantified savings that may well have been counted several times over for other purposes. What the graph does, however, prove is that beyond the launch phase the Medicare levy increase only covers 40 per cent of the Commonwealth's share of NDIS costs. The government has still to present its full funding plan for this scheme.

The NDIS is a venture of huge proportions. According to the Australian Government Actuary, the NDIS will, in full rollout, have a gross cost of $22 billion per annum and require, in complete form, an additional contribution from government of more than $10.5 billion beyond 2018-19. When such a call is being made on taxpayers, they are entitled to know exactly what the NDIS will achieve and who it will support. Before this legislation passes both houses, the government needs to be clear about all aspects of NDIS eligibility. Equally, the 400,000-plus people the Productivity Commission envisaged being supported by the NDIS are entitled to know what the gateway to the scheme is.

The gateway to the NDIS comprises a number of elements: the eligibility criteria in the NDIS Act; the NDIS regulations, known as the NDIS rules, only some of which have been released and only in draft form; the NDIS national assessment tools, which have not been publicly released. Only one of the gateway elements is fully and publicly available. Now this is against the backdrop of the Productivity Commission's blueprint having been in the hands of the government for two years, against the backdrop of a $22 billion scheme, against the backdrop of a new tax base which is being created in the form of the Medicare levy increase to part-fund the scheme and against the backdrop of the NDIS launch sites going live in New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania in just six weeks time.

When the opposition indicated it would consider the increase to the Medicare levy, we said that first the government needed to introduce legislation to establish a fund in which levy proceeds would be held. The government has acceded to this request. Secondly, we said the government needed to legislate the Future Fund as guardians of this fund. Again, the government has acceded to this request. Thirdly, we said the government needed to release the final NDIS rules and the NDIS national assessment tools. This the government has refused to do. I repeat: we are talking about $22 billion of Australian taxpayers' money, a new tax base, launch sites going live in six weeks and the parliament and the nation not as yet—not of this evening—having before them the full details that will determine NDIS participation.

When the absence of the NDIS rules and the absence of the NDIS national assessment tools are raised with the government, they state that the eligibility criteria are in the NDIS Act. It is true that there is contained in the act a broad—indeed, a very broad—outline of the criteria to be an NDIS participant. And it is true that there are some draft rules which slightly expand on the criteria. But these are still extremely broad outlines of eligibility. It has been said by some that the opposition's desire to see the NDIS rules and the NDIS national assessment tools released is getting down into the weeds. But if you are an Australian with a significant disability, the rules and the assessment tools are not some theoretical mechanisms; they are elements that will combine to underpin your opportunities and quality of life.

The Prime Minister herself has said that people who want to know about eligibility should look at the NDIS Act. I cannot believe that the Prime Minister seriously expects Australians with disability to get a copy of the act, grab a set of the draft and incomplete rules and then try and hunt down a copy of the as yet to be released assessment tools and then try and work out if they are in or out and what supports they may be entitled to. The final NDIS rules should be released. The NDIS national assessment tools should also be released. Wherever I go—and I know the feedback from my colleagues in this place is this—there is universal support for the NDIS, but there is also a real hunger for further information about eligibility and the sorts of therapies and supports that will be funded through the scheme. It is not premature for potential scheme participants or their families to be seeking this information.

Let me give just a few examples. For autism, early intervention is currently supported by the Commonwealth through the Helping Children with Autism program. The Productivity Commission envisaged, and the NDIS Act has provision for, early intervention services. It is assumed that the NDIS will supplant the Helping Children with Autism program. Parents of young children would like to know what this means for their children in terms of the level of NDIS early intervention supports but also the circumstances under which their children would qualify. If they do not, are there any other supports available? Surely these are very reasonable requests for information by people with children who have autism.

Let me take the example of supported accommodation. This is a concern for ageing parent carers who want to resolve accommodation for their adult children with intellectual impairment. Who will qualify? If qualified, and assuming there will be an adequate recurrent package, what will be the arrangement for capital to address the accommodation backlog? What will be the model? Again, these are eminently sensible and reasonable requests for information. Or take equipment. If you need a wheelchair, what level of cost will be covered? If your wheelchair costs, for example, $14,000, will you be covered for the full cost or only part? And, if so, what proportion? Once again these are entirely eminently sensible and reasonable requests for information which is currently not being provided. Or take hearing aids. These can range in cost from a few thousand dollars to in excess of $10,000. What will the NDIS deem to be reasonable and necessary? Again, this is a reasonable request for information. Or take support for blind and vision impaired people. Will the full cost of a guide dog be covered? How often? Will home modifications be covered? What will be considered reasonable and necessary? What will be the mechanisms to deliver supports to people with vision impairment over 65? Once again, these are very reasonable and understandable questions from people who find themselves in this situation seeking information—and the government should provide it soon.

At this point in time, developing a complete picture of how the NDIS will unfold is limited by insufficient information, examples of which I have just provided to the House. Neither the Senate committee that inquired into the NDIS Act nor the parliament tonight have had the benefit of the full NDIS rules or the national assessment tools in undertaking their due diligence. In the absence of these elements it is difficult to determine if the vision of the Productivity Commission is being fully given effect to. The risk, as always, with this government is their capacity to competently implement the scheme.

In conclusion, we will not frustrate this legislation; we will ensure its passage. However, we will not cease posing the questions being asked of us by Australians in general and our constituents with disability in particular. We will do so in order to ensure that the NDIS delivers on the vision of the Productivity Commission for a new deal for Australians with disability.