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Wednesday, 13 February 2013
Page: 1154


Mr FITZGIBBON (HunterChief Government Whip) (12:00): Particularly with this 43rd Parliament, a parliament in which no party holds an absolute majority, I am sure that there are days when those outside look in and just shake their heads at some of the behaviour, some of the partisanship and some of what passes for debate here in this place. But I am sure that this is not one of those days, a day on which we collectively together passed a bill to finally put in place a referendum to acknowledge the Indigenous people of this land and a day on which we are well on our way to passing a very important bill that gives hope, I feel, to the very many Australians who care for those with disabilities and the very many Australians who carry the challenges of disability.

It is a great pleasure to rise on the National Disability Insurance Scheme Bill 2012. This bill will fundamentally change the way we deliver care and support for people with a disability. I am pleased to note the opposition's support for the bill, something which, as I said, is not always the case in this place. The bill establishes the framework for the National Disability Insurance Scheme and the National Disability Insurance Scheme Launch Transition Agency. This will enable to the scheme to be launched in five sites across Australia from July 2013. I am pleased to note that one of these sites is in the Hunter region and includes Maitland, which is in my electorate. This is great news for people in my local region, particularly those with a disability and their families and carers. I know that it is very encouraging to the many people in my electorate who devote their lives professionally to assisting people with a disability.

This vital stage of the NDIS will mean that approximately 10,000 people in the Hunter region and 20,000 nationwide with a significant and permanent disability will be covered under the NDIS. For the first time, these people will be assessed to receive individual care and support packages as well as be able to make decisions about their own care and choose their service provider. They will have the assistance of local coordinators, who will help manage and deliver their support while providing them with a link to mainstream services. This is all about making sure that people with a disability will have more control over their lives, more certainty about the level of care that they will receive and more opportunities to get involved in work, school and community life.

I am lucky that in my electorate there are many excellent organisations that assist people with disabilities. One of these is Integrated Living Australia in Muswellbrook. I was pleased to announce last year, along with the minister, that they would be receiving $190,000 to help us get ready for the introduction of the NDIS. An essential part of getting this change right is developing practical, real-world ways to make sure that an NDIS can work in the way that it is supposed to for people with a disability. The team at Integrated Living will be developing a new how-to guide for small and medium organisations to help them adjust to an NDIS environment. This is a historic reform and we need to make sure that the disability sector is supported to make the change so that Australians with a disability, their families and their carers can start benefitting from the NDIS as quickly as is possible.

The government has been very proactive in its approach by providing grants to organisations like the Kurri Kurri Community Centre, in my electorate, through the NDIS readiness fund. The government has also worked closely with state and territory governments on the design, governance and funding of the scheme. I was very pleased when New South Wales Premier Barry O'Farrell agreed to sign up to the trial in the Hunter. That was a very important milestone. The COAG process can be a tough one, but I am very pleased that everyone was able to put politics aside and do the right thing by people who need our support.

This bill has two main purposes. The first is to establish the framework of the National Disability Insurance Scheme. I have already stated that the scheme gives people with a disability more control over the care and support that they receive. Importantly, it also allows this care and support to be considered as part of a whole-of-life approach. It will respond to each individual's goals and aspirations for life and take into account their individual circumstances. It will also look at the support that carers need to sustain their caring role and assist by strengthening other informal and community supports that are important for people with a disability.

The scheme moves away from the crisis model under which families only receive support if they are unable to continue in their caring role and there are no other options. Instead, it will work with families before they reach crisis point to make sure that the valuable care that they provide can be sustained. There is also a strong focus on early intervention, especially in situations in which there is good evidence that this care and support will sustainably improve a person's functioning or slow or prevent the progression of their disability over their lifetime.

The other main purpose of the bill is to establish the National Disability Insurance Scheme Launch Transition Agency, to operate the first stage of the scheme. Very importantly, the agency will be a body independent of government. In addition to delivering the scheme, it will perform a range of functions, including managing the financial sustainability of the scheme, building community awareness about disability and undertaking research about disability and the social contributors to disability. Importantly, the agency will be established as a body under the Commonwealth Authorities and Companies Act 1997, which is in line with the Productivity Commission's recommendation.

This takes the care and support out of the cycle of budgets and elections. This is not something that should be subject to the whims of budget debate.

Before I finish today, I would like to make mention of a few other disability support organisations in my electorate. Places like Endeavour Industries, Mai Wel, Koora Industries and Whitmore Enterprises all do fantastic work on the job with people with a disability by providing them with support and employment. Endeavour Industries in Cessnock was also successful last year in receiving nearly $3 million to help build six co-living units which will be dispersed through medium density housing and will include landscaped grounds and a hydrotherapy pool. This is a great addition to the Cessnock community. I am always pleased as member of parliament to be able to support organisations and projects like these. They play a vital role in our community and in the lives of people with a disability and, of course, their families.

Every member in this place would have had an experience with people with a disability whether it be in someone's household, in an operation like Mai Wel in Maitland, where so many people with disabilities are being gainfully employed, or at a special school which caters for handicapped children. I say this in the most positive way, I am sure that most, if not all, people in this place would have found that experience somewhat confronting. I certainly do, and I look on in awe not only at the way individuals seek to overcome the challenge of their disability but also at those people who give their lives to those who are struggling, whether they do that in a family sense because they are related in some way, whether they happen to be a neighbour or whether it is in the professional sense.

I was so delighted that some of those people were rewarded last year when we provided $7 million out of the BER to build a brand new Hunter River Community School on the eastern side of Maitland. This school is full of wonderful children, in some cases severely challenged. Again, I am just so in awe of the teachers and other assistants that work with those kids on a daily basis. What a wonderful thing it is that we can now take them out of their temporary demountable buildings and give them a brand new school In my 17 years here, no grant has made me happier than that one. The New South Wales Department of Education wanted to move the school out of my electorate to a new location just outside of my electorate—indeed, into the electorate of the member for Paterson. They called to ask me whether I had any objection to that, and I said, 'I don't care where you build the school as long as it remains accessible to those who use it on a daily basis.' I was very happy to agree to that. The same applies to all of those people who work within those organisations I referred to earlier. They do wonderful work. I think they do work that I must admit I would struggle with if I had to engage with it on a daily basis. On the flip-side, when I go to places like Whitmore, Endeavour and Mai Wel which employ people with challenges, I find nothing but joy and happiness, and it is good to have a little bit of banter with the workers there. They are always very pleased to see me—not exclusively me of course, just any visitor. They are always proud of what they are doing and they are really doing productive work. I think collectively as members of parliament we can be proud and satisfied that we have schemes in place that allow these people to engage in the workforce in a very normal way and to work in a happy environment as these people I encounter do. I have to say that it should almost be self-mandating for us to visit them at least three or four times a year, because it is an uplifting experience. We think we have challenges in life, and I suppose we certainly do in this environment of the 43rd parliament, but these—I am tempted to call them kids, but of course they are not—workers in these industries are always just so happy. They always seem so satisfied with what they are doing, and from that we take comfort that their families are also happy that they have found meaningful work in life. There are also others out there who can reach the higher echelons of the business world or politics. We should be doing all we can to help them do so and to ensure that they are able to overcome the sometimes serious challenges that have been put in their path. It should be a very high priority for us.

I was so disappointed when I first came to this place. I had a local experience with a 21-year-old guy who had had a car accident, had suffered brain damage and was living in a dementia ward in a nursing home in my electorate. That shocked me, and I was even more shocked when I pursued the issue on my arrival in this place and found out that he was certainly not alone. He was one of tens of thousands—I think it is tens of thousands; I hope I have not overstated that, but it is certainly a very large number—of Australians still at a young age who find themselves in nursing homes with very elderly patients, sometimes in dementia wards. That is unacceptable. I know it is improving, but I do believe we need to do more to ensure that is not the ongoing case. I congratulate the minister, I congratulate the government, I congratulate the opposition for its largely bipartisan approach to what is a very serious issue for our country and I commend the bill to the House.