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Wednesday, 13 February 2013
Page: 1160


Ms VAMVAKINOU (Calwell) (12:28): I rise today to speak on the National Disability Insurance Scheme Bill 2012. This is a bill that is a once-in-a-generation landmark reform that has the potential to deliver better quality-of-life outcomes for Australians with disabilities, as well as their carers, friends and everyone else who is entrusted with the care of people with disability in this country. I last spoke on the NDIS in August when the Prime Minister—following the release of the Productivity Commission inquiry report entitled Disability care and support, which identified that disability care in Australia was underfunded, unfair, fragmented and inefficient—announced that major reform was needed. Since then, all state and territory governments have also agreed on the need for major reform through the NDIS.

I am very pleased to be able to stand here today and say that the government is well on its way to delivering on this very much needed reform. I am also very pleased to speak on the NDIS now that it is pretty much on the threshold of becoming a reality. Once passed, the NDIS rollout is expected to begin in mid-2013.

I do want to acknowledge that the opposition is supporting the NDIS and that many members on the other side have made some very heartfelt speeches. There is no doubt that many of my own colleagues on this side have made many heartfelt speeches in support of the NDIS.

As I have said, the National Disability Insurance Scheme is very much a centrepiece of this government's agenda. The NDIS has come to fruition through the bill we are debating today as a result of the solid work undertaken by government ministers embarking on a series of wide-reaching consultations with state and territory governments and with people with disabilities, their families and carers. It is also very much a result of the hard work and continued advocacy of organisations that represent those Australians living with a form of disability that effectively renders them dependent on carers, care workers and service deliverers.

Through the introduction of the National Disability Insurance Scheme 2012, the government has resolved to act in order to support people with disabilities and, more importantly, to help them lead a more active and productive life and to enhance the quality of their life. The NDIS will ensure that people with disability will be able to achieve, to the best of their ability, their full potential, which obviously will benefit not only them but society as a whole. In particular, it will benefit those people charged with caring for them.

The legislation sets out a framework for a national scheme, one that should take an insurance approach and that shares the cost of disability services and supports across the community. It is a framework that will initially operate in five locations. The first stage of the NDIS rollout will begin in South Australia and Tasmania and will include regional areas. Regional areas will also be covered in other launch sites. In my home state of Victoria, the Barwon local government areas of the City of Greater Geelong, the Colac Otway Shire, the Burrough of Queenscliffe and the Surf Coast Shire will be locations of that first rollout.

Over the years, as the member for Calwell I have had many, many conversations and many representations from my constituents regarding issues associated with caring for people with disabilities. The single greatest anxiety of the parents I have met who have children with disabilities is what will happen to their children once they are no longer around to look after them. Nothing is more traumatic, more poignant, than having a conversation with a parent who has a child they are responsible for even into their adult years and who has to ponder the inevitable: what will happen to my child when I am not here and am unable to look after them? In the NDIS we have a scheme that responds to the real human face of those anxieties and concerns.

The person who comes to mind for me first and foremost is one of my local community activists, Mrs Betty Moore, who has been on this case for as long as I have been the member for Calwell and probably well before that. Betty is a full-time carer for her son Jonathan, who has Down syndrome. I first met Betty years ago when she came into my office and asked me in a very frank and direct way—because that is how Betty does things—if I realised just how much money she and other carers save governments. They save governments money because they do the heavy lifting in areas we are responsible for taking care of and funding. That was her question. It left a lasting impression on me. Her greatest concern, like so many other parents in similar positions, is of course what will happen to Jonathan when she becomes too old and frail to care for him. Betty has become a full-time activist for the rights of people with a disability. For many years she has served on the management committee of Brite Services, which is a supported employment provider in my electorate. She is very much a tireless advocate, lobbying governments, advocating for ways in which the lives of carers can be made easier and finding ways in which people with disabilities can live more productive lives, particularly through employment opportunities. Her son Jonathan has enjoyed many years of employment at Brite.

The NDIS framework will benefit parents such as Betty by providing long-term certainty to the resourcing of disability care and support. It is, after all, surety and security for loved ones that Betty and everybody else wants, because for them it has always been about the kids. But the NDIS is also about the carers. It will offer them support to help them sustain their caring role and strengthen the broader community support as well.

I know that the NDIS will be very much welcomed by my electorate. There are thousands of people in Calwell who are currently on disability support pensions and thousands of carers who have had to take significant reductions in their incomes in order to care for family and loved ones. Importantly, and this goes to the heart of human dignity, compassion and sacrifice, the NDIS will recognise the overwhelming care and devotion that millions of Australians give to their loved ones who are living with disability. It also recognises the impact on quality of life that past inaction and inefficiencies have caused and have brought to bear on those Australians and their families. The NDIS has a needs-based approach, changing the concept from the charity approach of the past to one centred on individuals choosing the services they want, thus giving them power to make decisions and control their lives. The positive effect of individuals having the power to control their lives and make decisions should never be underestimated. It goes to the core of human dignity.

I have seen this firsthand through the extraordinary work of Brite Services, which is the major employment services provider for people with disabilities in my electorate. Brite has a demonstrated, long-term commitment to improving social inclusion and economic participation for people with a range of disabilities and vocationally disadvantaged backgrounds. I have had many dealings with Brite over the years and I have always admired its accomplishments. I have also always admired the commitment of the people at Brite to the people that they are looking after and to the people that they effectively employ. Brite's current CEO is Ms Julie McKay—and I need to mention Julie because she is doing a wonderful job steering this incredible organisation into new and exciting directions. Brite's social and disability enterprise models are both practical and innovative solutions to enable employment and training opportunities for people who can so easily fall through the cracks of the current employment services system. In her own words, Julie feels 'there is so much more potential that can be unleashed in the social and disability enterprise sector'. I believe that we here today are unleashing some of that potential with the passage of this bill.

However, Brite's accomplishments as an employment services provider have not just happened overnight; it has taken years of hard work by locals, parents, community groups and businesses. Brite's journey began in 1968 when a group of parents in the northern suburbs of Melbourne were looking to establish a facility and services for their children with a disability. Brite Services was officially founded in 1976. Today it is a $3.2 million enterprise and one of the largest employers of people with disabilities in Hume. It always takes the community to make a beginning, to fight the good fight and to establish institutions that later go on to serve the community so admirably. Brite is one of those institutions. It operates as a highly reputable training provider, and is employer to over 200 people with a disability and people from disadvantaged backgrounds annually—my electorate is rated as having one of the highest areas of social and economic disadvantage in Australia. Since 2007, Brite has championed alternative and innovative employment models, such as its social enterprise intermediate labour market model, to improve access to training and employment and it has done so with tremendous success. This model is designed to meet the needs of local job seekers by providing local jobs. Like Brite's vision, the NDIS aims to provide individuals with equity and access to training and employment for a better life.

From the feedback in my local community to the feedback across the length and breadth of this country, I can report to the House that the NDIS is strongly supported because it responds to and aims to redress the key fault lines identified for people living with disability and for those who care for them. The government is aware that the current disability system encourages crisis, meting out support only when it is desperately needed and, of course, with meagre and inadequate resources. The government has listened and has understood how people with disability often feel shut out and frustrated at not being able to join the workforce and contribute to society in a way which is meaningful to them.

By taking a lifelong approach through the NDIS, the bill will focus on intensive early intervention, particularly where there is good evidence that it will improve a person's functioning or slow or prevent the progression of their disability over their lifetime. The bill also considers other crucial elements of the NDIS, including interactions with compensation schemes, registration of service providers, appointment of nominees in certain circumstances and merit reviews.

In conclusion, through this bill the government aims to help people with disabilities to achieve rather than focus on what they cannot achieve. Many people have waited many years for government action in this area, and finally this government has delivered a response. The NDIS means dignity, freedom and choice for people not just in my electorate but Australia wide, so it is with great pleasure that I am able to support this bill before the House. I commend all members who have spoken in support of this bill, and I also want to acknowledge and commend the opposition members who speak in support of this bill.