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Thursday, 14 February 2013
Page: 1395

Mrs MARKUS (Macquarie) (09:42): As I was saying earlier during this debate, unlike this government which has incessantly sought to utilise and manipulate the NDIS as a tool for attacking non-Labor state governments, the coalition will continue to place this issue above politics and are prepared to work with the state and Commonwealth governments towards a better deal for people with a disability.

While we supported the government's commitment of $1 billion to the NDIS in the federal budget, absolutely, we have significant challenges reconciling this figure with the $3.9 million the Productivity Commission said would be necessary over the forward estimates for the first phase of the National Disability Insurance Scheme. We can only assume the government will account for this and make appropriate provisions in the upcoming budget.

The bill establishes a framework for the National Disability Insurance Scheme and the National Disability Insurance Scheme Launch Transition Agency. This will enable the scheme to be launched and the agency to operate the launch in five sites across the nation from July this year. The first stage of the scheme will benefit more than 20,000 people with disabilities, their families and carers living in South Australia, the ACT, Tasmania, the Hunter in New South Wales and the Barwon area of Victoria. The agency created in this bill will function in line with legislative instruments called the NDIS rules. Subjects covered will include eligibility and assessment criteria.

The bill therefore is essentially a framework and establishes the transition agency, the board, the CEO and a general definition of eligibility. But the guts of the scheme, the mechanics, will be established by the rules. What is of concern to the coalition is that the discussion paper on the rules, released by the government on 1 February, contains little information, posing only a series of questions. Unfortunately, it does feel that I have made the following statement every time I have risen to speak in this place during the tenure of the current government. Despite the enormous opportunities offered by the creation of the NDIS, the government is risking the full and effective functioning of the system by attempting to push through legislation providing for its processes without appropriate expert review or consultation.

The bill is currently being inquired into by the Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee, which will report on 13 March 2013. A recurrent theme in evidence presented thus far by witnesses is that it is hard to offer advice or pose questions or plan for the launch sites in the absence of the rules. These need to be released quickly and well before the passage of the bill through the parliament, particularly as the Prime Minister has indicated that she intends to bring the final version of the bill to a vote in the budget session.

It is tremendously difficult to gain a complete picture of how the NDIS will unfold, limited as the coalition, stakeholders and the wider Australian public are by insufficient information. The work of the Senate committee is critical and it is to be hoped that they will have the benefit of seeing the NDIS rules and the operating guidelines for the agency before they conclude their work. In the absence of these other two elements it is difficult to determine if further amendments will be required to this legislation.

The coalition support the National Disability Insurance Scheme and we want the establishment of the launch sites to progress effectively. Although we have serious concerns regarding the actual functional structure of the NDIS, the coalition stand ready to work with this government and those of the states and territories towards making the National Disability Insurance Scheme the integral core of Australia's support for people with disabilities, their families and their carers.