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Thursday, 14 February 2013
Page: 1396


Mr ALEXANDER (Bennelong) (09:47): In this debate on the National Disability Insurance Scheme Bill 2013, it gives me great pleasure to speak in support of a national disability insurance scheme to assist some of our nation's most vulnerable people. The concept of a national disability insurance scheme has gained momentum over the past five years, with a strong grassroots campaign that I have consistently supported. The electorate of Bennelong is a great example of a community that holds high its obligations to those facing some of life's toughest challenges. The need for the NDIS should not overshadow the incredible work and tireless, thankless efforts of so many whom I wish to recognise here today.

As patron of Achieve Australia I have been fortunate on many occasions to witness firsthand the support services they provide to approximately 550 local people with disabilities, assisting them to become independent through employment and accommodation. Achieve Australia boasts many local heroes. In particular, I would like to highlight the efforts of Jo and Don McKerrell, who have volunteered for community disability service organisations for nearly 50 years. Jo and Don work with Achieve Australia, where their daughter is provided with accommodation services.

Minimbah Challenge, located in Marsfield, assists over 60 people with disabilities through respite programs. Formed 30 years ago by the Epping Branch of the Challenge Foundation, Minimbah use a person centred planning model which encourages individual independence and autonomy. This initiative is organised by Amanda Murphy, the development coordinator, with the help of care support workers Anita, Sarah, Jeff, Shayla, Beth, Khyati and Kyle. As their federal MP I am proud of the Commonwealth funding that assists the facilitation of Minimbah's Saturday respite program for schoolchildren and young people with intellectual disabilities.

Ryde Area Supported Accommodation for Intellectually Disabled, or RASAID, is run with passion and with very little funding by local mum Jenny Rollo. Formed in 2004 by 19 families with disabled children, RASAID aims to secure long-term accommodation, particularly as the parents approach retirement. RASAID supports 20 adults in their 20s to early 50s with dependent intellectual disabilities. I have spoken in this place previously of the immense respect I have for these parents and the courage they show in the face of such difficult circumstances.

Catholic Community Services Northern Sydney are based in Meadowbank and assist school leavers to find work through their transition to work program. North Ryde Community Aid and Information Centre assists people with disabilities by hosting morning teas, lunches and special outings for those with mobility issues. I again in this place commend the general manager, Helen Crouch, for the great work that she and her organisation do. ESTIA Foundation is an initiative of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia and provides 24-hour respite care for young adults with physical and intellectual disabilities, from their respite homes in Gladesville.

The NDIS concept was conceived by John Walsh, a partner in PwC, and progressed by Bruce Bonyhady, the president of Philanthropy Australia, and was first canvassed at the 2020 Summit in 2008. In 2009, the federal coalition supported the government's referral to the Productivity Commission of an inquiry into an NDIS. The final report of the Productivity Commission inquiry was publicly released on 10 August 2011 and confirmed that the current system of support for people with disability is broken. This conclusion was endorsed by the federal coalition and all jurisdictions. Agreement has been reached with five states and territories—New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia and the ACT—to host launch sites commencing in July 2013 or, in the case of the ACT, July 2014. In December 2012, the New South Wales state government and the Commonwealth government concluded an intergovernmental agreement for a full state-wide rollout of the NDIS beyond the Hunter launch site. Further expansion of the NDIS will be dependent on the Commonwealth negotiating and concluding further bilateral agreements with each jurisdiction.

Yesterday commenced in a spirit of bipartisan cooperation as we joined together in support of the historic Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples Recognition Bill.

It is fitting that, 24 hours later, this important issue brings with it another example of cooperation and bipartisanship. In this election year, it is too easy for us all to fall back into familiar positions of conflict. Yet there are some issues, such as those regarding our Indigenous people and those with disabilities, that are just too important to be bogged down in partisan politics. The Leader of the Opposition has repeatedly said that the NDIS is a policy whose time has come. It should give all Australians immense pride that the introduction of a national disability insurance scheme has cross-party support at both federal and state levels of government.

This bill provides for the establishment of a national disability insurance scheme with established rules and the creation of an agency to oversee the implementation of the scheme. This covers eligibility, assessment criteria, registration, compensation, review processes, support plans and governance. The scheme will provide funding to individuals or organisations to help people with disability participate more fully in economic and social life through the provision of an entitlement enabling things such as aids, equipment, supported accommodation or personal attendant care. The agency will have a board, consisting of a chair and eight members, who collectively will possess an appropriate balance of skills, experience or knowledge in the following fields: the provision or use of disability services; the operation of insurance, compensation or long-term liability schemes; and financial management or corporate governance. The minister will appoint the chair and must obtain the approval of a majority of jurisdictions before appointing members.

The legislation also establishes an independent advisory council that will include at least four people with disabilities; at least two carers; at least one person with skills, experience or knowledge in the supply of equipment or provision of services; and up to five more members. The legislation also provides for an independent review of the act after two years of operation. The bill is essentially a framework. It 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.

The bill is currently being inquired into by the Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs and will report on 13 March 2013. A recurrent theme in evidence presented to date by witnesses is that it is hard to offer advice, pose questions or plan for the launch sites in the absence of the rules. These need to be released quickly and well before the passing of the bill through the parliament. In her second reading speech, the Prime Minister indicated the government's intention to bring the final version of the bill to a vote in the budget session. The rules need to be released soon. At this point in time, developing a complete picture of how the NDIS will unfold is limited by insufficient information. The work of the Senate committee is critical and it is hoped that they will have the benefit of the NDIS rules and the operating guidelines for the agency before they conclude their work. In the absence of these two elements it is difficult to determine if further amendments will be required to this legislation.

The concept of the National Disability Insurance Scheme has gained momentum over the past five years. It is appropriate to acknowledge the role played by the member for Maribyrnong in helping to elevate the public policy profile of disability. But the lion's share of the credit goes to people with disability, their families, their carers and the organisations that support them. They came together, they spoke with one voice, they decided enough was enough. We want the NDIS to be a success. We want the launch sites to be run smoothly. We stand ready to work with the government and all jurisdictions to make the NDIS a reality.

Regardless of the heroic local stories I outlined earlier, everyone present in this chamber knows that the system of support for Australians with disability is broken. Perhaps this is why we hold so high these heroic acts as the last strains of fabric that offer hope to the most needy in our community. The current levels of support available are determined by a vast array of factors, like where they live and when and how they acquired their disability. These people require a new system of support that is based on a much simpler equation—need. The individual needs to be central to the process, in charge and able to pick 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 disability. This is the vision of the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

As one of thousands of members of the Liberal Party I am proud that the coalition have enthusiastically supported each milestone on the road to the NDIS. We supported the initial work by the Productivity Commission, we supported the $1 billion in the last budget, we supported the five launch sites, we supported the agreement between the Commonwealth and New South Wales for a full state-wide rollout after the Hunter launch and we support this legislation. The Leader of the Opposition has demonstrated his personal commitment to Australians with disability and those who care for them by dedicating $540,000, raised by the 2012 Pollie Pedal charity bike ride, to Carers Australia. Along the 1,000-kilometre route Mr Abbott met with people with disability, carers and disability organisations. The next two Pollie Pedals will also be in partnership with and raise funds for Carers Australia. On a personal note I have extra pride that a Bennelong based business, Amgen Australia, supports these charitable initiatives as one of the primary sponsors of Pollie Pedal.

The coalition believes an NDIS can be delivered within the time frame recommended by the Productivity Commission by a prudent government that strongly and effectively manages policy and the economy. It is vital that we have an open, honest and constructive conversation to ensure we can make the NDIS the best that it can be. The coalition stands ready to make this commitment and to work with government to see the NDIS delivered as soon as possible.

As I remarked earlier, this issue is too important to be tarnished by partisan politics. Yet, despite the coalition's wholehearted support, it is disappointing that many Labor members and senators choose to position the NDIS as representing quintessentially Labor values. It does not. The NDIS represents Australian values—a fair go and helping those who face challenges for reasons beyond their control. No side of politics has a mortgage on these values. The NDIS is a person-centred and self-directed funding model. It is aligned to the objectives of empowering the individual, removing government from people's lives and reducing red tape.

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. This 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 that of any particular political party. To get this right will require a very high level of consultation and attention to detail not just now, not just in the launch sites, but from now to 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. This oversight committee would lock in all parties and provide a non-partisan environment where issues of design and eligibility could be worked through cooperatively. The member for Dawson has had a motion before the House to establish this committee for some time. Regrettably, it has not been brought forward for a vote. Senator Fifield moved a similar motion to establish the oversight committee, but Labor and the Greens combined in the Senate to vote it down.

The Leader of the Opposition reiterated this offer in his Press Club speech last week, saying:

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.

The thousands of Australians that will be directly impacted by this bill will hope that the government accepts 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 non-partisan oversight committee. The offer, and this amendment, should be accepted.

The coalition will continue to place this issue above politics and are prepared to work with state and Commonwealth governments towards a better deal for people with a disability. While we emphatically supported the government's commitment of $1 billion to the NDIS in the federal budget, we had some difficulty in reconciling this figure with the $3.9 billion the Productivity Commission said would be necessary over the forward estimates for the first phase of the NDIS. We assume the government will account for this and make appropriate provision in the coming budget. (Time expired)

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr S Georganas ): Before I call the member for Page, I ask members of the opposition to please take the chocolates on their desks with them as they leave the chamber. I do not have a problem with them, but I would hate to see any of those beautiful chocolates squashed and smeared all over the chairs. I call the member for Page.