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Thursday, 14 February 2013
Page: 1403

Mr ROBB (Goldstein) (10:17): I rise to speak on the National Disability Insurance Scheme Bill 2012. The core function of government is to provide support for the disadvantaged. Outside of the defence and security of our country, the government has a core responsibility to provide for the disadvantaged, including the profoundly disabled and their carers, who sacrifice so much. I would suggest that perhaps they are the highest priority among the disadvantaged. Yet, in my eight years as a member of parliament, the most illuminating issue for me in my local electorate and the thing that has surprised me most is the observation, over time, of the number of people in local communities who, in all sorts of ways, are profoundly disabled. For many of the carers of those people, it is almost a life sentence. They make enormous sacrifices. Some have devoted their whole life to looking after a loved one who is profoundly disabled. In many ways, because they have led a life all-consumed with that problem and that responsibility, many of them are not well placed to be champions for that issue in those areas of responsibility that the government has.

We as parliamentarians tend to get appropriate representations from people across the community dealing with all sorts of other legitimate disease issues, expressing grave concerns about all sorts of other social issues; and, in many cases, they are very well represented by champions, as they should be. Celebrities and others have often taken up the cause of any number of different, well-known diseases and problems in our community and, as a consequence, a fair proportion of what available moneys there are is devoted to many of those areas.

But, in many ways, in the case of the black spot, the black hole, the unseen one—and I have also seen this in particular with mental health because of the stigma and for the same reason—there are no champions. Quite frankly, the profoundly disabled are in the worst situation in terms of their ability to grab the national attention and to get what is and should be a significant focus on dealing with their needs before we deal with many others.

This bill—this debate, this issue—has progressively emerged in the last few years and I think now, quite properly, there is a clear focus on it. We now need to move forward and put in place, in a very systematic, efficient, effective and compassionate way, services that will meet the needs of the disabled, particularly the profoundly disabled. We have to make sure that we draw this distinction not in totality but in terms of where the priority is, and I will come back to that a little later in my comments.

This bill is the first step towards providing appropriate support through a national disability insurance scheme, the NDIS.

As the Leader of the Opposition and many of my colleagues have said, it is an idea whose time has come, and I agree. This is something that should be above politics, and the coalition lend our unequivocal support to this bill. 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 NDIS is a once-in-a-generation reform whose development will unfold over the life of three parliaments. It is complicated, it is comprehensive, it is enormously expensive and it has many components. As a piece of public policy it needs to be properly considered, and we need to carry the community with us in this exercise. If we are to fund this, it will in many ways put pressure on other programs; but, again, government is about setting priorities. As I said at the outset, if there is one core responsibility of government on the social side, in my view it is looking after the profoundly disabled.

The coalition maintains that the establishment of a joint parliamentary committee to oversee the implementation of the NDIS is not only appropriate but essential. The track record of the Rudd and Gillard governments in regard to program implementations suggests that the government alone cannot be relied upon to implement the best possible NDIS. Given the complexity and the state nature of much of the services, a multigovernment approach to this is needed, at this level, so that over several terms of office we have bipartisan commitment and carriage of this process. This process requires proper and extensive consultation and attention to detail.

A parliamentary committee would lock in all parties and provide a non-partisan environment where issues of design and eligibility could be worked through cooperatively. This issue should not go to party politics. This is a golden opportunity for this place to demonstrate that some issues are clearly above party politics. There is no ideological difference on the issue of looking after the profoundly disabled. It is regrettable that the government has rejected bipartisanship on many occasions in a bid to claim ownership. George Christensen has had for some time a motion in the House to establish this committee, but it has not been brought forward for a vote. Senator Fifield moved a similar motion to establish the oversight committee—Labor and the Greens combined in the Senate, sadly, to vote it down. From the outset, every Australian government and opposition, state and federal, endorsed what the Productivity Commission proposed. It takes special skill for a prime minister to turn this into a political bunfight. I hope that she will reconsider the approach that has been taken to date.

Sustainably funding a full NDIS is crucial. Beyond the first $1 billion for the trials, the government has provided no insight into how this might be achieved. If the assistance is not sustainable, expectations could far exceed the ability of the taxpayer to support it. We have to be very careful that there is a clear understanding in the community of what is involved in a financial sense. We need to carry the community with us in developing this. Even the $1 billion does not reconcile with the $3.9 billion the Productivity Commission said would be needed for the first stage. It is one-quarter of what was suggested by the Productivity Commission. What does that mean for a proper rollout—for design, preparation, planning and all the rest? It is totally unclear.

An NDIS can be delivered within the time frame recommended by the Productivity Commission, but only by a prudent government. It comes down to priorities and deciding what is important. It also comes down to clearly identifying who will be eligible, who will qualify, for NDIS support. In the announcement of support for this proposal, it seemed like the government was making policy on the run. No prior thought seemed to have been given to it, including through discussions with the states. There seemed to be no idea of the reach and cost of the scheme. We now have seniors concerned that at 65 they will be cut off. These sorts of issues should not be emerging; they should have been given some thought before a formal announcement of the NDIS. There is an issue here which needs to be remembered: expectations have already been raised because of the vagueness in the process to date, the lack of definition of what was being considered when the announcement was made.

I suspect there are well over a million people who think that their needs, often legitimate needs, will automatically be covered by the NDIS. The profoundly disabled probably number 300,000 or 400,000. They and their carers are the priority. They must be the ones that get the detail. They are the ones that need the services. And those who are beyond the expectations need to be managed; otherwise, we are going to have a very disgruntled community, with lots of unnecessary political debate, disagreement, and people feeling totally let down. It is unnecessary. We need to carry the community with us in this process if this whole thing is to be properly accepted and implemented and if it is to do what it must do.

We need to be in a position where government can fund the scheme. This goes back—and I will not dwell on this—to the whole substance of economic management and prudence. We are now paying $7 billion in interest each year on debt. These things are relevant to issues like this. That amount could perhaps cover much of the Commonwealth contribution, but it goes off in interest. We can only assume the government will make appropriate provision in the coming budget. The whole notion of the NDIS is to provide a ubiquitous level of support for those eligible, wherever they live. As it stands, the level of support can vary depending on things such as the state or region you live in, whether your disability is congenital or was acquired, and, if it was acquired, whether it was acquired in the workplace or in a motor vehicle—and the list goes on.

We need a new system based on need, not on rationing, with the entitlement to support resting with the individual. 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—very important principles in the design of this program.

There can be no full NDIS without an intergovernmental agreement with each state and territory, and it was a welcome development when New South Wales Premier O'Farrell and the Prime Minister signed such an agreement in December for a full state-wide NDIS rollout after the Hunter launch project. It is now up to the Prime Minister and the government to continue this constructive approach.

Momentum for an NDIS has gathered over the past five years. Those with disabilities, their families and carers and the organisations which support them have formed a loud and single voice. Much credit must go to them for bringing this important issue to the forefront of national political consideration.

In my own electorate I acknowledge organisations which provide an enormous contribution to supporting people with disabilities, organisations such as MOIRA in Hampton East, led by the very competent Warwick Cavanagh. Then there is Bayley House, an outstanding organisation which has been in the community since 1951 providing a wide range of services; Bruce Salvin, the CEO, is running an outstanding and wonderful organisation. Of similar quality is Marriott House in McKinnon, with CEO Dan Romanis, which provides a range of programs, including employment support, for adults with intellectual disabilities. Other groups include Autism Victoria in Black Rock and Hampton; CareChoice in Elwood; NIDKIDS Support Group in Caulfield; and Berendale School, a wonderful school at Hampton East under the guidance of Paula Barnett.

These sorts of groups you find in all electorates. There are people all over our communities looking to support, but in many cases the services that they can access are disjointed, not available, inadequate, or good in some places and not in others. These things must be addressed and hopefully will be addressed as we move forward with this very important project.

We want the NDIS to be a success—a huge success. We want its launch sites to be run smoothly. We stand ready to work with the government and all jurisdictions to make the NDIS a reality, and to ensure that, in particular, the profoundly disabled and the carers who have sacrificed so much, while expecting, in so many cases, little in return—their demeanour just inspires me when I meet these people—are looked after. These people deserve to be looked after by us, and we will look after them if we get this bill in place properly. (Time expired