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Thursday, 14 February 2013
Page: 1407


Mr BRIGGS (Mayo) (10:32): I also rise to speak on the National Disability Insurance Scheme Bill 2012. I follow my good friend and colleague the member for Goldstein and his contribution, which I thought was a particularly good contribution to this debate, summarising the issues very well. There would not be a member of this chamber who has not been touched by people in their community and groups in their community who are living with the challenge of disability every day. We all have such groups and individuals who have approached us, who are our friends, or who we meet as part of our jobs as members of parliament and whose organisations we get around to, and we have seen how difficult it can be to live with disability, particularly profound disability, as the member for Goldstein said, and the challenges that it brings.

It is one of the hardest things to see children with disabilities. We have been very fortunate to have three healthy and active children. Watching parents who are living with disabilities just reminds us of how lucky we are. It also reminds us of how we have to deal better with this issue, because clearly the level of intensity about this in recent years indicates just how hard it is and how badly we have been managing this issue over time.

I want to make three major points in my contribution to this bill. Firstly, the coalition absolutely supports the National Disability Insurance Scheme. We have been in lock-step in support of this policy for some time now. The shadow minister for disabilities, Senator Mitch Fifield, has done an outstanding job in getting around the country to talk to disability groups, moving around electorates, understanding the issue deeply, and applying his ample intelligence to what is a very significant challenge.

As the member for Goldstein said, this is a policy which has to be done in conjunction with not only both sides of politics but also the states. So the coalition has indicated it supports this—to the extent that we have moved motions in this House, through the member for Dawson, and in the Senate through Senator Fifield, to bring this to a bipartisan committee to watch over the implementation of it. This is such a complex scheme that we think it is important to have a bipartisan commitment to ensure that it is done properly.

It is not an issue that the electorate wants to see politicians playing politics with. They want plans. They want this well thought through. They do not want it to be another of the debacles we have seen so many of in the last five years. They want to see a genuine commitment, and they do not want to see prime ministers and leaders of the opposition trying to use disabled people as political toys in the lead-up to an election. I think that has been one of the disappointing aspects of the debate in more recent times. We hear lots of claims that this could only be implemented by a Labor government. Well, of course that just ignores the fact that the coalition has been in lock-step in committing to this for some time.

In fact, it is very much a scheme which is directly related to the values which bring the Liberal Party together. The NDIS has 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. That is very much what drives us and is the commonality between so many of us on this side of the parliament.

We believe that people are much better with their money and their resources, are able to make choices for themselves, do not need to be told by government what they should and should not have and should not be waiting desperately for a minister to hand them their next important piece of infrastructure to ensure that they can get on with their lives. In South Australia—as my colleagues in the chamber know—in recent years we have seen the now-Premier, who was disabilities minister, completely mess up the way that disability was run in South Australia. It is an absolute disaster. Children wait years for specialised wheelchairs because the Labor government has cut funding, and when they get the wheelchair, the wheelchair is too small because they have grown. And the Labor Party made him Premier! Honestly, Mr Deputy Speaker, this is exactly the sort of scheme, exactly the sort of model that we have been arguing for, for a very long time.

This has been so badly handled in South Australia to the extent that there was such community outrage that at the last state election, Kelly Vincent, who lives in my electorate, ran on the Dignity for Disability party ticket and got elected to the upper house. That is the level of intensity that we find in this debate, because it has been so badly managed for some time, and thus we do need a bipartisan committee to ensure that this is implemented properly, and that it is not just a political promise to try and run an election scare campaign that we see day in and day out right now from a desperate and dying government.

It is a tragedy that in Australia there is different treatment for the same injury, depending on how you got that injury in the first place. If you are injured at work and you are left disabled, you are treated very differently than you would be if you are injured falling off a ladder at home. That is an issue which has to be dealt with, and this bill, this scheme, is a way to deal with that inequity in the system. Ultimately, as the member for Goldstein said, government is about priorities. There is a limited amount of money that a taxpayer pays each year, and the government needs to make a decision on how to use that money, and we say that this is a priority for the federal government. The federal government should be managing this within its means because it is something that we think is very important. That is why we are committed to it, Mr Deputy Speaker. That is why we have rejected proposals to apply a new tax to fund it. We think that this is about government priorities, and that we should be delivering upon the commitment to have a National Disability Insurance Scheme within the current framework of the government. That is why we say that this is such an important issue and that it should have a bipartisan committee which oversees its implementation.

We do not want to leave it to the most incompetent government in the history of the Commonwealth to stuff it up on the way through. It is too important for that. And as the member for Goldstein said, we have already seen that the Productivity Commission's recommendations are completely different to what has been implemented by this government. I think the commitment the Productivity Commission suggested was $3.9 billion, and what we have seen from the government for these trial sites is $1 billion. What we saw from the government in its negotiations with the states was an attempt to wedge the Liberal states and create a political flight. The electorate just does not want to see this on this issue. What they want to see is bipartisan commitment to getting this right, not the implementation of a scheme where you put pink batts in people's roofs and you burn their houses down; or you build overpriced school halls; or you change your border security laws, which creates a blow-out of billions and billions of dollars. They do not want to see that level of incompetence applied to the National Disability Insurance Scheme. That is why we should have both sides sitting around the table, looking at how this is being implemented and implementing it properly, because we need the states on board and we need a commitment—a long-term structural commitment—to ensure that this can be funded and funded well. We need groups who are unsure about whether they are covered or not by the scheme to have some clarity about that, because as the member for Goldstein said, we are already seeing different groups in the community concerned about whether the government's commitment will indeed cover them or not.

These sorts of questions, this lack of detail which is in these announcements, do not fill people with a lot of confidence. We have had, for some time now, the member for Dawson with a motion before the parliament to establish a committee. The Leader of the Opposition wrote to the Prime Minister some time ago, but sadly, unfortunately, those on the other side do not want this to be a bipartisan issue. They want to try and politicise it in the lead up to the 2013 election. That is the sad reality of where we sit with a government that is looking at an electoral disaster and is desperately running around looking to try and find a wedge issue. They will not have a wedge issue here because we are absolutely committed to ensuring that this scheme is implemented properly.

As I began, each of us in our own electorates have many stakeholders, many people, many friends, that we know who are dealing with this on a daily basis. I am fortunate enough, when I can, to be a member of a small disability housing board in my electorate in the Adelaide Hills, with a dedicated and extraordinarily hard-working mother of a disabled son, Judy Francis. She has been working tirelessly for years, raising money to provide better housing facilities for disabled people, particularly when the parents, who have been carers for a long time, are getting older and finding it more difficult to continue in that role. It very much fits with the idea of this scheme of empowering people to make choices for themselves, and giving people the opportunity to make their own choices. It is exactly those sorts of principles that drive the Liberal Party and which are front and centre of this scheme; it is exactly the sort of pursuit that Judy Francis and her group have been pursuing in my electorate. There are so many people in all of our electorates who are touched in some way by the issue of disability, and it is a challenge which we have to deal with in a better way, with a national approach, working with our states to ensure that people are getting access to better services, that they have access to better choices.

Government is about priorities and that is why we have put this as an absolute priority. We will have to make the hard decisions to ensure the funding is there to implement this properly. Again, that gets to planning this well, working through the detail, working through the detail with the states and not rushing out to announce things just to get a headline for the next 24 hours. This is far too important to be left in the hands of, as I say, the most incompetent government in the history of the Commonwealth.

This is an issue that should be dealt with in a bipartisan manner. We should be at the table. I call on the government, I urge the government to rethink their politicisation of this scheme, to come back to a genuine commitment to a long-term strategy to implement this properly, and to engage with the shadow minister, who knows so much and who has done so much work in this space. He is to be congratulated for the efforts he has gone to in understanding this complex issue and for working with the stakeholders on this scheme. He is also to be congratulated for giving us a genuine understanding on our side of politics about how it will operate if we enter into government and what work needs to be done to ensure this can be implemented properly and well so that it is not done in a fashion that does not meet the expectations of the people who are out there needing these services delivered in a far better way.

The other ways of managing disability services across the country have failed. They have failed certainly in South Australia. There has been no worse example, in my view, of the failure of the implementation of disability services than by the current Premier of South Australia when he was the disability minister. It was a complete and utter debacle. That is why you need a far better system, a system which focuses on the individual, that is well defined and clarified and that is prioritised by governments everywhere to look after those people in our society who need assistance. Ultimately the responsibility of what we do with welfare is to look after those who cannot look after themselves or who need our assistance to be able to live a fulfilling life. That is exactly what the disability sector has been asking for. That is the commitment from this side of the House. We want to do it in a structured, thought-through way. We do not want this to become another policy debacle. That is why the government should come to the table and should work with this. We should be doing this in a bipartisan fashion because it is too important to play petty politics with.