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Thursday, 14 February 2013
Page: 1410


Ms O'DWYER (Higgins) (10:47): I would like to commend the speech by my friend and colleague the member for Mayo. He has rightly pointed out how we on this side of the chamber believe that the time for a national disability insurance scheme has most certainly come. No one in this place thinks that we have got support for people with a disability right. In fact, I think both sides of the chamber can agree that the status quo is not working for the benefit of those with a disability to meet their needs and it is not working for the families or carers of people who spend their lives ensuring that their loved ones get the care that is required and so desperately needed.

At the moment one of the reasons the disability funding is not right is that there are so many different ways that people with a disability are funded. Currently, support and disability funding depends for some people in some states on whether they were born with a disability or whether they acquired it in a particular way. The sort of support that you get depends on how you acquired that disability—for instance, whether you acquired it in the workplace or whether you acquired it through a motor vehicle accident. In fact, we see differences from state to state. So unfortunately people in one state who have acquired or been born with a disability in one instance may receive completely different care to somebody in another state. Clearly, we need a better system that meets the needs of the people we are trying to ensure receive our care and our help.

The Productivity Commission delivered an excellent review on this. It pointed out very specifically:

The current disability support system is underfunded, unfair, fragmented, and inefficient, and gives people with a disability little choice and no certainty of access to appropriate supports.

It also pointed out:

The stresses on the system are growing, with rising costs for all governments.

So we are not under any misapprehension here. The number of people we are talking about who would require assistance under the National Disability Insurance Scheme, according to the Productivity Commission, would be around 410,000 people. When we look at that figure and think beyond it, we are looking as well at their family members who support them. It is clear that there is a problem with disability funding and it is clear that we need to do something about it in this place.

It is important to note that the coalition has been strongly supportive of a national disability insurance scheme from day one. Let me say at the outset that we commend the conception of the National Disability Insurance Scheme and the work done by John Welsh AM, who is a partner at PwC, and Bruce Bonyhady, the president of Philanthropy Australia, who have, along with families—those who suffer with a disability and broader carers organisations—lifted this issue to national prominence.

Let me also commend the shadow minister for disability, Senator Mitch Fifield, who has been so incredibly keen to make sure that this disability insurance scheme is one that we can as Australians all be proud of and who has put front and centre our offer to work with the government to ensure that we deliver an appropriate scheme.

Each step along the way of a National Disability Insurance Scheme has been supported by our side of politics. We supported the Productivity Commission review and we supported the $1 billion that was put into funding in the last budget, but we do note that $1 billion is much less than the amount of money that the Productivity Commission said is required for a fully comprehensive scheme. And let me quote again from the Productivity Commission report:

The Australian Government currently provides funding to the disability sector of around $2.3 billion, while state and territory governments provide funding of around $4.7 billion - a total of over $7 billion.

It goes on to talk about how the funding for this sector is subject to the vagaries of government budget cycles. There is volatility and variability in this funding; resourcing might be good one year but not good in the next year, and in order to deliver a comprehensive scheme an additional $6.5 billion per annum is required. That is $6.5 billion—a very significant amount.

The Productivity Commission recommended that the Commonwealth provide over $3.7 billion in the first instance. We have seen the current government make provision for $1 billion. We agreed with that provision for trials, though we are concerned that there is more money required for this scheme and the government has not provided any detail as to where that money will come from to have a sustainable scheme.

I will come to those question of funding a little bit later in my speech, but let me first say that one of the reasons we need a revamped National Disability Insurance Scheme—why we need to deliver this scheme—is because previously the funding that has been provided has been block funding. It has not been funding that has been provided to individuals to suit those individual's needs. We need to deliver a scheme that offers flexibility and choice for those who have a disability. We need to make sure that it is a system that is not wrapped up in too much red tape. We need to make sure that we empower individuals, their families and their carers to make the best choices about their individual needs. That is why we support this National Disability Insurance Scheme.

We all in this place want a scheme that will be a success, but we have some concerns about the implementation of the scheme and some concerns about the detail that is so lacking in this bill today. It will be in the detail that we will have a fully functioning scheme; detail around the eligibility requirements for people to access the scheme and the assessment tools that will be used to assess against the eligibility criteria. Unfortunately, there is no detail available yet. The bill needs a framework in which to operate and, again unfortunately, there is no detail in this bill. The rules which will demonstrate the operating of a National Disability Insurance Scheme are not part of this bill; again, we are lacking in details.

We only have the broadbrush strokes of an agency and a board—all of these very important things—but, again, we require a lot more detail around the rules of the scheme and how it will function. We are told by the government these rules will come—the detail will come and the eligibility requirements will come—but we say it needs to come very quickly, and we will work with them to do that.

Let's just place on the record that the shadow minister for disabilities, along with the Leader of the Opposition, made a proposal to the government to form a joint parliamentary committee that would be chaired by both sides of this place in order to get these details right. This scheme is going to last beyond the life of this parliament and beyond the life of the next parliament; it needs to be a scheme that all sides of politics can sign up to and can work through any problematic details.

It is concerning that the government has not wanted to put in place this committee and that it seems to want to play politics on this very important issue. It is also concerning that it does not wish to have the state governments—who, critically, also deliver this important care—involved in a joint committee either. Instead, it wants to play politics with them as well. This is not a partisan issue. It should not be made a partisan issue, and again I implore the government to join with us in forming this joint parliamentary committee that will be chaired by both the minister for disabilities and the shadow minister for disabilities, and will include all of the relevant state ministers as well. It is too important for us not to get this detail right.

It is too important to the families in my own electorate of Higgins, who I have sat down with and discussed the importance of the National Disability Insurance Scheme. I had the very good fortune to be able to invite the shadow minister for disabilities, Senator Mitch Fifield, to my electorate to sit down with the parents, friends and carers of people with a disability to talk through with them their concerns and the urgency around a fully functioning National Disability Insurance Scheme. I have been told personal stories by parents—ageing parents—who are concerned about the future of their children when they are not around, and who are concerned about who will fight for their children to ensure that they receive the best possible care. But we want to ensure that, more than simply receiving care, all Australians, no matter what their ability or disability, can engage in our social and economic life. Again, the great value of the National Disability Insurance Scheme will be to ensure that this occurs.

The funding is critical—it is important that we get the funding right. It pains me to say this in this place, but so much of Commonwealth funding has been squandered and wasted by this current government through its own fiscal incompetence. We are in a situation where we are spending more than $7 billion each and every year on the interest bill on the borrowings of the government. Let me remind you again what the Productivity Commission said: to implement a National Disability Insurance Scheme we need an additional $6.5 billion per annum. It is clear that, if this government were not so incompetent with the way it manages our finances, we could have a fully functioning National Disability Insurance Scheme. We on this side understand the need for a strong economy so that we might deliver a strong National Disability Insurance Scheme.

We call on the government to provide additional detail around the rules, the reporting and the requirements regarding quality assurance as quickly as possible. We do not want to see politics played on this important issue. We ask again to be involved in this process through a joint parliamentary committee.

The status quo is not an option. In this place, we have a responsibility to do something about those who suffer from a disability and to right the wrongs of a confused funding scheme that exists already but is not meeting those needs. This is something I will work towards and that the coalition will work towards. Once it is achieved, we will be proud in this place to be able to say we were part of it.