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Thursday, 14 February 2013
Page: 1413


Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP (Mackellar) (11:02): I rise to support the National Disability Insurance Scheme Bill 2012 because, in the words of Tony Abbott, this is an idea whose time has come. This is a concept and a bill that is supported by both sides of the House. Indeed, I think it is interesting that the list of speakers from this side of the House is greater than the list of speakers from the government side of the House.

My personal commitment comes to the concept of and need for a National Disability Insurance Scheme because of my belief in the philosophy of individualism, which means that every individual matters and is important. That means not just the brightest in the land or ordinary people getting on with their lives; it means people who are disadvantaged and people with disabilities. Within the concept of that philosophy, it means that we all have an obligation to ensure that each individual is able to reach their maximum potential. Of course, each maximum potential will differ with each individual, but our obligation to help our neighbour does not—and the obligation is on each and every one of us to reach out our hand to our neighbour to assist them to reach their potential.

In my electorate and in my experience over my life, I have met many people with a disability whom I would call friends. I have met many parents whose energy and dedication to ensuring that their children will have the best they can has been nothing short of heroic. When one looks at the needs of people with disabilities, they vary so dramatically. People with disability vary from those less disabled to a child who has no ability to ever learn to speak or to show affection in the way that you or I might consider ordinary, or will never learn to feed themselves or be able to be trained in the way we consider to be normal. Yet it is when you see the love that can be generated between the mother and the child, and the father too—although, unfortunately, so often a broken marriage will result and the mother will be bringing up the child—that you see more and more the need for services that will perhaps allow those marriages to survive because the strain is not so great. For so many of the mothers I have seen who remain and have that burden, the support is just so desperately needed.

When I became the Minister for Defence Industry, Science and Personnel, I met a quite sensational woman called Margaret Fisk. She in 1993 had gathered together a group of friends in the Defence Force who had families with members with disabilities, or special needs, as they were called. Margaret formed the Defence Special Needs Support Group with the support, as I said, of other families who were meeting similar difficulties that had to be overcome. For instance, if you were posted from one state to another, the assistance that was available to you would differ from state to state. Whereas you might have received reasonable service delivery in one state, when you moved to another you could be right back where you started from.

This terrific group of women and men came to my attention when I first became minister and General Baker was the Chief of the Defence Force. We saw that there was a great need in the defence family to see that there was a program of support for such families. It was announced just recently that Margaret Fisk has just stepped down as the Coordinator of Defence Families with Special Needs. She has a lovely son Brendan, who 20 years later, since this group was founded, is now a man. In her words, and in her own story, Brendan is just Brendan and we get on with our lives. She pointed out the difficulties that she had with another child who had so often perhaps be left without attention, and then she would have to remember that 'Yes, you also have to look after the child who is without a disability.' There are thousands of people who face that every day.

There is a need for access to services that people can count on and rely upon. I have heard countless stories in this chamber. The member for Mayo was talking about the problems for children who have to get on waiting lists for special wheelchairs. By the time they get the wheelchairs they have grown and the wheelchairs are no longer adequate—all those sorts of things.

There are hearing-impaired children who need a cochlear implant, yet the number of cochlear implants are limited to a set number per year. I dramatically remember going to the Institute for Deaf and Blind Children, with which I have been associated since I was 18 years old, only in the last few years and being invited to sit in on their kindergarten class. Half those children have cochlear implants and the other half were children from ordinary families. You could not tell the difference. The cochlear implant makes that difference. It is because we have early detection. I am very proud to say that when I was minister, I introduced the requirement that every child be tested at birth for hearing deficiency, so that it can be picked up early. The earlier you pick it up the more we can do about it.

As I said, disability varies from person to person so dramatically. There are people who have disabilities who can live fulfilling, active lives. That includes people who might have blindness and people who might have paraplegia who can be in the workforce, but there are others who cannot. There are others who will always be dependent. When we look at the design and the rules and who is eligible for this scheme, it is essential that we allow the definition to cover those children who are born with a disability and of course those who acquire it—which has been central to the focus of this—and point out that people who are born with a major disability and those who acquire it are treated differently, and those people who acquire it through a car accident and can be compensated and those who might just be having recreation in a swimming pool and acquire the same disability are treated differently. It has to encompass the total range of differences of the individuals.

None of this will work without their continuing dedication of people who work in these fields. In my own electorate in the northern beaches we have Special Olympics. It was 21 years old last year. The fantastic dedication of parents who work with children who have mental disabilities allows these children to be able to be called athletes. They participate worldwide in sports. One of the members of Special Olympics went off with another group to Italy. He came back fairly recently and brought his medals to the presentation night for Special Olympics. He had won six gold medals. A prouder young man you could not have met. His parents were equally proud. At that same presentation night, I met six young women all of whom have Down syndrome, and they have become part of a ballet troupe which is comprised of dancers who are dancers in the traditional sense. They perform to the degree of excellence that they can. They have included these young women from the Special Olympics group to be part of their troupe and they will be going to the United States to dance. They are included in this group.

There is KaddyTransport of which I have the honour to be patron, I am honoured to be patron of the Special Olympics as well. Kaddy Transport enables people to have an outing. We run buses, pick people up and take them not just for shopping or doctors' appointments but for entertainment. We have a lunch once a week where they can come together. It is the continued input of people in the community who are reaching a hand out to their neighbour to help that has to be acknowledged and encouraged within this debate as well.

The money is vitally important and there has to be certainty about the rules that are being laid down as part of this bill which we are yet to see. There is one part in here, as the shadow minister for seniors, that disappoints me enormously—that is, once again, we see that dreaded 65 being a cut-off for eligibility for the scheme. National Seniors have made a very strong submission to government, very strong indeed—one which I do hope they will pay heed. I think it is worthwhile listening to some of the National Seniors' members' comments. One of them says, 'I cannot believe this is happening, it is like we are being written off as being of no value whatsoever just because we are 65.' Another says, 'I have been a supporter of the NDIS scheme; however, I find that I have to have this new age issue called over 65.'

'This is particularly difficult issue for people affected by polio during the 1930s and the 1960s', says another. At 65 many people have a good 20-plus years of life left to them and they can be productive and valued members of society and yet there is this age cut-off that has been introduced into this legislation.

People who at age 65 have no age related disability and who then have a traumatic event that gives them a disability are not covered, even though they would be covered if they were 64. And somehow they are then supposed to come under the aged-care system. There is no explanation as to how this will happen. It just is not reasonable.

We have been saying forever that we should not have young people in residential aged-care facilities. I have met young people with grave disabilities who have been in residential aged care because there simply was nowhere else. It is interesting that we do not have an age below which you may not enter an aged-care facility but now we are saying that there is an age cut-off for access to disability services. That does not seem logical, particularly when this government has put the pensionable age up to 67.

The National Seniors Association have said that they would like Australians who are 65 and older with no significant age related condition to be included in the scheme; alternatively, the government should at least start to explain how someone over that age who acquires a severe or profound disability and has no requirements for support for significant age related conditions is going to be covered. Are they simply to be left out in the cold?

This is a bipartisan issue: the care of those who are in our midst, who are part of us. Every person with a disability is part of our national family and we have an obligation to them, just as we have an obligation to the rest of society, to allow them to achieve their potential. I think of my friends who have been born with disabilities that have made speech difficult or movement difficult or every cramp in their body cause them pain; yet these people are able to take a position on a board because, with services, their mental activity is unimpaired. And I have met other people whose mental ability is impaired but who have enormous physical strength and pose other problems. But each one of them is part of us and part of our responsibility.

We on this side of the House support this bill enormously and with passion. I will conclude as I began, with Tony Abbott's words: this is an idea whose time has come and we must see it treated as something that we—as Australians who are members of this parliament, not just members of political parties—are committed to because of the obligation that we have to each other.