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Thursday, 14 February 2013
Page: 1436


Mr TRUSS (Wide BayLeader of The Nationals) (12:51): I am very pleased to follow the member for Hinkler in this debate, who has taken a keen interest in disability issues for the entire time he has been in the parliament. He has been a champion for local disability groups in his own electorate.

The National Disability Insurance Scheme Bill 2012 is providing the members of this chamber with an opportunity to highlight the plight of many Australians who must live with a disability. However, further to that, this bill is also providing the opportunity to recognise not only the difficulties disabled Australians face every day of their lives but also the huge contributions that many of their family members and carers make to support those in their care.

Almost every family includes someone with a disability, often a lifelong disability. Severe disability can not only destroy the lifestyle of an individual but also impact on the broader family: there are parents unable to achieve their ambitions in life and work and siblings who must go without so the needs of the family member with disabilities can be met. But let us not forget that family members with disabilities—sons, daughters, brothers, sisters—also bring joy to their parents and their family members. Small achievements are celebrated because they are, in reality, great achievements.

Many people overcome disabilities to lead productive lives and make full contributions to their communities. The role of a caring society is to make sure all its citizens are able to achieve to their potential and live satisfying lives. Australia already has a wide range of services for people with disabilities and their families. These services provide a great deal of help and make a real difference for many families. I respect and admire those who provide this care and thank them for all that they do in what is often very challenging work.

The National Disability Insurance Scheme concept is intended to take these services to a new level and to deliver them in a different and more comprehensive way. The coalition wants to ensure that all Australians receive a fair go, and that is what the NDIS aims to achieve. People with disabilities, their families and their carers must be at the centre of the scheme.

The scheme is intended to provide disabled Australians with opportunities that many of us simply take for granted. Currently, the level of support a person with a disability receives is dependent on the state they live in, the type of disability they have and when, where or how it was acquired. Those who are born with a disability or who acquire one when they are older are less likely to be provided with the level of assistance they require. Every member in this chamber knows that the system of support for Australians with a disability is failing many families. We need a national approach in order to support people with disabilities, who have for so long been marginalised.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, just under one in five Australians currently suffers from a disability. That is more than four million of our country men and women. Obviously, those four million cover a multitude of degrees of disability—from mild to severe. Not all of those four million Australians require assistance to manage their health conditions or to cope with everyday activities. It is proposed that the NDIS will provide people with disabilities an opportunity to be in charge of their supports, their needs, their equipment and their service providers. However, the Labor government have failed to outline the eligibility and assessment criteria that will be used to determine who will receive assistance through the NDIS. Over and over, the Labor government show that they are a government of concepts but not delivery.

This bill seems to be part of a desperate attempt by the Prime Minister to create a legacy in the last days of her office. She wants to take credit for the NDIS, even though she will not deliver a single service. The bill does not deliver an NDIS or the money to fund it. The four million Australians that live with a disability deserve results. The issue is not about getting support for the NDIS. In fact, every government and every opposition in every state across Australia support the NDIS, as does the federal coalition. The issue with the NDIS is in the detail. How will it work? Who will it benefit? Where will the money come from? Where will the extra carers come from? How will the NDIS be managed and the quality of services assured? These are the details that the government has so far failed to provide and which should have been a part of any meaningful legislation to actually implement an NDIS—details that are fully costed and fully budgeted; details that comprehensively outline the guarantee that those who so desperately need this scheme will be the ones who benefit from it.

This is called a National Disability Insurance Scheme, but it does nothing to assure those four million disabled Australians that the scheme is more than just a concept. To guarantee that this scheme will work well and is generous will no doubt cost the Australian people a lot of money, and from latest estimates it will be at least $8 billion extra per year. But the Labor government has huge deficits and massive debt. If this is a genuine insurance scheme, as it is called, then, we have to assume that, like other insurance schemes, there will be a premium to be paid. So I ask the government: what is the premium that everyone needs to pay in order to be covered? The Labor government has failed to provide any assurance to disabled Australians that this program has longevity and that the cost of having the scheme, which is paid for by Australian taxpayers, will not spiral out of control.

Currently, the government has committed $1 billion to the NDIS over four years. However, the Productivity Commission figures show that the first pilot phase alone should cost around $3.9 billion over this period. Like all insurance schemes, the more people who make a claim the higher the premiums and the higher the costs. The more generous the scheme the more people will want to be part of it. There is evidence of this kind of a response to disability pensions in Australia and around the world, yet the government provides no explanation about how the gatekeeper will work, who will control access to the scheme to ensure that it benefits those who need it most and how much will be considered to be affordable.

There is already dispute about whether the scheme should be available to people of retirement age. In the past this may not have been an issue, as most people with significant disabilities did not have a great life expectancy. But that is no longer the case as modern medical science enables people to treated for conditions which once would have taken a person's life.

It appears that many Australians who could benefit from the NDIS will not be eligible. People who are aged over 65 years will not be eligible to request support from the NDIS. Just over half—52 per cent—of people aged 60 years and over have a disability. Most of these do not need any assistance to manage health conditions or cope with everyday needs. For those who do, the most commonly reported needs are help with property maintenance, household chores and mobility. By the time Australians get to 90 years and over, 88 per cent will suffer from a disability. The cost of caring for these people is obviously significant.

The NDIS will need to provide arrangements to enable those who have been receiving support, perhaps for the whole of their life, to continue to obtain help once they turn 65. They cannot simply be cast adrift at a time when they will need the help most. Even previously fit people usually need help in their later years, and a care and support system will need to remain in place for these people also.

One of the primary concepts of the NDIS focuses on early intervention in order to mitigate, alleviate or prevent the deterioration of a person's functional capability. If this element of the scheme is successful it could have the potential to reduce the numbers of people who suffer with a disability and, in turn, reduce the cost of caring for elderly Australians. This is just another example of the benefits that the NDIS could have if it is planned and delivered correctly.

But it is not just the people with a disability who will benefit from the NDIS if we get it right. There are over 2.6 million carers who provide assistance to those who need help because of disability or old age every day in Australia. In fact, it was carers who originally came up with the concept of an NDIS about five years ago, and who have continued to lobby for one. No one better understands the need for an NDIS than those who have tirelessly and willingly provided everyday support to someone with a disability. There is no denying that acting as a carer for someone is an incredible act of love, and all Australians must recognise the sacrifices that carers make daily—often with little reward. Disability impacts the whole family, and all too often I hear stories of hardship and struggle when people have to give up careers and paid work in order to care for someone with a disability. The NDIS could provide a huge level of assistance to carers if the details are right.

The coalition has supported, and will continue to support, an NDIS. We supported the Productivity Commission report, the $1 billion in the budget, the five launch sites and the agreement between the Commonwealth and New South Wales for a full state wide rollout after the Hunter launch. Beyond this, we are calling for the government to establish a joint parliamentary committee in order to continue to progress the development of the scheme. We need a national approach which harnesses the resources of the states, private sector providers and the charitable sector. A NDIS will never work unless there is an intergovernmental agreement between all states and territories.

I was recently reminded of the vulnerability of disabled Australians. A young man from my electorate of Wide Bay was, unfortunately, killed in the floods as they swept through the Gympie district last month. This young man was confined to a wheelchair with cerebral palsy. While driving through a flooded creek, waters surrounded his parent's car and washed them down the creek. His parents were able to cling to trees long enough to be rescued. However, the young man was unable to fend for himself. This terrible incident highlights the fact that people with disabilities often need help at the most unexpected times, and also the importance of doing all we can to support our disabled Australians.

I implore the government to get the details right with the NDIS and to support the coalition's call for a bipartisan parliamentary committee to oversight the scheme. It will after all be the task of the incoming coalition government to actually implement the scheme.

The NDIS must represent good and reasonable value for money. It must take into account current support networks, families and carers and it should not include support that is more appropriately funded or provided elsewhere. Full implementation of an NDIS would be nothing short of a 'new deal' for people with disabilities and their carers. The NDIS must be a success, and all members of this chamber have a responsibility to ensure that it succeeds. The NDIS can provide real change and real hope for disabled Australians. That is why it is so vitally important that we get this scheme right.