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Wednesday, 1 June 1994
Page: 1022

Senator TAMBLING (9.45 a.m.) —The Human Services and Health Legislation Amendment Bill 1994 is largely mechanical and the coalition will not be opposing it. The bill proposes an amendment to the Disability Services Act 1986, the Health Insurance Commission Act 1973 and the National Health Act 1953. My interest in this bill relates to part 2, which amends the Disability Services Act 1986 by inserting a new subsection 23(5A). You will recall, Mr Acting Deputy President, that I was the shadow minister for community services until last week. I have been asked to keep alive the carriage of this matter and I am pleased to do so.

  This bill will bring the legislation into line with what has developed as common practice over the years in relation to the issue of early notices of intent to recover moneys to the person potentially liable to pay compensation. Subsection 23(7) is also to be amended to require the insurer who has been sent a notice under subsection 23(5) advising of the debt due to the Commonwealth relating to the rehabilitation program provided to pay that debt before any payment is made to the client. Section 26 of the act is also being amended by the inclusion of a provision relating to section 27A of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal Act 1975, the effect of which is to require decision makers to notify their decisions to the people affected and to inform them of their review rights.

  The Commonwealth Rehabilitation Service is responsible for the delivery of rehabilitation services to workers compensation authorities. These services account for 32 per cent of CRS service delivery and are revenue raising for the Commonwealth. The Disability Services Act 1986 does not allow for the CRS to claim payment for rehabilitation services prior to service delivery. In the past, CRS has encountered problems in attempting to recover moneys from workers compensation authorities after services have been rendered. As a result, this has often led to a cost recovery from CRS rehabilitation clients rather than from the relevant authority.

  The amendments before the Senate today will overcome the past recovery difficulties and administrative delays by allowing CRS to claim funds from workers compensation authorities prior to service delivery for clients. The coalition supports this concept, as the outcome will be a step towards better accountability of government revenue. We are all aware that there are reviews currently under way of the CRS and certainly there does need to be a continuing emphasis on this particular area.

  The question of government accountability has, of course, a familiar ring to it. In the new parliamentary sittings we have heard much about the need for greater accountability in relation to the spending of public moneys. There has already been a debate in the other chamber about the fraudulent use of funds expended in Department of Employment, Education and Training programs. These highlight the government's accountability problems. It is yet another demonstration of the government's inability to monitor programs and account for disbursement of funds. In the last parliamentary sittings it was the now famous sports rorts affair; in the spring sittings it will be a question of `watch this space' for the next example of extravagant waste of taxpayers' money by a government which has lost the plot.

  The government's white paper, released only a week or so ago, reveals that 1,850 new placements will be available for people with disabilities in 1994-95, rising to 2,300 placements four years later in 1997-98. Most of these placements will be available through the Commonwealth Rehabilitation Service.

  I have grave concerns about the four-year program being able to assist people with disabilities into the work force through the CRS program. From the representations I have received in my office, I am concerned about the services provided by CRS to people with disabilities, particularly those who have high support needs. There should be a range of employment and training opportunities for people with disabilities.

  Obviously, these programs should not necessarily be contained within the Commonwealth rehabilitation program and disability services program of the Department of Human Services and Health. The Department of Employment, Education and Training has many worthwhile programs and I am concerned that, given the proportion of people with disabilities as a percentage of the long-term unemployed, this has not been reflected as a percentage in new DEET training programs.

  I think that the way in which this government is addressing employment and training opportunities for people with disabilities is just tokenism. This government is not seriously addressing the problems facing the single largest group of long-term unemployed in Australia.

  The Department of Employment, Education and Training figures obtained last year show a major disparity with new programs. For example, a total of 159,692 persons with disabilities were registered at CES offices located around Australia at the end of July 1993. Of this total, 96,263 people with disabilities, or 60 per cent, were registered for more that 12 months. A total of only 13,389 people with disabilities were participating in DEET training programs throughout Australia at the end of July 1993. These figures exclude approximately another 20,000 people with disabilities working in sheltered workshops and, more importantly, a total of 406,729 people in receipt of the disability support pension administered by the Department of Social Security at the end of June 1993. That is well over 500,000 people.

  These stark figures speak for themselves and challenge us all. How will this government solve the unemployment and training problems facing people with disabilities with a mere 8,500 placements over the next four years? People with disabilities, their parents, carers and businesses have every right to be totally disillusioned with this government. The coalition supports the bill because it approves of proper financial administration and recoupment of government expenses.