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Tuesday, 14 August 2012
Page: 5179

Senator BOYCE (Queensland) (16:57): I seek leave to take note of the response from the Chair of Trustees of the Down Syndrome International organisation.

Leave granted.

Senator BOYCE: I am delighted that we have had this response from Down Syndrome International. This year marked a major advance for Down syndrome—for people with Down syndrome and their families internationally—with the acceptance of it as an official UN day. Ms Penny Robertson OAM, who is the Chair of Trustees for Down Syndrome International, has responded to the motion which I sought the Senate to pass; and I was delighted to get unanimous support for that motion for Down Syndrome Day. Ms Robertson has responded: 'The role of Australian volunteer organisations supporting families of people with Down syndrome needs to be recognised and acknowledged as they have made a huge contribution to the level of acceptance by society, which has allowed many people with Down syndrome to live rich and fulfilling lives.' Ms Robertson goes on to quote the UN General-Secretary Ban Ki-moon, who, in a message that he gave to people in New York on World Down Syndrome Day on 21 March, said:

For too long, persons with Down syndrome, including children, have been left on the margins of society. In many countries, they continue to face stigma and discrimination as well as legal, attitudinal and environmental barriers that hinder their participation in their communities.

People with Down syndrome in Australia have been relatively lucky compared to those in other countries, but not as lucky as they could be. The fact that we have now before us a national disability insurance scheme is one of the measures that is needed to improve our work with people with disabilities, including people with Down syndrome.

As Ms Robertson points out, the role of Australian volunteer organisations supporting families needs to be recognised and acknowledged, as does the role of the families themselves and of people with Down syndrome. It is time we recognised that. Certainly a national disability insurance scheme will be a step forward in terms of recognising the needs of people with disability.

But I cannot let pass the concerns that I currently have about the politicisation of the National Disability Insurance Scheme. There were articles not just in the Fairfax and Murdoch press in the past week but on most of the reputable internet comment sites as well, making the point that since Prime Minister Gillard apparently was having no effect by attacking Mr Tony Abbott, she had instead opted to try to wedge the Liberal premiers of Australia. The first item that she had chosen to use to attempt to wedge the Liberal premiers of Australia was the National Disability Insurance Scheme. That has proved ultimately to be a failure and yet comments that were coming through earlier after her grandstanding on the topic of the National Disability Insurance Scheme suggested that the Liberal premiers were being very easy to wedge on this.

There is the hypocrisy of talking about let's not play politics with people with a disability, let's not have a partisan approach to this. I find it hypocritical and distasteful to seek to use COAG—whatever happened to stopping the blame game—as a political tool and to use the National Disability Insurance Scheme at COAG as a political tool.

What I also want to comment on today—and I am sure it is a point that Ms Robertson would support—is the fact that a national disability insurance scheme over time will not be a cost to our economy. I first want to look at just a couple of statistics that we have. There is a disability employment summit coming up in November this year which makes the point that 45 per cent of people in Australia live in or near poverty and that improving their employment outcomes is a must. I note that Ms Penny Robertson is one of the speakers at this conference. I should point out that Ms Robertson, despite being the President of Down Syndrome International and chair of their board of trustees, is an Australian.

There is another forum—WAVE or Women in Adult and Vocational Education. They are particularly asking: do TAFEs and registered training organisations deliver the goods for women with disabilities? The point is made that only 14.9 per cent of women with disabilities are in full-time employment, despite 25 per cent of men with disabilities being in full-time employment. You have to take in that underlying figure I mentioned before of 45 per cent of people with disabilities living on or near the poverty line. Women with disabilities are far more likely than men with disabilities to only have part-time work. Thirty-five per cent of women with disabilities have part-time work and 23 per cent of men with disabilities who are employed have part-time work. Yet there are more women with disabilities who have post year 10 qualifications, more with degrees and more undertaking training. This is certainly a very good question that one hopes will be partly answered by the improvements that we will see in service provision. Why are the outcomes so poor for people with disabilities in general, particularly for people with intellectual disabilities such as Down syndrome and for women with disabilities? These are questions that we must answer.

NDIS reform is designed to dramatically increase the employment participation of people with disabilities and their carers. We in Australia currently have the 24th lowest employment rate of 29 countries measured by the Productivity Commission for people with disabilities. We are way behind countries such as the United Kingdom and Canada. We are well behind New Zealand in terms of the percentage of people with disabilities that we employ. If we could achieve the employment ratios of people with disabilities equivalent to the average OECD benchmark, the Productivity Commission estimates there would be an additional employment growth of 220,000 people or jobs by 2015 and that that alone would result in one per cent increase in GDP, translating to around $32 billion in additional GDP in that year alone. The Australian Network on Disability, which is Australia's employer group for disability employer organisations, recently put out a report estimating that a $43 billion increase in Australia's GDP would come if we could even reduce the disability employment participation gap by just one-third. They point out that reduction by one-third should be achievable. It is less than has been done by New Zealand and others.

Then there is the great advance of giving the opportunity to work to carers who currently cannot work because of caring for someone with a disability. If just 20 per cent of the 190,000 carers in Australia who are of workforce age but not working went to work in the community services sector—a low-paid sector—they would benefit the economy to the tune of $6.3 billion per year. If they were employed at a more average wage across major industry sectors, the economic impact would be around $32 billion a year.

I urge people to stop talking about $3 billion and $9 billion and the cost of an NDIS. Yes, there will be implementation and set-up costs along the way but the benefits to the Australian economy, to people with disabilities and people with Down syndrome in particular will be huge in the long term.

Question agreed to.