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Monday, 18 March 2013
Page: 1950

Senator FIFIELD (VictoriaManager of Opposition Business in the Senate) (19:59): Every senator knows that the system of support for Australians with disability is broken. The Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee, ably chaired by Senator Claire Moore, received more than 1,600 submissions, each of which made this point. The evidence received from witnesses again reinforced that the level of support a person with a disability receives depends on a number of factors, including the state they live in, whether the disability is congenital or acquired and, if it was acquired, whether it was acquired in the workplace, a motor vehicle accident or some other context. Workers compensation and motor vehicle accident insurance provide coverage in some jurisdictions, but if you are born with a disability or acquire a disability later in life it can be a different story with waiting lists and queues.

The result is, as we all know, that many people with a disability are left without the assistance that they need. That is something that I discovered when I took on this portfolio over three years ago. I had been operating under the assumption that I think many Australians operate under, which is that, if you have a disability in Australia, you receive the care and support you need. That is not the case. It is something that people who do not have a friend or family member with a significant disability often do not realise. I must say that when I took on the portfolio the scales did literally fall from my eyes.

In the words of the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Abbott, 'the NDIS is an idea whose time has come'. The coalition agrees that Australia needs a new system of support based on need rather than rationing, with the entitlement for support going to the individual. The individual needs to be at the centre and in charge, able to pick the supports, equipment and service providers they choose. This is the vision of the Productivity Commission's landmark report into long-term care and support for people with disability. This is the vision of the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

The coalition has enthusiastically supported each and every milestone on the road to the NDIS. The coalition supported the work of the Productivity Commission. The coalition supported the $1 billion in the last budget. The coalition supported the five launch sites. The coalition supported the agreement between the Commonwealth and New South Wales for a full state-wide rollout after the Hunter launch. The coalition supports this legislation: the National Disability Insurance Scheme Bill 2013.

The Leader of the Opposition, Mr Abbott, has demonstrated his personal commitment to Australians with disability and those who care for them by dedicating the $540,000 raised by the 2012 Pollie Pedal charity bike ride to Carers Australia. Along the 1,000 kilometre route Mr Abbott met with people with disability, carers and disability organisations. Mr Abbott has committed that the next two Pollie Pedals will also be in partnership with, and raise funds for, Carers Australia.

Any comments the coalition makes about the NDIS in this debate are offered in a constructive spirit to help make the NDIS the best it can be. The coalition stands ready to work with the government to see an NDIS delivered as soon as possible. The coalition believes an NDIS can be delivered within the time frame recommended by the Productivity Commission by a prudent government that manages well.

The NDIS is a person-centred and self-directed funding model. It is aligned to the objectives of empowering the individual, removing government from people's lives and reducing red tape. The coalition believes that the full implementation of an NDIS would be nothing short of a new deal for people with disabilities and their carers. We have to get this right. Because the NDIS is a once in a generation reform that will unfold over the life of several parliaments, it should be the property of the parliament as a whole on behalf of the Australian people rather than the property of any particular political party. To get this right will require a very high level of consultation and attention to detail, not just now and not just in the launch sites but from now until full implementation.

The NDIS should be beyond partisan politics. The coalition has on occasion been a little disappointed when some members of the government have claimed that the NDIS represents quintessentially Labor values. It does not. The NDIS represents Australian values. It represents a fair go. It represents helping those who face extra challenges for reasons beyond their control. I do not think any side of politics has a mortgage on these things.

The coalition has called for the establishment of a joint parliamentary committee to be chaired by both sides of politics to oversee the establishment and implementation of the NDIS. The parliamentary oversight committee would lock in all parties and provide a non-partisan environment where issues of design and eligibility could be worked through cooperatively. I think the Senate inquiry into the legislation chaired by Senator Moore gave a bit of an insight as to how such a committee, an oversight body on an ongoing basis, would operate.

Mr George Christensen, the member for Dawson, has had a motion in the House to establish this committee for some time. Regrettably, the motion has not been brought forward for a vote. I and Senator Boyce moved a similar motion to establish the oversight committee on 27 June last year in this place, but the government and the Australian Greens together declined to support that motion. Mr Abbott reiterated the offer to join in establishing a parliamentary oversight committee in his Press Club speech on 31 January this year, saying:

The Coalition is so committed to the National Disability Insurance Scheme, for instance, that we’ve offered to co-chair a bi-partisan parliamentary committee so that support for it doesn’t flag across the three terms of parliament and among the nine different governments needed to make it work.

When the government has been offered the opportunity to embrace this genuinely bipartisan offer, it has to date declined to do so. This legislation gives the government another opportunity to correct this. An amendment was moved by Mr Andrews in the other place to give effect to this committee, which was not successful. I will be moving a similar amendment in the committee stage to give effect, hopefully, to the establishment of a bipartisan oversight committee, and we urge the government to accept this offer.

It is important to note that every government in Australia and every opposition in Australia supports and wants to see an NDIS. It was a little disappointing that the Prime Minister did not treat all jurisdictions as partners at the COAG meeting in July last year, and it was to the credit of the Victorian and New South Wales governments that they continued to negotiate in the face of some misrepresentation and reached agreement to host launch sites. I mention this because a cooperative approach is essential. There cannot be a full NDIS without the states and territories. They are partners, and the fruits of a constructive approach were evident when Premier O'Farrell of New South Wales and the Prime Minister signed an intergovernmental agreement in December last year for a full state-wide roll out after the Hunter launch project. The government should continue in a constructive approach in discussions with the other jurisdictions to conclude further bilateral agreements. As I say, there cannot be a full NDIS without an intergovernmental agreement with each state and territory.

It is worth making comment in relation to those states that are not hosting launch sites. The Productivity Commission never envisaged every state hosting a launch site and never saw the absence of a launch site as a bar to taking part in a full national rollout. Indeed, Premier Newman of Queensland has written to the Prime Minister with a proposal to be part of a full national rollout. Premier Barnett of Western Australia has written to the Prime Minister proposing a joint Western Australia-Commonwealth NDIS.

Questions of funding also need to be cooperatively worked through with the states and territories. Legitimate questions and due diligence should not be portrayed as a lack of commitment to the NDIS. For instance, while the coalition emphatically supported the government's commitment of $1 billion to the NDIS in the last federal budget, there was some difficulty in reconciling that figure with the $3.9 billion the Productivity Commission said would be necessary over the forward estimates for the first phase of the NDIS. We assume that the government will explain and account for this and make appropriate provision in the coming budget. The coalition will continue to place the NDIS above politics and is prepared to work with state and Commonwealth governments towards a better deal for people with disability.

The bill itself establishes the framework for the National Disability Insurance Scheme and the National Disability Insurance Scheme Launch Transition Agency. This will enable the scheme to be launched, and the agency to operate the launch, in four sites across Australia from July 2013 and five sites from July 2014. The first stage of the scheme will benefit more than 20,000 people with disability and their families and carers living in South Australia, Tasmania, the Hunter in New South Wales, the Barwon area of Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory. The scheme will provide funding to individuals or organisations to help people with disability participate more fully in economic and social life though the provision of an entitlement enabling things such as equipment, supported accommodation or personal attendant care.

The mechanics of the agency will be established by way of legislative instruments called the NDIS rules. These regulations, the NDIS rules, will further detail areas such as eligibility. The government released a discussion paper about the rules on 1 February 2013. However, rather than containing a draft set of rules, the discussion paper was a series of questions. This is significant as the bill itself is essentially a framework. It establishes the agency, the board, the chief executive and a general definition of eligibility. But the mechanics of the scheme will be established by the rules. A recurrent theme in the evidence which was presented by witnesses to the Senate committee was that it was hard to offer advice, to pose questions or to plan fully for the launch sites in the absence of the rules.

The government released seven sets of draft rules on the final day of the hearings of the Senate committee on Tuesday, 5 March. These included draft rules for becoming a participant, draft rules for children, draft rules for privacy, draft rules for nominees, draft rules for supports, draft rules for registered providers and draft rules for plan management. These draft rules are still the subject of consultation with the states and territories and disability stakeholders, and the coalition is studying them carefully. The government has also indicated that there are potentially dozens of batches of draft rules still to be released. These need to be released quickly to enable proper scrutiny and consultation.

The risk, as always with this government, is in their capacity to competently implement. The interaction of three components—the NDIS Bill, the NDIS rules and the operating guidelines for the NDIS Launch Transition Agency—will determine how, and how well, the NDIS operates. The work of the Senate committee was critical and it should have been afforded the benefit of the full NDIS rules and the operating guidelines for the agency before concluding its work. It is difficult at the moment to develop a complete picture of how the NDIS will unfold because of insufficient information. I must say I was a little bemused today to read of the proposal to change the name of the NDIS to Disability Care Australia. I think the focus at this time should be on scheme design rather than graphic design, but it is not a point over which the opposition seeks to make a capital case.

This legislation is not perfect. The NDIS is a complex venture. Amendments, after the introduction of the legislation into the parliament, were inevitable and to some extent reflect that the government has heeded the work of the Senate committee. The Senate committee process has again proven its worth through the inquiry which has taken place and the government has undertaken to fully consider the work of the committee. However, in the time available neither the committee nor the coalition, for that matter, were ever going to be able to address all design issues; the onus remains on the government. The prime function in the time available was to ventilate as many issues as possible.

While the coalition supports the NDIS and the broad architecture of the scheme as outlined by the Productivity Commission, the detailed design of the scheme, the legislative drafting and the launch site implementation are, and remain, the responsibility of the government. The coalition had offered to be partners with the government in the design of the scheme and the drafting of the legislation through the establishment of a joint parliamentary committee to oversee the design and implementation of the NDIS. This offer was not accepted; therefore the coalition has not had the benefit of the information and opportunity such an ongoing parliamentary committee would have provided to work with the government on these issues.

More needs to be done. There are questions that stakeholder groups have, and I will cite one as a representative example of the many. It is in relation to polio survivors—people with delayed effects of polio. There are questions that many stakeholder groups are asking about how they will fit into the NDIS and, if they do not, what the arrangements for them will be. This is and will remain a work in progress. The legislation to give effect to the NDIS is in the parliament due to a grassroots campaign by carers, Australians with disability and the organisations that support them. They came together, decided enough was enough, spoke with one voice and declared, in effect: 'We're mad as hell and we're not going to take it anymore.'

I want to acknowledge the support that campaign has had from the Every Australian Counts organisation and the work of the campaign chair, Mr John Della Bosca, and of Kirsten Dean, who was the deputy campaign manager for much of that time. I also acknowledge my good friend Ms Milly Parker, who always keeps me up to the mark and who I know has had a significant impact on Mr Abbott. It is important to acknowledge the two main intellectual drivers of the NDIS: Mr John Walsh AM, partner at PwC, and Mr Bruce Bonyhady AM, Chairman of Yooralla and President of Philanthropy Australia. Without the determination, professional expertise and personal knowledge of these two men it is unlikely this legislation would be before the parliament.

I am very pleased that the legislation is here before the Senate and that it is at this stage. The coalition want the NDIS to be a success, the launch sites to run smoothly and this legislation to achieve the objectives laid out by the Productivity Commission. The coalition stands ready, and I stand ready, to work with the government and all jurisdictions to make the NDIS a reality. Australians with disability, their families, their carers and the organisations that support them have had to wait far too long for a better deal and this legislation is a step on the road to making sure they receive the deal they so very much deserve.