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Monday, 18 March 2013
Page: 1959


Senator MOORE (Queensland) (20:39): I rise to speak to the National Disability Insurance Scheme Bill 2013. We had a real opportunity in our committee to talk with many people who told us why they wanted this scheme to work. I start by putting on the record my thanks to all of the people who gave up their time and their lives to come and talk to us, because the efforts they made were extraordinary. They did not have to come; they chose to come and talk to a committee of this parliament that was looking at this bill for the National Disability Insurance Scheme. They had so many messages for us—and I acknowledge Senator Fifield's comments about the role of the committee process in what we do—and I believe that once again, through the opportunity we had to listen to the people of Australia, we have been able to reinforce the need for the scheme, to listen to why it was important and to come up with suggestions that make this parliament come up with better legislation.

I acknowledge, at this stage, the fact that already, through the process in the other place, we have been able to have some of the evidence that we heard in our committee process already be a part of amendments being put to the bill. To all those people who actually came and took part in the committee: this reinforces that, again, you have the right and you have the voice to impact on legislation in our country. At our first hearing in Townsville we heard evidence from a person who had been working in the community up there, and they said:

I have been waiting for an NDIS to happen for many years. Although what is proposed is not perfect, it is a start and all journeys start with a first step.

The legislation that we have before us is a step, and it is a step in a journey that has been taking place for a long time in our community.

There has always been an acknowledgement that government has a role to play in providing services for people with disabilities. In fact, since 1991, there has been a strategy in place, brought in by previous governments, for states and federal government to work cooperatively together to respond to the needs of their community. Consistently, the core to that has been the operation of the COAG process. We know that that is not perfect, but the key of the NDIS's effectiveness will be the way that states and federal government work together to respond to the need to effectively finance those needs and to ensure that there is confidence given to the community that we will work together to make this work.

I really encourage people to read the Hansard, to read the evidence, to hear the demands. This was not a compliant and passive group of people that came to talk to our committee; they came because they had need, their need was identified and they were demanding that their government respond to that need. Amidst the range of enthusiasm, commitment and excitement, for me the most telling features of the evidence we received were vulnerability and fear, because they did not want to be disappointed again. They were fearful that commitments and promises made by this government—this COAG process—would, again, not fulfil the needs that they had. They have been disappointed before. One of the saddest elements of what we heard was the number of times people, families and community groups had been disappointed and let down.

In fact, the focus of this legislation that we have the honour to be discussing in our parliament at this time is to say that no matter where you are and no matter what your disability is, in our community, if you have a significant and permanent disability which will impact on your life, you will be able to have that respect and that support through a range of mechanisms that will be able to work with you to come up with the result that you need in your life. It will not be somebody else telling you what is right for you; it will not be someone else telling you the time frame for the supports that you are able to get. In fact, at much the same time our committee has also been working on a process around the social determinants of health, and so much of the evidence came together when we were looking at these issues.

One of the most important elements was this awful raffle that people have in this country. How they will be served, what opportunities they will have and how they are going to be living is determined by a raffle of where they are, what their environment is like, what their support networks are like and how rich they are. If you go back to the original aim of the legislation as it is set out, it talks about taking away that raffle. It is actually enshrining a rights based process in this legislation. Many of the people who came to us understood this so clearly. Again, these are not people who are unaware of their rights; they know, they understand what has happened and they celebrated when Australia became a party to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Again, they demanded that that took place. It was not a government that made the decision that we would sign up to those conventions; it was our community telling us that we had to—it was our government, I am proud to say. In fact, the NDIS process evolved through that to ensure that we were able to identify the inequities of the system.

Over a number of years the community affairs committee has been party to a number of committee processes which have led to the recommendation around the need for a national scheme to take away this uncanny and unfair raffle approach to entitlement; to be able to have people working on an assessment base which is transparent, professional and understood. That is the basis of the assessment process that is in this bill.

Again, it is important to reinforce what has been said by both Senator Fifield and Senator Siewert about the availability of the rules which complement the primary legislation as a package so that people can see exactly how the process is going to work. I was made much more confident by the way that the people who are working on this process were able to come to us and talk to us about the responsive nature in which the rules are being created. Through the launch sites we will be able to see the legislation with the rules and guidelines being put in place operationally so that we will be able to test them. Through the range of launch sites that have been agreed we will be able to see people with disabilities in their own environment and how the legislation we are discussing will operate for them and include them as the centre of the whole process.

In moving forward, I think we have the opportunity through the launch site process—and I was joking through the interactions with the people who gave evidence that the current term seems to be 'the learnings' of the process—to add the learnings to our knowledge. That is the intent of the structure on which we will be voting. We have the core legislation, which I see clearly as enabling legislation, to put in process the outline and the framework on which we will be able to move forward. The different guidelines, as Senator Fifield pointed out, look at key components of need and will be able to be put in place and work with communities through the range of organisations which will have their funding processes in place, to see exactly how they work.

A core component of how this process must work is the advocacy about which Senator Siewert spoke, the rights of people to ask questions, to take control and to appeal against judgements or situations which will impact on them. There are a number of issues which have already been identified and which were highlighted and put in the report about discussions that must be had over the next 12 months as we lead to the full rollout of the program. Both of the previous speakers have highlighted a few, but I want to touch again on the ability to question and appeal.

I am an ex-public servant, so I am very into that process of having the right to appeal. There was a lot of debate about how we ask questions when something is happening in the process: how do we question what is going on? The reason for that concern is the fact that it is an abject failure at the moment. That kind of vulnerability and fear about which I spoke has been caused by the fact that the system is not working now, and I do not think it has ever worked effectively. The disjointed nature of the system has put people at a disadvantage, so they do not have the confidence or the power to question and to say, 'We don't think this is right and we think it should be done in a different way.'

So much of the evidence showed that forced, submissive nature, and the fear people had that if they did ask questions they would be punished and they would lose services. We had evidence that it did occur; this is not an unjust fear. The process for people being able to effectively appeal the process was one about which there was significant evidence. In some of the amendments that have come forward from the other place we see that the department and the government have listened to some of those concerns. There was a fear that people would be forced into a very formalised appeal process where, again, they would be powerless and would not be able to access the same degree of questioning rights that you and I have, Mr Acting Deputy President. If we do not like something we have the ability to say: 'No, I want to do it differently. I am not being treated fairly.'

There was a significant amount in the report that talked about the process that has come through and the way the current system operates through the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. It will be amended to have specialist knowledge and power to work with people in the disability area; to understand their needs and to take the time to work with them so that they will not be intimidated and so they will have the power to appeal decisions that impact on them.

Consistently, the major message that I received—and I am speaking for myself rather than for the whole committee—is that people want the right to own their own lives and their own futures. 'The dignity of risk' was the term that was consistently brought out. People have the right to take risks, but somehow over the last few generations there has been the view that we need to put into compact areas people with disabilities so that there is no right to take risk. They are the subject of services being foisted upon them. They have services given to them when they are available, and whatever can be afforded. Again, they do not have the right to make decisions about themselves, about what they can do or about who will work with them.

One of the most touching pieces of evidence we had was from a mum in Western Australia who talked about her young son, who is an adolescent. She was talking about the fact that he wanted to do things that other young men could do: go out, go partying and go clubbing. She told the story that he was completely reliant on whether his paid carer under the system was available at that time to provide the service for him. If that carer was not available, he was unable to leave his bed.

That is not the kind of life that the NDIS wants for the people in our community who identify with disabilities. That is not the kind of life that the people of Every Australian Counts has demanded will be in place for people with disabilities in our community. What we need to do, as a parliament, is look at the legislation that is put before us, work together effectively to ensure that we can put things in place which will enable the NDIS to move forward. Then have the courage to evaluate it effectively and come back into this place, and make a change if things are not working well and if the people for whom this legislation has been designed are not happy and are not receiving the services they should. That is the commitment that I have had from the minister and from the parliamentary secretary, when we took forward the concerns that were raised during our hearings.

That is what the parliament is about. You do not set legislation in stone and say, 'This is how it must be.' That is how it has been in the past and that is why it has not worked. We have seen a wide range of acceptance and excitement about this legislation. In fact, as the committee report says, 'We did not find anyone who did not support the legislation.' What we have now is the opportunity to work effectively to see that it is put in place, that agreements are openly discussed and, most importantly, that the people for whom the legislation is designed who own this legislation have the right to question and the right to come back and make sure that it is working. We need to make a strong financial commitment.

I am not sure how you actually assess the process where people looked us in the eye and said, 'We don't believe that it's going to happen.' It is a very telling point that after all the effort that has gone into getting this legislation out there and arranging committee hearings and having it all running, witnesses sit there and tell you, 'We want it, but we don't quite believe that it's going to happen.' They say that because they have been let down so often, so many times. So as governments—state governments, territory governments and the federal government—we need to ensure that that fear and that anger is not real. We have got to make a commitment together that we will ensure that this is appropriately funded and that there will not be that desperation and disappointment. We have built up the hopes of people.

We have made a commitment to people and we must ensure that the appropriate funding is provided. That means at the state level, the territory level and the federal level we need to appropriately evaluate what the funding is going to be, look at the modelling that is done and then ensure that the money is there not just for one, two or three years. This is a commitment for life and it must be a commitment for life because we are talking about lives. We need to ensure that the financial commitment is put in place. For me, that was the greatest message that I received in the committee.

I do want to put on record my complete respect and appreciation for the secretariat of the Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs. I cannot tell you the extra work that our committee put on these people over the last couple of weeks to get this report written. They did it, they did it well, they did it professionally and they did it in an engaging way with the range of people who came and talked to our committee. It is not always easy to work with people who have such high expectations, to ensure that their needs are met and to make sure that every witness who came to see us knew that their words were going to be effectively heard and that their evidence was going to be treated with absolute respect. I believe that our secretariat made that happen. I do believe that over the last couple of weeks, their work has made this whole process work as well as it possibly could have. We have a very high bar; we expect the work to be good. They deliver and they deliver every time, and we could not do our job without them. I really wanted to put that on the record.

On 1 July this year, the world will not completely change. But for some people across our country, there will be hope that was not there a few months ago. We have a job to ensure that that hope is not misplaced. The National Disability Insurance Scheme is something that has engaged people across the community in a very special way. I think now that we can continue that engagement by making sure that we, in this place, do our job to get the best possible outcome. In terms of where we go, the process we have in place with the various advisory committees that have been established through the legislation ensure that people with the lived experience of disability are involved who know what it is like to have the restrictions and the restraints that I have never had, and that I do not really understand. I congratulate and I thank the people who came to see us because they have helped me to understand a little bit of their lives and what they must have. I want to thank all of the people who have been involved. This is not some kind of contest as to who has the naming rights or who is the person who happens to be in government at the time. This is something that we can do together and I think that we have got the opportunity to do that.

Senator Fifield: Hear, hear!

Senator MOORE: Senator Fifield, I do think that while you say that these are values for everybody, I am very proud to say that the NDIS does reflect Labor values. I think they reflect other people's values as well, but they strongly reflect Labor values and it is an opportunity that we have, as a government, to work to put this in place.

I say thank you again to the people across Australia who brought their knowledge, their concerns, their fear and their encouragement to make sure that the NDIS will work.