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Monday, 18 March 2013
Page: 1972

Senator FAWCETT (South Australia) (21:36): I rise tonight to speak also on the National Disability Insurance Scheme Bill 2013. I want to start off by going back to some words I spoke in my maiden speech in this place, about the fact that we live in a land that many people in the world can only dream of and that the vast majority of us who benefit from and enjoy all that this nation has to offer have a responsibility to give back where we can. First and foremost, we have a duty to defend and develop those things that preserve our democracy and freedom. But, secondly and importantly, we have an obligation to reach out to those amongst us—and, indeed, those beyond our shores—who for many reasons do not enjoy the same security or quality of life. In that speech I made the point that we stand here—certainly in my case I stand here—because there are things that we can do better. I recalled standing in the home of a sole parent who was in desperate need of respite and support for a disabled child. Her daughter was so physically strong and aggressive that they lived in a house remote from other people, with locked rooms and a fenced-in veranda. That is no way for a young family to live. We can do better than those conditions, and we can do better with the system that we put in place to care for those people with a disability.

That is not to say that everything governments of either persuasion have done in the past has been bad. There have been some good measures. I particularly recall, in my former life in the other place, working as the chair of Minister Brough's policy committee for families and communities, and I recall the money we put aside for respite for older carers of children with disabilities. That is an issue that is significant as people age and their children continue to need care. The additional funding that was put aside there made a real difference, particularly at Country North Community Services up in Clare. To see the difference that that funding made in a regional community was fantastic. Likewise, at the Elizabeth Special School, there was the package that Minister Brough announced: some $190 million for children with autism. Again, governments of both persuasions have done good things. The Howard government lost government soon after that announcement, but this current government continued with that program, and it has had benefits for people across the nation. Certainly the Elizabeth Special School is one place that is now a real focal point for young people with autism and their families.

But some things have not been so good. I remember the extensive debates around the Commonwealth, state and territory disability agreements between the Commonwealth government and the state governments on how the funding models would work, who would meet need and how to define need. The real shame of that whole process was that, whilst we sat and with very good intentions tried to work through funding programs, priorities, principles and partnerships and struggled to find agreement, families, carers and those with disabilities were not getting the support they needed. So, whilst there were offers of large amounts of money for that, the problem was that we did not get the partnership that was required. The people we have let down have been not so much us or the system as those who actually need the care. So one of the issues that I am very happy about with the National Disability Insurance Scheme is that, through the COAG process, we have already seen a number of partnerships signed up to between state and territory governments. I commend governments at both the federal level and the state level for achieving that.

All of us in this place know that the system is broken. Certainly in the Senate inquiry—I sat through one part of that in South Australia—more than 1,600 submissions made that point loud and clear: that the system needs reform. We know all too well that how somebody acquires a disability or where they live can make a marked difference in the level of support that they receive. There is a certain inequity about that, and I think that, in Australia in 2013, it is not before time that we are seeking to redress that. Whether you acquire an injury through the workplace and therefore have some form of compensation or insurance to cover it or whether you, through no fault of your own, are born with a disability and then your family is left, in some cases, largely to its own devices, it is remarkably inequitable to those people.

So, to quote Mr Tony Abbott, the Leader of the Opposition, it is a scheme whose time has come. I think it is important to recognise that this is a scheme that has had strong bipartisan support. I welcome the comments by Senator Thorp, who recognised that both sides of politics have recognised that this is a scheme whose time has come and that it needs to be implemented. The coalition have supported the scheme along each of the major parts of the process. We supported the work of the Productivity Commission, and we also supported the allocation of the $1 billion in the last budget to get the scheme on the road. We supported the five launch sites, and I am particularly pleased to see that South Australia has signed an agreement to be one of the launch sites. It is a fantastic opportunity. It starts in July this year for those people with children aged up to five years who will receive support, and over the next two years that will increase to include children aged up to 14. So it is not a silver bullet to fix all the demand all at once, but it is a start, and it is a start that has bipartisan support, which means that, for the families who need that support and that care, it is a program that hopefully will not be subject to the changing whims of politics and changing governments but will continue so that they can start planning the future of their families and the ones they care for. There is no definition at this stage for the move beyond 14 years old in South Australia, and I certainly look forward to working with members on both sides and in both houses as we articulate the funding models, the rules around the scheme and how the programs at these launch sites will be expanded so that everyone who has a disability and needs support can plan for the appropriate support that they need into the future in South Australia.

Any of the comments that we make as a coalition about the NDIS are offered in that spirit. We recognise that there are still things to be worked through. It will vary from country areas to city areas and from state to state. So there will be hurdles that we come across, and there will be unintended consequences. So the comments that are made are made with a view to and an intention of highlighting those unintended consequences and getting the best outcome for people with disability and those who care for them. I would encourage people in the government and the crossbenchers to receive any coalition comments in that spirit, in that we strongly support the scheme and seek to improve it as we can.

The NDIS is a person centred scheme. Something I found through the work I did in the other place when I was the member for Wakefield and supporting Minister Brough was one of the large failings with the current model: it is capacity constrained, there are frameworks in place that may or may not match people's need and to a large extent it disempowers people who have a disability and those who care for them. One of the real strengths of this scheme is that it seeks to empower people and, wherever the person with a disability has the capacity to have inputs into the planning and the decisions that are made, it provides and in fact requires that input, which is a really positive thing for that person. Where that is not the case, other arrangements will be made with the carers or an appointed person, but the bottom line is it will be about enabling a person to use a resource in the most practical and effective way possible that meets their priority needs. In working with communities in country areas where some of the more established forms of support are not so readily available, that flexibility is just crucial. There was nothing more heartbreaking than speaking with people who have a desperate need for respite but, living in a country area, find that when they finally get to breaking point at 11 or 12 o'clock at night the only respite they have is two to three hours drive away. By the time they get there, drop a child off at an emergency respite and have a couple of hours sleep in the back of a car, they have to pick them up the next morning and come back. So being able to use resources to find ways to have local solutions to local needs is one of the most powerful parts of the NDIS. It fits very comfortably with the coalition's philosophy of empowering individuals where we possibly can to take control over their lives. We welcome that as a key part of this scheme.

The other thing that the coalition has offered is the concept of having a bipartisan or in fact multiparty committee, co-chaired by the two major parties, to implement this scheme. I am disappointed that to date that concept has not been taken up by the parties, but the coalition's offer—restated by the leader, Mr Abbott—is that, should there be a change of government later this year, it would be the intention of an Abbott-led government to create such a committee so that we can harness the good ideas, passion and support of people from all parties in this parliament for the benefit of the community of Australia.

At the end of the day, if any party in this parliament seeks to make this scheme its own, the people we actually disempower are the Australian community and those with a disability. This of all areas is one where we need to recognise that true leadership is to serve and that by being here and being leaders of this nation we serve the interests of those who elected us and put us here. The coalition come to this debate in a spirit of bipartisanship. We offer that now and, should there be a change of government later in the year, we extend that offer. I welcome the initiative of the NDIS. The coalition are pleased to support it, albeit with some comments and amendments along the way. I offer it our support.

Debate interrupted.