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Wednesday, 20 March 2013
Page: 2125


Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS (New South Wales) (09:47): I rise to speak on the National Disability Insurance Scheme Bill 2012. As the Leader of the Opposition, the Hon. Tony Abbott, said on 13 April 2012, the National Disability Insurance Scheme is 'an idea whose time has come'. The coalition have enthusiastically supported each of the milestones on the road to the National Disability Insurance Scheme. We supported the initial work that was done by the Productivity Commission, we supported the $1 billion in the last budget and we have supported the five launch sites. We support the agreement between the Commonwealth and New South Wales for a full state-wide rollout after the Hunter launch. We support this legislation, the National Disability Insurance Scheme Bill 2013.

Indeed, the coalition 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. What did we get in response to that? The Prime Minister, in her inimitable style, just simply rejected that and said, 'We're getting on with it.' This is a very important issue for thousands of Australians with a disability and their families and carers, and that just goes to show the disdain that the Prime Minister has for something that should have been done on a bipartisan basis. The member for Dawson, George Christensen, has had a motion in the House of Representatives to establish such a bipartisan committee for some time. Regrettably, that motion has not been brought forward for a vote. The shadow minister, my colleague, Senator Fifield, moved a motion to establish the oversight committee. Unfortunately, those opposite and their alliance partners, the Greens, voted this down in the Senate.

The Australian Labor Party always likes to pay lip service to wanting cross-party support for the National Disability Insurance Scheme, but when the opportunity was presented they declined to support it. Another example of paying lip service, is the Australian Labor Party's move, hopefully, not to guillotine debate in this matter. It is a very important bill that in this situation needs to be given full airing and full opportunity for all members and all senators to express their views on this important area. It deserves the full scrutiny of the Senate.

In relation to the NDIS, one of the areas that needs to be examined is clause 22, which sets out the age requirements that a person must satisfy in order to become a participant in the NDIS launch. The age requirement is that that person is under the age of 65 on the date the access request is made. This requirement implements part of recommendation 3.6 of the Productivity Commission report and reflects that the NDIS is one part of a broader system of support in Australia, with people over the age of 65 able to access the age care system. Those people who are receiving support under the NDIS and turn 65 can choose either to remain in the NDIS or to move to the aged care system. In other words, the policy intent is that the NDIS and the aged care system remain separate systems that address the different needs of separate cohorts of people; people with a disability and older people with a disability, respectively. Arguably, this assumes that there will be some similarity in the care and support available between the NDIS and the aged care systems. It is concerns like this that need to be worked out, and debate should not be curtailed on these issues.

There is evidence, and certainly there was some evidence provided to the Senate inquiry, that the aged care system may not be an appropriate choice for some people with a disability. We saw in the report, for example, a survey of people with intellectual disabilities living in residential aged care in Victoria raising issues about the appropriateness of such arrangements for this group, including the extent to which such facilities offer sufficient opportunities for participation in community activities and the development of meaningful relationships. Aged care providers themselves also identified a number of difficulties associated with residents with intellectual disabilities fitting into the activities and support provided by that facility. Some providers, however, indicated that these could be overcome by working with specialist disability services. Let us not forget that the NDIS is a person-centred and self-directed funding model. It is aligned to the objectives of empowering the individual and removing the concept of big government from people's lives and, above all, reducing red tape.

I now move to some of the comments made by coalition senators in relation to this bill. We know that the system for Australians with a disability is broken, and it was clear from the submissions of the 1,600 people and organisations that took the time to put in submissions that this very point was made in just about all of those submissions. In the end the evidence that emerged made it very clear that there are people with a disability in Australia who are left without the assistance that they need. As a coalition, we agree that a new system of support based on need, rather than rationing, with the entitlement for support going to the individual, is needed. This represents a shift from the focus of rationing to entitlement, with the person being at the centre of the system and the services that he or she needs being wrapped around them, with support, equipment and service providers of their choice being able to provide those services. This is the vision that the Productivity Commission has in relation to disability. It is also the vision of the Productivity Commission in relation to the aged care system. The basic tenet of the report Caring for older Australians, which was a landmark report that the Productivity Commission did in relation to the aged care system, was a shift from the current ration system in aged care to an entitlement system. The Productivity Commission set out a framework as to how that could happen. Whilst it did not drill down to that detail it is clear that that Productivity Commission report enjoys great support right across the spectrum in the aged care sector, evidenced by the 500 submissions made to Productivity Commission initially, and then by another 500 submissions made after the draft report was released in relation to that legislation.

As far as the leader of the opposition is concerned the issue of disability and Australians with a disability is one he has a very personal commitment to. As part of his 2012 Pollie Pedal charity bike ride $550,000 was raised for Carers Australia. Along that thousand-kilometre route Mr Abbott met with people with disabilities and their carers, and disability organisations to hear directly from them about issues pertaining to disability and to know that the funds from that bike race would go directly to a very important organisation that assists people with disabilities. Indeed, the next two Pollie Pedal rides will also be in partnership with and raise funds for Carers Australia.

Any comments that the coalition offers in this debate are offered in a constructive way, with the intention of making this legislation better. It is something that the coalition wanted to offer bipartisan support for; we wanted to set up a committee where this could be done in a depoliticised manner. The coalition's proposal for aged care reform which we set out at the last official election was a four-year agreement which would not only offer flexibility and certainty in the system but would, above all, provide long-term certainty and a depoliticising of that system.

In the end, it is important to note that every government in Australia and every opposition in Australia supports and wants to see an NDIS. It is a system that will depend on cooperation and on work being done between governments across the political spectrum. This constructive approach has been evidenced when New South Wales Premier O'Farrell and the Prime Minister signed an intergovernmental agreement in December for a full, statewide NDIS rollout after the Hunter launch project. It was disappointing to see that the Prime Minister did not treat all jurisdictions as partners at the COAG meeting in July 2012, and it is to the credit of both the Victorian and New South Wales governments that they continue to negotiate in the face of what has clearly been misrepresentation by the federal government, and that they have reached agreement to host launch sites. It is vitally important that we have a cooperative approach.

I now turn to the aged-care system. This is of particular importance and has been raised with me in various forums that I have attended around Australia as shadow minister for ageing. If people with a disability over the age of 65 are to be looked after in the aged-care system then it is vitally important that the aged-care system is reformed—and reformed in a major way, not just in the way that this government has of paying lip-service. We have seen promises of reform in aged care but, five years on, there is very little evidence of real change on the ground.

I remind the Senate that in 2010 Ms Gillard said that aged-care reform would be a second term priority, and this was at the election when Ms Gillard had to defend herself against the serial leaker who claimed that she had not supported big increases in the age pension because 'old people never vote for us'. But the reality is that we have had a litany of reports and reviews—about 20 of them, including three by the Productivity Commission—which cover ageing and aged-care matters. They have been continually ignored, or responded to with more inquiries without making those vitally important decisions to secure aged care into the future.

Aged-care reform needs to be long term but it also needs to be sustainable. Shortly, we will have the opportunity to debate the package of bills that are a part of the Living Longer. Living Better package. There are five bills which, quite frankly, do not resolve many of the outstanding issues of viability for providers and certainly do not respond to the concerns that have been raised by providers, through the inquiry into the NDIS, because of the added responsibilities that they will have in relation to catering for older Australians with a disability.

We have seen funding cuts of $1.6 billion out of the aged-care funding instrument. Of course, this has put additional pressure on the sector and, most especially, on smaller providers in regional and rural areas. The government has chosen to cherry-pick only a few recommendations from the Productivity Commission's report, Caring for Older Australians. This package of bills will impose even more bureaucracy, even more regulation, on what is already a very, very highly regulated sector.

Most recently we have seen Minister Butler in another spectacular gaffe. First of all, he insulted the people of Western Sydney with his crass remarks about Rooty Hill and then he insulted the people of Western Sydney again when he went out to make his very low-key announcement, downgraded from the Prime Minister to Minister Shorten and Minister Butler, and then just Minister Butler. It was another gaffe in relation to that announcement on the day when he asserted somebody was trying to steal a car—it ended up being the local priest whose car had been blocked in by the minister's car.

Senator Sinodinos: What!

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Yes, Senator Sinodinos, this is very much a gaffe-prone minister. Today we see him worrying about whether he will or will not support Prime Minister Gillard. Perhaps Minister Butler should be concentrating on—

Senator Sinodinos: Gutless Butler.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Absolutely. To be or not to be—thank you, Senator Sinodinos—a supporter. Instead of worrying about that, Minister Butler, might I suggest that you worry about the key issues in your portfolio, which are the aged-care system, which needs reform and for which your proposed changes will only make things worse. Aged Care Australia tells us that 60 per cent of aged-care providers are operating in the red. There is a real viability issue for providers, most especially smaller providers in regional and rural areas. So it is little wonder that aged-care providers, who will be dealing with older Australians with a disability, are understandably concerned that they are not going to be able to provide the services that our older Australians with a disability do need.

As I said, this is a sector that does need reform, and I have real concerns that proper reform will not be undertaken in the aged-care sector, which this minister and this government seems loath to do—they are only paying lip-service to it. And what are we seeing? We are seeing that the government is more concerned with rolling out its workforce compact by ripping $1.6 billion out of aged-care funding—to then turn it back and return it supposedly as a $1.2 billion workforce compact as a bid to refinance unions in the aged-care sector. Of course, there is United Voice, as we have seen. Indeed, I have come along this morning with the latest pamphlet from United Voice in which United Voice are urging aged-care workers to join United Voice to 'speak with one voice in negotiations'. That is what it is about. That is what it is really all about, refinancing the unions, the aged-care unions: United Voice, Minister Butler's former union; the HSU, which we know suffered a spectacular fall in membership; and the Nurses Federation.

In the end, I would remind the Senate that under this so-called administrative change, which is really an industrial instrument, aged-care providers of 50 beds or more must enter into an enterprise bargaining agreement; otherwise, they will not be able to access funding. If they are 50 beds or fewer, they do not have to enter into an enterprise bargaining agreement but they must comply with the terms of the compact to be able to access that funding.

What does that mean? That means that, already, that 60 per cent which is operating in the red are going to find it harder and harder to be viable; but most especially here is the government promising pay rises which will never materialise. Why? Because providers are not going to be able to meet those wage increases on the tied money that the government is providing. So another false promise by this minister, who really is demonstrating that he is not up to the job.