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Wednesday, 20 March 2013
Page: 2134

Senator EGGLESTON (Western Australia) (10:27): I rise to speak on the National Disability Insurance Disability Scheme Bill 2013.This National Disability Insurance Scheme is an idea whose time has come. It is an historic day that this scheme is being debated in the Senate and is a real step forward. It is very much an expression of the reality of the federal parliament supporting the concept of the Aussie fair go to ensure that disabled people do have a fair go and are given an opportunity to realise their potential. There are many people in Australia with disabilities whose lives will be improved with the advent of this scheme. Sometimes the perception that someone is disabled is taken to mean that they cannot or are not able to participate in community activities or to do many things which other people might do. This is a recognition more than anything else that disabled people do have abilities, dreams and ambitions and should be assisted to achieve those dreams and ambitions and live meaningful and dignified lives in our community. The fact that disabled people are being given support by the community, and recognition that they are entitled to respect as fellow Australians, is very important. I congratulate those responsible for the development of this legislation.

The coalition has supported each milestone on the road to the National Disability Insurance Scheme. We supported very strongly the initial work done by the Productivity Commission on planning for this NDIS. The coalition supported the billion dollars allocated to the NDIS in the last budget, we supported the concept of the five launch sites and we supported the agreement between the Commonwealth and New South Wales for a full state-wide rollout after the Hunter launch. We do support this legislation very strongly, because, as I have said, it means that disabled people in this country will be given recognition and the opportunity to live lives that are dignified, and be able to achieve their dreams and aspirations.

When Labor members and senators say that the NDIS represents quintessentially Labor values I have to say that I do not think they are particularly Labor values that it represents, but they are the Aussie values of a fair go and giving people a chance to realise their potential. The National Disability Insurance Scheme is a person-centred, self-directing funding model. It is aligned to the objectives of empowering the individual and removing government from people's lives and reducing red tape, which are all values which the coalition strongly supports. The coalition believes that the full implementation of the NDIS will be nothing short of a new deal for people with disabilities and their carers, and we believe that we have to make sure that the details of this scheme are got right and that they do really mean that the scheme works for the benefit of disabled people.

The NDIS is a once-in-a-generation reform which is going to unfold over the life of several parliaments, and it will develop and progress over that time. It should, we believe, be the property of the parliament as a whole, on behalf of the Australian people, rather than of any one political party, and I think that is the spirit in which this whole piece of legislation is being debated here today. 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 National Disability Insurance Scheme. Tony Abbott, the leader of the Liberal Party, reiterated this offer in his recent Press Club address, when he said:

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.

The government, we believe, should accept the coalition's offer of a parliamentary oversight committee. The coalition intends to give the government, the Greens and the Independents an opportunity to accept our hand of cooperation by moving an amendment to this bill to establish such a nonpartisan oversight committee. I do hope, quite simply, that that offer is seen as not being partisan political, and that it is accepted in the spirit in which it is offered so that an oversight committee can be set up to ensure that this scheme works effectively for the people who it is designed to support.

It is important to note that every government and every opposition in Australia want to see an NDIS established in this country. That is why at the COAG before last it was disappointing that the Prime Minister could not rise above her partisan instincts on this issue, and it is to the credit of the Victorian and New South Wales governments that they continued to negotiate in the face of public attack and misrepresentation by the federal government and reached agreement to host launch sites. It is a bit sad that politics has entered into this debate at any level. I hope that the politics will be forgotten in further meetings at COAG and that there will be a spirit of cooperation to ensure that this very worthy legislation is put into practice to benefit the disabled people in our community.

There cannot be a meaningful NDIS without an intergovernmental agreement with each state and territory, and that is something that is yet to be negotiated. Given that, I would like to say a few words in defence of the states who have perhaps been misrepresented as not hosting a launch site. I do not think that means they do not support the NDIS but that they have some concerns about details. It has to be said that 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 a full part in the national rollout.

In particular, as a Western Australian I have supported the decision of Premier Barnett who has written to the Prime Minister proposing a joint WA-Commonwealth NDIS be set up. Western Australia has its own problems in terms of distance and the vast size of the state and there are some special local factors which have to be taken into consideration.

We on the coalition side emphatically supported the government's commitment of $1 billion to the NDIS in the last federal budget. I must say we had some difficulty that the sum was only $1 billion when, in fact, the Productivity Commission's recommendation was that at least $3.9 billion would be necessary over the forward estimates for the first phase of the NDIS. We can only hope that more money will be forthcoming in the budget in May and, of course, only time will tell how much money is needed to really make this scheme effective. I hope, in the spirit of the nobleness of the endeavour to ensure that disabled people in this country are able to realise their potential and live in dignity, that there will not be arguments about penny pinching and that the money will be available for this scheme.

The scheme will provide funding to individuals or organisations to help people with disability to participate more fully in economic and social life through the provision of entitlements enabling such things as aids, equipment, supported accommodation and personal attendant care.

The history of this National Disability Insurance Scheme is that the idea has been around for a long time, but people only began giving serious consideration to a national disability insurance scheme over the last five years. It is appropriate to acknowledge the role played by figures on both sides of the chamber in helping to elevate the public policy profile of disability. But the lion's share of the credit must go to those people who have disabilities, their families, their carers and the organisations who support them. These people came together because they decided that in modern, prosperous, wealthy Australia enough was enough and something had to be done to support the disabled people in our community. This is a long overdue measure. In particular, I acknowledge that in Western Australia, our Premier, Colin Barnett, has supported this concept and I know the differences are not, as I have said, ones of principle but merely of detail. There are some particular West Australian factors to be built in to an NDIS in Western Australia.

In conclusion, this is a historic step forward for the Australian community, and the NDIS is very much in the spirit of giving everybody a fair go, a quintessential Aussie value.