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Wednesday, 20 March 2013
Page: 2137

Senator KROGER (VictoriaChief Opposition Whip in the Senate) (10:40): I too rise to make some brief observations on the National Disability Insurance Scheme Bill 2013. I note that in the second reading speech of the shadow minister, Mitch Fifield, he outlined in essence the two principal purposes of this bill. I will not speak to the construct of the bill, but I would like to take the opportunity to recognise and acknowledge the significance of the difference that the implementation of this legislation will make to the lives of so many people. The bill has bipartisan support in this chamber. I am delighted to see that because of the huge impact it will ultimately have on families who deal with disabilities and individuals who deal with disabilities. It will provide them with opportunities and choices. In that way it will in effect change individuals' lives.

When you look at the facts, it is quite compelling to see that some 400,000 people in Australia live with disabilities. That is a number that unfortunately, for whatever reason, is on the rise. Some 400,000 individuals suffer from disabilities—that is, in essence more than 400,000 families that have to deal with the impact of disabilities and provide for the impact of disabilities. It is regrettable that it has taken this time for us to come up with a framework for a national disability insurance scheme, a framework that we all support. The Productivity Commission looked into the scheme in around 2009. It is on the advice of the Productivity Commission that an enormous amount of work has gone into the determination of its structure, framework, and planning as to how this should apply. There has also been a good and effective consultative process to come to where we are today.

The reason it is so heartening is that there is no quick fix for this issue. It is not a situation where one model will fit all. The model must be able to be tailored to the needs of the individual and ultimately will, I hope, not only support the physical challenges faced by those with disabilities but also provide critical psychological and emotional support for families and friends in the lifelong challenge they face and live with. Most of us know someone with a disability or we know families or friends dealing with people with disabilities, so we know first-hand what is required for those families to cope through a lifetime.

In the Senate over the last 12 months we seem to have had a huge population growth, with senators having the joy of a baby entering their lives, either as parents or grandparents. We know, particularly in the last 12 months on the coalition side, that there is one heartfelt wish of those parents or grandparents—that is, the newborns have 10 fingers and 10 toes and they are healthy. That is their one wish: that those children are healthy. As we know, that is not always the case. It is a real issue for those who have to deal with beautiful children who are born with disabilities, or may develop them later on in life.

Since I was elected as a senator, one of the things that has presented to me as an opportunity, which I do not know that I would have had if I had not been elected to the Senate, is to actually visit a number of places that are either early intervention centres, employment workplaces for those with disabilities or other workplaces that provide varying ranges of support services for families. The one thing that strikes you when you attend all of these facilities is the extraordinary love, honesty and goodwill that those with disabilities automatically share and present to all whom they meet. They just have such a wonderful temperament—so many of them. Sometimes, I think that we perhaps could take a leaf out of their books in the way in which we deal with each other in this place, because the degree of goodwill that is shared when you visit so many of these places is so apparent. One thing that strikes me as much as anything is this wonderful sense of humour so many have, and they are very quick to take the mickey out of you. As a politician, I think it is a very good thing to rock up somewhere and have a young child or even an adult take the mickey out of you as you are visiting a particular place. In the main, they just have such wonderful senses of humour, and it is something that I do not know whether I would have had the opportunity to meet so many and attend so many places as I have as a senator. In my patron seats there is a large number of support services and a couple of those that I want to mention in making my short observations.

I firstly acknowledge the families. I know a number of families whose lives changed for their lifetime and for their children's lifetime when they had children with disabilities. They have become full-time carers for individuals from the moment those children were born through the life of the parents, and it depends on the degree of disability as to the extent to which that 24/7 care has been necessary. I am reminded of someone very close to me who has a daughter who has dramatic challenges and needs 24/7 care. She made observations to me not so long ago when her daughter turned 18 about the level of services that they could no longer access and how their economic capacity to raise income in that household was dramatically reduced by the amount of care that they had to provide. It was a bit of a vicious cycle. Their No. 1 overarching concern was what was going to happen to their daughter once they could no longer provide the care that they had, whether because they physically could not or because they financially could not. We have see many instances where ageing parents have expressed their concern about what was going to happen and they have had to put their adult children into aged care facilities because there were no services or residential care available for them to put their disabled adult daughter or son into an appropriate residential facility. You have circumstances where a young 20-year-old has had to be put into an aged-care facility, which is a great tragedy.

I would like to come to a couple of places that I have visited that do a tremendous job. I know that this bill will reinforce the support that the families are able to provide for their children. The first is a specialist early childhood centre in Bayswater in the electorate of Deakin in Victoria. It is an early childhood intervention service called Irabina. I had the great fortune of going there a few months ago because an extraordinarily generous Victorian, Chris Malcolm, the managing director of Clark Rubber, an incredibly philanthropic and generous individual, made a donation, with the Liberal Party, to Irabina to support some services that they are providing. They provided thousands of dollars worth of goods that would assist with early intervention for those children.

Irabina has programs that are family centred for preschool age children. It is a program targeted at early intervention for children diagnosed with or suspected to have autism spectrum disorder. I did not jump into the pool but I joined in with activities they had in the swimming pool. I saw firsthand how early intervention for children that are diagnosed early in their lifetime with autism spectrum disorder can actually break the cycle and assist them in developing the skills and developing learning capacities so that they can then enter a mainstream school and, in many cases, go on to be able to reach their personal and true potential. In many cases for these families this early intervention is a life-changing opportunity.

One of the mothers I spoke to was saying that with this particular scheme there is support provided, but it does not cover the intensive therapies required. This legislation, because it is tailored towards individuals, which is one of the elements I strongly applaud, will provide individual financial support as is needed.

Another facility I visited with the coalition leader, Tony Abbott, and shadow minister, Senator Mitch Fifield, was in Nunawading. Nadrasca in Nunawading is a great place, and Senator Fifield has been there on a number of occasions. Nadrasca was established in 1967. Its purpose when established was to develop a range of services for people with a disability. The organisation has developed and evolved over time. It currently provides a range of services and employment for over 350 people with a disability. It employs approximately 150 permanent, part-time and casual staff across all their services to assist their clients.

The services that they support and provide include—and this is not a comprehensive account—a disability-supported employment service; a service that provides daily programs and activities for persons with significant disabilities; and accommodation services which include 24-hour care and independent living as well as recreational and holiday programs, all of which are tailored to the needs of individual families. Nadrasca Industry is a critical and essential part of the organisational structure of support for disability services because it provides employment and vocational training opportunities for people with a disability and generates revenue in addition to government funding. It generates revenue which is put back into the system to provide greater support.

Recollecting our most recent visit there, it was a great example of how they support people with disabilities and also the diversity of those who might be intellectually or physically disabled. It really does ground you. It was very hard, and it was great to see the leader of the coalition, Tony Abbott, put in a headlock by those working on the factory floor because they did not want him to leave. I do not think I got the same response—I do not know about you, Senator Fifield—but they had the leader in a headlock at one stage! Our program of visits which were scheduled while we were there for an hour or so was rolled out to probably double that—I do not know quite how long we were there in the end—because they did not want us to leave. They loved the engagement; they loved the opportunity to be able to offer and be involved in meaningful activities. This is what is so critical.

I acknowledge the importance of early intervention and therapy, because one-on-one sessions can identify learning issues. I am sure we all know of a lot of examples where diagnosis and early intervention have enabled individuals to go on into—for want of a better word—mainstream activities, mainstream schools and mainstream workplaces. It has to be our No. 1 goal to support people to do that. Early intervention does that through improving fiscal competency and may even slow or minimise the progression of a particular disability.

In essence, this legislation ultimately provides a greater choice for families. What it does is give a greater raft of opportunities for families, and various courses that they can take, so that they can provide greater support and so that we can provide greater support for them. The No. 1, fundamental thing is to appreciate and recognise those with disabilities and to give them the opportunity to be involved. I do not mean to say this in a patronising way, but they may be able to make an active contribution to society. They do now, and this provides a great opportunity for them to do that even more. I strongly support this and I would like, in closing, to recognise and acknowledge all those unsung Australian heroes who basically have held the disability sector together and who have supported what is an enormous, important area and task. I would like to pay my deepest respect to them.