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Wednesday, 20 March 2013
Page: 2140


Senator RUSTON (South Australia) (11:00): I too rise to speak on the National Disability Insurance Scheme Bill 2013, and do so to support the bill.

I am sure that everybody who has stood in this place so far to speak on this particular bill would have risen and said that as parents—and most of us probably are parents—the one thing that you consider yourself very lucky for is when you have your children and your children come out 'with 10 toes and 10 fingers', as the senator said before. But there are many people who do not have that luxury. I think we do need to acknowledge that most of us in this place are extremely lucky because we have the luxury of not having to deal with the issue of disability on a firsthand basis.

There is certainly no doubt that everybody is touched by disability, or knows somebody who has the big task of looking after somebody with a disability, whether that be a mental, physical, emotional or challenging social disability. We all need to realise that in the blink of an eye that can change. I am sure many of us here know that as a result of accident, misfortune, illness or disease that in one minute what is otherwise a household of perfectly healthy people who get up every morning and get on with their lives can change 'just like that'.

In speaking to this bill I would like to make three points. Firstly, I believe an issue such as disability, and particularly how we as a society deal with disability, needs to be above partisan politics. This is not something that we can score points on, and nor should we even try to score points on it. What we should be doing is working together, all parties, whether we be the Liberal Party, the National Party, the Labor Party, the Greens or our Independent colleagues who sit here. We all need to be working towards a solution that is going to make the lives of people who are disabled in this country and of the people who have to care for them day in, day out and night in, night out easier. I think we do need to make a very clear distinction that any political game that is played with this particular piece of legislation is an absolute disgrace, and anybody who does that should be entirely ashamed of themselves.

I think everybody acknowledges that the current model of disability is broken. You only have to look around Australia to realise that if you live in one state or another state you will have matters in relation to disability treated differently. It depends on how your disability occurred; whether you are born with a disability. If you are going to have a disability you are probably better off to have one as a result of an accident, where you can sue someone. It does seem quite extraordinary that where you live and the nature of how your disability occurred can have such an extraordinary impact on the resources and support that you get for that particular disability.

A classic example of just how intense this can become is that in South Australia at the last state election a party was set up called Dignity for the Disabled, and that single-issue party actually managed to achieve a spot in the Legislative Council in South Australia. A young lady by the name of Kelly Vincent, who is disabled herself—wheelchair bound—was elected to the Legislative Council in South Australia. That was a complete and utter direct response to the fact that the South Australian disability system had completely let down people with a disability in South Australia. So we now have Kelly advocating from within the House of Parliament in Adelaide in relation to disability issues. I think that is an absolute reflection of the community's support for assistance and for some sensible measures to be taken in relation to how we deal with disability; the fact that we have a member of parliament who has gone into parliament simply because of the issue of how disabilities were being handled in the state of South Australia.

The second point I would like to make actually relates to productivity. I do not imagine that many people think of disability and productivity in the same breath, but there are a lot of people out there who have disabilities who have the capacity to add productively to the community, the environment and the economy in which they live and operate. I think we certainly need to be looking at ways in which we can give the responsibility, the onus and the ability back to people with disabilities to try to make as much of a productive contribution to their society as they possibly can.

There are a couple of programs that I would not mind bringing to the attention of the chamber. The first one is a program called the 'circles' program. It assists a person, particularly with a mental disability, to create a circle of friends—hence the reason it is called the 'circle' program. It encourages them to get out and create a new circle of friends outside of the traditional family and institutionalised care that they often get. They actually go out into the community and are encouraged to get a group of friends. Firstly, it relieves the family of the 24/7 burden of having to deal with the issues for that particular person. But it also gives them a wider network of opportunity to be able to find out what things are available for them out there.

It might be dealing with an issue of housing, it might be dealing with an issue of just going shopping. There are myriad things that people like us take for granted because we have such a wide circle of friends and contacts whom we actually draw on for all of the things—the experiences and activities—that we have in our lives. People with mental disabilities, particularly, often get shut down and they live within a very restricted cocooned environment. This circles program seeks to try and break out of that enclosed environment and allow people with disabilities the opportunity to get out.

They look to develop relationships. They create roles within these people's lives so that they can feel highly valued and can contribute. It allows them to develop competencies that they may not otherwise be able to see, simply because they do not have the opportunity to have those recognised. It also allows them to have community participation and inclusion, which is obviously a huge benefit and advantage in the quality of life of these people.

The other project that has been operating in South Australia and other states sets up microenterprise businesses. A group has set up within the community and talks to people about finding out what a disabled person really likes to do. We have one young girl in St Peters, in a suburb of Adelaide, who has set up her own microbusiness. Coincidentally her name is Fleur, French for flowers, and she has set up Fleur's Flowers. She goes around to small businesses—cafes and the like—every week and asks them if they want her to pop some flowers on their tables, and every week she goes back and she replaces those flowers. They pay her a reasonable, nominal amount. It is only just a little bit more than the cost of the flowers, but she has now got a purpose and so every morning she gets out of bed and goes down to the flower market. She buys her flowers and works out how many flowers she can do for the amount that she is charging each one of these businesses. She now has a productive purpose in life and she is actually earning a little bit of money. Even though she is certainly not removing the need for the assistance that she would otherwise have, she is actually supplementing her income and the support that she requires from outside by earning a little bit of money of her own.

Another amazing example of this particular project is a young man in Perth. When he was asked about the things he really liked to do, he said that he really liked waiting. Everybody thought, 'What do we do with somebody who really likes waiting?' They went through a myriad of other things that he might possibly like to do or might be interested in, but he was not interested. He just wanted to wait. Some inventive person actually came up with an idea. I do not know how many of you have been really annoyed when you need your telephone fixing or your power needs to be fixed and the guy at the utilities department says that they will be there sometime between nine o'clock and three o'clock in the afternoon. All of us have to go to work and it becomes very difficult, because you have to rush home or whatever. They have set up a microbusiness for this chap where he goes and sits in your house and waits for the tradesman to come along. He will let them in and then he will stand there and look after them and make sure that they are not damaging the house. He obviously gets paid a nominal amount for doing that, but he saves you the problem of actually having to stay home.

There are a lot of these inventive little businesses that some of these programs can look at. Those are the kinds of activities that we need to be looking at so that we can actually have a productive approach to how we deal with disabilities. It is about the efficient use of resources. It is about giving the people who know best—the people on the ground and who are dealing with these disabilities day in, day out, and even to some extent those people who do have disabilities—the opportunity to have a say in what happens to the money that is involved with disability. They are probably the people who are going to best placed to get the money spent where the money needs to be spent, instead of wasting it, as so often is the case in bureaucracy, on the administration—or people justifying the process of getting where they are going instead of spending money on productive outcomes for the people and places that need it.

Lastly, I want to talk about funding. The most important thing with any of these schemes is about getting the funding and getting on with the job. I notice that the Productivity Commission came out and suggested $3.9 billion. I understand at this stage that only $1 billion has been allocated. We need to get on with the job. We need to make a decision. We need to prioritise where this money is coming from and we need to get on with the job of implementing this program. We need the details about how it is going to get out there so that we can make sure that it is as efficient and as effective as it possibly can be.

I was just speaking this morning with a lady in South Australia, Judy Francis, who has a disabled son. In fact, she could not talk for terribly long because, even though he is 50 years old, she still has to take him to the doctor this morning. Judy was telling me that the scheme has been talked about for so long and many who are involved in disabilities—in Judy's case, in a first-hand way with her son—were all very excited when the project and the program was first raised and talked about. They thought, 'At last, at last, at last, we are going to see something happening in disabilities '. She has been working on getting appropriate housing because, like many parents who are ageing—and you can probably work out that if she has a 50-year-old son then Judy is at that stage in her life—she is looking towards achieving an ongoing care program for her son when she is no longer able to care for him. She saw the National Disability Insurance Scheme, when it was first touted, as a wonderful, wonderful opportunity where she could actually, with some comfort and some relief, have some opportunity for her son to be able to have a program put in place for when she was no longer able to care for him, as she and her husband currently do.

We need to get on with this. We certainly need to stop what Senator Kroger was talking about, which was young people with disability whose parents are no longer able to look after them who are then going into aged-care homes. That is a completely inappropriate place for our young disabled people to be located. In my own home town, when I was visiting the nursing home not that long ago, I ran into a wonderful lady who had been looking after her profoundly disabled daughter all of her life at home. She is now no longer able to look after herself and here she is in a nursing home with this young woman who is in an aged-care facility—a completely inappropriate place for her to be.

In saying that, I, like all of my colleagues, am very excited about the opportunity to do something good and innovative so that we can move on—and for the legacy of this parliament to be that we actually did something in support of the people in our society who need our help. It is a judgement that will be made. I am certainly happy to support this bill and commend that everybody support the National Disability Insurance Scheme Bill.