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Tuesday, 19 March 2013
Page: 1992

Senator WILLIAMS (New South WalesNationals Whip in the Senate) (12:52): I would like to contribute to this debate on the National Disability Insurance Scheme Bill 2013. There are many reasons for people in Australia having disabilities. I was very grateful last night to get a text message announcing the arrival of my second grandchild, young Ryan Daniel Williams, born in Cairns last night.

Senator Farrell: Congratulations.

Senator WILLIAMS: Thank you very much, Senator Farrell.

Senator Jacinta Collins: How many grandchildren have you got?

Senator WILLIAMS: That is the second grandchild, a little brother to Finn. When the babies are due and coming along, parents, grandparents and all of us wish, hope and pray that the bub is born safe and healthy. Thank goodness for the great medical professionals we have in our country; these days there seems to be little problem with childbirth. It is not like in the old days. I could back to Yongala Cemetery, where my great- great-grandfather first settled in South Australia, and, sadly, when you walk through the cemetery you see the graves of infants and mothers. Things have come a long, long way—all for the good.

We have disabilities in Australia for many reasons. Some, sadly, are born with disabilities. The disabilities may be physical, they may be mental or they may be both. Sadly, we have many accidents in our country, such as motor accidents, where people can suffer serious physical or mental disabilities or both. We also have many work accidents. Spending most of my life on the farm, I know what a dangerous work environment the farm is. I have had my share of accidents, and I carry the battle scars as the result of motorbike accidents and ladders falling on my head in piggeries et cetera. For many reasons, there are Australians who carry disabilities.

I was quite amazed just recently to read about those who are working with disabilities: how they are such good workers; how they do not take the amount of sick leave that many of those in Australia who do not have any disability take; how their work ethic is so good; how they are so committed to their job; and how they are so proud to do their work for themselves, for their business and for their country.

We now have before us the National Disability Insurance Scheme. The coalition supports a national disability scheme, Mr Deputy President—a scheme that can help those with disabilities get work, get training, seek knowledge, have accommodation and have the opportunities in life that so many of us have, no doubt, taken for granted. As I said, the dedication and the commitment to work of those with disabilities is just amazing, and they deserve all the praise and support they can get.

The Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee had an inquiry into this very important piece of legislation, and the coalition has enthusiastically supported each milestone on the road to the National Disability Insurance Scheme. The coalition supports the work of the Productivity Commission, who have certainly had a good look into this very important issue. The coalition supported the $1 billion in the last budget handed down by Treasurer Swan in May last year. The coalition has supported the five launch sites, the coalition supported the agreement between the Commonwealth and New South Wales for a full state-wide rollout after the Hunter launch, and the coalition supports this legislation.

I want to talk about the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Tony Abbott, and what he has done in support of those with disabilities. Mr Abbott, I am proud to say, is a very generous man with his time. We know he is a surf-lifesaver and we know he is a very fit man. If I happened to be in trouble in the surf and I could see Mr Tony Abbott swimming my way, I would know that I had someone who could certainly get me back—the man is so fit and so strong. He has supported the bushfire brigade as a fire-fighter and he has demonstrated his personal commitment to Australians with disabilities and those who care for them by dedicating $540,000, raised by the 2012 Polly Pebble Charity Bike Ride, to Carers Australia. Along the 1,000 kilometre route Mr Abbott met with people with disabilities, carers and disability organisations. The next two Polly Pebbles will also be in partnership with, and will raise funds for, Carers Australia. That is a very generous fundraising scheme.

We are certainly no stranger to seeing Mr Abbott on his bike. As I said, he is a very fit man and he is a very generous man. I remember when he completed the Port Macquarie triathlon a couple of years ago. For anyone to complete that triathlon is a huge achievement in itself. It is a gruelling event that had Mr Abbott out early in the morning and coming in late that night, such was his determination. I have no doubt that that is the same determination and generosity that he will show if the people of Australia elect a coalition government and he becomes Prime Minister of this nation on 14 September this year. His history speaks for itself when it comes to helping those in need.

Because the NDIS is a once in a generation reform that will unfold over the life of several parliaments, it should be the property of the parliament as a whole, on behalf of the Australian people, rather than that of any particular political party. Getting this right will require a very high level of consultation and attention to detail, not just now—not just in the launch sites—but from now until full implementation. The National Disability Insurance Scheme should be beyond partisan politics. The coalition has been disappointed when some members of the government have claimed that, basically, the NDIS represents Labor values. It does not—not alone. The NDIS represents Australia's values—a fair go and helping those who face challenges for reasons beyond their control. No side of politics has a mortgage on this particular issue. We know that people have disadvantages for all sorts of reasons, as I stated at the commencement of this presentation. Whether it be by birth, through mental or physical disabilities, through accidents or whatever, we have people who face these challenges, and this is not a partisan political issue.

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 NDIS. A parliamentary oversight committee would lock in all parties and provide a nonpartisan environment where issues of design and eligibility could be worked through cooperatively. Mr George Christensen, the member for Dawson and a fine man, has had a motion in the House for some time to establish this committee. Regrettably, the motion has not been brought forward for a vote. Senators Fifield and Boyce moved a similar motion to establish the oversight committee on 27 June 2012. The government and the Australian Greens combined in the Senate to vote it down.

Why would you do that? When we want to make this bipartisan and leave the politics out of it, why would the Greens and the Australian Labor Party combine to vote down such a motion? Only time will tell. Getting this right must be a matter across all the political parties. As I said, it is not just something that we instigate today that is completed in a few months time. This will be ongoing for years and years until the whole program is completed. It will cost an enormous amount of money, but I believe it will be an investment in Australia's future that will pay good dividends. If those who have disabilities can get to work, can get a job, can receive the education and training required whatever their disadvantage may be, then they will actually contribute to the national wealth cake. Instead of being a person who needs to be supported by the taxpayers to keep a roof over their head and to provide the care they need and desire, many of them will be out there working, paying taxes and contributing to our GDP, putting their bit in for our nation. and that is a very, very good thing.

When the government has been offered the opportunity to embrace genuine bipartisanship, why don't they take it? This legislation gives the government another opportunity to correct this and to involve all those right across the political parties. That is the only way this can work well because, as I said, this will take many, many years to implement and complete. The coalition intends to give the government, the Australian Greens and the Independent members and senators an opportunity to accept the hand of cooperation in this piece of legislation.

It is a joint-venture of all Australian governments. It is important to note that every government in Australia and every opposition in Australia, state and federal, supports and wants to see an NDIS. It was disappointing that the Prime Minister did not treat all jurisdictions as partners at the COAG meeting in July 2012. It was to the credit of the Victorian and New South Wales governments that they continued to negotiate in the face of misrepresentation by the federal government and reached agreement to host launch sites. This is a case of working together. I fear that the Prime Minister is trying to politicise this whole program. This is not about politics. This is about helping your fellow Australians, and politics needs to be put aside in this legislation. Forget the political game; let us do what is right for those people in Australia who most desperately need assistance, need training and need a fair go and the opportunity. That is what it is about for the coalition: to work right through this legislation to get it right in the long term.

I am not going to speak for the full 20 minutes. I just want to say a few words about the community effort. This legislation to give effect to a National Disability Insurance Scheme is in the parliament due to a grassroots campaign by carers. Australians with disability and the organisations that support them came together and decided that enough was enough. They spoke with one voice. They declared, 'We're as mad as hell and we are not going to take it anymore!' I congratulate those carers who do such a fine job, who work in difficult circumstances to help those around them who so desperately need the help. The two main intellectual drivers of the NDIS have been Mr John Walsh AM, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers, and Mr Bruce Bonyhady AM, Chair of Yooralla and President of Philanthropy Australia. Without their determination, professional expertise and personal knowledge this legislation would not be before the parliament.

In conclusion, this legislation is not perfect. The NDIS is a very complex venture. Amendments after the introduction of the legislation to the parliament were inevitable. The Senate committee process has again proven its worth through this inquiry. The government has undertaken to carefully consider the work of the committee. However, in the time available, the committee was never going to be able to address all design issues. The onus remains on the government. The prime function of the committee in the compressed time frame was to seek to ventilate as many issues as possible.

As I said, this should be about support right around the chamber. This is about our fellow Australians who have had a setback in their life for one reason or another. We should support them and give them an opportunity in this nation. Australia is a land of opportunity. I was only talking to someone this morning whose father came out here from Croatia in 1948. What did they have as far as wealth goes? They had nothing. But they went to work. This particular person's father went cutting cane—hard work and toil. These immigrants saw that we were a nation of opportunity and they grasped that opportunity. They settled in to be fair dinkum Australians. They worked hard, married, reared their children, educated their children and gave them opportunities. We need to deal with this legislation right across this chamber to see that those Australians who have had some setback in their life for whatever reason get every opportunity possible. I am amazed by the work ethic and commitment of those with disabilities.

I have a personal friend, Caroline Cash, and she openly admits that she has a disability. I was so pleased to be a dinner with her last week at the Nationals' metropolitan branch in Sydney, where Caroline is so pleased that she is now getting extra work. She has had to battle, she has to work, she has had to keep a roof over her head, she has had to rent and she has to pay her way. She is such a good worker and a very decent young lady—a very decent Australian—who is proud to get out there and have a go. She is originally from a rural area—a tough area that has suffered a lot of droughts and hardships. I see this in Caroline Cash and the work she does. I am very proud to know Caroline and enjoy her company when we get to National Party functions.

That is what Australia is about: giving opportunity to those who need that hand up. When we give them that hand up, they then do not require the handout. Getting an education, getting some training and getting some sort of assistance to help them through their disability and get out to make their own life, I think, is most important. Their self-esteem and self-satisfaction are lifted and they know that they can go and put their head on a pillow at night knowing that they have done their bit for themselves, their community and their country. That is what this legislation is about.

Sadly, there has been some politics played where Ms Gillard, the Prime Minister, has claimed this as a wholly Australian Labor Party scheme. That is not the case. You know where the coalition come from on this. You know that we have pushed for many years, and I have given an example of Mr Tony Abbott with his personal fundraising to help carers. More than half a million dollars was raised by his Pollie Pedal. That is one huge achievement. It is not about words; it is about the deeds and actions that Mr Abbott has put into practice. We know he has care for the community as a volunteer firefighter, as a volunteer rescuer or now with his efforts in his Pollie Pedals to raise money for carers.

I look forward to the NDIS developing over many years. I think it will be money well and wisely invested to help those carers and those with disabilities to help build a better Australia, to help those people build their self-confidence and build their pride so they can go out and say: 'Well yes, I have a disability. Yes, it gave me a bit of a setback in life, but I overcame that. I learnt, I was trained, I was educated and I can work as well as anyone.'

As I said, the commitment these people have to their work is amazing. If you are employed with a disability, you have fewer sick days than if you do not have a disability. That is amazing in itself. We know there are plenty of Australians who put on a sickie, especially on a long weekend. There is no doubt it has probably been a part of our country for many years and will continue to be the case. But those with disabilities, who know that they are starting a bit behind the eight ball, make it up the race so well by working hard, being committed and putting their bit in for our wonderful nation.

As this goes along through the many years ahead of us, I hope and I know that this will be a successful scheme. I know that here on the coalition benches this has full support. We have to find the money—that is a problem. Where is the money? It is a hugely expensive scheme. When I look back at the Australian Labor Party in government since 2007, so much money was wasted. Expensive school buildings, covered outdoor learning areas, insulation batts—

Senator Polley: Come down to Tassie and talk to the schools.

Senator WILLIAMS: I will take your interjection, Senator Polley. I have never been to the opening of one of those school buildings. I refuse to go to one. I was not going to say that these were not expensive. I could take you out to Tottenham in the central west of New South Wales—literally in the centre of New South Wales—and show you the $600,000 school kiosk. I could take you to a little town called Kingstown, between Bundarra and Bendemeer, and show you the $330,000 building that is basically eight metres by 10 metres—$330,000 would build you a lovely four bedroom brick veneer home. It is a pity that this government has wasted so much money—not only taxpayers' money but borrowed money—on so many schemes. Imagine if they could have poured more of this money into the NDIS, into an investment of those people in Australia with a disadvantage of some sort, which would make their life so much better. Sadly, they did not, but the people will judge that come 14 September. I know how angry and annoyed they are, especially in rural areas, about the waste of money and the building of the $269 billion debt. If only we could have spent that money wisely. A lot of that money could have gone into the NDIS, and this scheme would have been up and running and be far more efficient than a lot of the money that has been wasted.