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Tuesday, 19 March 2013
Page: 2071

Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (17:55): I will start by joining Senator Brown in acknowledging the work that carers do in looking after their charges, those with disabilities, however they came by those disabilities. Indeed, those of us who do not have that duty and responsibility, I guess, can never quite fully understand the trials and tribulations—and, I guess, the joys—of those who spend their lifetimes looking after others. I want to acknowledge them.

I also want to pay tribute to Senator Mitch Fifield for the work that he has done over a long period of time with the National Disability Insurance Scheme and the way he has, in a quiet, non-political way, pushed to make sure that this bill—the National Disability Insurance Scheme Bill 2013—ended up where it is today. It is not a bill that we should be involving in the normal political discourse back and forward, and I was a bit disappointed in Senator Brown's speech—a good speech though it was right until the end, when she sought to make some political capital out of an issue which clearly has political support across the board.

I guess all of us in our lives have come across people who worry about their offspring who have a disability—people who worry about what will happen when they pass on. Indeed, some of the best friends of my wife and me had a disabled child. They were very good friends of ours and we were quite close to them, but at times—be it in sober moments or not so sober moments, and there were many of those—there was always this underlying concern in their otherwise quite happy lives about what would happen to the young fellow if something happened to them. It was something that I learnt in those days about the anguish that people, particularly parents, suffer. In fact, in my own family and my wife's family, there is a similar situation where people growing old wonder what will happen to the disabled people once they themselves pass on. I know that an uncle of Lesley's never quite knew exactly how to deal with that situation but left a lot of money to try and ensure that there was someone there to look after the disabled person when he passed on. So it has certainly been a traumatic issue for many families from time immemorial. In my practice as a country solicitor for many years before I came into this place, often people would come to me and talk about these issues when drawing up their wills; they would try to work out the best way to handle things. Indeed, you could again see the anguish and concern that they experienced in trying to work out what needed to be done.

The one good thing—in fact, the only good thing—that I can see that came out of the 2020 Summit in 2008 was this proposal for a national disability insurance scheme. You might recall that that was the summit that was to have all these great ideas for Australia but which turned into nothing more than a talkfest, it having faded into insignificance and into the backs of everyone's memory since 2008. But there was one proposal that came out of that and that was this proposal for a national disability insurance scheme. It was a concept that was conceived by Mr John Walsh and Mr Bruce Bonyhady, who talked about it at that 2020 Summit in 2008.

The introduction of the National Disability Insurance Scheme that we are dealing with today does have cross-party support at both federal and state level. Again, regrettably, some people have attempted to make some political capital out of it by accusing the states of not doing this or not doing that. That is regrettable, because I know that all of the state governments, be they of whatever political persuasion, support across the board an insurance scheme for the disabled that we are dealing with today. As my leader, Tony Abbott, said quite clearly and unequivocally: 'The NDIS is an idea whose time has come.'

The level of support that a person with a disability receives can depend on many factors. It might depend on where they live, whether that disability is congenital or whether it was acquired and, if acquired, that it was at the workplace or due a motor vehicle accident or in some other context. Workers compensation and motor vehicle accident insurance provides coverage in some states, but if you are born with a disability or acquire disability later in life, it can be a different story, and we can see long waiting lists and queues. The result is that many people with a disability are left without the assistance they need. As I said at the beginning of my speech, the instance of parents worrying about the assistance that will come to the disabled person when they pass on has also been a real issue.

The coalition has always enthusiastically supported every step along the road to the achievement of the National Disability Insurance Scheme. You will recall, Deputy President, that we supported the initial work of the Productivity Commission and we also supported the $1 billion that was set aside in last year's budget, although we queried whether this was the appropriate amount in view of what the Productivity Commission had said. Deputy President, you would also be aware that we in the coalition supported the five launch sites and we supported the agreement between the Commonwealth and New South Wales for a full statewide rollout of the proposal. Indeed, we also support this legislation.

If I have one hesitation about my leader, Mr Abbott, it is that he always seems to be so fit, riding around the country on a bicycle and doing things like surf swimmers, long-distance runs and long-distance bicycle rides. I just wonder if anyone who is that fit and spends so much time with that sort of extreme activity is an appropriate leader for me! But that is the only thing for which that I would ever hesitate in my support for Mr Abbott! I say that, for the written record, tongue in cheek. I also raise that to indicate that I was very proud when Tony Abbott—I am always very proud when he does all of his pollie pedals, as they are called. Over the years he has raised a great deal of money for charity through a pollie pedal which he initiated many years ago now. I am particularly pleased that he has made what can be seen as a personal commitment to Australians with a disability and particularly for those who care for them by dedicating some $540,000 raised by the 2012 Pollie Pedal charity bike ride to Carers Australia.

It was good to see news reports of that pollie pedal bike ride. It was 1,000 kilometres. Fortunately, he did not ask me to join him, but I know that some of my colleagues did. Along that 1,000 kilometre route Mr Abbott met with people with a disability, with carers and with disability organisations. I understand that the next two pollie pedals that he is involved in will also be in partnership with and help raise funds for Carers Australia.

We believe that a National Disability Insurance Scheme can be delivered within the timeframe recommended by the Productivity Commission and we think that a government acting responsibly and prudently—managing well the finances of the country—can do that.

We have tried to offer support to the current government through the establishment of a joint parliamentary committee, to be chaired by both sides of politics, to oversee the establishment and implementation of the NDIS. As I understand it, that has not actually been agreed to by the current government. I may be wrong in that and, if I am, I apologise. But if I am not wrong and they have not agreed to that then I would certainly urge those senators taking part in the debate to impose upon their leadership to agree to a joint parliamentary committee so that we can take the politics out of it and actually achieve a serious result—a bipartisan result—for something that is, without question, as Tony Abbott said, at its time now.

This is a once in a generation reform that will evolve over many parliaments of this country. It will not be the property of any particular party or group; it will be the property of the parliament as a whole, on behalf of the Australian people. I think that is very important. We need to get it right, and that requires a very high level of consultation and attention to detail not just now but from now until the full implementation.

I could say that this government has not been anywhere near the top of the class when it comes to consultation. Very often, things are done on the spur of the moment for the wrong reason and without proper thought being given to how things will be funded. I would hope that, in the instance of this particular initiative of many, many people, there is that appropriate very high level of consultation and attention to detail. That is why I thought the idea of a joint parliamentary oversight committee would be very, very useful.

I am pleased to see that a colleague of mine, my local federal member, Mr George Christensen, the member for Dawson, moved a motion in the House of Representatives to establish this non-partisan joint committee some time ago. Unfortunately, those who control the agenda in the House of Representatives have not seen fit to bring that motion to a vote at the present time. Again, I would urge those senators from the other side of the chamber taking part in this debate to impose upon their leaders to bring that motion forward for a vote in the other place so that the House can, in a bipartisan way, express support for that suggestion.

In our own chamber, Senator Fifield moved the same sort of motion to establish that oversight committee, and it is of some genuine regret to me that the Labor Party and the Greens political party combined together in the Senate to vote that down. That seemed to be contrary to the spirit of the way in which this legislation has been dealt with. I know that my leader, Mr Abbott, reiterated the offer at a recent Press Club speech when he said, and I quote:

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.

What Mr Abbott was very rightly saying and drawing attention to is that this is not something that one political party in one parliament can deal with in the time that they happen to be the government of the country. I do not make any comment on opinion polls but, should the government of Australia change later on this year, it will be important that the new government has been involved in this process from the very start and that the current government continues to be involved, and the same must be said right across the states of Australia.

The first stage of this scheme, as I understand, will benefit more than 20,000 people with disabilities, their families and their carers living in South Australia, the ACT, Tasmania, the Hunter in New South Wales and the Barwon area of Victoria—and it will indeed go on further than that. It is something that I very much support.

I note the remarks of my senate colleagues in the very detailed Community Affairs Legislation Committee report on this bill. I note the submissions that have been made to the committee during their presentation. I particularly note that the first hearing of the committee was held in my base city of Townsville. I was pleased to see so many people from the Townsville community—the Mental Illness Fellowship of North Queensland; the Townsville Independence Program for Adult Community Living; Community Connections; Supported Options in Lifestyle and Access Services Inc; Deaf Services Queensland; a very significant group in the North Queensland area simply called Cootharinga; the independent advisory Townsville service; the Ingham Disability Support Services group; and Inclusion Works—appear before the committee. They were just some of the ones from the north who made submissions, and they were the ones who were called before the committee to give their evidence in person. I thank them all for the evidence they gave. The suggestions and comments that they put forward have helped get us to where we are at the present time. I support the bill.