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Tuesday, 19 March 2013
Page: 2075

Senator SINGH (Tasmania) (18:14): I rise to speak to this landmark legislation, the National Disability Insurance Scheme Bill 2013. There are times when the din of public debate recedes and the actions of members and senators of this place combine to bring into sharpest relief the role of government. We are reminded in those moments for what purpose Australians from one of the diverse and liberal populations of the world have wrought a society that understands itself as a single community, each part supported by the other. We have built our nation on a guarantee of fairness and a guarantee of egalitarianism, a society that acknowledges that together we built the conditions in which any one of us might make a prosperous life and that we owe to it each other to ensure that prosperity is shared.

This is a nation that acknowledges that, no matter the different circumstances into which our children are born, all Australians should have access to the best possible education system. We acknowledge that effort should be fairly rewarded with decent wages and conditions for those who labour at an honest day's work. And we acknowledge that our commitment to Australia can be honoured in a sincere exchange of customs and heritage so that culture is no barrier to success.

Yet every day many Australians are diagnosed with a significant disability, either congenital or acquired through accident or misfortune. For many, their disability will cause them to drop out of the Australia most of us experience. Instead of participating in a vibrant national life, their experience may be shaped by the constraints of isolation, poverty, stress and insecurity. Many struggle with the cost of care, with treatment and with equipment. Even more grapple with issues of dependence that make carers of family and friends and amplify the consequences of disability.

The approach most people living with disability have been forced to take has been ad hoc. It has sought to deal with issues as they arose and as finances, time and energy allowed, all too often without the level of control and choice that they need. So too has the government's approach to disability been characterised by inconsistency, with budget allocations failing to take account of the true cost of disability or plan for the longer term.

While it has been clear for some time that this approach is not satisfactory, serious reform in this area has eluded successive governments—not even having found its way onto the agenda of the previous coalition government. I am pleased to say that the Gillard Labor government has placed disability reform firmly on the agenda for the nation and, encouraged by the strongest indications of community support through the Every Australian Counts campaign, has developed this new policy response from the ground up.

The National Disability Insurance Scheme and the bill before the Senate right now are part of extending the Australian pledge of a fair go to all people, including those living with disability. It will replace the current funding model with an insurance-like scheme based on actuarial analysis and a philosophy that shares the costs of disability services across the community. Rather than simply funding central services, it will allow funding to be directed towards eligible individuals' ongoing support needs and enable people to exercise more choice and control in their lives through individualised funding. In doing so, it will give effect to the principles outlined in the international agreements to which Australia is party, especially the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, especially those articles that urge a sense of independence and self-determination. Similarly, it will help to deliver those principles under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in that it will enhance the expression of the fundamental human rights of people living with disabilities.

The principles underpinning the National Disability Insurance Scheme are expressed, as they should be, in terms of human rights and the ability of people living with disability to exercise choice. But the NDIS is not simply a statement of principles. It is more than a reprioritising or reshaping of disability support in this country. It is also significantly expanding the level of support for people who need assistance in taking control of their lives. This bill creates a new agency, the NDIS Launch Transition Agency, to provide for the first stage of the rollout of the NDIS and demonstrate the model by assisting more than 20,000 people living with disability, their families and their carers living in South Australia, Tasmania, the Australian Capital Territory, the Hunter in New South Wales and the Barwon area of Victoria. These launch sites, funded with a $1 billion commitment from the Gillard Labor government, will begin the implementation of the NDIS from 1 July this year.

I am pleased and proud that Tasmania has been chosen as a launch site and I want to acknowledge the strength and energy of those campaigners in my home state of Tasmania who have fought long and hard for an NDIS—of course for their state, but also in recognition of the challenges faced by all Australians living with disability—people such as Margaret Reynolds, somebody from whom wise counsel is assured, whether as a former senator or in her previous role at National Disability Services Director; and also David Clements, the current state manager of NDS; and extraordinary organisations like Baptcare and the Brain Injury Association. Their work has meant that, from 1 July 2013, all eligible 15-24-year-olds in Tasmania—estimated at around 1,000 people—will be covered by the new National Disability Insurance Scheme.

Tasmania is an ideal location for the initial implementation of this project. Not only is it by virtue of its size, geography and governance a relatively flexible place to be first mover on such a scheme; it is also in pressing need of enhanced disability support. Partly as a result of its demography, Tasmania has the highest prevalence of disability out of all states in our country. Subsequently, the effect of disability is most acutely felt in Tasmania and the principles of the NDIS more sorely needed. It is my sincere hope that the greater provision of tailored care, decided, directed and ultimately employed by those affected by disability, will ease its burden and allow the young Tasmanians who will be amongst the first users of the NDIS to shape their own destiny.

It should never be that a young person suffering an acquired nerve injury from a bicycle accident is relegated to a nursing home because of lack of care or that a person should have to forgo the most routine conveniences because of a normally easily repaired home design issue. In a community as wealthy and as privileged as Australia we should never allow the vicissitudes of accident and luck to override the autonomy of our brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, neighbours and friends.

Like the grand architecture of Medicare, the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, our public education system and our award wage system—the rest of our social safety net, most of which results from the efforts of community activists and Labor governments—we must make the legacy of our success a society in which we can all take part. We must make a promise to all Australians that we will never abandon them or leave them behind so long as we have the capacity to move forward together. The NDIS will take us forward together. I am proud to be part of a Labor government responsible for this new social compact, and I commend this bill to the Senate.