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Tuesday, 19 March 2013
Page: 2079

Senator THISTLETHWAITE (New South Wales) (18:34): I speak in support of the National Disability Insurance Scheme Bill 2013. At the outset I would like to congratulate and thank all who have worked over many years and decades to make this bill and this scheme a reality. We are lucky in some respects that those who have worked to make this happen know a little bit about what overcoming adversity and succeeding against the odds is all about. I am of course referring to the more than 400,000 Australians that live every day with a significant or permanent disability. It is because of their determination, tenacity, energy and bravery that the NDIS is poised to make a real and lasting difference to the way this nation treats its disabled citizens, and I pay tribute to them and thank them for that.

The bill establishes the framework for the NDIS, a new program for funding care and support for people with a disability. It is intended to commence for full access across Australia from 2018. The bill also establishes the NDIS Launch Transition Agency, the body that will manage the first stage of the NDIS in five locations around Australia from July 2013.

For many years now Australians who suffer from a disability and their carers and their families have not been able to access adequate levels of financial support and care. By many accounts, the system in place charged with ensuring that these people can enjoy a full, rewarding life free of discrimination has in some respects failed them. Problems that have been identified with the system have ranged from the sheer complexity of the current system, the failure of funded services to meet demand and differential treatment depending on how someone acquires their disability. These are deficiencies that really should not be allowed to endure in modern-day Australia, particularly in the light of significant projections of increase in the number of people who will live in our society into the future with a severe or profound disability.

In 2009, the Australian government commissioned the Productivity Commission to investigate the feasibility of a national disability insurance scheme. The commission subsequently found that:

The current disability support system is underfunded, unfair, fragmented, and inefficient, which gives people with a disability little choice and no certainty of access to appropriate supports. The stresses on the system are growing with little costs.

As a solution, the commission proposed that the NDIS provide insurance to all Australians who acquire a significant disability, provide support through the provision of information and referral services and provide long-term care and support to the around 410,000 Australians living with significant and ongoing disability.

The scheme will be launched in five sites across Australia from July 2013. The first stage of the scheme will begin in South Australia, Tasmania, the ACT, the Hunter in New South Wales and the Barwon region in Victoria, and will benefit more than 20,000 people living with disability, their families and their carers. I am proud to say that in my state, the federal government has reached a long-term agreement with the New South Wales government to fund and deliver the National Disability Insurance Scheme in 2018. I offer credit and thanks to the New South Wales government for working with the federal government on a long-term delivery solution for this important scheme.

The framework of the NDIS will bring long-term certainty to the resourcing of disability care and support, so that people with disability can feel secure that they will get what they need over their lifetime. The scheme will respond to each individuals' goals and aspirations for their life, and will plan with each person to take account for their individual circumstances; this will include support for carers and other informal and community supports that are important to the person living with disability.

The scheme will work with families in their role as carers, ensuring they are not overwhelmed by the task and can continue to provide valuable informal care. The scheme will also focus on intensive early learning intervention, particularly where it is evident that it will substantially improve a person's predicament, or slow the progression of their disability over their lifetime.

In Australia, a person with a disability has a poverty risk around 2.7 times that of a person without a disability. This scheme recognises the importance, where possible, of helping people with a disability to get back into the workforce.

The government has heard the frustration and desperation of people with a disability, who are sick and tired of being, in many respects, second-class citizens, one of whom, Tricia Malowney, wrote a compelling article last year about her plight as an Australian with a disability. She said:

I am a 20 per cent-er - one of the approximately 20 per cent of Australians who have a disability. The majority of us are underfunded (or not funded at all) for the supports we need to participate fully as Australian citizens. Australians with disabilities cross all demographics. We come from all socio economic sectors, we live in the city and we live in rural locations. We come from CALD backgrounds and we are Indigenous and refugees. We are married, we are single, we are parents and carers. We are LGBTI and we are straight.

We do not have the same impairments, but we share the same social disadvantage.

…   …   …

So, we've had enough … - we need the NDIS and we need it now.

Well, to Tricia, and all of those who have been campaigning for many, many years for this invaluable and important reform, I am proud to say that—and proud to be part of—a Labor government has heard you and is delivering this important reform. I commend the bill to the Senate.