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Tuesday, 19 March 2013
Page: 2081


Senator PAYNE (New South Wales) (18:41): Before I begin my remarks this evening, I want to indicate to the chamber and for the record, that I dedicate my speech tonight to my very good friend Liam Hitchen, who is a thirteen-year-old boy in Orchard Hills in Western Sydney, for whom this will make an extraordinary difference.

I want to begin by acknowledging the sentiments of my colleague Tony Abbott, the Leader of the Opposition, and say, as he did, 'The NDIS is an idea whose time has come.' The fact that Australians with disabilities deserve a better deal than they are getting is something that both sides of this chamber can agree about. The current system could best be described as a patchwork quilt. It is something that I have heard time and time again from disability advocates in Western Sydney in particular. That view was only reinforced by the 1,600 or so submissions that were made to the Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee.

It is clear that many people with disabilities and their families simply do not know where to go for help. Different states have different systems, and there are different conditions for those with congenital conditions and for those who acquire them during the course of their lives—at home, or on the road or at work. They have to navigate a maze of insurance forms, state departments, federal departments, and inevitably, queues wherever they turn. The process is enough to make some people just give up, and we do need to streamline the system to prevent this from happening.

We need to provide support on a needs basis rather than rationing, with the entitlement for support going to the individual. The individual needs to be able to pick the aids, the equipment and support services that they need, and this is at the heart of the Productivity Commission's report into support for people with disabilities, which, as my colleague Senator Fifield has indicated, the coalition strongly supports. The Productivity Commission approach provides the blueprint for how this scheme should operate. As well as supporting that Productivity Commission approach, we also supported the $1 billion provided by the government in the last budget. We supported the five launch sites, we supported the agreement between the Commonwealth and New South Wales for a full state-wide rollout following the Hunter launch and, importantly, we support this legislation.

At this point, I also want to acknowledge the leadership and commitment of the New South Wales Minister for Disability Services, the Hon. Andrew Constance, the member for Bega. His work in this area and his commitment to making sure that the NDIS happens, and happens for the people that he serves and cares for in New South Wales, is without parallel. He is an exceptional minister, and he is serving those people with a dedication that, some days, is stunning.

This scheme will complement the work of organisations that I have had a great deal to do with in recent years: organisations like the Nepean Area Disabilities Organisation in Penrith; Great Community Transport, which serves the Blue Mountains and the Nepean area; the Penrith Disabilities Resource Centre; the Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children; the Thorndale Foundation; and Northcott Disability Services in Parramatta. I have met with representatives from those organisations on many occasions and even recently with Senator Fifield, who was in Western Sydney for a meeting with those organisations at a round table in Emu Plains. Top of their agenda is the NDIS. For people like Denise Heath from the Nepean Area Disabilities Organisation and Denise Roberts from the Penrith Disabilities Resource Centre this is a seminal moment in how they do their jobs and how their organisations operate. I must say that, although I knew them to be highly competent and efficient heads of their various organisations, the forethought and consideration they displayed on that day to both Senator Fifield and me of how their organisations may work within the NDIS was extremely impressive.

In implementing this agenda we will obviously continue to engage with disability advocates every step of the way to ensure that we have the best National Disability Insurance Scheme. We on the coalition side of the chamber believe the NDIS can be delivered within the Productivity Commission's time frame and we stand ready to work with the government to see the NDIS delivered as soon as possible.

We do perhaps disagree on one issue. A number of those on the other side of this chamber and elsewhere continue to say that the NDIS represents quintessentially Labor values. I think that is somewhat disappointing. This is not something that should represent the values that are synonymous with one political party. It should be above politics. This NDIS represents Australian values. It is about helping those who are less fortunate and face extra challenges that are beyond their control. We do not intend to and would not brand this as a Liberal scheme or a coalition scheme, and I am disappointed that some on the other side are trying to do the same.

The NDIS is a person-centred and self-directed funding model that aims to empower individuals, not governments, to reduce the red tape and the hassle that people face. This represents a real turning point for people with disabilities and their carers. We have to do everything possible to ensure that we get it right. This is a once-in-a-generation reform that will unfold over the life of several parliaments and it should be owned by the parliament as a whole and by the people the parliament represents, not any particular political party. To that end the coalition has called for the establishment of a joint parliamentary committee to be chaired by both sides of the political divide to oversee the implementation of the NDIS.

In a debate last week I spoke about the effectiveness of parliamentary joint committees. On that occasion I was discussing constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians. These committees can be extremely effective bodies. A parliamentary oversight committee would unite all of the parties and would provide a non-partisan environment where the design and eligibility could be completed cooperatively. I think that is a very important concept in this discussion. My colleague from the other place Mr George Christensen, the member for Dawson, has had a motion in the House of Representatives to establish this committee for some time but, unfortunately, it has not yet been brought forward for a vote. My colleagues Senator Fifield and Senator Boyce moved in June last year a very similar motion to that to establish an oversight committee but it was voted down by the Labor Party and the Australian Greens.

So I renew the coalition's call today for the government to accept our offer of a non-partisan parliamentary oversight committee. We will be moving an amendment to this bill to establish such a committee. I heard Senator Thistlethwaite as he concluded his remarks this evening acknowledge the effective work done between the Liberal government in New South Wales and the federal government here in Canberra. There is no reason why we cannot extend that to make it even more constructive to establish such a parliamentary oversight committee.

Every government in Australia wants the National Disability Insurance Scheme, so it is disappointing when we see some people put politics above those wishes. The COAG meeting before last was a fairly good example of that. The persistence of the New South Wales and Victorian Liberal governments to withstand some pretty heated attacks that they received from the federal government meant that we did end up with agreement to host launch sites. We continue to ask the Prime Minister to adopt a more cooperative approach—something that has been missing in a number of instances from the Commonwealth's dealings with the states and territories up until now.

Debate interrupted.