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Wednesday, 12 September 2012
Page: 6791


Senator SIEWERT (Western AustraliaAustralian Greens Whip) (18:04): I take note of the statement tabled by the minister with responsibility for implementing the NDIS, Ms Macklin, about progress on the NDIS. I first pick up one of the points that Senator Fifield made about the oversight committee and groups wanting to see the oversight committee. Although I was not in this place at the time, because I was absent on bereavement leave, I did in fact get my office to check with advocates of the NDIS about whether they wanted to see such a committee in place. The response that we got was in fact not supportive of putting such a process in place, because they thought it would take even longer to implement the NDIS. I too talk extensively to people working on the NDIS, and people are very keen to see the NDIS in place as soon as possible, which is why we have welcomed the release just recently of the next series of discussion papers around the eligibility criteria and the reasonable and necessary support.

Having said that, I do in fact share Senator Fifield's comments on the fairly limited nature of the discussion papers that have been tabled. I understand they are eliciting a great deal of comment from advocates for the NDIS because people are starting to get anxious about who will be in and who will be out. In particular I note that advocates on behalf of those with sensory impairments are quite concerned that the NDIS will not be meeting their needs. I note that in the discussion paper on eligibility it does mention those with sensory disability or impairment, and I think that is an important step for people with a sensory impairment or disability, but I think that we need a lot more bones around the eligibility criteria and reasonable and necessary support before people will feel more relaxed. I am particularly disappointed that my home state of Western Australia has not got a launch site. There is a lot of support for the NDIS in Western Australia; in fact, representatives from Western Australia will be here at Parliament House for the NDIS breakfast next Monday. I look forward to them going back to Western Australia and continuing their advocacy for the NDIS. Western Australia does sort of pride itself on its support for people living with a disability. Having said that, we still have a large number of problems with disability support in Western Australia. Many people in Western Australia call it the race to the bottom, where you have to prove how bad you are before you get support. In fact, in Western Australia we do not have an idea of the unmet need for disability support because people stop applying for support—because they are sick of the race to the bottom and they are sick of trying to get support. We really do not have a clear idea of what the unmet need in my home state is.

I will note that our state government has been making some progress. It has said that it wants to continue to be involved in the NDIS and that it wants the NDIS to build on what happens in Western Australia. My concern there is that the state government is trying to portray the situation in Western Australia as if we have got a near-perfect system, and that is of course far from the reality. They say they want to build on that system, and I agree that some of the elements of our system, such as local area coordinators, individualised packages and those sorts of things, are worthy of support. We also have a strong disability services sector and we have seen, when we have had the various Senate inquiries, that there has been a stronger relationship between the sector and the government in Western Australia than in the other states. Again, you do not have to be very good to be better than some of the other states—not to have too much of a go at them,.

My concern is that Western Australia yet again seems to be saying: 'We want to have our own system. We don't want to be part of a national system.' The power of the NDIS will be that we will have a truly national system. So what I would dearly love to see is my home state taking the best of our system—and, as I have just acknowledged, there are some key elements that are very good and that I know the federal government has been looking at. But please do not come up with an entirely separate system in Western Australia to that of the rest of Australia! It is really important, I believe, not only that we have a truly national system but also that we do not forsake what is good about the West Australian system. So my plea is for our Western Australian government to come on board with the national approach and very strongly advocate for the best of our system to be included—but not to try and undermine a national approach, or a national agency, and not to try and run the states' rights issue yet again. I will be watching that issue very carefully.

I would like to make a few comments on some work that Graeme Innes, from the Human Rights Commission, has been doing around the NDIS. I know that next Monday he is speaking in this place to the Parliamentary Friends of Disability Group. Some of the key elements that he thinks need to be included in the NDIS are really important: for example, making sure there are review mechanisms in place for the NDIS—mechanisms for the review of the scheme funding, the eligibility decisions and, importantly, an independent merits review. He believes that making sure we have those review mechanisms is one of the key elements needed for people to have confidence in the decision-making processes. He also articulates the need for the NDIS to be practising what it preaches, in making sure that it incorporates procurement roles and models into the NDIS. That is a very important concept. For example, he says:

There are clear benefits in taking measures to ensure that accessibility features are built into universally designed goods, services, equipment and facilities, instead of people with disability needing to be served by specialised, segmented and thus inevitably less competitive and more expensive markets.

I think that is very important as well. He also talks about the need to look at the implementation of the various conventions to which Australia is a signatory and under which we have obligations, including of course the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. He has some very good points about assessing our NDIS against those obligations.

The other important point he makes is around advocacy. He points out that once we get this scheme in place, it will be a powerful tool of advocacy for those with disabilities. It will be advantageous for people with disabilities that the NDIS will be able to advocate on their behalf—for example, in ensuring that access standards are met, so that people will have easy access to facilities. The example he used to describe this to me was ensuring that we are meeting the appropriate standards for access to cinemas, and that cinemas have those measures in place. What he is saying is that it will reduce the economic impact and the cost to an NDIS if, for example, people can have easy access to cinemas and do not need assistance to be able to access those facilities. That is a very easy example that I have just used.

Another issue that has been raised with me in terms of the NDIS is ensuring that it adequately addresses the issues raised by FASD. We have in this place today representatives talking about FASD and about whether the NDIS eligibility criteria are going to be strong enough and effective enough to accommodate those with the various FASD disorders. Another issue, before we finish, is the cut-off age at 65. If you are under 65 you gain access to the NDIS and, if you are not, you are in the aged-services sector. That is a strong concern for many people who are ageing with a disability. What happens when you reach the age of 65 and have a different set of support services? The government says that that will not happen and I am keen to see that that is the case. (Time expired)

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Sinodinos ): Order! Senator Siewert, your time has expired.

Senator SIEWERT: I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.