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Wednesday, 29 November 2017
Page: 9268


Senator BROCKMAN (Western Australia) (17:59): Before I begin my contribution on this bill, I want to congratulate Senator Steele-John for his first speech, completed not that long ago. I'm also going to congratulate him on his dedication, being here to speak on this bill so soon afterwards.

I rise today to speak on the National Disability Insurance Scheme Amendment (Quality and Safeguards Commission and Other Measures) Bill 2017. This bill seeks to establish the independent NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission which will oversee protections for NDIS participants as the scheme is progressively rolled out across Australia. The commission will deliver on the government's commitment to establish nationally consistent quality assurance mechanisms and safeguards for NDIS participants, empowering it to regulate NDIS providers, monitor quality and safety of their services and supports, investigate and determine any reportable incidents and, importantly, uphold the rights of people with a disability. There is $209 million over four years allocated in the forward estimates to establish the commission. This is a sign of the government's commitment to disability reform in Australia.

It's great to see a number of members of the Community Affairs Committee in the chamber. As we all know, the NDIS is one of the largest social and economic reforms in our country's history. At full rollout, the scheme is estimated to support 460,000 participants and thousands of NDIS providers. As the NDIS rolls out, it is paramount we take into consideration the wellbeing and safety of people with disabilities receiving NDIS supports and services. The commission will ensure that we have nationally consistent protection in place. The new national system will mean a single registration process for providers across the various jurisdictions they operate in, which in turn will encourage greater efficiency, reduce red tape and duplication, and generally provide consistency nationally.

The commission will also play an important role in educating both service providers and clients of the NDIS. The effective dissemination of information and the effective way it is communicated will mean that service providers are able to communicate key services to their clients, families and carers, who will in turn better understand their rights and what help is available to them. The commission would also be able to use a range of regulatory powers to rectify problems, including the ability to ban unsafe and negligent providers.

The bill also makes minor amendments to the National Disability Insurance Scheme Act 2013 in response to an independent review of the operation conducted in 2015. The amendments align with COAG's response to the independent review in December 2016.

I wish to thank the Community Affairs Legislation Committee, of which I'm the chair, for all the hard work they put into the recent inquiry and report into the bill. I think we have seen again the very positive impact that a Senate committee inquiry can have on a bill. Whilst the government does not think that the bill needed any particular strengthening—we think there were sufficient protections in the bill—by adding the amendments that we have added, as I said in an earlier contribution in this place, we have maintained the collegiate approach to the NDIS in making sure that we are all on board and continue to support this very important scheme. The committee recognised the significant work undertaken in developing the NDIS framework, particularly the extensive consultation process and the consensus that was reached with state and territory governments. This consensus is necessary because it's critical for change within the existing quality and safeguards system and views the NDIS framework and the bill as effective mechanisms to achieve this. As I said, even though the government believed the bill did have sufficient protections, there were concerns raised by a number of witnesses and submitters about the implementation of the NDIS, and the government has decided to move amendments in response to some of those concerns.

In schedule 1 of the bill, there's an acknowledgment of the important role that independent advocates play in representing people with a disability through providing for rules to be made about the role of advocates in the context of complaints and the extension of whistleblower protections to independent advocates. Schedule 1 also confirms the obligation of the commissioner and registered NDIS providers to afford procedural fairness to workers and others who are the subject of a complaint or allegation. This is consistent with existing common-law requirements. The commissioner will issue guidelines relating to compliance with common-law procedural and fairness requirements.

Schedule 1 also clarifies the commissioner's national policy setting role under its behaviour support function to assist states and territories to develop a regulatory framework, including nationally consistent minimum standards in relation to restrictive practices which are, firstly, in line with the intergovernmental agreement on the National Framework for Reducing and Eliminating the Use of Restrictive Practices in the Disability Service Sector and, secondly, are consistent with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities as promulgated in New York on 13 December 2006.

Schedule 2 of the bill implements COAG's response to the recommendations of the independent review of the NDIS Act. It is somewhat ironic that some senators who seek greater consultation cannot agree to these minor amendments that are a result of the independent review, which included much consultation and to which a response was agreed by all states and territories. However, given the importance of schedule 1 to the future protection of people with disabilities under the NDIS, the government does not intend to delay the passage of the bill to secure the passage of these minor amendments that are intended to clarify and improve the NDIS Act. As a result, the government will remove schedule 2 from the bill and will progress these amendments at a later date following further consultation.

The coalition government is absolutely committed to a fully funded and high-quality NDIS. This is a very important piece of legislation, and the government considers it will be important to continue the positive collaboration in parliament that successfully established the NDIS and to progress disability reform in Australia.