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Wednesday, 29 November 2017
Page: 9270


Senator STEELE-JOHN (Western Australia) (18:07): It is very easy to say nice, warm, fluffy, general things about the NDIS. I know from personal experience, because I'm one of the people to whom these comments are usually addressed. However, speaking from this place of lived experience, something which up until now has been rather absent from this chamber on these issues, I say to you that the NDIS is not just another government reform. For the 4.3 million Australians living with disability, it is the product of decades of hard-fought campaigning to have our fundamental human rights recognised, protected and respected in the country in which we live. The struggle for equality is ongoing, and I hope to do what I can with my time in this place to give it voice and strength.

The NDIS is not a silver bullet to the challenges that we face as a community, nor is it by any means perfect. Indeed, many of its imperfections speak to the urgent need to place the views of those with a lived experience back at the centre of the scheme. However, it is a critical foundation stone upon which the disability community will continue to fight for our rights and our freedoms. The legislation before us forms a key part of this foundation. The Australian Greens support the intent of the NDIS quality safeguards legislation in ensuring people journeying with a disability are protected from violence, abuse or neglect, and that best practices are followed in supporting those people.

However, we are deeply concerned, as has been outlined by my colleague Senator Siewert, that the protections do not go far enough, and we are disappointed that the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission will only provide protection to the 10 per cent of people with a disability who directly access NDIS supports. Quite frankly, it is unacceptable that the remaining 90 per cent, the vast majority of people with a disability, will have to rely on the existing insufficient regulatory frameworks, which are proven to provide inadequate protection. Put simply, this bill fails. It does not provide enough protection to enough people. As has been stated in stark terms by the Disabled People's Organisations Australia, this bill:

… will not cover the range of settings in which people with disability experience violence, nor the multiple forms of violence that people with disability experience.

This bill in no way removes the need—as was also noted by my colleague—for a royal commission into violence, abuse and neglect in relation to people with a disability.

The Greens have repeatedly called for a royal commission, and it is, quite frankly, shameful that the other parties have not supported our calls in the past. The need for a royal commission was the first recommendation of the Senate Community Affairs References Committee inquiry into this issue back in 2015. The recommendations were supported by the Victorian parliament's inquiry into abuse in disability services. More than 120 academics from around Australia have signed an open letter urging the Prime Minister to act on the recommendation. This was followed by a society statement from the Disabled People's Organisations Australia, which was endorsed by 163 organisations and groups and, in addition, over 380 individuals once again calling for a royal commission. It stated:

A Royal Commission is the only mechanism that can provide a comprehensive, independent, and just response to all forms of violence and abuse against people with disability. People with disability in Australia deserve nothing less.

I could not agree more; we do deserve nothing less. The people who took time to go through the trauma of informing that committee of their experience deserve nothing less than the government's attention and the opposition's attention in calling for and establishing a royal commission.

I support the legislation before us at the moment. I am profoundly disappointed in some of its aspects. I echo Senator Rachel Siewert's comments in that regard. But I want to repeat: this is not a sidestep through which we can get away from a royal commission. It in fact adds to the need and the urgency for that commission to take place.