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Address to the Conference of National Disability Services CEOs, Sydney

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Address to the Conference of National Disability Services CEOs, Sydney

Monday, 3 December 2012


Thank you Sanjib. Thank you Ken Baker for the kind invitation to address this conference. Thank you Mitch Fifield. You were justly praised by Sanjib and you have done an extraordinary job as the Shadow Minister for Disabilities. Thank you to my other colleagues for supporting me today and more importantly supporting everyone who is working in the disabilities sector for every Australian, every vulnerable Australian. I particularly acknowledge Craig Kelly, who has a deep and longstanding personal commitment in this area. I acknowledge my senior colleagues Philip Ruddock, Senator Arthur Sinodinos and Senator Marise Payne and I am particularly pleased to be here to address you on this International Day of People with Disabilities.

Ladies and gentlemen, you do a lot of visits as a member of Parliament, as a Leader of the Opposition and alternative Prime Minister but rarely do you have visits which are so full of hope, so full of joy as the visits you pay to the organisations that are working with people with disabilities. I recently went to the Sunnyfield Centre in my electorate. This is a truly happy workplace. This is a centre with truly happy workers. The sense of involvement, the sense of satisfaction, the sense of pride that each one there took in their work was striking, exhilarating, gratifying and it made me so proud to, over the years, have done something to help the Sunnyfield Centre, both as a local member and as a minister. Never had I had so warm a welcome in a workplace as I received from the workers at Sunnyfield. This, I suspect, owed a little to the support I’d given to the centre over the years. I think it owed a very great deal to the quality of the people working there, but it also owed a very great deal to everyone in this sector, the commitment that they bring, the passion, the love, the drive that everyone in this sector brings to the vital task of helping the most vulnerable people in our community.

This is so important. It is so important. That's why every single politician must be pledged never to let you down and always to do whatever we can to make your life easier, to make the

life of the people you serve easier, to make the lives of those who care for the people you serve easier.

Going to somewhere like Sunnyfield is a reminder that, yes, there are people with disabilities in our community, people with very severe disabilities in our community, but they are our fellow Australians. They are an asset to our country. They are people who are important in our lives and we must love them and we must work for them, we must help them just as much, if not, indeed, more than any other Australian.

So, I'm here today, ladies and gentlemen, to pledge to you my party's commitment to people with disabilities and my party's commitment to work with you to help people with disabilities. Without wanting to blow the Liberal Party's trumpet, without wanting to boast about the good work that the Coalition has done, I think you saw when we were in government a very sustained effort to help people with disabilities and particularly to help those who are caring for people with disabilities and that will continue and improve should we have the opportunity to govern this country again.

I also want to pledge my personal commitment to doing everything I reasonably can to help and support people with disabilities.

Some of you might have heard of an annual charity bike ride that I began some 15 years ago called the Pollie Pedal. This year, the beneficiary of the Pollie Pedal was Carers Australia. Myself and various parliamentary colleagues and friends rode a thousand kilometres. We raised more than half a million dollars and more importantly at every stop on the way, we met people with disabilities and their carers. I was pleased and proud to be able to do this for people with disabilities and their carers. Some of you might have noticed if you’ve ever been close to me that I have some cauliflower ears. Those cauliflower ears aren’t just from packing into too many scrums over the years, ladies and gentlemen. Those cauliflower ears are at least in part the result of the way Carers Australia have chewed my ear so consistently on the need for a better deal for people with disabilities.

Next year, an election year, the Pollie Pedal will once more be raising money for Carers Australia and I have assured Carers Australia that should we form a government, in at least the first year of a Coalition government again the Pollie Pedal will be for Carers Australia because I want the leaders of Carers Australia, I want the carers who are caring for people with disability to have the chance to chew the ear of a Prime Minister, not just of an Opposition Leader. I think you deserve that. You absolutely deserve to have that kind of sustained contact with a Prime Minister and not just with an Opposition Leader.

Now, I want to congratulate all of you in this room for your support for a National Disability Insurance Scheme. It is right and proper that vulnerable Australians should receive the same level of service regardless of how their vulnerability or their disability was caused, regardless of which state they live in. The services that you get should not depend upon your address or whether or not you have won the litigation lottery.

Thanks to people like Bruce Bonyhady who has been an indefatigable campaigner for the National Disability Insurance Scheme and has fully alerted me to the way in which schemes analogous to the workers compensation schemes and the motor vehicle accident schemes that we have around this country could work for people with disabilities, I have become a passionate devotee of the National Disability Insurance Scheme. Thanks to people like Milly

Parker, whose life demonstrates how much difference a comprehensive range of services makes, I have become a committed devotee of the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

I accept the insurance principle. That's why I am so committed to working to bring about a National Disability Insurance Scheme as quickly as we reasonably can.

When the current government referred this matter to the Productivity Commission prior to the last election, it had my enthusiastic support and it had the enthusiastic support of the Coalition. When the Productivity Commission reported, the Coalition enthusiastically welcomed the Productivity Commission’s report. When the Government announced its commitment to a National Disability Insurance Scheme, they were supported by the Coalition.

We support the legislation that the Government has brought into the Parliament just this week. We might talk to the Government about possible improvements, but rest assured that we support the scheme and we will support the legislation.

I’ve said it before ladies and gentlemen, I want to say it again to you. When it comes to the National Disability Insurance Scheme, I am Doctor Yes, and, yes, there may be some who accuse me and the Coalition I lead of negativity, well, there is no negativity in the Coalition towards the National Disability Insurance Scheme. We think the National Disability Insurance Scheme is an idea whose time has well and truly come and, yes, we will from time to time ask questions about exactly what the government is doing; exactly what their funding commitment is, exactly how these things are going to work out in practice, as we should, because that’s what Oppositions do. Oppositions hold governments to account. Oppositions try to improve schemes and try to improve legislation but we are there to help. We are not there to carp.

I have repeatedly offered to the Government and to the Prime Minister our full practical cooperation in the design and implementation of a National Disability Insurance Scheme through the creation of a bipartisan parliamentary committee to be jointly chaired by both sides of the Parliament and comprising MPs with a strong personal interest in making this happen. I have repeatedly offered that to the Prime Minister. Thus far, the offer has not been accepted but it is a standing offer because we want to make this happen.

Should there be a change of government, I will offer the then opposition a similar committee because this is too important to be a bone of contention between the political parties in our country. This is too important to be put in place by one side of politics and then fiddled with and detracted from by another side of politics. This is something that should go forward as the joint united commitment of the political parties and the leaders of Australia.

I am not the sort of person who would stand up before you and say that the National Disability Insurance Scheme uniquely represents the values of just one side of politics. I would never do that, ladies and gentlemen. I think there are good people on both sides of politics. I think that overwhelmingly people on both sides of politics want this to happen. I don’t see this scheme as representing Liberal values or Labor values. I see this scheme as representing Australian values. I see this scheme as representing the universal decencies that all of us have in our hearts and want to see better applied to the most vulnerable people in our community.

In the end, the question that all of us in power, all of us in Parliament have to ask ourselves is "what kind of country do we want ours to be?" Do we want our country to be one which continues to deliver sporadic, patchy and often inadequate services to our most vulnerable members? Or do we want our country to be one that tries so much harder to give people with disabilities the fair deal, the new deal, that they so obviously deserve?

Now, ladies and gentlemen, this will be a journey that we are embarked upon. We know where it will end. We aren’t quite certain how every step is to be taken. There is much work to be done to work with the states. There is much work to be done on the logistics of service delivery. There is much work yet to be done on the precise structure of the NDIS and the extent to which it might ultimately resemble Medicare and the extent to which it might ultimately resemble the workers compensation or the motor vehicle accident schemes around our country. Yes, there are important questions of funding that are yet to be resolved, but this is a vital journey, a necessary journey, and a journey where we are all agreed upon the destination.

We will get there, we will get there. I am confident that we will get there. I hope all of you are confident that we will get there. It will be easier to get there if we cooperate with the states and don’t fight with them. It will be easier to get there if we have a strong economy and not a weak one. But get there we will, get there we will.

This is too important to get wrong. This is too important to become a bone of party political contention.

I pledge myself to achieving a National Disability Insurance Scheme and we will get there together.