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Tuesday, 28 May 2002
Page: 2527

Mr QUICK (10:52 PM) —I rise tonight primarily to air a grievance about the way this government treats people with disabilities, in particular a remarkable young man who lives in my electorate. He is in year 12 at Rosny College in Hobart. Heath Mollineux is 17 years old and has athetoid quadriplegia cerebral palsy. He is confined to a wheelchair and his only means of communication is via a laptop or desktop computer. In February this year, Heath sent me an email in which he raised the cost of a new desktop computer and the amount of GST paid on its purchase. In his email, he said:

I communicate through my laptop computer and a special program called EZ Keys for Windows.

He continued:

Why do I have to pay GST on a piece of equipment that I'm dependent on every day? I'm not disputing the GST itself, but it's a real battle getting equipment when it's so expensive. I have spoken to the tax department who have said a computer is not covered by schedule 3 in the GST act. Without my computer, I can do nothing—I can't even go to the toilet.

I visited Heath and the main item he was concerned about was the large monitor that he needs to display his words so that others can read his message. At a cost of some $3,000, the GST on the monitor is approximately $300—this on an item that is an essential communication tool for Heath. Obviously, I wrote to the Minister for Revenue and Assistant Treasurer, and I said:

When I visited Heath, I became acutely aware of the need to make provision for his circumstances. I am certain that the GST compensation will never cover the amount of GST he has to pay to maintain his computer systems, and hence his life, over the years that he survives. Could you please advise what measures are being considered to enable Heath and others in his position to have their computers placed in schedule 3 and be spared the burden of the GST?

Several months passed and I finally got an answer, and the answer was: `None.' There is no mechanism to ease the burden on Heath and people like him. One of the reasons given is the additional compliance complexity for these computer businesses. One wonders how complex it is to be in Heath's circumstances. Does that count for nothing? If the equipment cannot be exempted, why can't there be a GST exemption certificate when he buys the monitor or the computer? That is because the government thought it would be too hard to apply different GST treatments to computer equipment, depending on the status of the purchaser. How hard is it to identify Heath and give him the exemption form? Too hard for this government. So it is tough luck, Heath—this government does not care.

What sort of government trades off complexities for business against complexities for people with disabilities? What is more complex than life? There is a debate about communication standards for regional Australia. What about a life-dependent communication tool for an intelligent young man who is achieving remarkable results at a senior secondary college? Nothing should impede the acquisition by Heath of the tools he needs to survive.

If the Assistant Treasurer will not do anything, maybe the Minister for Education, Science and Training—a former president of the AMA and, in my mind, an honourable man—can find the heart to resolve Heath's problems. I will ask him tonight: Minister, please do something for Heath—an exceptional student living a totally exceptional life.

I now move on to another example of people with disabilities who are doing it tough—people with Down syndrome. People with Down syndrome have an intellectual disability, a stable and permanent condition for which there is no cure. The proposed changes to the work test will discourage many Down syndrome people from working more than 15 hours a week. If they were to work more than 15 hours, there is a strong chance that they would fail the mutual obligation test and end up with very little benefit at all.

The Down Syndrome Association of New South Wales pointed out to me today that people with Down syndrome do not find jobs easily. Jobs are found by the funded disability support agencies. Transferring people with disabilities to Newstart suggests that jobs are available on demand. I would argue that people without disabilities have trouble finding work, so what chance would those with disabilities have competing in the same market? Am I the only member who has people with disabilities in my electorate? Why are there no government members standing up on this issue? (Time expired)