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Tuesday, 2 April 2019
Page: 14503

Ms SHARKIE (Mayo) (17:54): The last time we were in this parliament, the Minister for Families and Social Services stated that the NDIS was now serving over 250,000 people across Australia and the Prime Minister touted that the scheme was one that provided choice and control for disabled Australians. At the time of that statement, the government had extended question time in what was widely believed to be a deliberate attempt to delay a vote on the establishment of a royal commission into the abuse of disabled Australians. What neither the Prime Minister nor the minister responsible discussed during the many opportunities provided during that sitting fortnight were the 184 incidents of abuse and neglect reported to the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission, the 62 reports of expected or unexpected deaths, the 91 reports of injuries, the 34 complaints against staff and providers, and the 75 cases of unauthorised restraint. All of these were in just the three-month window between July 2018 and the end of September 2018.

We, as legislators, have a duty to protect the most vulnerable people in our society. If we won't show the leadership that our communities expect, then we condone the poor behaviour of others through our wilful blindness: the behaviour you walk past is the behaviour you accept. However, the government eventually relented its opposition to the royal commission, and I note the recent announcement that the government will commit the resources needed to ensure a thorough investigation of the issue.

The exploitation of vulnerable people was set out in excruciating detail at the royal commission into institutional child sex abuse and the royal commission into banking and financial services. No doubt, we will uncover further abuses in the royal commission into aged care. The abuses may have been prevented if only we had shone a light on these issues earlier and if we had listened to those who had spoken out and given a voice to those who were too afraid to do so.

I welcome the Prime Minister's commitment to investigate the abuse and neglect of people with a disability, and I am pleased to see the government taking action through the National Disability Insurance Scheme Amendment (Worker Screening Database) Bill 2019 to prevent others from suffering the same fate. The bill will enable the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission to establish and maintain a nationally consistent database for worker screening of people who provide NDIS supports and services through a registered NDIS provider or for those who self manage. Current worker screening arrangements are state based and vary in quality, with some states not recognising clearances given by other states.

The NDIS commission will be responsible for maintaining the database, which will record all cleared and excluded applicants from all states and territories. It will also enable national ongoing monitoring of cleared applicants' criminal history records to ensure that worker screening units can assess and respond in a timely manner to the risk posed to participants. This is an important step forward in ensuring that NDIS participants are treated with dignity and respect, and in protecting their welfare as vulnerable members of our community. However, there is a long way to go.

Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to recognise the work of individuals, such as the former member of the South Australian Legislative Council, the Hon. Kelly Vincent and Senator Jordon Steele-John, who have long campaigned for the rights of disabled Australians.