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Thursday, 4 April 2019
Page: 15007


Mr FITZGIBBON (Hunter) (12:00): Very sadly, the most common source of complaint to my busy electorate office is the National Disability Insurance Scheme. People with disability, their carers, their families and their loved ones are usually at their wits end when they come to us. These typically self-sufficient people don't really want to come to their member of parliament but are forced to do so out of sheer frustration and their inability to get the service, care and equipment that they need for their loved one or, indeed, for themselves.

I get it. I think more than 600,000 Australians are making the transition from the old system to the National Disability Insurance Scheme. It's a big exercise. There were always going to be challenges, including teething problems, but we could never have feared that the system could let people down so badly. Like our Centrelink staff, who are also under-resourced, NDIA staff are copping much of the brunt of people's frustration, and they shouldn't be. I have the highest regard for the agency staff. They are doing their best in very difficult circumstances, circumstances driven in large part by the staffing cap that this government has placed on the agency. They're trying to do a very difficult and challenging task in the most challenging of circumstances.

I shouldn't be surprised that so many people are coming into my office, because something like 77,000 fewer people have made their way to the NDIS than should have been the case. That's a lot of people. Obviously each of the 150 members of the House of Representatives have their share of those 77,000 people. You can imagine how distressed those people and their families were to learn on Tuesday night that the Prime Minister built his wafer-thin budget surplus in part on the back of their pain. He funded his surplus by underspending on the NDIS. The Treasurer and the Prime Minister say, 'But it's demand driven.' Yes, it is, and 77,000 people aren't placing any demand on the system because they can't get into the system. What an outrageous thing for a government to do. Does it have no conscience, heart or care for these people? It's very disappointing.

As an opposition we don't pretend that this mess is going to be easy to fix. We have to be careful about expectations management as well, because what we will inherit will be somewhat of a train wreck. We do make the commitment that we will remove that cap, and that in itself will make a big difference. We will work as hard as we can for these people to fix their problems. We will make this an absolute priority for a Shorten Labor government. Why shouldn't it be a priority? Surely there's no greater responsibility than for us to take care of those less advantaged than we are. Certainly there's no group of people in our community more worthy of support than those who are finding themselves frustrated by the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

I remind people that the budget surplus is around $7 billion. You have to be careful suggesting that $1 billion is not a lot of money—of course it is—but, in federal government budget terms, it is not that much more than this government is spending on giving cash rebates on dividend imputation for people in this country who don't pay tax. Of course 80 per cent of that money is going to 20 per cent of the highest-income earners in this country.

Where are the government's priorities? Are we that concerned about people getting a tax rebate when they don't pay tax? Or are we more concerned about the people in this country, their carers, their families and their service providers, who are as frustrated as those with disabilities themselves? Where are our priorities? Our priorities should be with those with a disability and all those other people suffering disadvantage in our communities, including those on Newstart. Those on that side like to demonise people on Newstart as if it's somehow always their fault. Sure, there are people who could try harder, but there are more people who, for whatever reason and through no fault of their own, have struggled to get work in this country.