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Monday, 2 May 2016
Page: 4043

Mr BROUGH (Fisher) (18:58): I am a bit like the member for Dunkley in that this is a post-valedictory speech, but this is such an important subject—the National Disability Insurance Scheme. I was a previous minister in this portfolio, and I recall quite vividly a meeting in Brisbane of all Commonwealth ministers where, as the Howard government minister, I had a blank cheque. This will sound incredible to some members, given the financial situation that the Commonwealth finds itself in today, as the previous member said, of borrowing $100 million a day. I was given the authority to approach all Labor ministers—as they all then were in the states—and say, 'For every new dollar that you put on the table, the Commonwealth will match it dollar for dollar to help improve the lives of the families who live with and support a person with a disability.' Sadly, that meeting was closed down in a flash because the states were not ready to step up the plate at that point.

I commend the Labor Party for bringing on the NDIS and making it a reality. Again, as the previous member said, unfortunately it has not been fully funded and this has created a great deal of unnecessary angst amongst the public. They have watched the coalition here dealing with the reality of a 22 thousand million dollar-a-year program, of which we all see the need—both the economic and the social need—but recognising that someone has to pay the piper at the end of the day. The Medicare payment that we are all obliged to pay does not go close to addressing that financial need.

Unless you have lived with someone with a disability, unless you are very close to families that have dealt with that struggle or unless you have had the privilege—and I call it a privilege—to sit as the chairman of the Joint Committee on the National Disability Insurance Scheme, as the member for Dunkley, who succeeded me, has and to hear firsthand the stories of families dealing sometimes with multiple cases of severe disability over many, many years, you cannot appreciate just how lucky you are. I want to bring to the House's attention just one woman who, in closed session, came to us. Obviously, I will not identify her. She only wanted to say one thing—and it was in the member for Corangamite's electorate; she just wanted to say thank you. The woman had severe disabilities, which she had had since birth, and one of those was incontinence. Not being able to afford incontinence pads or aids as an adult woman and having to deal with the challenges—I cannot even come up with the words—the indignity of not being able to have the appropriate aids to meet her needs spoke such volumes to this all-party committee. She wanted to say thank you for such a simple thing, which was: 'Today I now have that dignity that comes with having appropriate aids, and that is because of the NDIS.'

The member for Dunkley pointed out, and rightly so—and I want to support and echo his words—that the challenges that lie before us with the NDIS are massive. The sector is not ready. This does not mean we should not go ahead. What it says is that the boards—who are often comprised of people whose own families have had a child, generally, or even an adult with a disability—have formed groups to support those families over sometimes many decades and now many are growing old, but the market is changing. It is changing from one where governments, state and federal, provided block funding and people gave what support they could and gave as much care as they could to one of a market force—and that market force being that the power is for once being put into the hands of the individual. These people are the least empowered people in our nation, who, through no fault of their own, do not have the same 'abilities' as the rest of us. Many have extraordinary abilities, so I do not wish that comment to be seen as being disparaging in any way, shape or form. These people who need assistance beyond what the rest of us consider normal levels of support need to know that those supports are going to be there for them. If we cannot do that as a nation then we have to have a long, hard look at ourselves.

The organisations that will ultimately deliver those services, which are generally the not-for-profit sector, need to be able to change. This is a call from me tonight to capable people throughout the business community to get on board with the national disability scheme by supporting your local, your state and your national disability organisations. They are going to need your expertise in financial management, in service delivery and in being able to operate in a competitive market. They have to be able to find staff, to train staff, to make sure that those staff obtain the sorts of standards that we would all demand of someone looking after a vulnerable person in our community. Then they have to maintain those standards moving forward and do it in a cost-efficient manner. These are big tasks, massive tasks, but they are tasks that this nation is up for, if we all pull together and make it work.

As I said, I compliment the member for Jagajaga, who came into this place 20 years ago, with me, and who I think has been in that same portfolio for 20 years—but the work is not done. The work is only just beginning. We have got over the threshold. We have had the Every Australian Counts campaign, but now we have to make this scheme deliver on the ground. Let us have a look at the figures. Today, there are roughly 30,000 people in the system. The last time I looked, about 20 per cent of the services that they were entitled to avail themselves of they had not used. The funding has been there but they have not used the services. The questions have not been answered: why is that the case? Is it because there are inefficient people delivering the services? Is it because their information to connect with the services in an area is not satisfactory? What is it? We need to know that if we are going to fulfil those lives. Most importantly, we are going to need a disability sector—which is going to control and expend on behalf of the Commonwealth and the state governments 22 thousand million dollars a year—capable of stepping up to the plate, training the people who will deliver those services and making sure that they do not hurt people along the way.

Given that this will be my last contribution to the parliament, I did not really want to bring to the parliament's attention what I am about to say, but, because these people are so often so vulnerable, the parliament needs to be alerted to what can happen to them. I saw firsthand on Bribie Island, in my former electorate of Longman, a particular organisation who have gone to court. They came with all the best intentions, so it seemed, to help people with disabilities, but because of poor governance, because of no oversight by those who were given an authority to look after people with the greatest of disabilities, we saw, as a form of punishment, young people put in cages, those cages hoisted off the ground and the sides of the cages hit. There was sexual abuse of males and females. I reiterate to the parliament: people have been convicted. These things were not allegations. They happened. I recall to this day looking into the eyes of an adult male whose elderly parents had finally built up some trust whereby they felt there was somewhere where their son could live in peace and have a quality of life only to have it torn from him because others had taken that trust away. These are the real tests of the NDIS. Yes, we can deliver the services and we must, but we must also protect those who cannot protect themselves. The governance needs to be in place—the checks and balances, the quality of the people, what they are doing and how they are doing it—to make sure that not only the money is well spent but also that the services are delivered in such a way as to protect those who we seek to protect.

None of us, in this place, who have been part of big projects underestimate the challenges that lie ahead for everyone from the CEO and the board of NDIA through to the service providers, the parents, the siblings, the careers and the wider community. But if we all pull together we can show what passion this nation has for compassion—compassion for those who have drawn the short straw in some respects. Some of the previous speakers said there are many talents amongst the people who we will be seeking to help. What we need to do is draw out that talent. We need to give every individual the capability and the capacity to live life to its full and to be a contributor to the nation's future, because it is only when we realise what people are capable of and when we see past what can be the visual nature of a disability that we will recognise how much more people can offer.

Let me finish by talking about the person I know best with a disability—that is, my father. My dad, at four years of age, went into hospital in 1931 and contracted polio while he was there. He spent the next four years of his life in and out of hospitals. They actually built his coffin. They ripped open his chest and broke every rib to give him what was then called heart massage. He is a tough old bugger. He is now 89. In fact, he was in palliative care 18 months ago and the doctors were trying to kill him, but they failed. He is now playing chess again.

The organisation that he recounted to me only last week was the great Queensland charity then known as Montrose Home for Crippled Children, today known as MontroseAccess. He recalled the story of a man who then owned a business called Metropolitan Motors, in Brisbane. He gave my dad a toy on his seventh birthday: a little car with a light on it. He never forgot it. This same man also donated the house that became Montrose House that my dad spent 12 months in, allowing him to recuperate from this dreadful disease, polio.

When dad was a young adult with a family and struggling because of his polio—they did not have the services we have today—that same man gave him a job. It is that same passion that brings people to MontroseAccess today. It is our duty to work with MontroseAccess and all of those organisations around this country to support them, to encourage them and, in our professional roles outside of this parliament, to give our skills and expertise to ensure that they flourish, that they have the governance and that they have the skill set to make sure that we continue to deliver for people with disabilities. They are equal Australians and they deserve the same rights, to enjoy the same possibilities that this great nation has delivered for me and for every single person in this chamber. I commend this bill to the House.