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Monday, 2 May 2016
Page: 4046

Mrs PRENTICE (RyanAssistant Minister for Disability Services) (19:11): I rise to speak on the National Disability Insurance Scheme Amendment Bill 2016. Before I address the bill, I have to say how disappointed I was in the comments made by the member for Jagajaga. I always understood that this was a bipartisan approach to helping the most vulnerable in our community, and yet the member for Jagajaga sought to be political. She echoed the comments of her leader, that:

…the National Disability Insurance Scheme was properly funded when Labor left office and what we did is we increased the Medicare levy.

As you know, that is far from the truth. The truth is that the NDIS was not properly funded when Labor left office in 2013. Labor claims any savings were to be directed to the NDIS, but they were simply returned to consolidated revenue. They were not set aside to fund the NDIS. It is for this reason that the coalition government is required to find an additional $5 billion, which it is doing. Whatever Labor might choose to believe and whatever smoke and mirrors they use, you cannot spend the same dollar twice.

Australia is on the threshold of one of the most significant changes in social policy that this nation has seen in many years. The Productivity Commission report Disability care and support, released in July 2011, found that most families and individuals cannot adequately prepare for the risk and financial impact of significant disability. Indeed, it found that the disability support system across Australia was underfunded, unfair, fragmented and inefficient. It also found that the stresses on the system were growing, with rising costs for all governments. Consequently, the coalition government has embraced the national disability insurance scheme as a means of providing support to eligible participants over their lifetime. This approach is expected to assist people with disabilities, their families and carers to increase their independence and improve their social and economic participation.

Importantly, this is not a welfare measure. On the contrary, it takes an insurance approach to supporting and investing in people early to maximise capacity and minimise long term costs. There can be no doubt that the scope and extent of the scheme is unprecedented. It is a major undertaking that must succeed not only in meeting its objective of assisting those with a disability but also in maximising the broader social and economic dividends that will flow from this type of investment.

Since taking on responsibilities as Assistant Minister for Disability Services I have met with more than 250 significant stakeholders. They have conveyed to me their experiences of the NDIS and the way in which they would like to see it administered over the next three years before full roll-out and into the distant future. These meetings have been productive, and I have learnt much from those at the coalface as they meet the challenges and grasp the opportunities that this new system provides.

I was also privileged to visit the national headquarters of the NDIA, the scheme's administrative agency in Geelong. The enthusiasm and dedication of the board, executive and staff was inspiring, and I was impressed by the professionalism that I encountered. On the same day, I visited the Barwon trial site, also located in Geelong, and I met representatives of disability agencies, NDIS participants and, with the member for Corangamite, Sarah Henderson, the site staff and their families. Again, the commitment of these staff members to the success of the NDIS was inspiring.

The fact that the enthusiasm that I encountered on this occasion is being replicated throughout the country makes the success of the NDIS even more critical. The scheme is a shared venture between the Commonwealth and the states and territories. Its success depends on a close relationship between the Commonwealth states and territories, and it depends on mutual respect and utmost good faith. It is a matter of personal regret to me that the Queensland government chose to play politics with the NDIS before it, ultimately, agreed to sign a bilateral agreement with the Commonwealth government. As the Minister for Social Services pointed out, the Commonwealth had reached agreements with New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Tasmania and the ACT. It is beyond comprehension why Queensland decided to indulge in juvenile behaviour before agreeing to sign the document and join the NDIS. The minister indicated that, in each of these cases, an orderly and cooperative process was followed that would best benefit people living with disability. Any independent observer would be entitled to ask why Queensland, of all the states and territories, had such difficulty in behaving in a responsible manner. I can only assume the pressures of minority government are imposing such a burden on the Premier that standards of decent behaviour have flown out of the window with Labor's wafer-thin majority.

The second important element in the governance of the scheme is the independent board, which was established under the NDIS Act. It is the board's responsibility to ensure the proper, efficient and effective performance of the NDIS functions. The board is responsible for determining the NDIA's objectives, strategies and policies. The NDIS is a major undertaking. It is a multimillion-dollar scheme. It is entitled to the most qualified and competent leadership as possible at board level. The board must be composed of the broadest possible cross-section of the community. Board members must bring skills and experience which will contribute to the leadership of this crucial scheme.

The current size of the board does not allow for the diversity and strength required for the management of the NDIS. The Council of Australian Governments agreed in April last year that there was a need to strengthen governance arrangements. This is particularly critical in administering the challenges associated with managing the transition of the NDIS to the full scheme. Indeed, an independent review of the skills and experience required on the board for the transition stage found that the board should have strong ASX 50 or large government-business enterprise level experience in operation and financial systems, and controls. Accordingly, this bill seeks to increase the maximum number of board members from nine to 12, including the chairman. At the same time, the bill changes the quorum arrangements to make it clear that a quorum is a majority of board members

I believe these changes will make an important contribution to the effectiveness of the entire NDIS apparatus. Residents of every electorate in Australia, including the division of Ryan, are looking forward to the successful implementation of the NDIS. They are acutely aware that the needs of people with disability, some of the most vulnerable people in our community, must be met. However, they are equally conscious that the scheme must have effective leadership to ensure that its objectives are met. The measures in this bill will go some of the way to doing that.

I commend the bill to the House and look forward to the improvements in governance arrangements that this bill will bring.