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Monday, 20 August 2012
Page: 9305

Mr CHESTER (Gippsland) (19:01): I take pleasure in joining this debate and I commend the member for Calwell on her contribution. I am sorry that she cannot quite come at joining us in supporting the motion, but I understand her passion for people with disabilities. Assisting those less fortunate is one of the passions that has brought many of us to this place from both sides of the House, including the member for Dawson, who spoke so eloquently this morning on this motion. There have been very few more important motions in this period set aside for private members' business during my four years as the member for Gippsland.

In his speech, the member for Dawson explained his personal association with disabilities, and I commend his speech for not only its passion but also the intellectual basis from which he delivered it. It was an intelligent, coherent and entirely accurate summation of the need for a national disability insurance scheme. It was also very politically astute, because it called on members of both sides to lay down their swords and take up the spirit of bipartisanship to deliver the NDIS.

Disability is not a political issue. This is not an area where any member should seek to score political advantage. We are talking about ground-breaking reform that will take years to develop and several parliaments to deliver. This is not a Labor reform. This is not a Liberal reform. The Nationals will not own it any more than the Greens or the Independents. This is about taking steps in this place to make sure that the lives of people with disabilities and their carers are just a little bit easier.

We in this place are not going to cure their ailments and we are not going to solve all their problems. They will continue to struggle under the unrelenting burden that disability can bring. But we may be able to make things just a little bit easier. We may be able to help people with disabilities achieve their full potential. We may be able to alleviate the culture of crisis-driven responses to disability, where in many instances assistance is not provided until carers are at the end of their tether.

Like the previous speaker, I have spoken to many in my electorate and learned a lot about disability in my time in this place. I have copies of letters here from people forced to care for their children 24/7 and despair over what will happen to their children later in life. These are people who have been born with a disability. In more recent circumstances in my electorate, there is the case of 23-year-old Leongatha footballer, Beau Vernon, who became a quadriplegic this year after a tragic injury on the football field. He was the vice-captain of the team, with a whole life of football and off-field achievements ahead of him, and he is now facing the fact that he has hospital fees, carers, equipment and aids costs that are estimated to be about $3.2 million over the course of his lifetime. Young Beau is recovering remarkably well. He is being helped by his loving family and friends and a very charitable football community in the Gippsland and greater region that is fundraising to help meet some of the costs that he will face.

But, whether it is through losing the genetic lottery at birth or whether it is by a terrible piece of bad luck and acquiring a disability later in life, we need a better system of support across Australia. That is why I believe the NDIS is so important. So I am deeply disappointed by the decision of some members of the Labor Party to attack this motion during their speeches in the House earlier today. I believe they have made a terrible error of judgment. This is an opportunity for this parliament and this government to rise above the day-to-day pettiness of politics and deliver some ground-breaking reform. It will take men and women of good faith on both sides of the chamber to deliver the reform and to give it the funding that is desperately required. The disability sector knows that. I refer members to the statement this morning by Dr Ken Baker, Chief Executive of National Disability Services. In his statement today, Dr Baker said:

Parties at both levels of government should recognize that this is a long-term reform which requires support from both sides of politics. To deliver the NDIS in full, political opponents across successive parliaments both federally and in the states are going to be required to work together for the greater good.

We have a motion before the House this evening which is all about the greater good. This motion supports the need for a joint select committee on the NDIS which will bridge the political divide and commit this place to working together to deliver better quality of life outcomes for people with disabilities and the people who care for them. I commend the motion and I urge all in this place, particularly the Prime Minister, to recognise what a great opportunity lies before her to create a lasting legacy that will live beyond this parliament and beyond the political ambitions of individual MPs. We can do so much better on this issue if we are prepared to work together. I congratulate the member for Dawson on the approach he has adopted.

Like others in this place, in my maiden speech I reflected on the need to provide more support for people with disabilities and their carers. This is a great opportunity that lies before the House at the moment. This motion deserves the support from both sides of the House and also from the crossbenches. We hear many speeches in this place about the need for improved access to health services, the remarkable dedication of carers and the savings they provide to the government, and the importance of early intervention to help children with special needs achieve their full potential. This is an opportunity for this House to do some good on behalf of people with disabilities and their carers. I commend the member for Dawson. I commend the motion to the House. (Time expired)