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Thursday, 1 November 2012
Page: 8810

Senator HUMPHRIES (Australian Capital Territory) (15:15): If I understand Senator Cameron's argument correctly, he is saying that the questions being asked by the coalition about the funding of the National Disability Insurance Scheme—the same questions which are being asked by families and carers of people with disabilities the length and breadth of Australia—cannot be asked because the coalition did not do enough for disabilities when it was in government—

Senator Cameron: It did nothing! A big, fat zero!

Senator HUMPHRIES: That is not true, Senator Cameron. You were not here; you do not know. It is too negative these days so you cannot raise these issues. I say to Senator Cameron that the place of members and senators in the national parliament is to raise issues of national concern. I know, because I have seen these concerns expressed and I have heard these people raise these concerns, that it is absolutely appropriate to ask a question in the Australian Senate about when the government intends to put flesh on the bare bones of a promise to deliver a National Disability Insurance Scheme. The government has made promises and put a small amount of money forward, much less than the Productivity Commission—which, despite what Senator Cameron says, is the real originator of this plan, not the government. The Productivity Commission has asked that a certain amount of money be put forward. It said there ought to be $3.9 billion on the table and the government—

Senator McEwen: We commissioned it!'

Senator HUMPHRIES: Okay, Senator McEwen, you deserve credit for commissioning it. But, having asked the question, the Productivity Commission has put forward the plan—not the government, per se; the commission has done it. And when it did so all of the parties in the federal parliament said: 'Yes, we recognise a good idea. We put our hands up to that happening.' We all did. It is not Labor's NDIS. It is an NDIS which ought to be welcomed and accepted as a national plan, as part of a national agenda. It is unfortunate in the extreme that the Labor Party has chosen to say: 'We're the ones committed to this. We're going to make it happen,' when, in fact, the evidence is not there.

I said that this was the concern not just of the coalition but also of others. I note that the ABC reported only a short while ago that Kate Larsen from Arts Access Australia raised concerns about the fact that in the MYEFO of a week or so ago there was nothing to clarify how this is going to be paid for. She said:

… for it not to be included in those projections, it is a huge blow.

Those are not our words; those are the words of those advocating for people with disabilities. Disability advocate Stella Young was reported on the ABC as saying:

There's a little bit of a feeling that people with disabilities in our families are again sort of being used as a political football.

And you know, rolling it out a year early, great, but rolling it out a year earlier without a solid plan for how we're going to fund it is not OK, it's too precarious and too scary.

This is what the people in the community who are dealing with these issues, who are caring for people with disabilities and who are advocating for them, are saying. That is the issue the coalition is putting on the table today.

If the government is serious about this it ought to be prepared to say how it is going to fund it. It is introducing legislation to bring forward this national scheme but as yet the details are not there. With great respect to the government, it has form in the past of this practice of making big announcements and not carrying them through financially. I am thinking of the dental scheme announced by the Labor government in the early nineties—a fantastic scheme to pay for dentistry. It ran for three years and then ran out of money. There was no money in the forward estimates—the money went. The other is the National Museum of Australia, which the government announced with a great fanfare, saying it was a fantastic idea, in the very beginning of the Hawke-Keating government. But when it left office in 1996 nothing had happened.

That is the kind of form we are facing on these matters. Unfortunately, in comparison with those other programs, this affects the daily lives of Australians living with disabilities. They are anxious about getting involved in these trials around the country, particularly in the ACT, where it is most extensive. They are concerned about whether they will be stranded when the money does not appear at the end of the trials. These are fair concerns, and if the minister finds it beneath her dignity to answer questions about those matters, to tell people out there who are wanting to know what their future will be, that is a very sorry day for the parliament.