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Thursday, 1 November 2012
Page: 8812

Senator MARK BISHOP (Western Australia) (15:20): Federation occurred in this country in 1901. Since that time we have been through enormous change—world wars, great depressions, huge migrant intake—large changes to the fabric of this country. But it is fair to say that since Federation there has been one group of Australians who have been disadvantaged by comparison for that entire period. In that time other groups have used leverage, negotiation and bargaining power to improve their physical or their material lot. One group of Australians was not so fortunate, and we know who we are talking about: those with disability, whether by birth, genetics, affliction, time, age or the sheer vicissitudes of life.

That neglect has occurred from 1901 to the early part of this century under successive governments for reasons that do not need to be gone into. But in recent times our government has chosen to make the issue of persons suffering from disabilities, and families who have looked after those with disabilities, a priority. In doing so we did not determine it on the basis of what we the government or we the advisers to the government thought was best, appropriate or achievable. We chose at the outset to make this an issue, to make it serious and to have that once-in-a-century reform that was going to permanently advantage those people who were suffering some or many forms of disablement. So we sent off a reference to the Productivity Commission to devise a scheme that could be implemented over time, with bells and whistles but, importantly, with funding and with efficiency constraints built in so that it would not fall over after two years, four years or six years because the government of the day no longer regarded it as a priority. The Productivity Commission reported back to the government and the government accepted the thrust of its recommendations, accepted the model that was recommended, in an objective fashion, and set about achieving that. But we are not fools in this government; we know that reform that takes a century to achieve, that has to last 50 or 80 years, needs to be done properly. We knew it would take time, that it would take five, eight or 10 years to build, and funding would have to be achieved over that sort of time, so we set about doing it in stages. We set out with a plan and we allocated, in the first round, over a billion dollars.

At no stage have the opposition or the minority parties been denied access to government ministers. At no time has their correspondence been returned unopened. We have invited them to participate, to share their ideas, to share their vision. But more than that, every day of the week when we meet in this parliament, we have committees that examine expenditure, that go through proposals from government line by line to allocate funds to build policy, to create institutions, to hire persons to carry out jobs. The opposition has never been restricted from participating in any of those activities. In fact and in practice, there is a de facto, bipartisan, modelled approach to the building of a disability regime in this country. The opposition has an important role, and it is to question what this government is doing—in public, in the open, with Hansard and with reporters and filming. If we make mistakes we will respond to those.

What have we done so far? We have negotiated with the opposition. We have negotiated with all of the states. We have allocated a billion dollars of funding. We are going through models and trials in three or four different parts of Australia to see what works effectively and what does not, so that it can be spread. In May of next year, the government has publicly committed to bring down more detail, to allocate a significant amount of additional funds to the ongoing implementation of disability reform in this country. (Time expired)