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Wednesday, 13 March 2013
Page: 1981

Mr ABBOTT (WarringahLeader of the Opposition) (18:19): I rise to support the National Disability Insurance Scheme Bill 2012. The coalition has consistently supported the National Disability Insurance Scheme. When the former parliamentary secretary, now the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, first put this matter to the Productivity Commission, the coalition enthusiastically supported him. When the Productivity Commission brought down its various reports, the coalition enthusiastically welcomed them. And when the government finally committed itself to the National Disability Insurance Scheme, we warmly welcomed that and gave it our support.

Quite often in this chamber, I am accused of a relentless negativity. It is always unfair, but in this case it is false—because when it comes to the National Disability Insurance Scheme, I am Dr Yes. I always have been, always will be. But the National Disability Insurance Scheme itself is a work in progress. It is a building site. Much is yet to be done. Much of the design work, indeed, is yet to be completed. We still do not know who will be eligible for the NDIS. We do not know what is covered by the NDIS. We do not know the extent of coverage by the NDIS. We do not know the precise role of the states in the operations of the NDIS, if any. Indeed, the very nature of the scheme itself is yet to be determined. Is it to be a scheme such as Medicare? Is it to be, in effect, Medicare for people with disabilities? Or is it to resemble more closely the workers compensation schemes or the state traffic accident schemes, which are genuine insurance schemes? All of this is yet to be finally determined—and there is a long, long road ahead of us. If we follow the Productivity Commission's timetable—and that would seem to me the smart thing to do—the road from this point will last for at least two more terms of this parliament. It involves not only three terms of the national parliament but also, if the National Disability Insurance Scheme is to come to fruition, the cooperation of nine governments: the Commonwealth, all six states and both of the territory governments and parliaments.

This is an extremely complex piece of policy we are dealing with. It is probably one of the most complex pieces of policy that has ever come before this parliament, that has ever been managed by a national government in this country. That is why, from the very beginning, the coalition has recommended the establishment of a bipartisan parliamentary committee, co-chaired by relevant frontbenchers—so that this scheme can indeed be shepherded from the early days to its completion through this parliament and through the other parliaments that need to work together if it is to succeed.

In the end, for this scheme to successfully come to fruition for the mighty benefit of people with disabilities throughout our country, it cannot simply reflect Labor values; it cannot simply reflect Liberal values. It must reflect national values. It must reflect the values that are held deep by members on both sides of this chamber, values that are common to members of all parliaments right around our country. It has to be a national scheme. The best way to ensure that the scheme is the product of this parliament, this nation, and not just the product of any one government or any one parliament, is to have the bipartisan committee that I have recommended. I am disappointed that the Prime Minister has not seen fit to take up this offer. I undertake—should there be a change of government later this year—to establish such a bipartisan committee, to ensure that this work comes to fruition.

The great issue that inevitably hovers over an enterprise of such magnitude is funding. The Productivity Commission estimated that the extra funding required for the National Disability Insurance Scheme was in the order of $6½ billion a year. That is not over the forward estimates. That is the starting estimate. I think the finishing estimate is likely to be somewhat more than this.

It is absolutely critical that as well as focusing on the National Disability Insurance Scheme, important as it is, we focus on building a strong and prosperous economy. It is the only guarantee of sustaining such a scheme through the years and decades to come. A rich country can afford a national disability insurance scheme; a poor country cannot. That is why economic prosperity is at the heart of delivering these kinds of services, the services that our people so understandably and so badly need.

The party that you can best trust to deliver a national disability insurance scheme is the party that you can most trust to deliver strong economic growth. I would put it to you, Madam Deputy Speaker Rishworth, and through you to the Australian people, that such a party is the coalition. Not only do we have the record when it comes to delivering strong economic growth but also we have the record when it comes to showing decency and compassion to people with disabilities and to their carers. It was the Howard government that in the last six budgets delivered substantial bonus payments to carers of people with disabilities. It was the Howard government that presided over a substantial growth in the number of people receiving the carers pension and the carers payment.

At the risk of blowing one's own trumpet, I have sought to engage as deeply as I can with carers. The Pollie Pedal charity bike ride last year, this year and next year will raise money for Carers Australia and I hope that on next year's Pollie Pedal bike ride the carers of our country, particularly in regional areas, might have the chance to chew the ear of a Prime Minister about concerns that are so important to them. It is this engagement with the carers of our country and with those they are caring for that will most guarantee that we do not lose interest in this scheme, that this scheme will be not just something that is put up in a bid to win an election but is something that becomes part of the life of our country—not just for a few months, not just for a couple of years, but forever, which it should be.

Many people have helped shepherd this parliament to the place it is today in support of the National Disability Insurance Scheme. Obviously, much work has been done by members opposite and by officials of the government and I thank them for the work they have done. I want to congratulate the shadow minister Mitch Fifield, who has been an indefatigable advocate for the rights of people with disabilities inside our party room as well as in the wider community. All of us are on a journey when it comes to our understanding of these issues.

I want to particularly mention Ara Cresswell, CEO of Carers Australia, who I have worked with so closely over the last year or so, particularly in connection with the Pollie Pedal charity bike ride. I should mention Millie Parker, one of the great advocates of people with disabilities. She is someone who has had a disability herself, someone who has herself experienced our system at its best and at its worst. She is obviously a strong advocate for the National Disability Insurance Scheme. I thank John Della Bosca, a former New South Wales minister, who is running the Every Australian Counts campaign.

I particularly want to mention the Moore family of the northern beaches of Sydney. Derek and Laurelie have worked indefatigably for their son Grayden, who received a horrific brain injury some years ago. He was a youngster in the prime of life, an international standard athlete, when he received a horrific injury and probably would have died but for the indefatigable advocacy and intervention of Derek and Laurelie Moore. People like that are the real heroes in our society. People like that deserve to be acknowledged and recognised and deserved to be thanked for what they do, not just for those they love and care about but for the impact they have, the ripple effect they have throughout our society. Certainly my own understanding and insights into disability issues have been immensely impacted by what they have done and by what they have said to me.

The coalition strongly supports the National Disability Insurance Scheme. We intend to be a part of bringing it to fruition. For that reason, I am very pleased to have had this opportunity to contribute to the debate.