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Tuesday, 12 February 2013
Page: 888

Mr CIOBO (Moncrieff) (12:23): I rise to address the National Disability Insurance Scheme Bill 2012. I am certainly pleased to associate myself, as all members in this parliament have been, with the comments that have preceded and no doubt will follow mine about the bipartisan spirit in which the National Disability Insurance Scheme has come about. I have been fortunate insofar as I and my family have not been personally touched by disability and certainly not in a profound way at any point. That notwithstanding, obviously as federal members of parliament each of us on occasion has the opportunity to move about our electorates to speak with people who face up to all sorts and manner of challenges throughout their daily lives. For me, a defining point in the decade or so that I have been a federal member was when I had the opportunity to visit the premises of Cerebral Palsy Queensland in Labrador on Gold Coast, the city in which I live.

The Gold Coast is Australia's sixth largest city, and many would say one of its more progressive cities. The chance to visit Cerebral Palsy Queensland to look at the work that they undertook and walk among the clients who were there in the respite centre afforded me a very real opportunity to gain, albeit for only a short period of time, some insight into the challenges that are faced by so many in our community. What struck me most significantly was that as I approached the building of Cerebral Palsy Queensland I saw that it was a converted garage in a fairly nondescript home in a northern suburb of the Gold Coast. I thought to myself that the fact that this was the case in a city of some 500,000 people underscores some of the challenges that we face.

I then went inside and had the chance to spend a couple of hours talking to the people who volunteer and those who are paid employees of Cerebral Palsy Queensland and spending time with the clients who were there. I talked to some of the parents of the children and young adults who were talking advantage of the respite afforded to them by the tremendous work done by Cerebral Palsy Queensland.

This was almost at the exact same time that the announcement had been made about the Building the Education Revolution. I thought to myself that perhaps successive governments in this country had had their priorities wrong. That was not a reflection on the BER in any way, shape or form. It was more about the juxtaposition between such a large amount of taxpayer funds being expended on a program like the BER—which no doubt members opposite would say was very worthwhile—and what lay before me in a renovated garage: eight or 10 clients of Cerebral Palsy Queensland, each of them wheelchair bound and each of them with significant motor skill disability, working with volunteers who were participating in a TAFE course that obliged them to spend time working with the disabled and in some instances people who were profoundly disabled. I thought to myself that this was happening in a country that is meant to be one of the best in the world and where we enjoy almost unparalleled wealth compared to the vast majority of the earth's population. At the time, I thought that there was something wrong with the priorities that we have as a nation.

Within the coalition, I have pushed on a number of occasions for more to be done to rectify the great imbalance. I have always been of the firm belief that the Public Service should be obliged to have a quota of people with disability working within it to set the benchmark. I have been a proponent of that. We can do that with the largesse of taxpayer funds—I use that word because it is an indulgence, frankly, to do that with taxpayer funds. But the benchmark needs to be set.

I celebrate the fact that we are now realising the NDIS. I congratulate the government for moving on it, and I am delighted that this is an initiative that both sides of the chamber can work to implement. It would be a grave mistake for the NDIS to be anything other than a bipartisan initiative. It would be a grave mistake for any one side of politics to claim that the NDIS in some way encapsulates values held only by that political party. The reality is that that would be shameful and cheap politics and should be rejected on every occasion. Nobody holds moral superiority on the issue of doing something for people who are so adversely affected and who overcome challenges that most of us will never have to face in our lifetimes.

In that respect, it is beholden upon all of us as a parliament to work so that the NDIS becomes the reality that it should be: a totem for what, as a developed nation, we can achieve. I am pleased that the NDIS is coming to fruition. There are going to be many challenges ahead. From a policy perspective, we have seen some of the politicking that unfortunately has taken place, but I firmly believe that in the eyes of every Australian, in the aspiration that beats within their hearts, the NDIS will show that we are all doing our bit to help our friends, our family or our colleagues who have to overcome challenges that, as I said, most of us will never know.

The impact of disability is not only on the person who is facing physical or mental challenges but also on their family. It is no coincidence that, regrettably, the rate of divorce is much higher in families where there is a disabled child. Again, I can only imagine the challenges that they must overcome. I know, from speaking with as many carers as I have done over the years, of the belief that the NDIS will in some way, shape or form bring some slight relief to the incessant pressures that go with being a carer and worrying about who is going to provide for their children or loved ones in future years.

I add my weight to the those in this chamber, including the Leader of the Opposition, who have asked: 'Why don't we have a bipartisan committee of the parliament that is chaired by both the government and the opposition, irrespective of political flavour, to ensure that support and forward momentum for the NDIS will continue unabated?' That, to me, would embrace the true value of all sides of politics coming together and would epitomise the way that that should be done. How often do we hear in the community the concern that as politicians we always seem to be at each other's throats? Well, let us celebrate these few opportunities we have to work in a genuinely united spirit to deliver the kinds of policy outcomes that could occur not just on occasion but on a regular basis.

As I have mentioned, there are no doubt going to be many challenges that the NDIS will have to face and overcome in order to be fully realised. That notwithstanding, this underscores the profound opportunity we have as a parliament to convey—on behalf of all Australians—our care, our concern and our compassion for those who have to overcome those challenges, as well as for the loved ones who care for them, be it in a paid capacity or in a volunteer capacity.

In addition, I am delighted that the NDIS will see realised across the country, in the long term, opportunities for care and for treatment and support programs to be built around the individual. In so many respects the NDIS represents the empowerment of individuals to develop plans that take into account their own unique circumstances and challenges and that provide opportunities for them to call upon the resources available to them in a way that is going to be cost-effective and productive for those individuals. I am delighted that the support that will be available through the NDIS will also include general support for people with disabilities who are not participants in the NDIS as well as opportunities for them to have referral services. It is envisaged, and it would certainly be my aspiration, that the NDIS will become a one-stop shop for them to draw upon the best available resources in a cost-effective way.

One of the concerns we have—and this is not said in a politicking way; it is said in a reality way—is that the Productivity Commission outlined that the first stage of the NDIS would cost an estimated $3.9 billion. As a coalition, we supported the referral to the Productivity Commission; as a coalition, we supported the government's billion dollars that they put on the table in the last budget. But we believe it is prudent to say, 'Well, there's still $2.9 billion to go'. And that is not an attempt to be political; it is just a reality because, like any budget, we need to work out how it is going to be funded.

It would be an almost unforgiveable betrayal of people's hope if the NDIS is lauded in the way that it has been—and, indeed, in the way that I and others have in this debate—for that goal then not to be realised because of poor economic management. Fundamentally, that is the reason I believe that whether you are government or opposition there is a responsibility to look every Australian in the eye and be able to explain how the dream can be realised, because it is only through full funding that the dream can in fact be realised. Whilst a billion dollars on the table is a good start, the fact is that it requires $3.9 billion for the first stage of the NDIS alone.

So I look forward to the realisation of the dream; the realisation of the aspiration that those for whom disability services have been insufficient, or have been piecemeal or have had large gaps that they have had to endure can be brought together and realised under something like the NDIS.

Only yesterday I was speaking to a constituent—I had returned his call. He is a wheelchair-bound man who has lived with disability for 39 years. He was expressing his concern to me about the challenges that he had with ongoing and regular health appointments, and the changes that he encountered in moving from New South Wales to Queensland. That call yesterday, in the same way as my visit to the Cerebral Palsy League at Labrador, highlighted to me just how much the time for the NDIS has come. I am pleased that this parliament is certainly able to foreshadow it and, to a limited extent, deliver it. But my message is: let's make sure it is fully delivered, by putting to it the resources required to ensure that those who are faced with those challenges—be they families or be they individuals—are able to realise the dream that they have for what the NDIS can provide.

The NDIS is not going to be the panacea; they are still going to face difficult choices and challenges every single day. But each of us in good conscience, I would hope, would realise that through this piece of public policy something truly world class has been achieved. I think that is a wonderful aspiration that all of us as participants in this parliament can be proud of and can celebrate.

There is no doubt that those who face physical and mental disability want to be loved and contributing members of our society. We owe it to them to maximise their opportunity to do so, and I hope this is another tool in the arsenal.