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Monday, 31 May 2010
Page: 4728

Ms ANNETTE ELLIS (8:50 PM) —I want to take the time I have tonight to talk about the issue of disability—the issues for those living with disability, those who care for them, those who work with them and those who support them in their daily lives. We in this place all know, I am sure, that the challenges faced by people living with a disability or chronic illness are many, but I also have to say that the rewards for them can be simply wonderful if all of the support mechanisms are put in place that allow them to lead the sorts of lives that they would want for themselves.

One of the many aspects of living with a disability or chronic illness that continue to occupy my mind is the question of accommodation options. For example, what options are there when a young adult living with a disability decides that they would like to live independently? I use that word ‘independently’ advisedly, as it can mean many things to many people. It can refer to someone planning to move out of home and live independent of their family or it can mean independently on their own, in another place altogether. It can mean living with a friend or a partner. There are many interpretations that we can put on it, but the main point to make is that, when a young adult in these circumstances decides it is time to live independently, what are their options?

I would like to refer to two examples I am aware of in my own community. One of them is up and running and one is very much in very early planning stages. Before I get to that detail, I would just like to say a couple of things about this particular issue. I realise there are many and varied opinions both within the disability sector itself and more broadly in the community about what independent living means for people with a disability. Time will not allow me to go too deeply into this part of the discussion. However, I will risk saying this much: in my opinion it really should be the choice of the individual themselves, possibly with their family or friends as well, as to what sort of accommodation they would like. After all, those of us not living with a disability are able to make that sort of choice. So why can’t people with a disability make that choice as well?

I referred to the variety of opinions out there in both the disability sector and in the broader community. Some people’s opinion is that if there are more than five or six, seven or eight or 10 people living communally, for want of a better word, it will somehow lead to an institutionalised view of the world. Others believe that a gathering of 20 might be unhealthy. Some people even have the view that a group house of four is not the optimal choice. From my years of work and my experience of interacting with people with disabilities, I have to say that I cannot accept any other argument than that the choice should be theirs. It has to suit their circumstances and their needs and their wishes, and we should allow that process to occur as openly as we can.

I go back to the local cases of living with disability in my community and briefly talk about them. The first one is a facility—and I am using that word carefully; a house, in other words—that has been developed here in the suburb of Curtin. It is called Abbeyfield Curtin because it is modelled on the Abbeyfield model. Abbeyfield comes from the UK originally and is a housing model that was devised for people aged about 55 or over who, for one reason or another, could not or decided not to live on their own any longer. They do not have any enormous great need, they are not necessarily ill or frail—in fact, far from it—but they wish to have a communal life. We have three or four Abbeyfield houses in Canberra. They are also found in other parts of the country and in other parts of the world. The ones I have seen here in Canberra house around 10 people in quite independent circumstances within a very large, normal-looking house—from the road—with a parent or in this case a housekeeper, and they are very successful.

Abbeyfield picked up the call from parents and families of young adults with intellectual disability here in Canberra who were desperately seeking some form of accommodation for their young adult children. To cut a very long seven-year story very short, Abbeyfield Curtin ended up being the first Abbeyfield house for disability in the world. It is now hopefully being copied in other parts of the country. I know that, after Abbeyfield Curtin opened here a couple of years ago, there were many inquiries from people in many different parts of this region and interstate who wanted to know how they had done it and how it was working. I am glad to report to the House that, to all intents and purposes, my information is that it is working extremely well. These young people have the benefit of a small community in which they are living, they are self-supporting and supporting each other and they go out together or independently. It is working extremely well.

The other example I talk about is far more embryonic in its development. We call it the CLP or Community Living Project, and as the local member here I have been very pleased to assist with a range of meetings for nearly two years now for the CLP. This is a group of parents again of children of all ages who have disabilities such as severe autism and other types of disabilities and who are desperately seeking to know that in the future their children will have somewhere to live. The CLP is at the moment going through an exhaustive process, as these things do, to try to examine different ways and different models that they could seriously consider for future housing needs for their children.

Again, there are opinions in the community about whether the CLP is striking the right chord or not. In my opinion, the CLP people and the children are the ones that should be making those decisions. They are the ones who know what they need and they are the ones who should be able to exercise those options. The CLP is only a couple of years old. I am really pleased to have the association that I do with it. I am hoping that over the coming months and years they will get to the point where they have a distinctive model they can take to government, both federal and local, to try and see whether something more can be developed from it.

Advances have been made in recent years and attempts by government and community continue to try to address the whole question of living with disability. The impact of living with disability on the individual person, their family and friends, their carers, their employment possibilities and their lifestyle choices is enormous. It has ramifications right around the whole of that person and everybody associated with them. We can never do enough to understand the needs of these folk. I applaud always any efforts that go into this sort of work.

We are all aware that the federal government has asked the Productivity Commission to investigate the idea of a national disability insurance scheme. I am Chair of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Family, Community, Housing and Youth and the chamber would be aware of an inquiry report that we tabled in the House in May last year on carers—who the carers are, the sorts of decisions they are making and the impacts that are happening in the lives of carers. It was through that inquiry that we became aware of the early stages of the work being done, particularly in this case by Bruce Bonyhady from Yooralla in Victoria, to try and get the debate moving on a national disability insurance scheme.

The importance of this work by the Productivity Commission cannot be overstated. There are thousands and thousands and thousands of Australians who will be looking to this Productivity Commission inquiry with an enormous level of interest. I am hoping that that inquiry is going to come down with some findings that give us as government and as community the best clue we could ever get, the best direction we could ever get, as to how to work into the future to address the needs of people living with disability and chronic illness. Everything that has been done so far has worked to a degree, but nothing has been sufficient to begin to address it. So let us hope that the Productivity Commission can do the work that we are expecting of it and that we will benefit from it. (Time expired)