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Monday, 15 March 2010
Page: 2562

Ms ANNETTE ELLIS (7:57 PM) —First of all, to the member for Riverina: thank you for putting this motion on the Notice Paper for us to debate this evening. As she knows—and I acknowledge her concern in this area—many of us in this House, past and present, have had a very longstanding concern about this very issue. The motion that the member for Riverina has put before us is long enough—and I say that with great respect—that we could debate it for hours. If only we could, because it is an issue important enough to involve that sort of debate.

One of the more serious issues facing our community is in fact the future of people with a disability who find themselves living with an ageing parent or parents—usually ageing parent singular. This is not a new phenomenon. However, as our health services and treatments improve, so does longevity for a lot of these people who, decades ago, would never have reached the age they now reach. That is not a criticism, because it is good to see that that is happening. However, communities, and governments of all persuasions and levels need to move on and understand the impact of those health outcomes and what we can do about it.

Within the motion that the member for Riverina has moved, there are a couple of issues mentioned that I would like to talk about generally if I may. One of them was the decision by the former Prime Minister, about 4½ years ago, to set up a package to assist parents with trusts for the future care of their disabled children, which I know the member has had an interest in in the past. Sadly, the take-up for these has been incredibly low, and the best information I can get today is that only around 86 have taken them up in full and 300-odd have made inquiries and sought eligibility criteria for it but have not gone that far. There is definitely some merit in the establishment of these trusts. However, there have been barriers to encouraging people to take them up.

The government has taken some important steps in addressing those barriers. I do not have the time to go through them but one of them has been that, since the 2008-09 financial year, unexpended income from a special disability trust will now be taxed at the beneficiary’s personal income tax rate rather than the highest marginal tax rate. There are other similar decisions that have been taken in an effort to try and make these trusts a little bit more attractive. I know that the government is looking at further changes as per the recommendations of the Senate committee inquiry into this issue. There are definitely merits in the special disability trust scheme but, because of the level of complexity in the scheme and the need for specialist advice, it is unlikely that people from low-socioeconomic backgrounds could actually access them. I know that the member and I have had discussions on that line in the past. Next month the Productivity Commission will begin the disability care and support inquiry which will look at, amongst other things, the possibility of establishing a national disability insurance scheme. Will this fix everything? Probably not. Would we like it to? Definitely. In the meantime I am putting all of my heart’s wishes into the Productivity Commission inquiry coming up with some really good, decent stuff that we can look at seriously—as a community, not just as a government—to try and address these issues.

Some of the other steps that have been taken so far are not enough, but they have to be recognised as an attempt. An additional $100 million in June 2008 went to state and territory governments in capital funding to build 313 new places in supported accommodation facilities. I acknowledge that that has been done. There has also been some funding under the Younger People with Disability in Residential Aged Care Program, which is all about moving young people with a disability out of residential aged care. That is another very legitimate concern that needs to be addressed. There are so many things that we need to do.

Having been involved in this sector for so many years and having had a passion, like many of us do, for trying to find solutions for this sector, my really basic concern is that, even if in a perfect world tomorrow all of this were fixed, there would be a number of these families who would hesitate to take it up. I say that because you know when you talk to them that they need to have faith and confidence. They need to believe and understand that someone other than them can in fact care for their loved child, for the person that they are caring for. I know from my own personal experience in my community that there are a number of families I seriously wish would put their names down on lists to try and get accommodation for their adult child, but they do not. The reason they do not may be complex. I think there is a lot of work to be done in this area. Government can do it. The community needs to do it. We all need to encourage those people in this category to actually believe that it can work for them and to get their names on a list so that we can measure the need. (Time expired)