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Monday, 22 July 2019
Page: 589

Mr CONROY (Shortland) (11:25): This is the first time since the election I've spoken in the chamber on a policy issue. I wanted my first contribution to be on the NDIS, so I welcome the member for Bowman's motion. Whilst I commend the member for Bowman for tabling a motion about the NDIS, I find the substance of his motion bizarre, frankly. Basically, it congratulates the agency and the government on some bureaucratic changes in pricing.

Unfortunately, this motion clearly identifies how out of touch the government is with the realities of the scheme and the lived experience of participants. The feedback I get on a regular basis from my constituents is their absolute frustration in their dealings with the scheme and the agency, and I know I'm not alone amongst members receiving this feedback. Despite their frustration, participants and their families always begin their conversations with me by saying how grateful they are for the scheme, so it is disappointing that they have to detail the ongoing problems they have in navigating the system.

The area I represent was a pilot area for the NDIS, so we are now six years into the scheme. One of the major issues constituents are reporting to me is that the funding in their plans is being drastically reduced and they are faced with the ordeal of requesting a review of these reductions or negative changes. The main problem is that there are no legislated time frames for these reviews, and waiting months on end for the review to be finalised is causing people immense anxiety and stress. This needs to be addressed as a matter of priority, as plans are expiring and participants are in limbo while they wait for the outcomes of their reviews.

Another common complaint is a basic one that can be easily addressed. It is the dreadful difficulty participants have in communicating with the agency. I recently met with a mother who told me she had not had a return call from the agency in years. Remember that these are people who have been in the scheme for six years. When she has contact, it is with contractors and not with employees of the agency. She would go up to the NDIA agency in Charlestown every week and stand next to reception for hours on end just to try to talk to a human. This is a major issue related to the Liberal government ripping $1.6 billion out of the scheme. Participants and their families should be able to have direct and informative communication with the agency, and the agency should be proactive in responding when contact is made.

In the time remaining, I want to bring some shocking constituent experiences to the attention of the House. One participant was told by a planner that they wanted to see an improvement in her child's autism by the plan's next review. This is truly shocking. Parents of children with disability should not have to endure this horrific ignorance in their dealings with the agency. Unfortunately, this story is very common for parents with kids with autism. They are being told their plans are being cut because their kids' autism diagnosis is not improving. You don't improve and you don't recover from an autism diagnosis; you learn to live with autism and to manage your life and to live as full a life as you can.

I've also met with allied health professionals who provide music therapy as part of this scheme. They had to seek my assistance to get confirmation from the minister that music therapy could be funded as part of the scheme when it was considered reasonable and necessary, because planners at the agency were telling participants it definitely could not be funded. I had to go to the minister only because my parliamentary liaison at the agency was unable to provide definitive advice on this. There is something wrong with the scheme when you have to go to the minister to get a declaration on whether a service is within the scheme's ambit or not. These are just two examples of what should never ever happen.

I first became aware of problems with the scheme when the emphasis shifted in recent years under this coalition government from participants having choice and control of their lives and their plans to them receiving funding that was deemed reasonable and necessary by the agency. This is a fundamental shift in the philosophy of the scheme and has had a major impact on participants' ability to access the assistance the scheme was designed to provide. This change, combined with a massive underspend by the government to prop up the promised surplus, is having impacts on the most vulnerable people in our society and their families and carers. The government should not be congratulating itself or the agency with motions like this. It should be adequately funding the scheme and immediately addressing, as a matter of urgency, some of the issues I've raised today.

This scheme is one of the great legacies of Labor governments. It stands there with Medicare. I applaud the current government for continuing to support it, but that support should be full throated, it should be meaningful, it should not involve penny pinching and it should improve the lives of every Australian in the scheme. (Time expired)