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Monday, 23 October 2017
Page: 11537

Mrs PRENTICE (RyanAssistant Minister for Social Services and Disability Services) (15:18): Only the coalition government is taking the necessary steps to fully fund the National Disability Insurance Scheme. I rise to speak in support of the Medicare Levy Amendment (National Disability Insurance Scheme Funding) Bill 2017 and related bills. The NDIS is the biggest reform of disability services in Australia's history. It is also reform that will be life changing for so many Australians with disability, their carers and their families. At full scheme, more than 460,000 people living with disability will have individually tailored and funded packages. The scheme provides participants with the support they need to undertake everyday tasks so that they can participate in their community and in social and economic life.

The NDIS is not just transforming the lives of participants. It also has opportunities and challenges for providers. As the assistant minister, I travel throughout Australia, and I've had discussions with many providers and many stakeholders. I am very conscious of the impact of such a large reform. As the Treasurer, the Hon. Scott Morrison, said when introducing this bill, we know that Australians support this change. As Australians we believe in looking after our mates, our country and those who need our support. This bill ensures that they have that support.

A fully funded NDIS is fundamental to the future of more than 460,000 Australians living with significant and permanent disability. Funding for the scheme must come from somewhere. The money tree which had surplus fruit on it from the Howard era was overpicked by Labor and subsequently died many years ago. This was a metaphorical tree which Labor saw as their saviour to fund the NDIS. However, as we know, Labor are far from good horticulturists, let alone fiscal managers.

This bill will increase the Medicare levy rate by half a percentage point to 2.5 per cent of taxable income from 1 July 2019. The supporting bill will make consequential amendments to other tax rates which are linked to the top marginal rate and the Medicare levy. This will not only provide certainty for people currently living with severe disability and their families but will also provide assurance for all Australians that the support is there if they should require it in the future. Despite a lot of promises, the previous Labor government failed to fully fund the NDIS, leaving a substantial annual funding gap of almost $4 billion from 2019-20, a gap which grows each and every year. We have all heard Labor claim that it 'clearly identified enough other long-term savings to pay for the NDIS'. But referring to 'other long-term savings' is simply not good enough. Australians deserve better. In Senate estimates, when asked whether these measures could be listed in detail, Treasury's response was, 'The short answer is no.' The fact is that Labor never quarantined savings to help fund the NDIS. Its so-called savings were spent several times over and instead used to get back to surplus. We all know that that never eventuated either.

The additional increase in the Medicare levy will apply from 1 July 2019 and is expected to generate $3.6 billion in 2019-20 and $4.3 billion in 2020-21. Importantly, low-income earners will continue to be exempt from the Medicare levy and will not be impacted by the increase. As a universal insurance scheme, an increase in the Medicare levy ensures that all Australians, where able, contribute to the NDIS. The increase represents about $1 a day for the average income earner. So for example, a person with a taxable income of $80,000 would pay an additional $400 a year to ensure they are fully covered by the NDIS into the future. From 2019-20, one-fifth of all revenue raised by the Medicare levy will be credited to the NDIS savings fund special account once it is established by legislation currently before the parliament, where it will be protected for meeting the needs of people living with disability. This account will hold NDIS underspends and selected savings across the government. Put simply, by placing these funds into a locked moneybox of sorts, no-one can query the fully funded status of the NDIS.

Let me put into perspective the current funding gap for the NDIS: $55.7 billion over the next decade—more than Labor's 2009-10 budget deficit. As the Treasurer said in his second reading speech on this bill, now it is time to rectify that shortfall. It is imperative that the coalition puts the NDIS on the correct course to full funding. Let me not stray from the misinformation that exists in the camp of those opposite who purport that hardworking, low-income Australians will be worse off under this levy increase. Low-income earners will continue to receive relief from the Medicare levy. Low-income thresholds for singles, families, seniors and pensioners will all remain. Blind pensioners and Australians entitled to full and free medical treatment under the DVA gold card will also have their Medicare levy exemptions remain.

By deciding to increase the Medicare levy rate from 1 July 2019, the coalition government is asking Australians to contribute according to their capacity to fund the NDIS. Fundamentally, this is an insurance levy and, who knows, anyone paying it today may also be someone who needs the assistance of the NDIS sometime later in their lifetime.

I segue now to some of my meetings and experiences as the assistant minister responsible for the NDIS, which I believe will highlight the importance of a fully funded NDIS, one which will ensure these positive benefits become accessible to those living with disability throughout Australia. As I travel around our vast country, visiting and meeting NDIS stakeholders, what quickly become apparent are the benefits this scheme will bring to those living with disability and their families. By assisting people to be independent, learn new skills and participate in activities they would never have thought possible before, the NDIS is truly life-changing.

Take for example an 11-year-old boy who is now happier and developing a stronger relationship with his family as a result of the NDIS package which he received last November. The package this young man receives has not only enabled him to increase his capacity to learn, but now he has shown more independence and is showing off a new confidence that he had not displayed until now. The father of this NDIS recipient speaks highly of the scheme and the plan his son receives, stating that, prior to the NDIS, the services received were inconsistent, and even daily continence products for the child resulted in extra burden on already-tight family finances. The NDIS has turned the lives of this young boy and his family around, and they look forward to a happy, independent life ahead.

Another success story is that told by Graeme, who is a parent of a child with a disability who also lives with a disability himself. This unique example highlights the views of someone who oversees the planning of the NDIS plans, receives a plan himself and whose own child is benefiting from his own plan as well. Graeme spent six months as chairperson of NDIA's staff participation network, a forum open to staff who are NDIS participants or are a parent, family member or carer of a participant. The network provides valuable advice to influence the NDIA's operations. As an NDIS planner, Graeme experienced a huge, constantly-changing environment, starting in the NDIS trial site in Western Australia. Graeme believes that he had to accept that resilience was key to ensuring that he and the organisation learned the best way to do things and deliver for others. By accepting change and adopting changes, Graeme knows that good leadership is essential if we want to roll out a seamless scheme focused on achievements and participant success. Having been involved in all facets of the NDIS, as a planner, as a participant and as the father of a participant, Graeme is inspired by the stories and achievements of other participants who are benefiting from the NDIS.

I urge all members of this House to support this bill. To deny this bill's success is to deny those who are less able to support themselves, through no fault of their own, from often life-changing NDIS plans. This bill is critical to providing certainty, for NDIS participants, for their families and for their carers, that their needs will be met. It will also ensure that the scheme remains available for all future participants.

The longevity of the NDIS can only be ensured by the sustainability of its funding. For those living with significant and permanent disability and their families and support networks, the NDIS presents an opportunity in often-challenging lives. That is why Australians support this change and support this levy. The quintessential Australian trait of looking after one another can be seen by extension through the NDIS. Life's cards are not always dealt fairly, and to those living with disability and their families: I implore you to stand proud and know that this government will provide the quality care you deserve, not only for today but for tomorrow and for your future. I commend this bill to the House.