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Thursday, 12 November 2015
Page: 8487


Senator URQUHART (TasmaniaDeputy Opposition Whip in the Senate) (15:47): I rise to also speak on the second report of the parliamentary joint committee on the National Disability Insurance Scheme, and I would like to echo the sentiments and words of Senator Gallacher in relation to the committee, the work, the outcome and the findings of that committee to date.

I think the scheme is one of the greatest legacies of the former Labor government. It was an idea that was first put forward by Labor legend and former Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam. You can see the seeds of the NDIS idea in Whitlam's policy speech for the 1974 election, when he declared:

Australians should not have to live in doubt or anxiety lest injury or sickness reduce them to poverty. We want to reduce hardships imposed by one of the great factors for inequality in society—inequality of luck.

While it might have taken a few years to get here, I am sure that Mr Whitlam would be happy with where we have arrived now. It would not be an overstatement to say that the NDIS represents a complete revolution in our disability support system in this country. It is a complete rework of Australian disability services from the ground up and it rightly places the individual and their families and carers at the centre of the decision making so that they can make the decisions about what they want for their future. It gives people with a disability the autonomy to make choices about the services that they need and the providers that they need to work with. Choice and control will be the central guiding characteristics of the scheme.

As an architect of the NDIS, former Labor Minister for Disability Reform, Jenny Macklin, was personally responsible for taking it from an aspirational vision to the working reality that we see today. Ms Macklin took an idea that we would have barely heard called for only five or 10 earlier, and she worked to garner wide and deep political and community support. I would like to personally recognise the amazing level of unerring advocacy and tireless hard work that Ms Macklin has brought to both the development and the implementation of the scheme. Without this work, we would still have a disability services system that the Productivity Commission referred to as 'underfunded, unfair, fragmented and inefficient.'

The NDIS is a scheme that is completely consistent with the core Labor values of fairness, equality, respect and dignity. It properly places the individual at the centre of the equation and gives them and their families control over the assistance that they receive.

As a member of the committee, I was very pleased to have the opportunity to travel to two of the pilot sites to meet the service providers and participants and see how the scheme was actually working on the ground. I have to say that the message that I received was overwhelmingly positive and appreciative. Again and I again I heard stories of people who had seen life-changing benefits as a result of their participation in the pilot schemes. In Darwin I learned of a young girl who had been waiting years for a wheelchair. Under the NDIS she got her wheelchair within weeks—and with it she got greater independence and confidence. The small thing has made such an enormous difference to her and her family. Truly it is difficult to overemphasise the benefits of the NDIS for early participants and their loved ones. However, in saying that, I also want to acknowledge that these are still pilots and there are still things to learn and improvements to be made and integrated into future rollouts.

In this report the committee has highlighted a number of worthwhile recommendations that will make the future scheme delivery more efficient, effective and supportive. I hope that the government makes use of this report to create an even better experience for participants, their families and their service providers. But my greatest concern at the moment is securing a guarantee that we will actually move beyond this pilot stage. We need to get the full scheme on track, but we cannot do this until the government has signed the agreements with the states to proceed. I am very pleased that the agreements have been signed in Victoria and in New South Wales, but I am concerned that things have come to a grinding halt in my home state of Tasmania

The NDIS trial rollout for 15- to 24-year-olds in Tasmania has been very successful, but there are still many thousands of Tasmanians who deserve to benefit from this world-class scheme. The disability sector and the community are aware that agreements on the timetable for the rollout of the NDIS were due in September. There is now significant anxiety that the delay in signing these agreements will mean that the rollout will be delayed.

Too many people have been waiting too long for this to happen. Too many times, people have contacted my office asking when they, their loved one or their friend will be able to access the NDIS. The governments are already months behind schedule, and it is not good enough to keep these people waiting any longer. Together with my colleague Senator Carol Brown I have written to the Tasmanian Premier, Will Hodgman, seeking his urgent advice on the status of these negotiations. This letter was sent almost two weeks ago now, and as far as I am aware the Premier has still failed to respond. Tasmanians have been waiting three months for the NDIS agreement to be signed. They do not deserve to be kept waiting any longer. Today I call on the federal and Tasmanian governments to put an end to the uncertainty and sign the agreements as a matter of utmost urgency. I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.