National Insurance Disability Scheme needed to assist people dedicated to making a difference

I would like to start by acknowledging the years and years of hard work by those at the grassroots level, the campaign by carers, and those who do work with Australians with disabilities, as well as the organisations that support them. I want to acknowledge their efforts that have assisted in bringing us here before the House tonight.

As has often been quoted from diverse speakers such as Ghandi, Hubert Humphries and Jimmy Carter: ‘Any society, any nation, is judged on the basis of how it treats its weakest members,’ and that is why we are here.

This holds true for those with a disability in our communities. It is a message that has been very profoundly and directly delivered, continually and certainly, to the Productivity Commission. It is a message that is very well understood by the coalition.

It is why the Leader of the Opposition has said very clearly that the NDIS is an idea whose time has come. How we make that happen within this place is what is before us tonight.

We all know that the current system is not adequate. In my electorate, as with other members, I constantly meet people who are so dedicated and they are often the carers, the individuals with the disabilities and they are often families who are quite desperately in need of respite.

They are all desperately in need of a system that can assist them in a simple and practical way. In a rural and regional electorate like my own, there are so many challenges in relation to accessing support and services.

Many people live in isolated areas, and I meet the extended families and friends who are often required to help out with the care. There are small community groups of volunteers who provide support even for just offering exercise.

I would like to thank the Country Women’s Association that worked tirelessly to provide a pool for young Nathan Simpson in Capel. Every small step for Nathan is a major achievement.

Unlike other children Nathan cannot run, skip, hop or jump. He cannot climb or walk. Instead he crawls or walks with aids and assistance. Swimming is the only way Nathan can experience freedom of movement which eliminates his physical disabilities.

I watched him in his pool—the pool that the CWA and the community worked so hard to provide for Nathan. I am sure that this is a story that is repeated right around Australia, particularly in rural and regional areas.

We see those who are of a mature age and who worry constantly about what will happen to their loved ones when they are too old to care for them or are no longer here. This bill is a next step.

There is a massive amount of work yet to be done. I do not think anybody in this chamber underestimates the amount of work ahead and the fact that it is going to take, possibly, a decade to get the NDIS to the point it needs to be at.

This work is above party politics. The parliament needs to get the design and the implementation of the NDIS as right as it can possibly make it, because those with a disability, their carers and those who service those needs are counting on us to do that. We stand ready to work with the government right now.

We have repeatedly made bipartisan offers to the government to work with them.

The NDIS has cross-party support at state and federal levels. And at the state level—this is one of the complexities that the federal government are going to need to deal with—in Western Australia, the Liberal government has been very active in the disability services sector.

In my own electorate of the Forrest, the state member for Bunbury, John Castrilli, has successfully delivered what I believe is one of the greatest achievements in high-care support and respite accommodation in Western Australia.

Treendale Gardens was designed specifically for young adults who are disabled by multiple sclerosis and similar neurological conditions. According to the MS Society of WA, which runs it, Treendale Gardens is:

… a modern complex of 11 purpose built, one bedroom, high-support accommodation units where young people with disabilities due to MS or other neurological conditions can receive 24 hour care…

The model provides residents with a true sense of home — something so important – with the additional reassurance of 24-hour on-site support and security.

It also has a six-bed respite house and three-bedroom family respite unit. You can only imagine how useful this is going to be and how much comfort this is going to bring to families in my electorate.

It is the only facility of its type outside Perth in Western Australia. Its function is to keep young people with a disability out of aged-care and nursing homes. This is something that has been an absolute passion for John Castrilli. I really do congratulate him on what is I believe an outstanding achievement that brings so much benefit to our community. He has been passionate about this for a long time.

We know that the WA state government’s investment in disability across the board is considerable, which is part of what the government will be needing to take into account. The 2011-12 WA budget invested a massive $600 million in social services, including unparalleled investment in the not-for-profit sector, which provides so many of those services that are required by those with a disability.

It was designed to support around 400,000 Western Australians including the 116,000 who have profound or multiple disabilities. I know that the WA government has written to the Prime Minister proposing a joint WA-Commonwealth NDIS. This is just one example of the complexity that is still ahead and that is going to need to be worked through.

The NDIS needs to be very carefully structured. There are some key areas that people have a great concern about—and we will get to the rules—such as eligibility and assessment in the criteria.

Those are areas that I see as needing to be very carefully structured and ones that will perhaps create some serious consideration from all sides of politics. Agreement has been reached with five states and territories to host the launch sites with services to be delivered to 20,000 people—which we all know is merely a fraction of the defined need.

Further expansion of the NDIS will depend on the Commonwealth negotiating and concluding further bilateral agreements with each jurisdiction. The most critical question is how the NDIS will be funded. We in the coalition have supported the government’s commitment of $1 billion in the federal budget.

However, we also note that this comes nowhere near the $3.9 billion the Productivity Commission said would be necessary over the forward estimates period for what is just the first phase of the NDIS.

There have been a number of figures expressed over time in the discussions about the NDIS. We have heard that perhaps $10 million per annum will be the cost when the NDIS is running in the way that we might want it to: $10 million has to be found to manage this scheme in the longer term.

The current shortfall that we know exists from the $3.9 billion has to be accounted for and I will be looking to see if that is in this year’s budget and forward estimates.

The NDIS needs to be delivered in the time frame recommended by the Productivity Commission. It could be delivered in that time frame by a prudent government that can manage the economy and the delivery of the NDIS.

The coalition has strongly supported each milestone along the road, including the initial work by the Productivity Commission, the $1 billion in the last budget, the five launch sites, the agreement between the Commonwealth and New South Wales for a full statewide rollout after the Hunter launch, and this legislation.

The bill itself provides for the establishment of the framework for the NDIS and the launch transition agency that will initially manage it. The ultimate aim of any disability scheme is to develop and actually be able to deliver on the ground, where it is needed, the services and supports and the personalised plans for Australians with a disability.

I note that most of the funding is to be targeted at individual support packages. Personal planning provisions should ensure that the NDIS offers a person-centred and self-directed approach—very important.

Each person has specific needs. There may not be the supports and services that the individual needs in each of the communities, so the individual clients must be front and centre and in charge.

They must be able to decide on the supports, the aids, the equipment and the services from the providers of their choice. Under this system, a plan must include a statement of participant goals and aspirations, prepared by the participant, and a statement of participant support, to be approved by the agency.

The plans will specify the general support and the reasonable and necessary individual support to be provided.

We in this place need for the support under the plan to represent true value for money such that the costs are reasonable relative both to the benefit and to alternative support. The plan must have regard for current good practice and must certainly take family and informal networks into account.

As I said at the beginning of my speech, when you are out in the rural and regional areas in my electorate, frequently these are the support networks for people with disabilities. We all know that it is the family; it is the extended family; it is friends—quite often there is a vast disability network surrounding the person and the family.

That is what has been required just to provide even a basic level of support. The agency may also provide general support for people with disability who are not participants of the NDIS, often through information. Where do I find details of the scheme? Where are the coordination and referrals? That is part of the information that will be supplied.

The level of support a person with a disability currently receives can actually depend on what state they live in, whether the disability is congenital or was acquired, and whether it was the result of an accident. In each case, as we know, there is a variation on the level of support provided. The result is that many people with a disability are left without the assistance they need.

These are core issues that a well-designed and well-managed NDIS needs to address. The delivery of a well-managed NDIS will depend heavily on the rules—and we have not seen the rules.

The actual mechanics of the agency are part of this. As I said earlier, one of the key issues will be the rules around eligibility and assessment. The bill is essentially a framework that establishes the transition agency, the board, the CEO and a general definition of eligibility, but it certainly does not deal with the issue of eligibility and assessment.

The real delivery mechanism will be established by the rules, and to date they have not been adequately defined. On 1 February, the government released a discussion paper on the rules, but it contained little information of substance. This area is going to require a significant focus and the rules will need to be very carefully crafted in the coming months.

The rules certainly do need to be released quickly. I am told that at the Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee there was recurrent evidence presented by witnesses who said it was really difficult for them to provide advice, pose questions or plan for the launch sites in the absence of the rules.

So we can understand very clearly why the rules are so important both to the legislators and the community.

We have called for the establishment of a joint parliamentary committee chaired by both sides of politics to oversee the establishment and implementation of the NDIS.

It is incumbent on all of us in this place to get this right.

It is a very complex issue and process and it will be a complex design. I encourage the government in its deliberations to consider the needs in particular of people with disability in rural and regional areas in relation to support and services and how the NDIS is designed