I welcome the introduction of the National Disability Insurance Scheme

NDIS.jpgMr STEPHEN JONES (Throsby) (17:06): It is with great pleasure that I rise to speak on this historic piece of legislation. Indeed, today is a bad day for people who hate good news, as the member for Cowper just displayed in his contribution. Never has anyone found so much to oppose on their path to offering support. In my first speech to this parliament, I reflected upon the fact that before working here I spent many years working in the community sector. I spent many years working as a careworker for children with developmental disabilities . In that time I learnt firsthand at very close range the struggle that families engage in on a daily basis to provide some semblance of normality to their child with a disability, and their other children, when so much tugs in the other direction. I learnt so much from the young children themselves—perhaps more than I was ever able to teach them.

A little later in life I had the great pleasure of working as an advocate for what was then known as the Australian Quadriplegic Association—an organisation established to assist people who had, through one means or another, found themselves bound to a wheelchair because of a spinal cord injury. When I worked for the AQA I was always struck by the stark differences in circumstances that were enjoyed by those persons who acquired their disability through an accident that was perhaps their own fault or were perhaps born with a degenerative disease which over time confined them to a wheelchair and those who, with equal tragedy, had their disability because of the result of somebody else's negligence—a car accident, being struck by somebody else in a motor vehicle or some other form of negligence which tragically led them to be confined to a wheelchair. What I was able to see in advocating for both of these groups of people was that they were in completely different circumstances. One was completely reliant upon the wealth and support of their family, their community and charitable organisations while the other, equally finding difficulty in their day-to-day living, had some support through the money provided to them through a victims compensation scheme. From the perspective of the individual, however they acquired that disability, it must have seemed entirely unfair that one had the resources and support and the other quite simply did not.

When I was visited by the activists from the Every Australian Counts campaign, I was very keen to sign-up as an early supporter of this great idea: the establishment of a national no-fault insurance scheme for people with a severe disability. The philosophy which underpins the scheme and the legislation which is before the house today is that we should not discriminate. We should not discriminate between people who have acquired their disability through an accident of birth or through an accident that was nobody's fault and that other group of people who acquired their disability because of an accident that was somebody else's fault and they were in the position to sue that person and acquire some compensation. Quite simply, the scheme should not discriminate. The second principle is that there should be dignity for all. We should focus on a person's ability, not their disability. As a wealthy country with a first-rate health system and a first-rate community sector we should be able to have the capacity to provide dignity in live for all. Thirdly, in providing services, we should empower the individual so that they have the capacity to adapt their care packages and their arrangements to meet their life objectives in the same way that you or I arrange our lives so that we can further our goals and ambitions in ways that best suit us. Empowering the individual is an important principle at the heart of the NDIS.

We would not have reached this point and we would not be able to be standing here today welcoming the introduction of this bill had it not been for the work of committed individuals and powerful organisations such as the Every Australian Counts campaign. Before talking through some of the details of the bill, I do want to pay tribute to the individuals and organisations who participated in the Every Australian Counts campaign—the NDIS campaign. I was very pleased to be involved with the activist group in my own area in my electorate of Throsby even prior to becoming a member of this place. Fantastic organisations like Greenacres, Flagstaff, the Disability Trust, Interchange and Cram and motivated individuals—Neil Preston is one who comes to mind—deserve recognition. If I did not get a phone call or an email from Neil Preston about this every week then I knew he was probably out of the country on some urgent business or laid up ill somewhere. He is still incredibly motivated long after his retirement from Greenacres. He gives of his time to that and many other important causes around the region. They deserve some tribute and they deserve some credit for the fact that parliamentarians on all sides of the house are standing here today, some with less enthusiasm than others, welcoming the introduction of this bill, because it does create a national disability insurance scheme. It is a substantial and important reform that will fundamentally change the nature of how a person lives with a disability and how their care and support is provided for in Australia. Without any hyperbole, it is an historic reform for all Australians.

I speak in support of the bill on behalf of the disabled children and adults in my electorate of Throsby because they have been keen supporters of this and very active in the campaign. The bill will implement the NDIS and establish a national agency to administer the scheme. The Commonwealth is currently working with the states and territories on this reform because they are currently key in the providing and facilitation of service provision to the sector. The Commonwealth has already begun working closely with state and territory governments in the design, governance and funding of the NDIS. The bill's development has also been informed by people with a disability, their family, carers and other stakeholders who have been involved in an extensive consultation exercise. I know this first hand because I held three consultation sessions in my own electorate over the last 18 months, including one which was attended—it was a packed room—by the minister herself. We had an intense discussion with many important issues raised. I cannot help but think that some of the issues raised by those constituents in my electorate found their way into the thinking behind this legislation.

I also welcome the fact that the NDIS Advisory Group and NDIS expert groups have provided technical advice on the design of key elements of the scheme, including eligibility and assessment, quality safeguards and standards, a national approach to choice and control for people with disability, and workforce and sector capacity.

The government has also funded the National Disability and Carer Alliance to provide ongoing advocacy and to talk to people with a disability, their families and carers, and service providers about what they believe is important in the design and implementation of the NDIS. This consultation and the input of users of disability services are critical to the success of the scheme.

If there is one tinge of disappointment from organisations and individuals in my electorate of Throsby, it is that it was not one of the five sites chosen as a pilot site, a launch site, for the NDIS. But they understand that having a pilot is important in a historic reform such as this. The people of the Hunter in New South Wales, which is one of the trial regions, will be able to have the benefits of the scheme early. We know that having a pilot is important, because, even if we tried to implement the scheme today, we probably could not do it, because we simply do not have the available workforce, which is such an important part of the rollout of a scheme such as this, which has at its heart caring for people.

The framework set out in the legislation includes the approach the scheme will take to eligibility, reasonable and necessary supports, and goal based plans for participants. The framework will reflect the principles agreed to by the Prime Minister and other COAG first ministers, including giving people with a disability individual care and support based on their needs; giving people real choice and control over these supports, meaning more control over their lives; ending a situation where people are not told what support is available or how to access that support; and fostering innovative services that are delivered and coordinated locally. The framework will include the principle of bringing long-term certainty to the resourcing of disability care and support so that people with disability can feel secure that they will get what they need over their lifetime.

The scheme will consider the whole-of-life context of people with disability. It will respond to each individual's goals and aspirations for their life, and a plan with each person will take account of their individual circumstances. This will include looking at how to support carers to sustain their caring role and take account of their needs, goals and aspirations and how to strengthen the other informal and community supports that are important for the person with a disability.

The bill before the House today establishes the National Disability Insurance Scheme Launch Transition Agency as a body independent from government. In addition to delivering the scheme, the agency will perform a range of functions, including managing the financial sustainability of the scheme, building community awareness about disability, and undertaking research about disability and the social contributors to disability.

In accordance with the Productivity Commission's recommendations, the agency will be established as a body under the Commonwealth Authorities and Companies Act 1997. It is important, for an insurance approach, to take care and support out of the cycle of budgets and elections, so this independence is important. The agency will be overseen by a board made up of people with extensive experience in the provision or use of disability services, and in financial management, governance and the operation of insurance schemes, as well as an advisory council made up of people with lived experience of disability and caring. To ensure the agency is accountable to government, a ministerial council will be established through COAG. All governments—state, territory and Commonwealth—will be represented on the ministerial council.

Finally, there is specific provision for an independent review of the new act. The purpose of this review will be to consider how the act has operated during the first two years of its operation. So, as the scheme rolls out nationally, you will have the benefit of the learnings of the two-year pilot of the operation of the scheme.

In conclusion, I would like to once again thank all of those in my electorate of Throsby, in the Illawarra and Southern Highlands, and right across the country who have advocated and campaigned tirelessly for this important reform, this great reform, this historic reform. The NDIS will end the personal lottery of compensation which until now has meant that some with disabilities had the resources to get the care and support they needed, while others did not. It will end the national lottery that meant that you could get all the support and care that you might need in one part of the country but be left without any care and support or medical attention in another part of the country.

As I have said before, I started my working life in the disability sector, and I have experienced firsthand the frustration and limitations of the existing system of support. I know that the resources that should be there, quite simply are not there right now. There is no shortage of demand. What we need to do as a government is to ensure that we provide the resources and the scheme to ensure that those supports are provided. This bill is about doing that. I commend the legislation to the House.