NDIS Savings Fund Special Account Bill 2016

Mr STEPHEN JONES (Whitlam) (18:52): I am delighted that the National Disability Insurance Scheme is coming to the Illawarra on 1 July 2017. It was introduced into the Southern Highlands area of my electorate much earlier but in the Illawarra it will be providing services to people with disabilities and their families from 1 July this year. That is a good thing. When Labor developed the NDIS, we envisaged a game-changing approach to receiving the services and equipment needed by people living with a disability to enable them to live their lives to their absolute fullest.

The NDIS was designed to enable people living with disability to participate more in society—at school, work and the community. They shouldn't need to go from charity to charity for the essential, life-changing equipment that they need or for the basic care to fulfil functions that the rest of us take for granted. This is the NDIS people are excited about coming to the Illawarra, and I hope that it is real.

I have mentioned the fact that it is already in the Southern Highlands part of my electorate. I would like to give a shout out to Bruce Munford from Moss Vale. He is a bit of a character and he is a client of the National Disability Insurance Scheme. He is a bit of local celebrity. I went into bat for Bruce a few months ago after initial concerns that he had with his plan under the NDIS. I am very pleased to say that that has now been resolved after NDIS staff listened to the concerns that we raised with them and sorted them out very quickly. In that process Bruce spoke out about the challenges that he faces with multiple sclerosis, and the assistance he needs to fulfil tasks we all take for granted every day just to get by. His condition will steadily and inevitably get worse. Without the NDIS, Bruce believes he would be left to bang on the doors of charity for assistance. He thought he might have to live in an institution and not be able to live with his wife in the house he has lived in for many years in the close company and his family.

The NDIS has given him more flexibility, more autonomy and more transparency with the services that he needs, but he is constantly worried, and for good reason, that the government is trying to avoid providing a properly funded service—that they are trying to reduce their own responsibilities under the scheme. I'm going to use Bruce's exact words here:

I'm worried the Government are increasingly divesting themselves from the original plan for NDIS that Julia Gillard and Labor Government laid out.

Bruce, once again, has hit the nail on the head.

If the government will not listen to us and if the government will not listen to disability groups, then perhaps they will listen to the people the NDIS was originally designed to benefit. While there are a lot of positive things we can say about the NDIS, I am sad to say this bill is part of a clumsy package of legislation which is designed to hold the National Disability Insurance Scheme to ransom for a range of other egregious cuts that the Australian people have already rejected, not once but in some cases twice. We are not going to let them get away with it. We think that the whole show is a bit of a smokescreen and it is not necessary. I will go on to explain why it is unnecessary.

I want to start, however, by making something very clear: the National Disability Insurance Scheme is fully funded. The NDIS, which was designed, funded and introduced by Labor, is being introduced and delivered on time and within budget. This bill is nothing more than a distraction for the cuts that have been debated at great length in other bills that were before the house earlier today. Australians are simply not going to stand for it. In the 2013-14 budget, Labor clearly set out how the NDIS was going to be funded for 10 years—well past the transition to the full scheme and well beyond the forward estimates. This included reforms to the private health insurance and the very expensive private health insurance rebate, and some of those savings were diverted towards the funds for the National Disability Insurance Scheme. There were also reforms to retirement incomes and the phase-out of the net medical expenses tax offset, as well as a whole range of other long-term savings proposals. In addition to this, the Medicare levy was also increased by 0.5 percentage points to 2 per cent. Normally a measure like that would be controversial, but I am quite certain of the fact that there was bipartisan support across the House and throughout the community at large; and this is evidence of the deep-seated community support for the scheme to which the additional Medicare levy went to fund.

These measures, combined with the contributions from state and territory governments, covered the cost of the NDIS for ten years. At the risk of labouring the point, I will say again: the NDIS is fully funded. The government knows this. And why do we know? Because they voted for almost every single one of those savings measures.

The minister's own department proved the NDIS is fully funded.

Mr Neumann: And they never made the point that it wasn't.

Mr STEPHEN JONES: I am reminded by the honourable member that they never contradicted the fact that it was not. I thank the member for Blair for reminding me of that. This The Department of Social Services has outlined the funding sources for the NDIS, including $4.4 million from consolidated revenue. That is trivial in the overall scheme of things, but the point I make is that the department has confirmed it and the government has never contradicted what the department has said. The government continues to refer to this as a 'shortfall', but consolidated revenue is used to fund government expenditure. That is what it is there for; that is what it is consolidated for. That is what the majority of government programs are funded from and how they are funded, and this has already been confirmed by the department. So why the amnesia from the government? Why the backflip? We can draw no conclusion other than it is some ruse or some political stunt, perhaps to fill the agenda papers of parliament because the government does not really have much else on the agenda for us to deal with. So we are going to oppose the bill. I should have said that at the outset: we are going to oppose the bill.

Labor also objects to the way that this matter has been brought before the House. As I said before, it is an attempt by the government to hold the parliament to ransom and hold the NDIS to ransom for a range of other egregious savings measures. There is already a special account. I also want to make this point: the bill would establish a special account, but we say we do not need a special account and I will explain why. Labor already set one up. We already set up a special account: the DisabilityCare Australia Fund. This fund is credited with the additional revenue stream from the increase in the Medicare levy. This means that, if this bill succeeds, we will have two special accounts: the one set up under Labor and the one that the government is attempting to establish. We say it is not necessary. The coalition government's priorities and motives therefore must be questioned. Again, we say this bill is nothing more than a political stunt to mislead the public.

If the government will not listen to the very sound and reasoned arguments of Labor members and some of the Independents, perhaps they will listen to the disability groups who have been very outspoken on their views about this provision. I quote Peter Davidson from the Australian Council of Social Services. He said:

It is not obvious why this new fund is needed. Its purpose, apart from the generic one of funding the NDIS, is not clear and we don't believe it should be supported in its present form.

That is very polite language from Peter Davidson of ACOSS, but it is very clear in that comment that they cannot see the purpose and they are suspicious. Those thoughts are echoed by Alan Blackwood who represents the Young People in Nursing Homes National Alliance. He said:

The Alliance does not support the Savings Fund as constructed in the bill … the notion of a funding shortfall portrayed in the bill and Ministers speech—

his second reading speech—

is actually concerning and—

what is more—

perplexing.

Those are the words of Alan Blackwood from the Young People in Nursing Homes National Alliance.

Stephanie Gotlib is from Children and Young People with Disability Australia, an organisation that also objects. She said:

It is believed that the creation of this Special Account … places essential disability services and supports as non-core business of the Australian Government, with their full funding being dependent on other budget savings measures identified by the Government of the day.

The force of those three submissions is simply this: why are people with disability being treated differently, and why we are constructing a program for people with disability in a completely different way to the way we deal with other programs in both the Human Services and the Health portfolios and a whole range of other government programs? Why are we treating people with disability differently? That is a very good question to which the government has no answer.

Labor referred this bill to a Senate inquiry so we can better understand what the government is attempting to achieve in establishing an account. As was clear from the inquiry, it is nothing more than a thinly veiled attack on the people who rely on the scheme to provide services. We are not going to accept it. The government has not made a case for the establishment of the fund. As the disability groups, advocates and people who gave evidence to the Senate inquiry made clear, there is no case for it, but there is ample reason for Australians and the Australian Labor Party to be incredibly suspicious about what the government's true position is. We reject the bill.

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