The most vulnerable in our community have been let down by this government. People and families in crisis have been let down by this government. People living with disability and older people waiting for the age pension, struggling to get by, have been let down by this government. When Labor launched the NDIS in 2013, it was to transform the lives of Australians under 65 living with a permanent and significant disability, providing the reasonable and necessary supports for them to live an ordinary life. The NDIS rollout on the Central Coast began in July 2016. While the experience has been positive for some, for many the NDIS isn't working. I have raised some of the problems my constituents have experienced on a number of occasions. Let me also share you with you Sophie's story.
Sophie is 15 years old. She has a rare condition and can't walk or stand independently. Before she became an NDIS participant, Sophie had a standing frame provided by the New South Wales Department of Ageing, Disability and Home Care which she used to support herself in a standing position, to retain some muscle movement and bone density. This is also important for posture and relieves the pressure from sitting in the wheelchair for prolonged periods of time. When Sophie transitioned to the NDIS in 2016, she was told to give the equipment back to ADHC because the NDIS would provide her with a new frame. Sophie's mum, Belinda, contacted me last week because she still does not have a new standing frame. Sophie has been confined to a wheelchair exclusively for more than two years because of the administrative issues in the National Disability Insurance Agency.
Sophie's first plan included approval for a new standing frame but, by the time the agency processed her reports, nearly 12 months had passed and the quotes were no longer valid. Her second plan again included the frame, and this time the agency finally approved the OT report and quote, and an order was placed in December last year. By the time the equipment arrived, nearly six months later, Belinda was told it was no longer appropriate for Sophie, who had grown, and it's now much harder for her parents to lift her. Belinda was told a larger, sit-to-stand frame was a better option, which Sophie could continue to use as an adult. A request was lodged with the agency for approval of the new frame.
The other frame was never picked up. Instead, it was retained by EnableNSW, the equipment supplier, for their equipment pool, to be provided to another NDIS participant who needed it. Of course, Belinda did not make this decision herself. She was following advice from the agency and the equipment supplier—a mother trying to do what's best for her daughter. But the agency have now refused to approve the new frame, because they say it would be duplication. Duplication? How can providing nothing be considered duplication? Sophie is worse off because of her transition to the NDIS. She had to give essential equipment back because the New South Wales government refuses to be a provider of disability services. She has been unable to have the equipment replaced because of bureaucracy and delays in the agency. This is not good enough. I call on the minister to intervene. Sophie deserves better.
It is apparent that a major cause of problems with the rollout of the NDIS is an arbitrary staff cap at the NDIA. The cap is a relic of this government's cruel 2014 budget. The staff cap creates a false economy, forcing the NDIA to rely on outsourcing and contractors, which is often more expensive. In recent times, the NDIA has committed over $145 million for contract and temporary staff; outsourced call centre functions to the multinational Serco—the equivalent of up to 380 full-time jobs, at a cost of $63 million over two years—and spent over $61 million on consultants in 2016-17 and 2017-18 alone. At the same time, the scheme's rollout is currently behind schedule—the equivalent of over 46,000 people missing out on the NDIS.
People with disability have also faced massive plan review backlogs and have missed out on the essential supports they need. People with disability, their families and advocates have long been raising concerns about the staff cap, including delays and poor quality planning. The cap makes it harder to develop a first-class workforce with the skills in delivering disability support that will be needed into the future. NDIA staff work hard, and this arbitrary cap is just putting more unnecessary pressure on a stretched service. Last year the Productivity Commission recommended the staff cap be scrapped, but the government has still not acted on this recommendation. People with disability need to be at the heart of everything the NDIS does. It exists to provide essential services. A Labor government would remove the Liberals' arbitrary NDIS staff cap, freeing the agency to make the best long-term decisions about how to deliver quality services to Australians living with a disability.
Another area where my constituents have been experiencing problems this year is in accessing the age pension. Older Australians in my community are experiencing significant delays in accessing the age pension. The government has previously admitted to a delay of 49 days—seven weeks!—but some in my community have been waiting for much, much longer. Chris in my electorate applied for the age pension in December last year, and when he contacted my office in June this year it still hadn't been processed. The issue, he was told, was that he had not provided details of his wife's business, yet he had sent the paperwork off multiple times. Fortunately, my office was able to help and the claim was processed, but Chris said that, if it weren't for growing his own vegetables, he had no idea how he would have survived.
Denise and Steven applied for their age pensions in early November last year, and I was appalled that their claims weren't approved until May this year. The problem then was that, after seven months, when they were finally approved, an extremely large amount of back pay had accrued and Steven was told that it was too large for the system to process. So they still weren't being paid at all, and the amount that was owed was increasing. They were finally paid in July, around nine months after they had first applied.
This is appalling. Centrelink is underresourced and the staff are stretched, yet this government continues to cut jobs from Centrelink. Another 1,280 jobs have been cut from Centrelink this year, disregarding the many, many Australians waiting for youth allowance, carers' payments and the age pension. Like the problems with the NDIS, many of Centrelink's problems stem from staffing and the government's refusal to employ enough properly trained permanent staff to deliver services, rather than relying on contract labour. This makes it so much harder for vulnerable Australians to get help.
Centrelink needs permanent full-time staff who are supported, familiar with and trained to manage complex issues facing income support recipients. Labor has committed to investing $196 million in 1,200 new permanent and full-time Department of Human Services staff around the country, improving waiting times, clearing the backlog and providing the essential services that everyday Australians rely on. Whether it's older Australians like Denise and Steven waiting for an age pension, or a young person like Sophie who, with her mum, is struggling with the NDIS and the New South Wales government's retreat from disability services with the rollout of the NDIS, the new jobs that Labor would provide would improve service delivery. They would also boost local economies in regional communities like mine. Most importantly, they will help vulnerable people to get the support they need when they need it.
I'll conclude by turning to carers, and this is something that is very close to my heart. My mum was a carer for my late father for more than five years. Last week my mum attended the YODSS group, which is the Younger Onset Dementia Social Support Club. It meets at Yakkalla Cottage in Bateau Bay in my electorate. Sadly, many people from that group have passed away this year. But one of the most important things that any government can do is to help people who are caring for other people. In this particular group of people living with younger onset dementia and those people who care for them, there are many people who have had difficulty accessing carer payments or carer allowance. There are also people who are struggling because of the lack of respite, particularly coming into this period now, over Christmas and the New Year, when many of these services shut down or wind back. It often leaves families in crisis, really struggling to be able to access the support they need. So I call on this government and I call on the minister to act. Too many families and too many people in crisis will be struggling this Christmas because of this government's cruel cuts. They really need to stop the hollow rhetoric and spruiking about essential services and genuinely do something to help people and families in crisis to deal with these problems, particularly during the period over Christmas and New Year—but also into the New Year and always. That's what any government should and must do: look after the most vulnerable in our community.