National Disability Insurance Scheme

13 September 2017

House of Representatives

Wednesday 15 February 2017

As a pharmacist, a carer and someone who has dedicated most of their life to working with those with mental ill health, the NDIS means much to me. Labor had the vision to design, fund and implement the National Disability Insurance Scheme. Labor, working with people with disability, their families and carers, brought in the NDIS so that they can have the certainty, security and support needed to live full and independent lives. Labor in government successfully developed, introduced and implemented the NDIS, on time and on budget. During this time, the NDIS received bipartisan support, something the coalition now seems to have forgotten. Since the coalition came to government, the NDIS has been systematically undermined and neglected. Disability service providers have gone unpaid while people with disability and their families have been forced to cancel appointments because of system failures, with paperwork and waiting times blowing out. The community are rightly frustrated and concerned about the rollout and the problems they are experiencing with the NDIS in my community and across Australia.

Instead of taking responsibility, the Turnbull government is passing the buck and holding the NDIS and our community to ransom. The NDIS is the biggest social policy reform since Medicare. It is too important to be a plaything for this government. Many people with disability have waited their whole lives for the National Disability Insurance Scheme and now this government is threatening to take it away. Yesterday's behaviour was disgraceful. The Turnbull government is attempting to rip billions of dollars from the pockets of ordinary Australians with its omnibus bill and is trying to force these measures through the Senate by holding the NDIS hostage. Linking the delivery of the NDIS to massive cuts to families, pensioners, people with disability, carers and Newstart recipients is appalling. How far gone do a government and a minister have to be to pit one group of vulnerable Australians against another for funding?

The Liberals' position in government is a long way from their so-called support of the NDIS in opposition. It appears that they were paying lip service to people with disability and those who care for them and love them, and are now threatening to take away funding if senators in the other place do not make cruel cuts to families, young people, older Australians and new migrants to this country. Is the Turnbull government really saying that, if these unfair cuts are not passed through the Senate, the NDIS will not go ahead? People with disability do not deserve to be treated with such contempt by the Turnbull government. This is just another attempt by the government to bring in the cruel cuts it has been trying to get through the parliament since the 2014 budget.

The attacks on the NDIS continue with the bill before us today, the National Disability Insurance Scheme Savings Fund Special Account Bill 2016, the purpose of which is to establish an account, the National Disability Insurance Scheme Savings Fund Special Account, to pay for the NDIS. Labor had funded the NDIS in establishing the DisabilityCare Australia Fund, while this government continues to claim that the NDIS was not funded. We increased the Medicare Levy by 0.5 per cent to contribute. We increased Commonwealth expenditure on disability. We made sensible and sustainable savings to the budget. Labor's 2013-14 budget clearly set out how the NDIS would be funded for 10 years, well beyond full implementation. But now the minister is saying that all the work Labor did to fund the NDIS has been undonenot through purposeful spending but to fund cuts in other areas or to give tax breaks to big business.

The government are prepared to hold the NDIS to ransom and play politics so they can push through more of their devastating cuts to shore up their fragile budget bottom line. This is playing politics with the wellbeing and future of some of the most vulnerable people in Australia and those who love them. Yet, when they were in opposition, the coalition supported all but one of the revenue and savings measures proposed by Labor. Some of these measures were even passed in the parliament after the election, when the coalition formed government. Minister Porter argues that, because these savings were not specifically set aside for the NDIS, they were 'effectively lost for NDIS purposes', yet this proposed fund will not protect the Commonwealth's contribution to the NDIS. If the DisabilityCare Australia Fund was pilfered by this government, then so might this new account be. It will be used as yet another excuse for further cuts to social services. These cuts are already making the NDIS harder to access for people in my community.

At a mobile office in Lake Haven shopping centre, I met Carolyn. Her five-year-old son, Sebastian, has global development delay with autistic traits. He is non-verbal, is limited in movement and has constant, high-care needs. Carolyn is full of praise for the staff at Northlakes Public School, who attend to Sebastian's needs with constant care and supervision. He is also supported by the Cerebral Palsy Alliance for occupational and speech therapies. Carolyn and Sebastian are new to the Central Coast. Having fled a violent relationship, they are now making a new life in our community. They have no family nearby. Tragically, Carolyn was diagnosed with breast cancer late last year. She is now preparing to undergo chemotherapy, which she will start in the next week. She is desperately concerned about who will care for Sebastian when she is too sick to do so. She says:

Sebastian will need a Local Area Coordinator, to ensure he is getting the best options available to him when I can't lift my head off the pillow.

He will need someone to help him get to and from his therapy appointments when I am unable to drive.

He will need someone to take him swimming with his school group when I am considered too toxic to swim in a public pool.

He will need someone to take him to the park, or the beach, or the movies on weekends or after school so he's not isolated in the house with me when the chemotherapy makes me ill.

He will need someone who can keep an eye on him if we go out on a Central Coast Aspect fun day when I may not be able to run to catch him when he takes off.

When circumstances change, NDIS packages are able to be amended. Carolyn submitted the appropriate paperwork as soon as she was diagnosed, but this process is taking far too long. Time is a luxury she and Sebastian do not have. It is critical that the NDIS has the resources to provide reviews in a timely manner. But, as long as this government is opposed to adequately resourcing the Public Service, including the National Disability Insurance Agency, people will suffer from the lack of frontline public services.

While the government is in this place playing games with funding, people in my community are waiting for the care and support that they urgently and desperately needpeople like Diane, who made contact with my office when her son Hayden entered the NDIS. Hayden has Down syndrome, and he suffers from a heart condition related to his disability. Hayden's plan is in the process of being approved, but, as is the case with too many people, it can be difficult to separate Hayden's health conditions from his disabilitynonetheless, that is a job that must be done. It is a source of great stress for Hayden and his family as they move through this process. Their questions about essential medical equipmentsuch as a wheelchair, VPAP machine, and oxygen concentratorand how this equipment will be provided for him are met with conflicting information from the health service and the NDIS. It would be devastating to think that, while those necessary decisions around which agency is responsible for which services take place, people like Hayden are caught in the middle.

The New South Wales government embraced the NDIS, and I applaud them for that, but as it rolls out on the Central Coast I will work to ensure that all levels of government work to achieve the best outcome for those people living with disabilitynot the best outcome for the budget bottom line. The money to fund the NDIS is there. It is in consolidated revenue. But the coalition would rather spend it on their pet projects than on people for whom it could make a real difference in their lives. Labor will keep fighting to protect the National Disability Insurance Scheme from the Turnbull government's attacks.

Labor will and does oppose this bill. There are still many questions that must be answered by the minister about just what is going on with the NDIS funding which he claims is now gone. The minister has not consulted the sector. He has not consulted people with disability. Yet he is frightening people with disability, their families and carers by telling them that the National Disability Insurance Scheme is not funded, or that funding will be taken away if the government's omnibus savings bill is not passed. People in my community know how beneficial the NDIS is, but this government is undermining the success of the scheme and its future.

The Central Coast is already underserviced for disability support, and, without a strong and well-funded NDIS, local people will miss out. There are reasons for the lack of services on the coast, but it is imperative that governments, including the state Liberal government, address this as the roll-out continues.

My constituent Lexanne suffered a massive stroke six months ago which left her with limited movement in her right side, blind in one eye and confined mostly to a wheelchair, with leg braces for walking in limited environments. She cannot push her own wheelchair, but, due to her limited vision, an electric wheelchair is not an option. Lexanne's NDIS experience is a mostly positive one: she is happy with the support of her coordinator, and the funding levels allow her to consider home modifications and care options that otherwise would not have been possible. However, she says the biggest problem is that there are not enough service providers on the Central Coast and the delay in accessing care is worrying.

Lexanne, after her stroke, moved in with her sister Joanne. Joanne is juggling full-time work with caring for her sister and their elderly parents, who also live with her. When I spoke with Joanne last week, she was at work, at the train station. Recently, she had to work late unexpectedly and got home at around 11 pm. With no night care for Lexanne, she began the night-time routine, preparing her for bed, several hours later than would ordinarily have occurred. Part of this includes medication to help Lexanne sleep, and the delay in administering this meant Lexanne was overtired and lethargic the following day, making it much more difficult to provide her usual care routine.

The local health service provided a six-week in-home-care program following Lexanne's discharge, but there was a period of several months between this and the availability of services through the NDIS. The only option during this time was for Lexanne to directly fund her care. She can only afford one hour per day, yet her NDIS package provides for more than six hours a day. Of course, the bulk of the caring and financial support currently falls to her sister Joanne. This is precisely the situation that the NDIS was designed to changeto help relieve the stress of care, to return autonomy and independence to people's lives, and to ensure that people with disability, their families and carers live with dignity and independence.

People with disability know that Labor will always stand with them. We built the National Disability Insurance Scheme, and we will never let the coalition tear it down.