Thanks very much Rhonda. There’s a lot of you here today! But I’ve got to say as I look around the room, I don’t see an audience I don’t see a crowd. What I see are a lot of people who I know, people whose future and well being I have an investment in. So it’s great to see so many of you here today.
At the outset could I acknowledge a few of the ‘generals’ of the sector – if I could put it that way:
Tim Moore, President of NDS; Richard Dent, the Chair of NDS here in Victoria; Ken Baker, the terrific CEO of NDS; Dean Barton-Smith, the Chair of AFDO; Leslie Hall, the AFDO CEO; Tim Moore, the Carers Australia President; and the magnificent Bruce Bonyhady. Bruce brings calmness and persistence in equal measure to this great cause, and he is very much the intellectual driving force behind the idea of a new national scheme. Bruce, it’s wonderful to see you as always. Could I also acknowledge the multi-faceted and multi-talented Rhonda Galbally and the various hats that she wears, and my colleagues Jan McLucas and Richard Di Natale. But I’d also like to acknowledge John Della Bosca, who is the National Campaign Chair for the NDIS. I think it’s great to see people who have served in public life seek to put back in to the community in their post political life, so hats off to you John for the great work that you’re doing at the moment.
Could I start off by congratulating the National Disabilities and Carers Alliance for bringing together a common voice and a common purpose to this great endeavour to deliver a better deal for Australians with disability. There is still a long, long way to go. Most Australians are still blissfully ignorant, you could say, of the situation that too many Australians with a disability and their carers face.
The Productivity Commission has done an outstanding job to date. I particularly congratulate Commissioner Patricia Scott on the work that she’s done. She’s a deep thinker. She’s a very committed and thoughtful public servant. I also congratulate her Associate Commissioner, John Walsh, for his ongoing commitment and contribution.
There were two things that excited me above and beyond anything else in the Productivity Commission’s Draft Report. The first was that the Productivity Commission declared clearly that any new system must be based around the individual that it must have the individual at its heart, at the centre and in control. But perhaps an even more simple yet profound statement from the Productivity Commission was that decent support for Australians with disability should be core government business. If you were starting from scratch, if you were starting with a clean slate, and you’re asking yourself the question; ‘what should be one of the basic and fundamental tasks of government,’ you would surely say; ‘support for people with disabilities and decent funding for disabilities.’ It’s simple, it’s obvious to all of us, but the Productivity Commission really is the first significant government organisation to actually make that statement loud and clear.
The Productivity Commission have offered a ray of hope. They have given us a glimpse as to what a better future for people with disability might look like. But in the interim, I think all governments have got to be very careful both state and federal not to use a pending national scheme or the prospect of a new national arrangement on the horizon as an excuse to not do something to improve things in the meantime. It’s important that government takes up the challenge to do something before a new national scheme is implemented to help improve the system of rationing that is currently in place. I think it would be a great pity if improvements weren’t made in the meantime. So that’s the challenge for government.
Those in the sector quite rightly, quite understandably have an extremely low threshold for partisan point scoring in the area of disabilities. And for good reason people with disabilities, their families, their carers they just want the system fixed. They’re not interested in politics and distractions. Having said that, we as an Opposition do have a role to critique, to probe and to question. And that process, that role, does lead to governments governing better.
But having said that, let me be very clear, let me be very unequivocal, that for its part, the Federal Opposition won’t be looking for ways to put stumbling blocks in the place of a better deal for people with disability. We will be looking for ways and means to see a new national deal for Australians with disability get up. That’s what people want and that’s what people expect.
Change of this magnitude can only come about as a result of the efforts of the government of the day. To that end I do want to give credit to the Government in Victoria for establishing a National Disability Insurance Scheme Implementation Group for offering Victoria to be the test bed for a new national scheme, and for also setting up an NDIS Advisory Group. That really shows Mary Wooldridge and Ted Baillieu’s commitment.
Although I am a mere Shadow Minister, I see the role that I have as the Shadow Minister for Disabilities and Carers as probably the most important public office that I will hold. The reason for that is that even from Opposition it is possible to encourage, to have input and to push for good policy and for a better national deal for people with disability. I can’t think of any other area that is in greater need of reform and change than the area of disabilities. I think one of the problems there’s been in achieving change is that too often, just as the sector gets a new Minister or a new Shadow trained up, they move to a different portfolio. There’s not been that continuity to help bring about a different outcome.
It was very much with the words of those at the ‘Mad as Hell’ rally ringing in my ears that, after the last election, I said to Tony Abbott that there were two things I wanted to see. The first was disability elevated to ministerial rank. The second was that I wanted to stay in the portfolio, and Tony readily agreed to both of those. I thought it would have been a pity just as you’ve learned some lessons and got a handle on things to move to a different portfolio, so I wanted to have the opportunity to see things through.
I think that when the Productivity Commission’s Final Report is handed down, the case that they present will be so compelling that no Government whoever is in office at the time will be able to resist the call for change. The need is so great and the Productivity Commission’s work is so compelling.
There are a couple of things that any new national scheme needs to do. Better support for families there’s a level of care that it’s reasonable to expect a family to provide for one of their members. There’s also a level of care above which it’s unreasonable to expect a family to provide, and we’ve seen so many families at breaking point above that level. The other thing that needs to happen is to answer that nagging question that so many parents have about what is going to happen to their child or family member when they move on. This current Parliament needs to answer that question.
Friends, this is a very big role it’s a very complex task that is ahead of the Australian Parliament – to deliver a better deal for Australians with disability. For myself, I don’t baulk at the complexity, I don’t baulk at the challenge, I don’t baulk at the cost. This is needed, we must do this. I look forward to being a part of delivering a new deal, a better deal, and once and for all making sure that people with disability in Australia get the support they need and the opportunities they deserve.
Thank you very much.