National MS Advocates Annual Conference
Old Parliament House, Canberra
22 June 2011
E & OE
Thanks so much for having the conference here at Old Parliament House. It’s a building with very human dimensions, unlike that place up on the hill. So I thank you for the opportunity to get out of there for a little while.
If I could acknowledge the great Robert Pask. Robert is ceaseless I think that’s the right word. It’s hard to turn around Parliament House without running into Robert, which is a sign he is doing a good job. So congratulations Robert. And I also acknowledge my senatorial and parliamentary colleagues Rachel Siewert and Jan McLucas. Also, in their absence, I acknowledge Senator Humphries and Senator Lundy, who do such a good job as the co-chairs of the Parliamentary Friendship Group.
Friends, I love my job. I love being the Shadow Minister for Disabilities, and I think that’s a love that I share with Jan and Rachel. They are both deeply passionate and excited to hold the portfolios that they do. After the last election I asked to stay in this portfolio, which I was very pleased I was able to do. The reason I did that is that I firmly believe that the portfolio responsibility that I have will probably be the most significant role that I will have in public life. The reason I think that is basically because it’s pretty darn hard to think of another portfolio area or another policy area that is so desperate for reform, that is crying out for a new way, more than is the case with the disabilities portfolio. I also can’t think of a portfolio area where the parties across the chamber work more closely together, which is another reason I enjoy the portfolio. Sure, we’ll pick each other up when we think we’re not administering as well as we could, if we’re not spending taxpayer dollars as well as we could. And that’s a good thing because we’re there to egg each other on to do a better job. So that’s something that I also very much enjoy.
As Jan mentioned, we’re all very, very excited about the prospect of the Productivity Commission’s Final Report into the concept of a National Disability Insurance Scheme. The thing that I found the most exciting about the Draft Report itself was that it said that decent support for people with disabilities should be core government business. If you were starting off with a clean slate, designing government from scratch, what is it that government is going to do, what should governments be responsible for, one of the first things you would start with is proper support for people with disabilities. Support for people who, because of certain circumstances beyond their control, face additional challenges. And I think that was a simple yet profound statement by the Productivity Commission. The other very exciting thing in the Productivity Commission Report is the focus on having the individual at the centre and in control of any new system of support for people with disabilities. So I think they were two very important points.
The PC Draft Report does give us a bit of an inkling – a bit of a vision – as to what a better of support might look like, and it gives us hope. I think we’re all keenly aware that we hope that that prospect – that hope – isn’t dashed. That we do see a new and better deal. I think there’s a challenge for all of us, for all governments, but also for all parties, not to see the prospect of a new national arrangement on the horizon as an excuse not to do more in the meantime not to seek to improve to the system in the meantime. Something as big as a new national scheme will take time to put into place. The Productivity Commission talks about a progressive roll-out between 2015 and 2018 after a trial in a geographic area in 2014. So there’s a very important role for each of you as advocates in this room not just to not take the pressure off but indeed to maximise the pressure to keep all of us honest and to make sure we’re still looking for ways to improve the system in the meantime. I do want to give credit to Mary Wooldridge, the Minister in Victoria, who has put her hand up and offered to have Victoria as the test bed for the NDIS and has set up an NDIS implementation unit in that state. Wouldn’t it be a wonderful thing if we actually had competition between the states wanting to be the test bed – from Queensland and New South Wales and other states. That’s a good thing and something we want to see.
I think when the PC Final Report comes out the case for change will be so compelling that no government is going to be able to stand in the way of the concept of a new national arrangement. There are a few things that I think the new national deal if I can call it that must do. Many of them are things that were in the brief that Robert provided. What I think is critical is that carers are important, families are important, but the best way to help carers and families is by providing decent support for people with disability. That’s the best way to lighten the load on those families are carers. There is a level of care which it’s reasonable to expect a family to undertake just by virtue of being family, but there is a level of care beyond which I think it’s unreasonable to expect a family on their own, without some assistance, to provide. A new arrangement has got to answer that nagging question for many ageing carers: what’s going to happen to my adult son or daughter who, for instance, may have an intellectual impairment or a significant physical disability what is going to happen to them, who is going to look after them when I’m gone? We’ve got to be able to answer that question for those parents.
Jan mentioned aids and equipment. It does your head in! We can put a man on the moon, but a kid who needs a wheelchair can’t necessarily get one when they need it. They have to wait. It’s unacceptable. It’s crazy. I’m sure it’s complex but it can’t be that hard to do. Jan made a great suggestion how about picking up the phone and asking each jurisdiction what they have. Sometimes the simple approach is the most straight-forward. Young people in nursing homes – there’s been some good work done but more needs to be done. As some young people move out of nursing homes, there are additional young people who are coming into nursing homes. So more has got to be done there. Barriers to employment I’m sure we could talk all day about that it’s no doubt in all of our minds.
As a federal opposition, we are in the midst of our post-election policy review, so we are all ears. One of the benefits of opposition there are actually a few benefits of opposition if used properly, it can be a very positive, a very productive and a very creative time for a party. One of the reasons why opposition is a good thing is because when you’re in government, you can’t help but start to be very proprietorial about every policy and every program. And after you’ve been in Government for a while, even if you haven’t implemented the program, you tweak it and play with it in some way. So you actually get proprietorial and defensive. Opposition is a chance to cut loose, start with a fresh slate.
As this is an advocacy conference, can I urge you to be ceaseless to follow in Robert’s stead. That is the key to advocacy just being persistent, being ceaseless, not stopping. The best example of advocacy I ever saw was Deakin University, when the previous government was in office. They wanted to set up the first regional medical school in Victoria. It was a few hundred million dollars, and they were just everywhere. The Treasurer of the day couldn’t turn around without seeing someone from Deakin University. The Health Minister couldn’t turn around without seeing someone from Deakin University. The Education Minister couldn’t turn around without seeing someone from Deakin University. In the end, it was just much easier for those Ministers to say, ‘here it is, we’re giving it to you, go away!’ That’s how you want to be as advocates. Always polite, always civil, but persistent. Make it easier for government to just say, ‘OK, fine, what you want have it.’ If I could just leave that advice with you. Keep strong, keep punching, be ceaseless and I expect that whenever I turn around in Canberra or Melbourne to see one of your faces nearby.