Senator FIFIELD: (Victoria-Manager of Opposition Business in the Senate) (15:05): I move:
That the Senate take note of the answers given by the Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Science and Research (Senator Evans) to questions without notice asked by Senators Payne and Fifield today relating to the 2012-13 Budget.
It is genuinely with a heavy heart that I rise to take note of the answers given by Senator Evans. I think colleagues in the chamber will know that I have, as far as possible, in the disabilities portfolio, sought to bring a non-partisan approach, for the simple reason that people with disabilities are not interested in petty point-scoring; they just want the system fixed.
The Productivity Commission did some very good work in analysing what would be required to meet the unmet needs for Australians with disability, and the concept of the National Disability Insurance Scheme is what they came forth with. It is something that has been embraced by all political parties in this place. The Prime Minister has, over not just recent weeks but many months-indeed, particularly during the leadership ructions on the other side-spoken a great deal about the importance of and need for a National Disability Insurance Scheme. Those who listened the Prime Minister’s words could have been forgiven for taking the impression that the Prime Minister had in fact fully committed to a national disability insurance scheme. In this portfolio I have endeavoured to give the government the benefit of the doubt.
The reason for my question to Senator Evans was to inquire as to why the timetable announced by the government, and the funding profile announced by the government in the budget, differed from that of the Productivity Commission. I thought that was a reasonable question to ask. I did not see it as a partisan question or a political one. It is a question that is being asked in the sector and in the community, and there was no answer forthcoming.
A few weeks ago the Leader of the Opposition and I held a joint press conference where we said that we expected there to be money in the budget for a national disability insurance scheme and, if there was, we would support it. We went further, though, and said that a national disability insurance scheme should be above partisan politics. The Leader of the Opposition and I proposed a mechanism to ensure that a national disability insurance scheme was beyond politics. Senator Evans made reference to our only policy being a committee. He was misrepresenting our commitment. We have proposed a bipartisan committee of the parliament to be co-chaired by the disabilities frontbenchers of both the government and the opposition. That committee would have the purpose of oversighting the implementation of a national disability insurance scheme, for the reason that, when you look at the Productivity Commission’s time frame, the implementation of an NDIS will span many parliaments and several elections and, no doubt, maybe a change of government or two. We thought it important to propose a mechanism that could ensure that all parties were locked in to supporting the delivery of an NDIS and, more than that, that there was a forum where questions about the implementation of an NDIS could be posed in a way that they would not be seen to be partisan or political and where legitimate questions that parliamentarians should ask could be asked in a forum where they would be seen for what they were: questions designed to help improve the implementation of an NDIS.
It is a matter of great regret that the Prime Minister has not accepted the offer of a joint parliamentary committee. It is an idea that has been very well received in the sector and that many families who have someone with a disability and many organisations that provide support in the disability sector would like to see. It is a matter of great regret that the government has not taken up the proposal of a non-partisan parliamentary committee to oversight the implementation and delivery of an NDIS.
I regret that Minister Evans did not provide an answer as to the government’s thinking about the implementation and rollout of the National Disability Insurance Scheme. But we will continue to ask those questions, not in a spirit of partisanship, but because these are legitimate questions that people in the sector want asked and are entitled to have answers to.