Address to the Kooyong Disability Forum
Old Kew Court House, Melbourne
4 July 2012
E & OE
Well, thank you very much Josh and thank you for organising today. You may have noticed, if you know Josh that he is ceaseless, that he is the parliamentary equivalent of the energiser bunny. There is no stopping Josh. Also great to be here with Steph, who does such a power of good work in Children with Disability Australia. Arrianne, who is such an accomplished young woman, which was recognised by being made a disability ambassador in 2011. And Bruce, who is very modest. Bruce, along with John Walsh from Sydney, they really are the two people who have been the intellectual driving force behind the concept of a National Disability Insurance Scheme, and Bruce really does deserve acknowledgement for that work.
Unlike most of our panellists, I came to this portfolio without having a personal experience with disability. I haven’t had that opportunity so I was very surprised to say the least when I discovered that despite being a first world country, despite being a wealthy country, we were providing, in many cases what is third world support for people with disabilities and their families. It’s always a shock to people who haven’t previously had exposure to the situation of Australians with disability.
I have developed, as a result of that a real passion for change in this portfolio area, and there is no portfolio that I would rather be in, so that’s either good news or bad news for people with disability, depending on your perspective.
We are on the cusp of something quite profound in Australia, if we get the NDIS right. I think there were two very significant observations by the Productivity Commission in their landmark report. One of those was that if you were designing what it is Government does from scratch, what should be the core business of government, one of the first things you would start with would be proper support for people with disability, rather than being an add-on, rather than being something the Government gets around to at the end of the day if it has a bit of money left over. It would be one of the first things you would start with, because surely, if there is to be a role for government in people’s lives, it is to provide support to those people who face additional challenges for reasons beyond their control. That should be the starting point for what should be government priorities.
The other very significant observation in the Productivity Commission report was that we need a new system which has the individual at the centre and in charge. At the moment, as everyone in this room knows, the individual, their family, they’re not in charge. They’re subject to waiting lists, they are subject to rationing, often they have very little say in who the provider of services and supports are. So that’s why the NDIS is so profound.
You will have seen, as you watch the news and read the newspapers that in the Federal Parliament, we don’t agree on everything, that there are a few issues of contention. But this is one area where all parties are in heated agreement that we need this to happen. And from the Opposition’s point of view, we’ve been supportive all the way through. Supportive of the initial reference to the Productivity Commission. Supportive of the interim report. Supportive of the final report. The Federal Council of our party, long ago, passed a motion calling for an NDIS, and we were also strongly supportive of the $1 billion which was announced in the Budget for the NDIS.
But I think it’s important as Bruce touched on, to recognise that as yet, there hasn’t been a full and complete commitment to an NDIS by the Government. The $1 billion which was announced in the budget, which covers the forward estimates, the four years for which budgets plan, that is less that the $3.9 billion that the Productivity Commission said is necessary of that four year period. So there’s not the full allocation. Also there hasn’t been a commitment to meet the Productivity Commission timeline for full implementation of an NDIS by 2018-2019. And we as a responsible opposition, within the context of broader bipartisanship, are asking the question of the Government as to where the balance of funds will come from, and if the path that has been chosen by the Government which differs from the Productivity Commission, whether that path can lead to full implementation by 2018-2019. So they’re questions that we’ve posed.
Because it is so important to elevate the NDIS beyond day to day partisanship, the Opposition have proposed a mechanism to try and ensure that. Implementation of an NDIS is going to span several Parliaments, several elections and possibly a change of government. So we want to have a mechanism that lock in all parties over that time frame and that can also elevate the NDIS beyond partisanship. So what we’ve proposed is a joint-parliamentary committee that would be co-chaired by both sides of politics to provide oversight for the NDIS implementation. We think that that would be the mechanism that could ensure that the NDIS doesn’t get caught in the day to day political ruck, that that would ensure that there is a forum in which questions could be asked about design, about implementation, and about eligibility, in a way that wouldn’t be seen to be petty partisan point scoring. I think it’s important that we have a forum where that can be done and I know that there is some concern amongst various elements of the sector and people with disability as to who is in, who is out and how you can have input into those discussions. So we think that would be a good mechanism to lock people in to provide a non-partisan forum for probing and critiquing NDIS.
Tony Abbott has written to the Prime Minister three times, offering the hand of bipartisanship and proposing that mechanism. The Prime Minister wrote back and said “no”. In the last sitting week, I moved a motion in the Senate, to establish this all-party, non partisan oversight committee, and I was very disappointed that both the Government and the Greens voted against the establishment of that committee. So while there is cross party support for an NDIS, and all parties want to see that happen, I think it’s important that as parliamentarians, we do more than just pay lip service to bipartisanship. I think we actually need to find practical expression for that, and a practical mechanism to give expression to that and to ensure that that bipartisanship continues. I don’t think we want an NDIS to be owned by any one side of politics, the NDIS should be owned by the Parliament as a whole. And that is certainly what I pledge myself to working towards.
If there does happen to be a change of Government and Tony Abbott is Prime Minister and I’m fortunate enough to be the Minister for this portfolio, there is something that you can take heart from, in the transition. Tony Abbott, to demonstrate his personal commitment to the NDIS, you may have heard of the annual Pollie Pedal that he does, where he rides a thousand kilometres each year, has done for ten years, to raise funds for a particular organisation. This year, he chose Carers Australia and raised $500,000. That’s good news, and that’s a practical expression of his personal commitment. But we can take heart, in the transition of government, that Tony has pledged that he will for the next two Pollie Pedals, again commit money to Carers Australia and again meet with carers and people with disability along the route. You should find some comfort in that.
But thank you for being here. I look forward to the Q and A, because as we look to prepare ourselves as an alternative government, as is the responsible thing to do as an Opposition, I could very well find myself in charge of implementing an NDIS. That does give me sleepless nights, but your thoughts on eligibility, on coverage, on issues that we should be aware of would be very useful. Thank you.