Senator FIFIELD: (Victoria-Manager of Opposition Business in the Senate) (17:54): by leave-In relation to the ministerial statement by Minister Macklin, I move:
That the Senate take note of the document.
Minister Macklin’s statement observes that there have been a number of significant developments in relation to the NDIS since the release of the Productivity Commission’s final report 12 months ago. Every government in Australia-Liberal and Labor, federal, state and territory-supports the NDIS. Every opposition in the country-Liberal and Labor, federal, state and territory-supports the NDIS. We have had the $1 billion which was announced in the budget over the forward estimates-money that the opposition supports. We have had the announcement of five launch sites-which, again, the opposition supports. We have had the appointment of the chief executive of the NDIS transition agency-again, an appointment that the opposition supports. This is all good and positive news, but there are a number of tough questions which do have to be asked and facts which do have to be faced up to in relation to the NDIS, none of which were covered in Minister Macklin’s statement. I will quickly take you through those, Mr Acting Deputy President.
We do not have an answer to the question as to how the first phase of the NDIS can be completed when the government has only allocated a quarter of the money that the Productivity Commission said was necessary for that first phase. The government has allocated $1 billion over the forward estimates, whereas the Productivity Commission said that $3.9 billion should be allocated. So we do not have an answer as to how that first phase can be completed with that underfunding. We also do not have an answer to the question as to whether the government is committed to meeting the Productivity Commission’s target deadline of 2018-19 for completion of the NDIS; we do not have an answer as to how the government would fund a full national rollout of the NDIS, and we do not have answers to even the most general questions about eligibility in relation to the NDIS, which is something that is particularly causing concern at the moment to people with sensory impairments. We did see a few days ago the government release some draft eligibility criteria, but they were very general and do not really shed much light as to eligibility for potential beneficiaries.
These are very reasonable questions which the opposition have put to the government, and I have to say that we have put them to the government in a very sober and polite fashion in this chamber during question time and in Senate estimates committees. Despite the fact that they are reasonable questions and are put in a courteous way, seeking information, each and every time we have asked those questions what is thrown back in our face by the government, quite wrongly and erroneously, is that the opposition is not really committed to or in favour of an NDIS. That is complete rubbish. There is a pattern here every time we ask a question, and that pattern is an adversarial one. The government should not be adopting an adversarial approach in an area that should be marked by cooperation. Even when the opposition proposes a mechanism to work through some of these questions that I have posed and some of these issues that I have raised, whenever we propose a mechanism that can do that in a nonpartisan way the government again accuse us of really being against the NDIS.
The mechanism which the opposition has proposed as a circuit-breaker is the establishment of a joint parliamentary committee, chaired by both sides of politics, to oversee the implementation of the NDIS. The NDIS’s implementation will span several parliaments, and we need a mechanism that can lock in the support of all political parties over that time frame and that can provide a forum where questions of the nature that I have raised in relation to eligibility, funding and design can be asked in a way that is not seen to be partisan-a forum where there is no reason why the government should feel threatened. It is important to get this right. We need a forum where these questions can be asked to make sure the NDIS is the best that it can be.
The Leader of the Opposition, Mr Abbott, has written to the Prime Minister five times proposing this mechanism. The Prime Minister has to date given an unequivocal no. I have moved a motion in this chamber to establish this joint parliamentary oversight committee and I was very disappointed that the government and the Greens combined together to vote that motion down. And I am not the only person who was disappointed; there are large numbers of people who have disabilities who were looking forward to the NDIS and were disappointed. There are a large number of organisations who support people with disability and who advocate for people with disability who were disappointed that that motion was voted down by Labor and the Greens.
What the Prime Minister and the government have done is, in effect, to reject the hand of bipartisanship. The government pays lip service to bipartisanship in relation to the NDIS, but at every opportunity to give that meaning the government says no. But there is some good news: the government does have an opportunity to reconsider. Mr Christensen, our colleague in the other place, has introduced a similar motion in the House to establish this oversight committee, and the other place will soon have the opportunity to vote in support of that. I hope that the government and the Greens reconsider and that the Independent members in the other place will support that motion.
I suspect the government’s hesitation in supporting the motion here is because they are worried about sharing credit for the NDIS, but I have to say this is not about sharing credit. The government of the day will always get credit if they do something good-as they should. What we are putting forward is an entirely different proposition. It is not about sharing credit; it is about sharing ownership. I do not think the government should allow some misplaced sense of policy vanity or an excessive concept of proprietorship to prevent them from supporting the motion that will establish the joint parliamentary committee.
If there were any further demonstrated needed of the desirability of a mechanism to elevate the NDIS beyond partisanship, it was provided by the recent COAG meeting of heads of government. We saw there a Prime Minister who had the choice to treat the states and territories as partners or to treat them as adversaries. She chose to treat them as adversaries. That was something that surprised me because the only way an NDIS will become a reality is if the NDIS is viewed as a cooperative venture between the Commonwealth and all state governments. The Prime Minister sought to treat that COAG meeting not as a cooperative exercise but rather as some sort of industrial negotiation, and we will never see an NDIS for so long as a Prime Minister treats the NDIS negotiations as an industrial venture.
The states bring enormous goodwill towards the NDIS. Every state and every territory wants to see an NDIS. The states and territories even before COAG committed that they would put the money they currently spend on disabilities into an NDIS as per the Productivity Commission vision. My message to the Prime Minister is simply this. She said a few days ago when she was in Perth that she was going to fight for the NDIS; but, Prime Minister, there is no-one fighting you. Everyone wants the NDIS. Stop picking fights, start talking, start delivering. Everyone wants this. Make it happen.