Address to the National Disability Services Employment Forum
Pan Pacific Hotel, Perth
7 September 2012
E & OE
Thank you very much for inviting me to address you this morning. I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge Tim Walton, President of National Disability Services (NDS) and Dr Ken Baker, Chief Executive Officer of NDS.
This morning I would like to touch on two issues. Firstly, I to give a report card on where I see the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). And then I’ll cover some of my thoughts on supported employment.
NATIONAL DISABILITY INSURANCE SCHEME
First to the NDIS. There have been significant developments over the last twelve months since the release of the Productivity Commission’s final report.
Every Government in Australia Liberal and Labor, Federal, State and Territory supports the NDIS.
Every Opposition in Australia Liberal and Labor, Federal, State and Territory supports the NDIS.
We’ve had $1 billion in the Budget over the forward estimates. Money that the Opposition supports.
We’ve had the announcement of five launch sites. Launch sites that the Opposition supports.
We’ve had the appointment of a Chief Executive for the NDIS Transition Agency. An appointment the Opposition supports.
This is all positive news. And it won’t surprise those of you who know me that I say that. No one has tried harder than me to focus on the positives or, as the Americans say, to work across the aisle. And you know that I have been at pains to bring a non-partisan approach to my portfolio, particularly to the NDIS.
But there are tough questions that need to be asked and some facts to face up to.
Let me take you through some of these.
We don’t have an answer to the question as to how the first phase of the NDIS can be completed when the Government has allocated $2.9 billion less than the Productivity Commission said was necessary.
We don’t have an answer as to whether the Government is committed to the Productivity Commission’s target completion date of 2018-19.
We don’t have an answer as to how the Government would fund a full national roll out of the NDIS.
We don’t have answers to even the most general questions about eligibility issues which, at the moment, are particularly concerning people with sensory impairment.
These are reasonable questions, but when we ask soberly and politely in the Parliament, the Government accuse us of being against the NDIS.
There is a pattern here. The Government has adopted an adversarial approach in an area that should be marked by cooperation.
And when we propose to the Government a mechanism to work through these questions and issues in a non-partisan forum we are again accused of being against the NDIS.
This is disappointing. We need a circuit breaker. Which is why Tony Abbott put to the Prime Minister the proposal to establish a joint parliamentary committee to be chaired by both sides of politics to oversee the implementation of the NDIS.
This would serve as a mechanism to elevate the NDIS beyond partisanship. But it would also serve as a forum where questions about timetable, funding, eligibility and design could be raised and worked through.
We need a forum where the questions I have flagged can be raised in a way that isn’t seen as partisan. Where the Government doesn’t feel threatened.
The NDIS is a complex venture. The implementation will span several parliaments. The NDIS warrants the scrutiny to ensure it is the best it can be.
Tony Abbott has written to the Prime Minister on four occasions putting this proposition. The Prime Minister has responded with an unequivocal “no”.
I put a motion to establish this committee to a vote on the floor of the Senate. Unfortunately Labor and the Greens combined to defeat it.
The Prime Minister has rejected the hand of bipartisanship.
I suspect the Government is worried about sharing credit for the NDIS. But this isn’t about sharing credit. The Government of the day will always get the credit if they do something good. This is about all parties and the parliament sharing ownership. It’s a different proposition all together.
Neither policy vanity nor an excessive sense of proprietorship should get in the way of all parties working together to get this done.
But the Prime Minister has the opportunity to think again. My Queensland colleague George Christensen has moved in the House of Representatives the same motion to establish the Committee. It should be voted on next week. I hope the Government reconsiders. I hope it will enjoy their support.
And if any further demonstration was required to prove the need for a non-partisan mechanism, it was at COAG. The Prime Minister had the choice at COAG to treat the states as partners or to treat them as adversaries. She chose the latter.
The NDIS will only come about if it is the collective venture of all Australian Governments. We will never see an NDIS if the Prime Minister continues to treat COAG like an industrial negotiation.
If the Prime Minister had adopted a cooperative attitude and risen above partisanship at COAG, she could have reached agreement much sooner. The Productivity Commission funding vision was for the States to put into the NDIS the money they currently spend on disability, the Commonwealth to do the same and the Commonwealth to meet the difference between current funds and the annual cost of a full NDIS. The Commonwealth walked away from the Productivity Commission funding vision.
It’s also worth noting that the Productivity Commission never envisaged every state hosting a launch site and not hosting one is no impediment to taking part in a full national roll out. Nevertheless, Western Australia is running its own trial using NDIS principles and is still happy to partner with the Commonwealth. And Queensland supports an NDIS, is keen to be part of a full national roll out and is also trialling NDIS principles.
All states want to be part of a full NDIS roll out.
The Prime Minister said here in Perth two days ago that she would fight for the NDIS. Prime Minister. There’s no one fighting you. Everyone wants the NDIS. Everyone wants to work together.
My message for the Prime Minister on the NDIS is this. Stop picking fights. Start delivering.
The States are willing. And our offer for an NDIS parliamentary oversight committee remains on the table.
So where are we at with the NDIS?
With the NDIS, to be blunt, we’ve got what I call a half Gonski.
If a full Gonski is what you have when you have a grand plan, no detail and no money. Then a half Gonski is what you have when you have a grand plan, a little bit of detail and a little bit of money.
But whether a full Gonski or a half Gonski, a cynic might surmise that the objective is the same. To demonstrate just enough activity to convince people of ones bona fides.
Up until recently, I had believed the Government was sincere in its desire to introduce an NDIS.
I now have my doubts.
I don’t doubt the sincerity of some of the NDIS champions in the Labor Party.
But I do doubt the Prime Minister. And I doubt her Government.
I have heard the cock crow three times.
First. The Prime Minister rejected our proposal for a cross-party oversight committee. Unlike Labor, we don’t propose committees in areas of fundamental disagreement. We propose them in areas of agreement. The Prime Minister doesn’t want agreement because it doesn’t suit her NDIS narrative. An NDIS will not happen without a deep and enduring cross-party consensus.
Second. The Prime Minister attempted to scapegoat state Liberal governments at COAG. I can’t help but wonder what would John Howard have done in a similar situation? He’d have personally negotiated with then Premiers Beattie and Carr in the national interest. An NDIS will not happen without a trusting relationship between heads of government on the issue of the NDIS.
Third. The Budget. The Prime Minister only allocated one quarter of the funding required for the first phase of the NDIS. If she had provided funding certainty in the Budget we would have welcomed it. Throw into this mix $120 billion of unfunded propositions, like Gonski, and I now seriously worry that the Government has no intention of fully funding the NDIS.
Will Gonski and dental trump the NDIS? The Government can’t do it all. If full allocation for the NDIS is not made in the next budget, we will have our answer.
Let’s be clear. It is the Government that is rejecting a co-operative and non-partisan approach to the NDIS.
Our support for the NDIS remains undiminished. Our offer for a joint oversight committee stands. And in the absence of a joint parliamentary committee we will use the available tools to scrutinise each aspect of what the Government does or does not do in relation to an NDIS. We won’t be granting the Government a leave pass from scrutiny.
We believe the Productivity Commission’s timetable is achievable with prudent government and good economic management.
And we stand ready to work with the Government to implement the Productivity Commission’s recommendations as quickly as possible. But the ball is in their court.
Thank you for your indulgence in allowing me some time on the NDIS. But I felt you were entitled to a frank assessment.
Employment of people with disability and particularly Australian Disability Enterprises (ADEs) are the favourite part of my portfolio. The two things I most enjoy doing as a member of parliament are visiting schools and visiting ADEs. It doesn’t matter how cynical or world weary I feel. That all washes off me when I visit a school or an ADE.
I know there have been threats to ADEs and their predecessors over the years as debates about the relative merits of supported versus open employment have raged. There have been questions raised about the appropriateness of ADEs as the philosophical trend in employment and education has shifted from special to mainstream.
For me, that debate has always seemed a little pointless. Mainstream or open employment is good. But it will never be for everyone. It should always be about the individual and what is right for them.
I want to be very clear. As long as I am in the portfolio, I will always fight for ADE’s. There will always be a place for ADEs under my watch.
I have also found the debate about what is an ADE unnecessary. Are they a business or are they a social support organisation? They are both. They are unique organisations, They face challenges. Just breaking even is often a major achievement.
There was a little bit of positive news in the Budget for ADE’s. But still no solution for long term viability.
The vision for supported employment document was meant to flesh out what the future might look like.And there is much that is worthy and laudable in it. But it is just an aspirational statement. There are no plans behind it or decisions that flow from it.
To be frank, I am a little over strategies and vision statements. But a couple of things did catch my eye in this vision document.
First was the sentence “By 2022 there will still be specialised organisations that have their origins in Australian Disability Enterprises…” It may be harmless statement on organisational evolution, but I wonder if there is more behind it.
The second thing in the vision that caught my eye were a number of aspirational statements that, although worthy, could be unrealistic.
A few examples:
“The number of working age people with disability holding an AQF qualification or higher will be the same as the general working age population”
“The average hours of work for people with disability receiving employment support will be the same as the wider workforce”
I’m not entirely sure such aspirations are grounded in the experience of ADEs.
It was with some concern that I saw the sort of sentiments from the vision statement reflected in FAHCSIA’s new funding agreement in the form of aspirational Activity Performance Indicators (APIs).
It concerns me that there are requirements in a contract, in a funding agreement that are aspirational. ADE boards and CEO’s take their responsibilities seriously. They take agreements for funding that they have signed seriously.
I know FAHCSIA say these indicators won’t be enforced. But something is either part of an agreement or it isn’t. I don’t like the ambiguity.
The other thing that concerns me about these aspirations is whether they are realistic and properly understand the situation of many supported employees. And what are the unintended consequences if these indicators are followed?
Let me be specific more specific.
API that 50% of supported employees across all outlets should have certificate 1 or higher by the end of the agreement. This is difficult for many with an intellectual impairment.
API that 5% of employees by the end of the agreement should exit to open employment. This implies that supported employment is not, for some, a good outcome for some people. It also doesn’t appreciate that people have to in effect give up their supported place when seeking open employment.
API that 90% of supported employees by the end of the agreement will receive an annual average wage increase by more than the percentage increase in Average Ordinary Weekly Earnings or who already earn the national minimum wage. This is not grounded in the reality of running a business.
API target of 30% of supported employees across all outlets working full time. This will be a challenge with ageing employees and the absence of a retirement program.
API average number of hours worked per week by supported employees across all outlets should be 26 hours per week. This could reduce employment for people who can’t work more than 10 or 15 hours per week.
API DEA funding as a percentage of total revenue to be 40% or less. This is hard to measure and it’s an arbitrary figure that doesn’t recognise the variety of ADEs.
I’m also keen to see if we can simplify funding agreements further, simplify audits and adopt more of a risk management approach rather than a risk minimization approach. Where the risk is low, Government should adopt a light touch.
There are just a couple of issues I would like to touch on in closing.
I know there is great interest in the KPMG work on options for funding ADEs. I am aware of the concerns with both models floated. The element that jumps out at me as problematic is funding by industry or commercial activity.
Anyway, I look forward to seeing the option three.
Finally, the issue of supported employee retirement. There has been the pilot. It hasn’t led to anything in particular.
The NDIS ultimately will provide a better opportunity to address these retirement issues as ADE’s and day programmes and other options come under the NDIS providing greater flexibility and the opportunity for solutions to be more easily worked through.
But I do recognise that 2018-19 is a long time to wait and that we need to find better options sooner.
I also recognise that the NDIS will change the relationship between supported employees and ADE’s. There will be, in effect, a contractual relationship between supported employee and ADE as well as an employer-employee relationship. This will need to be carefully worked through to preserve the integrity of the employer-employee relationship.
In closing, can I thank the organisations here and NDS for your continual education of me as portfolio holder. As I have said before, one of the problems has been a lack of continuity with portfolio holders on both sides of politics. No sooner has the sector trained up someone, but they are shifted to another portfolio. I hope my tenure helps to address this situation. I look forward to continuing to work with you.