Address to the Australian Orthotic and Prosthetic National Congress 2013
Rydges Hotel, Swanston Street, Melbourne
23 August 2013
E & OE
Well, thank you so much Harvey. It’s good to see you. Can I also acknowledge Leigh Clarke the Executive Officer, and my colleague Alan Griffin, the Cabinet Secretary, or as he is known around the traps in Parliament House “Griffo”. It’s good to see you. And I know given it’s an election campaign we’re not meant to say things like this but, I should acknowledge that Alan was a distinguished Minister for Veterans’ Affairs in a previous incarnation and through that role he has a very good understanding of a number of the issues in the area in which you work. Can I also acknowledge Mary Hawkins from the NDIS Agency. I thought Mary would be looking extremely tired and haggard given all that the NDIS Agency, is having to do at the moment, but it is good to see you. And I know you’re not meant to have favourites, but in the disability portfolio I do have a few, and one of them is here with us at the moment, and that’s Mel Noonan from Limbs for Life. It’s great to see you Mel. For those of you who know her, she is an energizer bunny. You spend a little bit of time with Mel and you feel completely exhausted. It’s great to be here with all of you.
I love my portfolio. I’m really lucky to have the gig that I do and the opportunity that I do. And the reason I love the portfolio is because it’s hard to think of another area where there is greater change needed, in terms of policy. And it’s hard to think of another area where it’s possible to make a greater difference to the quality of life of so many Australians. And I said to Tony Abbott our leader, after the last election, that I wanted to stay in the portfolio. And part of the reason for that is, I think one of the things that we can offer in the portfolio is continuity. One of the frustrations of people with disability and those who work in the portfolio is no sooner do you train someone up who is a frontbencher on either side of politics, who has the disabilities portfolio, but they move on to another portfolio. And so people with disabilities, their families, carers, and the organisations that support them, have to start again educating the holder of the portfolio. So I’m determined to stay in it.
I just want to make a few things clear, at the outset about the portfolio. One is that I’ve always sought to bring as far as is possible, a non-partisan approach to it. People who have disabilities, those who work with them and support them, aren’t interested in any partisan point scoring when it comes to disabilities. They just want a better deal. And it’s our duty and obligation as members of parliament to deliver that deal. So I’ve always tried to elevate the portfolio, and the NDIS in particular, above the partisan fray. And I think all parties in the Parliament have done a pretty good job at doing that.
For our part, as the Federal Coalition, if we’re successful later this month, will honour all of the agreements that the Commonwealth has with the States and Territories for the eight launch sites. We will honour the agreements that the Commonwealth has with the States and Territories for full jurisdiction-wide rollout by 2019-20. We will maintain the announced funding, and we are committed to seeing the NDIS delivered in the timeframe that has been agreed between the jurisdictions of complete rollout by 2019-20. Our support for the NDIS is unequivocal.
There are a few things that we’ve committed to do if we are a new government. One of those is to establish a joint Parliamentary Committee, chaired by both sides of politics, to oversee the implementation of the NDIS. And the idea of having a Joint Committee chaired by both sides of politics is really two fold. The first is to have a mechanism that can lock in cross party support and that can be a demonstration and a symbol to the community of all parties working together for a common purpose. The second purpose of the Joint Parliamentary Oversight Committee is to ensure that there is an intensive parliamentary scrutiny and oversight over the full period of NDIS implementation. And also, so there is a forum where issues and questions can be raised in way that isn’t seen to be partisan. In the ordinary, course of events, the Opposition of the day, whoever they may be, when they pose questions its usually seen as a criticism or attack on the government of the day. I think it’s important that there is a forum where legitimate questions can be raised, by the Opposition, by minor parties, even by government backbenchers, in a way that isn’t seen to be partisan or political in motivation.
There has been a fair bit of talk about the name DisabilityCare Australia. It would be fair to say that it hasn’t been entirely well received by every person with a disability. It doesn’t, I don’t think, capture the essence of what the NDIS is meant to be. The scheme is meant to be about empowering the individual. Having them at the centre and in charge. People with disabilities don’t want to be objects of care. They want to be in charge. And so if there is a change of government, we will revert back to the name NDIS until such time as someone can come up with a better name. But DisabilityCare Australia, as a name, I don’t think encapsulates the person-centred agenda and objective of the NDIS.
Something else that we want to do in government is put a much greater focus on reducing the level of unemployment of people with disability. If you have a disability you’re probably twice as likely to be unemployed. At the moment responsibility for issues and policies and programs for people with disability and their employment are split between two portfolios. Supported employment, Australian Disability Enterprises fall under the Disabilities Minister, and FACHSIA. Open employment falls under the Employment, Education and Workplace Relations portfolio and the Employment Minister. What we want to do is bring all the elements together under the Disabilities Minister, so that the NDIS, supported employment and open employment for people with disabilities all come under the Disabilities Minister. So we can give a much more intensive focus to reducing the level of unemployment of people with disabilities.
Now, there are some things that I worry about with the NDIS, and there are some things that I don’t worry about. Let me start with the things that I don’t worry about. I don’t worry about a lack of resources for the NDIS. At full rollout in 2019-20, the NDIS will be a $22 billion scheme. Now, that’s significant. Every side of politics is completely committed to seeing that happen. So we don’t need to be concerned that the government of the day, whoever they may be, won’t allocate the adequate resources. The other thing I don’t worry about is political will. I think the community desire for the NDIS is now such that the will of all political parties is there to ensure that it happens. There are a few things that, as a potential minister, I do spend a bit of time at night lying awake worrying about. One of those is the issue of expectations about the scheme. Expectations are extraordinarily high. I think part of what has fuelled that, if I may say, has been some of the TV ads that we’ve seen on the airwaves about the NDIS that haven’t provided any information about eligibility, that haven’t provided any detail about how the scheme will operate. I think any information that is conveyed by government in relation to the NDIS has to be factual, it has to be unadorned and it has to be targeted primarily initially in launch sites, and then in areas immediately preceding the further rollout of the NDIS. We’ve got to get detailed, factual information to people. There are, as you know, about 4 million Australians who have some form of disability. The NDIS will provide support to 460,000 of those people. So it’s very important that government is very careful in being upfront when it comes to what the scheme will do, what the scheme won’t do, who the scheme will support and what the supports will be for those who aren’t participants in the scheme.
The other issue is that of governance. It’s not possible to overestimate the importance of getting the governance arrangements of this scheme right. And it’s going to be a big focus if I find myself having the privilege of being the minister. The other issue, and this is a big one, that worries me, is workforce planning. At the moment, there are about 70,000 people who work in the portfolio, who work in the sector. That’s about 35,000 people on an EFT basis. The NDIS, given we’re going to see essentially a doubling of the resources in the sector, will see a doubling of the number of people who work in the sector. This is going to be one of the biggest peacetime mobilisations that there has ever been. So getting the right people with the right qualifications, at the right time is going to be an enormous challenge and it’s one of the reasons why we would put in place a disability and carer industry council so that we can work very closely with the industry to seek their guidance as to how best to plan for a massive expansion in the disability sector. And the fourth area that I do worry about, that is the interface and interfaces between the NDIS and the health system, the NDIS and the age care sector. And as you know, the way that people get orthotic and prosthetic supports varies widely, state by state. The NDIS will to some extent bring a national approach to that, but there will still be a myriad of state-based schemes and arrangements for those that aren’t participants in the scheme. So there are a lot of issues to work through there.
If I am the minister, I’m not going to bring a proprietorial or defensive approach to the NDIS. It’s so important that we learn lessons from the launch sites. There will be things that we haven’t conceived of, there will be things that we haven’t planned for, there will be things that we haven’t thought of. So, we all have to be prepared to make changes to the NDIS scheme design as we go along. I don’t think it is going to be possible for the minister in the implementation phase of the scheme to be too focused on the detail, to be too involved in the detail. This isn’t an area where the minister of the day can simply lay out a broad agenda and say to the department, the bureaucracy, over to you now. The minister of the day is going to have to be extremely involved. And I think one of the things to guard against and to be careful of is, to not get too hung up on design elegance. We’ve got to take a very practical approach to the NDIS. Our focus has got to be on what is practical and what actually works. Rather than looking to maintain the elegance of the design of the scheme. And that’s going to be particularly true in areas like the Barkly region, which is one of the launch sites from the middle of next year, in the Northern Territory which has a significant indigenous population. We’ve got to be practically focused and always keep our eyes on outcomes.
Can I thank you for the opportunity to be with you today. Many of the answers to the questions that I’ve raised, many of the answers to those four areas that I worry about are going to come from that side of the lectern. They’re not going to come from this side. It’s those who work with people with disabilities, those who are providing support and services and people with disability themselves who are going to provide the answers for how to make the NDIS ultimately a success. I look forward to working with you, in one capacity or another, to making it real.