Mr HUSIC (Chifley—Government Whip) (13:30): We are not often placed in the position to be associated with something that will later be referred to as historic, but being a member of this parliament charged with ushering in the reality of the National Disability Insurance Bill and being able to bear witness to this is truly humbling. It is with great honour that I am able to rise in support of this bill, which takes us a step closer to something that so many in the community want to see happen—that is, the creation of the National Disability Insurance Scheme and the establishment, through this bill, of the agency that will be responsible for the provision of support for people with a disability and their families and their carers.
Disability is something that society has struggled to deal with for centuries. This takes nothing away from the millions of hours of love and devotion, dedicated care and support provided to people with a disability, their carers and families. People would acknowledge that society’s past record of dealing with people with a disability is not necessarily something to be proud of, and we should always find ways to improve the level of care and support provided. We should not judge well-intentioned people for past policies, but, as I said, we should try and find ways in which we can improve the level of support and care and potentially alleviate the concern and the anxiety about how people with a disability will be cared for not only now but in the years and decades ahead. What we can be proud of is that it is a sign of maturity of this nation that we are finally moving towards the establishment of this scheme with a start date in sight.
I have had many opportunities in my short time as a member of this place to meet people and hear stories of people with a disability and their families. People have said that in many cases disability is described as a lottery because it is extraordinarily random; it can impact any family; and there is absolutely no formula for predicting when and where it will occur. As parents we naturally focus our attention on children who may be born with a disability, but there are as many people who acquire a disability through the course of their life, who are not prepared for that and who require a great deal of support and care. People who suffer medical conditions or injury at any stage of life can suffer disability, as the people from Polio New South Wales explained to me. They told me stories of how they missed out on those vaccinations that transformed lives and had to grapple with the after-effects of polio. They are among the people who hope the NDIS will be able to give them some sort of comfort.
In decades past society’s approach to dealing with people with a disability was to have someone else look after them somewhere else, although this did not always occur and the quality of care was sometimes questionable. These days our approach is one of inclusion and participation. One only has to visit an Australian disability enterprise to see the enthusiasm that people with a disability bring to their workplace. These are people who enjoy the socialisation, the independence and the fulfilment that employment brings, together with the camaraderie. Nobody would question the merits of our modern approach to people with a disability but, as many parents tell me, it does come at a price. There are substantial costs involved in sending a child with a disability to school, providing them with a range of therapies, keeping them as active as their bodies allow them to be and providing them with the technology that aids their mobility and their communication. Without an insurance scheme, how do these families cope? How do they provide for their child? The simple answer is: they do what any parent does, and that is they sacrifice their holidays, shortcut on their purchases, buy used aids, take out loans. They would find any way to string things together to make life easier for their children.
This life’s lottery is not one that any of us would wish for. Finally, we are going to address the crying needs of families who care for and want the best for their kids, who by chance find themselves living with a disability. Those people who, cruelly, experience an accident that fundamentally transforms their lives will have care and support. For me, in many respects, the NDIS represents liberation from anxiety for people who wonder what will happen to the people in their care when they pass on. So many of us in this place have heard that expressed to us, have felt the anxiety in our own way and have sought to ensure that we as members of parliament can be involved in ushering in a scheme will liberate people from that level of anxiety.
From 1 July this year the dream of an insurance scheme which provides for people with a disability, their families and carers will finally begin in a number of trial sites across the country, and that has been welcomed wholeheartedly and with a great degree of joy. Although the Chifley electorate is not a trial site for the NDIS, I can inform the House that parents and carers of children with a disability who live in my electorate are enormously relieved and excited to see that somewhere this scheme is starting to become a reality so quickly. There is acceptance that if we are going to get this reform right, our approach to the transition of this scheme is a prudent one. It is, however, not a reform that the federal government can shoulder on its own. There is a vital role to be played by the states and territories, and all of us would encourage each of the premiers and chief ministers to fully embrace the NDIS and to find ways to make it work in every corner of the country.
Australia, arguably, has one of the best universal medical insurance schemes in the world, Medicare. When one looks at what took place over in the US in trying to get universal health care and at what happens here, the appreciation we have of Medicare increases hugely. Medicare has become a blueprint for similar schemes throughout the world, but it is applied nowhere better than here. When a Labor government first envisaged Medicare, there was debate in the community about the merits of sharing the costs of medical services.
But few would argue that Medicare has achieved all it was intended to in terms of equity and affordability, so we have had to act in other ways to ensure that health needs are met. The NDIS will deliver equity and affordability to families.
But the introduction of the NDIS will do more than simply spread the cost burden faced by those living with a disability. It will, for the first time, provide choice and control to people with a disability, their families and their carers. It will do this through what is described as a ‘person centred, self-directed approach with individualised funding’. It will also make it easier for people to find available support. It is rare for a public policy reform to have as big an impact on people’s lives as will be the case with the National Disability Insurance Scheme.
Over the course of the battle to get this scheme in place, I have had many opportunities to engage with local disability enterprises. In Chifley, for example, we are well serviced by enterprises such as AFFORD at Minchinbury and Endeavour Foundation Industries at Mount Druitt. Each of these enterprises has, on a number of occasions, welcomed me to events to raise awareness about disability and to call for the NDIS. I have even had the opportunity to work for a few hours in Endeavour’s food packaging facility at Mount Druitt as part of their ‘Walk a mile in their shoes’ campaign. I had the pleasure of going back there last year as host to the Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities and Carers, Senator McLucas, on a visit to that facility to meet with support staff and employees. We are both proud of the diversity of the work they do—we saw many products we use every day being packaged there. Senator McLucas took the opportunity to announce funding of $10,000 for each of the country’s 197 ADEs to improve the training qualifications of their workers with disability and support staff.
I am very pleased to be able to say that, in 2011, the Endeavour Foundation were runners up in the Australian Disability Enterprise Excellence Awards for their work in supporting employees with a disability. These ADEs perform a great service by employing people with a disability who find it difficult to work or maintain employment in the open labour market and who choose to work in an ADE. In doing so, they also become a platform from which people can then move into employment in the broader community. So they play a special role. More recently, we have seen the advent of disability employment brokers like Nova Employment and Ability Options, both of whom operate in our area and do terrific work. They work collaboratively with employers and prospective workers with a disability. It is this type of participation choice which the NDIS will provide to countless people with a disability.
Fundamentally, NDIS will bring people together. It will ensure that we all shoulder the load equally—the task of liberating people from the anxiety which exists around long-term care. As I said, one of the truly great things about this country, exemplified by what we have been able to do with Medicare, is that we are all willing to chip in for the care of others.
This is not going to come cheaply. It will require a major contribution. Providing the level of support needed to ensure we liberate people from the anxiety of long-term care has a potential cost of $15 billion a year. In time, I think we will need to think laterally about the way we fund the NDIS. Certainly there is the option of funding it directly out of consolidated revenue, but I also think that Australians recognise that the NDIS is about everyone chipping in and working together. I therefore think that people will be open to the idea of funding the NDIS in part through the Medicare levy. In time, I think that people will accept that. If we as a nation are to reach out and ensure that all people who have a disability are looked after—and if we need to find that money in a challenging financial environment—we should consider that option.
My position—admittedly the position of just one backbencher—is that, in time, both side of politics will need to lay down their partisan approach and look cooperatively at ways to finance and support the NDIS. I hope that we have the maturity and the resolve to work together, without recourse to politicking, to find ways to fund something which will be truly transformative and which, as I said at the start of my contribution, will in time be labelled as historic. There will be pressures, no doubt, on state and territory governments to find ways to finance their part of the NDIS package. They will, like us, need to make savings. They will, like us, need to find the money. They will, like us, need to stump up and find different, smarter ways to do things—but while ensuring that we have uniform systems for care delivery across the country. In that challenging financial environment, we need to consider whether there are other ways to tap into the generosity of Australians. Australians do want to see people looked after and cared for. There is that level of financing support there.
We have seen revenues drop by about $130 billion as a result of global economic conditions—which will not change any time soon. So it no surprise to anyone in this chamber that we will all face pressures. We have certainly faced them on this side. Those opposite have faced it—they too are finding that they are not able to maintain their commitment to deliver a surplus in 12 months. So the reality is that we are all faced with pressures. This is not a partisan point. This is the reality all of us in this place are confronted with. We will be required to find sources of funding. In their absence, we need to work off the best elements of the nature of the people of this great country. In the interests of a fair go, the people of Australia will give a little to help alleviate the situation of people facing enormous pressures.
Again, I come back to the point that it is rare for a parliamentarian to get the opportunity to be associated with a piece of legislation which will later be seen as historic. As I indicated in my opening remarks, it is humbling for us to be able to start on this path today. I know there are a lot of people across both sides of this chamber who are looking forward to the day they can see the difference the NDIS has made to the lives of their constituents and can see, in the faces of those constituents, the sense of relief they have gained from it.
The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr S Georganas ): Order! The debate is interrupted in accordance with standing order 43. The debate may be resumed at a later hour.