Federation Chamber - PRIVATE MEMBERS' BUSINESS - National Disability Insurance Scheme

15 October 2018

I rise today to support this motion on the NDIS. I thank the member for Lindsay for her advocacy for Australians living with a disability and her focus on ensuring they live a full, dignified life. The NDIS is the legacy of the Gillard Labor government, in particular the legacy of the work of Jenny Macklin, the member for Jagajaga, and Bill Shorten, the Leader of the Opposition.

The idea of disability care and support being delivered via insurance rather than a charity or welfare model was first looked at by the Whitlam government. In 1974 Whitlam declared:

Australians should not have to live in doubt or anxiety lest injury or sickness reduce them to poverty. We want to reduce hardships imposed by one of the great factors for inequality in society, inequality of luck.

People with disability and their families had to wait 40 years for another government to take up the fight. Labor's NDIS put people with a disability at the centre of the system and committed that it would lift some of the hard work from families and carers. It meant they knew that if something happened to them then their loved ones would be okay in the world.

Today the NDIS is helping more than 54,800 people who had not received any support before from either Commonwealth or state and territory governments. However, the NDIS is not working for everyone. Every day I hear from constituents who are struggling with the NDIS, many of whom have found that they actually have less support under the new structure. My constituents tell me that their questions to the NDIA go unanswered. They often require my office's advocacy to wade through the layers of bureaucracy to get the supports they or their loved ones need most. People with disability, their families and service providers all want a people-centred organisation, not a bureaucratic one. They do not want to wait on the phone for hours or have emails going unanswered or not have anyone locally to engage with and help fix problems. As the Productivity Commission observed last year, many of the problems are being created by a lack of staff and inadequate training.

We've also heard many cases of issues with the plans. Many people don't see a draft version of their plan before it's approved. Some participants are getting plans that are simply unrecognisable from their planning meeting. Another crucial gap I am seeing with the NDIS rollout is ensuring people with severe mental health issues get the support they require. These problems can and must be fixed. The government could start by removing the arbitrary staffing cap. It forces the scheme to rely on contractors and outsourcing, leading to delays and confusion. The cap had meant the agency had spent $145 million in contract and temporary staff, which included outsourcing the call centre functions at a cost of $63 million over two years. Labor have said we will remove the cap if we win government, but the Prime Minister needs to fix this now.

I also have in my electorate a wonderful organisation called Northern Support Services, who tell me the underfunding of the NDIS has severely hampered their ability to continue operating. This is worrying because the services they have provided for decades, and continue to provide to some of our communities' most vulnerable, are incredibly important. My own sister attends the Northern Support Services. I have served on their board in the past and I know what good they do, I know how closely they are knitted to the local community and I know how loved and valued they are. The way the NDIS is funded means it is impossible for them to continue operating as they do now, if at all. The group activities that my sister and many of her friends so love and that keep them connected and active will unfortunately be at risk due to massive underfunding.

The whole disability not-for-profit community sector, along with the unions representing the workers, are screaming out for funding reform that reflects the actual wages paid. Many workers in these wonderful organisations right across this country are paid well above the award, recognising their skill level and their experience, and many have bargained in good faith over the years for extra leave or better conditions. None of these are taken into account with the NDIS funding model, and none of the organisations wish to take these away from their loyal, hardworking employees, nor do they wish to inflict upon their clients and the people who use their services a casualised, unskilled, insecure workforce. The task now for everyone is to resolve the problems with the rollout of the scheme to ensure we get the best possible NDIS we can.