Speech by Senator the Hon Jan McLucas

Senate Summing Up Speech, National Disability Insurance Scheme Bill 2013

Location: Parliament House Canberra

Today we are making history.

Today we move, here in the Senate, to legislate a National Disability Insurance Scheme.

At present, most people with disability in Australia can expect to face a lifelong battle to achieve what the rest of us take for granted: they struggle to get the appropriate support to get out of bed, to get support for personal care with dignity, to leave their home if they have one, to get to school or work, to get a job, to be included and valued and to be part of the community.

We know we have to do better because people with a disability deserve a fair go. We know that creating a more inclusive society is the right and decent thing to do and today, here in the Senate, we are taking a critical step in supporting people with disability to live their lives the way they want—supporting them in achieving their social and economic aspirations by having a truly inclusive Australia.

Gone will be the days of pleading for assistance and having to describe one’s circumstances in the worst possible light—a truly demoralising experience.

Gone will be the cruel postcode lottery that currently exists.

We will replace this with dignity and respect.

We will transform disability services within Australia by building the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

It is a scheme that recognises that all people live within families and communities and this will be considered throughout the planning processes. The scheme will support individuals with disability to make informed decisions and therefore maintain these strong, resilient families and communities, where real choices of service provider can be made to deliver client focused and tailored services.

To reach this point, to stand here today before the Senate with this bill, is a historic moment—a moment that has not just happened overnight. This has a history that dates back to the Whitlam Labor government.

Forty years ago Prime Minister Whitlam sought to introduce a national compensation scheme, a fact that resonates with one of my advisers here today. And now, under another reformist Labor Prime Minister, we are here today to finish the job.

I have had the privilege of being party to some of the steps that got us here. In opposition I moved, on a number of occasions, a reference to inquire into the operation of the Commonwealth State Territory Disability Agreement, and was finally successful in 2006. This report was handed down in February 2007 and, once Labor formed government in November 2007, we got on with the job of implementing some of the recommendations.

Establishing the new National Disability Agreement with dramatic increases in funding, focused outcomes and deliverables for disability programs and developing the National Disability Strategy were included in those recommendations and I am proud to say that, in true Labor fashion, we have delivered.

In July 2008 we signalled to the world our commitment to improving the lives of people with disability when we ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. In Australia we have been working to fulfil our obligations under the UN convention to ensure that the mainstream service systems are focused on the principles of inclusion.

In 2011, for the first time in our history, all governments—local, state, territory and our federal government—agreed to a National Disability Strategy, a unified, national approach to breaking down barriers faced by Australians with disability.

Since this time we have been paving the way for the National Disability Insurance Scheme, a revolutionary reform to the way we provide care and support in our country.

The NDIS has been the goal of so many people with disability, their families and carers and the disability service sector for so many years.

You have worked so hard and today is your day.

Today we salute your drive and determination, your patience and persistence and your plain hard work.

There are many people we need to thank for their role in this long journey: members of the National People with Disabilities and Carer Council; the Productivity Commission, notably Commissioner Patricia Scott and Associate Commissioner John Walsh; the National Disability Insurance Scheme Advisory Group; the members of the four expert working groups; the National Disability and Carer Alliance; and all our peak disability and carers bodies.

Thank you to Every Australian Counts, including the state bodies, the community campaigners and of course the 154,654 Australians who have signed up to this campaign; to the 674 people who have had their say online via ndis.gov.au forums; and to all those people with disability, their family members and carers, and their service providers and advocates who have attended any one of the 70-plus forums that Minister Macklin and I have held across the country.

I also take this opportunity to put on the record my thanks to Senator Claire Moore and the members of the Community Affairs Legislation Committee for their work in recent months, talking to people right across the country and delivering a constructive and informative report.

In doing so I also thank the people who made the almost 1,600 submissions—again, we have heard you.

Many tens of thousands of Australians have had a part in designing the NDIS and it shows.

To each and every one of you: you have made a significant contribution to this historic reform.

Australia will be a better place for everyone because of your efforts and for that I thank you.

The National Disability Insurance Scheme will be an insurance scheme for all Australians that will provide care and support services based on need to any Australian with a significant or profound disability, regardless of how they acquired that disability, in much the same way as all Australians have access to social security and universal healthcare systems that provide entitlement to services based on need.

This bill establishes the framework of the National Disability Insurance Scheme and the National Disability Insurance Scheme Launch Transition Agency.

It will enable the scheme to be launched and the agency to be established in five sites across Australia from July 2013.

The first stage of the scheme will benefit around 26,000 people with disability and their families and carers living in South Australia, Tasmania, the Australian Capital Territory, the Hunter region in New South Wales and the Barwon area of Victoria.

The scheme established by this bill will transform the lives of people with disability and those of their families and carers.

For the first time they will have their needs met in a way that truly supports them in living with choice and dignity. It will bring an end to the tragedy of services denied or delayed and instead offer people with disability the care and support they need over their lifetimes.

As was found by the Productivity Commission in its extensive inquiry, and I quote:

The current disability support system is underfunded, unfair, fragmented, and inefficient, and gives people with a disability little choice and no certainty of access to appropriate supports.

It needs to be fixed and it needs to be fixed now, and this bill will take a critical step in doing just that.

Every 30 minutes, on average, someone in Australia is diagnosed with a significant disability.

This could be any of us, as disability does not discriminate.

Only those with considerable wealth could possibly afford the costs of lifetime care that are required in response. Most Australians with a disability cannot carry this responsibility alone, nor should they be left to.

This bill will implement the first stage of a nationwide, demand-driven system of care, tailored to the needs of each individual and established on a durable, long-term basis.

The bill reflects the extensive work on design, funding and governance undertaken with states and territories, with people with disability, their families and carers, and with other key stakeholders, work which is ongoing as we continue to build and refine the scheme.

The current funding model, based on historical annual budget allocations, will be replaced by an insurance approach based on actuarial analysis of need and future costs.

The scheme will respond to each individual’s goals and aspirations for their lifetime, affording certainty and peace of mind for people with disability and their carers alike.

The National Disability Insurance Scheme Launch Transition Agency will work with people to plan and to take account of their individual circumstances and needs. The scheme will give people the care and support that is objectively assessed as being reasonable and necessary over the course of their lifetime.

The bill sets out the objects and principles under which a National Disability Insurance Scheme will operate including giving people choice and control over the care and support they receive and giving effect, in part, to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

It sets out the process for a person becoming a participant in the scheme, how participants develop a personal, goal based plan with the agency and how reasonable and necessary supports will be assured to participants.

People will be able to decide for themselves the type of care and support they receive and choose how they want to manage those supports. They will be able to access assistance from local coordinators, should they wish, and early intervention therapies and supports will be offered where they will improve a person’s functioning or slow, or prevent, the progression of their disability over their lifetime.

The bill also provides that the agency will be responsible for the provision of support to people with disability, their families and carers.

Again, I thank all of those who have contributed so far to this important debate.

Some amendments have been made to the bill in the House of Representatives to address decisions made by the Council of Australian Governments, other agreements negotiated with the states and territories, and from ongoing engagement with people with disabilities, their families, carers, advocates and services providers.

Those amendments also responded to some of the matters raised in submissions to the Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee during its inquiry into the bill.

Further amendments will be moved by the government here in the Senate.

These amendments respond further to the recommendations in the Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee’s report on the bill, tabled last week. For example, one amendment revises the objects clause of the bill to reflect Australia’s international human rights obligations more strongly and to ensure that this clause operates in conjunction with other laws.

A further amendment will recognise the importance of advocacy in the lives of people with a disability.

In closing, I thank many departmental officials from FaHCSIA, including those working for the agency, Prime Minister and Cabinet, and other departments who have been engaged in the design process.

Your work has been enormous.

I also thank those state and territory officials from across Australia whose work has helped us to get to this point.

This bill will be an enormous first step in bringing equality to people with disability, their families and carers.

Our government will continue to work with people with a disability, and their families and carers, as we continue to establish a National Disability Insurance Scheme.

I thank all senators who have spoken in this debate for their support of this historic legislation and commend the bill to the Senate.