Media Release by Senator the Hon Jan McLucas

Coalition playing politics with people with disability

The Opposition is playing politics with an important reform to provide for the needs of people with severe disability.

They have broken a commitment to pass the Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs and Other Legislation Amendment (Budget and Other Measures) Bill 2010 in Parliament, which will make Special Disability Trusts more flexible, and encourage more people to use the Trusts.

Last week, Shadow Minister for Families, Housing and Human Services, Kevin Andrews, pledged Coalition support for the legislation, following Government amendments moved in the House of Representatives – “I appreciate the minister’s assistance in that regard so that these other important measures can pass through the Parliament.” (Hansard 18/11/2010)

And Shadow Minister for Disabilities, Carers and the Voluntary Sector, Senator Mitch Fifield, today said the Opposition “would do whatever was required to facilitate the passage of this legislation.” (Doorstop 25/11/2010)

Now the Opposition are refusing to support the passage of this bill without further amendment or delay, and are threatening the 1 January 2011 start date.

The Opposition has gone back on their word.

In the House of Representatives, the Opposition requested two schedules of the bill be deferred to allow further consideration by a Senate Inquiry.

To facilitate the passage of the rest of the bill – including the amendments to Special Disability Trusts – the Government agreed to this request and amended this bill in the House.

But now in the Senate, the Opposition has foreshadowed via Media Release further amendments that will delay passage of important reforms for people with disability and their families.

The Government has not seen the proposed amendments. This is a complex piece of legislation and amending it without sound advice could result in unforeseen consequences.

The Opposition has once again proved they are wreckers – happy to play politics with important issues that affect Australians.

The Government is ready to pass the bill. The Opposition’s manoeuvring shows extraordinary stubbornness.

The changes threatened by the Opposition’s game playing include:

  • People with disability will be able to work up to seven hours a week in the open labour market and still qualify as a beneficiary of a Trust;
  • The Trust will be able to pay for the beneficiary’s medical expenses, including membership costs for private health funds, and the maintenance expenses of assets and properties; and
  • The Trust will be able to spend up to $10,000 in a financial year on discretionary items not related to care and accommodation needs of the beneficiary to support social and community participation of the beneficiary.

Unless the Opposition keeps their word and agrees to pass the legislation, families and carers of people with disability will not be able to benefit from the Government’s reforms on 1 January 2011.