Speech by The Hon Bill Shorten MP

Members Statement on Disability

Location: Parliament House, Canberra

*Check against delivery*

I wish to draw the chamber’s attention to an ongoing problem with the coverage of disability services in Australia.

There continue to be wide areas of disparity and inequity in the availability of care and support for people who suffer or have sustained a catastrophic injury.

Each year approximately 800 Australians are catastrophically injured to the extent that they require lifetime care and support. Predominantly – more than 95 per cent – they are people who sustain traumatic spinal cord or brain injury.

This catastrophe impacts not only on the lives of the injured but on the lives of their families, who are often left to care for them.

As a brain injury manifests itself in combinations of physical, cognitive and behavioural impairments, the challenges and sacrifices confronting families – and in some cases ageing parents – can be immense.

The causes of injuries can be covered by some of the state and territory compulsory accident compensation and liability insurance systems, which cover motor vehicle, workplace, recreational and sporting accidents; medical incidents; and assault.

There are inconsistencies, however. The states absolutely do the best they can with the systems that have grown over time, but there are inconsistencies in benefit structures and arrangements between schemes and across jurisdictions, resulting in some of the 800 people being injured every year having appropriate lifetime care and support services, others being awarded multimillion dollar common-law lump-sum compensation payments, but others receiving nothing.

Some of the injury types are also significantly under-represented in government funded schemes, and hence many miss out on care through the welfare system.

Others double dip into welfare when their lump-sum compensation is exhausted.

In essence, we have a problem and a challenge in this country: that the nature of the injury is not what determines the adequacy of care – it is the manner in which the injury is incurred. I do believe that this nation has very good standards of workers compensation for people injured at work, and systems that are nearly as good for motor vehicle compensation.

However, with some other injuries – which are all too common, be they sporting or recreational injuries, injuries to victims of assault or, indeed, injuries arising out of medical procedures – there are too many people who, although they incur the same injuries as people in those earlier categories, because of the manner in which they have incurred the injury, actually do not receive the same care.

I believe that this is an appropriate matter to be addressed in a coordinated way across all of the states, and I do hope that in the future we are able to develop a proposition which sees us improving the standard of care for all people, based on nature of their injury and not on the manner in which they incurred their injury.