Wednesday, 21 June 2017
National Disability Insurance Scheme Amendment (Quality and Safeguards Commission and Other Measures) Bill 2017; Second Reading
I am pleased to be speaking on the National Disability Insurance Scheme Amendment (Quality and Safeguards Commission and Other Measures) Bill 2017. This is a very important piece of legislation. Labor does support the development of a strong quality and safeguards framework for the National Disability Insurance Scheme. This type of framework is required if we are to see the proper protection of people with disability. We of course want to see people with disability prevented from experiencing harm that arises from poor quality or unsafe supports or services under the National Disability Insurance Scheme. This will be vital to the long-term success of the NDIS.
The NDIS, of course, was created by Labor in 2013. It represents a really dramatic shift from services delivered largely under block-funded contractual relationships between providers and Commonwealth, state and territory governments, as the funders, to a situation where people with disability are the purchasers and consumers of services from a diverse market, to better meet—and this is the important thing—the needs and choices of people with disability. This bill is an acknowledgement that the existing governance arrangements will not be adequate by the time the NDIS reaches full rollout in 2019-20. It is the case that the current arrangements will remain in place during the transition years.
The bill establishes an independent national commission to protect and prevent people with disability from experiencing harm arising from poor quality or unsafe supports or services under the NDIS. At full scheme of the NDIS, the commission will be responsible for overseeing quality supports and services for people with disability who are receiving those NDIS supports and services. The bill's explanatory memorandum states that the primary focus of the commission will be regulating NDIS service providers to make sure that NDIS participants—that is, people with disability—receive the standard of service that they deserve.
Schedule 1 of the bill relates to the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission. Specifically it will establish the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission as an independent statutory body with the following integrated regulatory functions: registration and regulation of NDIS providers, including practice standards and a code of conduct; compliance monitoring; investigation and enforcement action; responding to complaints and reportable incidents, including abuse and neglect of a person with disability; national policy-setting for the screening of workers; national oversight and policy-setting in relation to behaviour support; monitoring the use of restrictive practices—a very important issue—within the NDIS, with the aim of reducing and eliminating such practices; and facilitating information-sharing arrangements between the commission, the National Disability Insurance Agency and state and territory and other Commonwealth regulatory bodies.
Schedule 2 makes a number of amendments to the act to improve the operation of the act following the independent review conducted for the purposes of section 208 of the act.
The establishment of the commission is expected to cost around $209 million over the forward estimates. This is a very large and complex bill, but, at its core, it is about helping to empower and support NDIS participants to exercise choice and control at the same time as ensuring appropriate safeguards are in place and establishing expectations of providers and their staff to deliver high-quality supports. As I say, it is a very complex bill, but it is fundamental to the successful rollout of the NDIS. It does need thorough examination and it needs to be made subject to extensive consultation with the disability community.
In February 2017, the Disability Reform Council released the NDIS Quality and Safeguarding Framework. This framework included measures targeted at individuals, the workforce and providers to strengthen their capacity to prevent harm and ensure quality services and to resolve problems, enable improvements and provide oversight. There has been a series of recent inquiries and reports that have documented the weaknesses of the current safeguarding arrangements for disability services, many of which result from a disconnection between quality assurance and oversight regulatory functions. We have seen the Senate inquiry into violence, abuse and neglect against people with a disability in institutional and residential settings, Victorian government inquiries and, of course, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. These inquiries have found failures to uncover, report and respond to abuse and inadequate screening of workers. They called for many changes, including nationally consistent provider accreditation and the use of behavioural support strategies that do not involve restrictive practices to reduce challenging behaviours. Labor will continue to consider this legislation carefully in consultation with people with disability and also with providers, unions and other stakeholders. The bill has already been referred to a Senate inquiry to allow for further consultation and scrutiny. The Senate inquiry is due to report in early September.
A number of concerns have been raised about the legislation by states, unions and other stakeholders, and I want to touch on a few of those today. Concerns have been raised that the legislation will provide too much discretionary power to the Commonwealth minister to make regulations relating to the framework which will not require consensus from the states and territories, undermining the consistency of the national scheme. Other concerns are that it does not establish a national system of workforce screening and that there will be conflict between the commission's role as regulator and policymaker and in the delivery of financial assistance grants. Specifically, there is concern that the Commonwealth minister's power over the commission could be seen as compromising its ability to act independently. The proposed model raises the potential for perception of a conflict of interest, particularly as it relates to the handling of complaints. These are genuine concerns.
I am aware that the Victorian government has indicated the need for greater state involvement and review of arrangements. Specifically, the Victorian government has suggested that there be a separate statutory NDIS complaints commissioner. It suggested the need for agreement of all jurisdictions on rules that are fundamental to the detail, design and implementation of key components of the framework, at least during the implementation phase of the frameworks operation. It also suggested that the operation of the quality and safeguard provisions of the NDIS Act and whether it is delivering on the objectives of the framework be subject to an independent review in July 2020, with the reviewer and terms of reference agreed by the Disability Reform Council. I ask that the minister give consideration to these suggestions. Other states and territories also have their own proposed amendments. I understand and appreciate that the Minister for Social Services wants to get going with this legislation. It is very important. There are agreed time frames that need to be met to make sure that the commission is established by 1 July 2018. Nonetheless, given the importance of this legislation, we need to take a deliberative and consultative approach.
The Leader of the Opposition, the shadow minister for disability and carers, Senator Brown, the shadow minister for employment, Brendan O'Connor, who is with me here today, and I, attended a forum hosted by several unions last Friday to discuss NDIS workforce issues, including this framework. It was a very productive forum. We received very valuable feedback about the workforce issues in the NDIS. I thank the ASU, the HSU and United Voice for organising the forum.
Issues raised included the proper training and remuneration of the NDIS workforce. I think we would all agree that high-quality care and support for people with disability relies on staff being well trained, with decent wages and conditions. Significantly, there were concerns expressed that current prices in the NDIS do not account for what is required to deliver high-quality services and arrangements are not fully enabling disability support workers to deliver services which are personalised, coordinated or safe. These are very serious issues that need to be examined thoroughly.
Currently, the Productivity Commission are undertaking a five-yearly review into the NDIS. The final report is due in September, and we all look forward to seeing its recommendations. Their position paper, which was released just last week, makes clear that increased regulatory consistency across jurisdictions through the NDIS Quality and Safeguarding Framework should mean lower costs for some providers. The Productivity Commission report also notes that the time frame for implementing the framework is important in ensuring quality and safety for scheme participants and to provide clarity and reducing regulatory burdens for all concerned.
Just last month, the federal Labor Party announced that, should we win the next election, we will establish a royal commission into violence and abuse against people with disability. The continued abuse of Australians with a disability by people who are meant to care for them demands a royal commission. People with disability experience much higher rates of violence than the rest of the community, and in many cases this violence occurs in places where they are meant to be receiving support. Children with disability are at least three times more likely to experience abuse than other children. People with disability and their families have—as I think everyone in the House knows—been campaigning for a royal commission for years. Only a royal commission has the weight, authority and investigative powers to examine these horrific accounts of abuse and violence against people with disability.
The day that we made the announcement in Melbourne was very emotional. We made the announcement alongside many survivors of abuse. As one of the survivors said to me:
Enough is enough. It is our time to be heard. Here is our time for justice, now.
Another woman, Paula, shared a very emotional story, and she said:
Our son is autistic and our son has been physically and sexually abused. What you need to understand is autistic people don't lie. So when they tell these stories, you need to listen, you need to really listen and make sure that these people know that they're being heard. They need to be heard and they need to be reassured that they're going to be safe telling their stories.
These accounts really underscored to me the importance of having a royal commission.
For so long, the abuse that people with disability have suffered has been ignored or, in many cases, not believed. The scale and severity of abuse against people with disability in institutional care was outlined by an ABC TV Four Corners program in 2014. It became the catalyst for the Senate inquiry in 2015, which made 30 recommendations, including the establishment of a royal commission. Unfortunately, it took the Turnbull government 16 months to respond. The government has rejected the calls for a royal commission and accepted only one of the inquiry's 30 recommendations.
In March this year, Four Corners again revealed further cases of sexual and physical abuse inflicted on people with disability and that perpetrators have not been prosecuted. Worse, they may still be working in the disability sector. As I said, it is very disappointing that this government has so far rejected the call to establish a royal commission. The reason the government has given for rejecting this call is that they claim that the legislation we are debating today will address all of these issues. I am sorry to say that is simply not true. The framework that we are debating today will apply to approximately 10 per cent of people with disability who will be NDIS participants. Of course, this legislation will not address the abuse that has occurred in the past. So once again, I call on the government to establish a royal commission into the abuse of people with disability—now.
I want to take a moment to address some of the claims that have been made by those opposite that somehow Labor is not fully committed to the full rollout and full funding of the NDIS. This is utter rubbish. It is simply wrong, and the government knows it is wrong. For the sake of people with disability, it really must stop. No-one is more committed to the successful rollout of the NDIS than Labor. We established the NDIS. It took years of campaigning and years of work alongside the disability community. We are 100 per cent committed to the NDIS and 100 per cent committed to fully funding it.
I want to address the issue of special accounts, and the way in which the government misleads people with its suggestion that, somehow, the only way to guarantee the future of the NDIS is to establish a special account. We do not seem to need that for submarines or other defence funding, or for anything else in the budget, but for some reason, the government seems to think we need a special account for the funding of the NDIS. But these special accounts are not special at all. They do not actually hold any funds. Peter Martin, the economics editor for The Age, wrote recently about the government holding the NDIS to ransom. He wrote:
…there are no locked boxes.
There are no separate jam jars.
The account—this special disability account—will sit inside consolidated revenue. Section 81 of the Constitution sets out that consolidated revenue is all of the taxes that the Commonwealth raises—including the Medicare levy, personal income tax, company tax, excise, the petroleum resource rent tax, the new bank levy—we could go on. And on the expenditure side, we have many different demand-driven programs, like Medicare and the age pension—all using money appropriated by the government through this parliament from consolidated revenue to pay for these services. Just like other government services, the NDIS will have its money appropriated annually through the parliament. A special account is just another way of appropriating these funds.
In the last four years, we have seen this government say that the only way to fund the NDIS was to make cuts to people with disability. They said they wanted to see people knocked off the disability support pension, or new people losing the energy supplement, including people with disability. We have seen this government trying to hold the NDIS, and people with disability, to ransom over the last four years. Labor, of course, opposes the government's cuts to people with disability. We oppose the idea of holding people with disability to ransom. I just want to reiterate—particularly to reassure people with disability—that Labor will always fully fund the NDIS.
In summary, we support a strong quality and safeguards framework. It is required to protect and prevent people with disability from experiencing harm arising from poor-quality or unsafe supports or services under the NDIS. We will not oppose this bill in the House. We look forward to it being scrutinised through the Senate inquiry, and look forward to the input of the disability community as the discussions proceed. I move:
That all words after "That" be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:
"whilst not declining to give the bill a second reading, the House:
(1) notes that people with disability experience much higher rates of violence than the rest of the community, and in many cases, this violence occurs in places where they are meant to be receiving support;
(2) notes that children with disability are at least three times more likely to experience abuse than other children;
(3) condemns the Government's decision to reject a Royal Commission into Violence and Abuse against People with disability;
(4) notes that, contrary to the Government's claims, NDIS Quality and Safeguards will not negate the need for a Royal Commission into abuse of people with disability; and
(5) calls on the Turnbull Government to establish a Royal Commission so that people with disability, their families and carers can tell their stories to the highest level of judicial inquiry and seek justice".