Tuesday, 30 November 2021
National Disability Insurance Scheme Joint Committee; Report
Bill Shorten (Maribyrnong, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme) Share this | Hansard source
by leave—I would like to say a few words on the tabling of these important reports on the National Disability Insurance Scheme. I congratulate and commend the work of the member for Menzies as the chair and Senator Carol Brown as the deputy chair, and I commend the reports. I also want to thank the secretariat for their conduct of both of these particular reports. These reports make a number of important recommendations.
Let me turn to the first report on general issues tabled. The Morrison government has, I'm sorry to say, been undermining public confidence in the National Disability Insurance Scheme by talking down the sustainability of the scheme at every public occasion. I also think they have done a disservice to the 467,000 participants in the scheme by listing two, three or four matters where funding was granted in controversial circumstances. This has been about reducing the NDIS. In 2021—the Speaker might be interested to know—the Morrison government put out 10 conflicting sets of numbers about the financial health of the scheme to justify some of the changes which it's proposed bringing into the scheme. It's also underestimated and undermined the scheme by failing to look at the benefit of the $22 billion scheme. The National Disability Services, the peak body for employers in the disability services sector, did a report from an independent group of economists who revealed that the $22 billion scheme was injecting $52 billion into the Australian economy. So, for every dollar spent on the NDIS, it was generating $2.25 in economic activity.
I also think that this overreach and undermining of the scheme has been used to justify an extraordinary power grab which would see the Morrison government hand unprecedented God powers, if you like, to the unelected public servant heading the national disability agency to step into peoples' plans and change any matter. The government has described the NDIS as a welfare agency rather than the great, generous Australian safety net of universal support which it was originally intended to be.
Also I need to report my concern that there's been an explosion of NDIS appeals against the Morrison government, as revealed by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal's annual report. The 2020-21 AAT annual report reveals that the NDIS division of the AAT has seen a 21 per cent increase in appeals lodged since the last financial year and a 77 per cent increase in the number of cases that were not finalised by the end of the financial year, with 1,631 outstanding decisions. The median time to finalise cases has now blown out by five weeks to 23 weeks. The explosion in appeals, I submit, has been driven by ordinary Australians having to resort to taking their own government to court in order to receive a universal safety net payment. It has become a battleground where the Morrison government turns up with all of its Goliath-like resources—the expensive private law firms—to fight Australians in their David-like struggle, where they have just themselves or advocates, if they can find the scarce advocate resources to do so. What shows that there is a deliberate strategy of undermining the NDIS by litigating until the participant or the person with a disability just gives up is that the percentage of cases brought to the AAT that are finalised in the AAT process without a decision is 98 per cent. So there is a lot of settling at the door of court by government lawyers once they realise the participant will not simply give up on their right to a modest level of support.
The Morrison government should explain the huge increase in appeals and the blowout in finalising cases. These are facts which cannot be spun away. It should explain itself to participants and parents like Liv and her mum, Gemma, who were forced to take the government to the AAT when Liv's funding was slashed. She was refused assistive technology which could assist her to walk. I do not make this up. The increase in AAT appeals is a symptom, I submit, of the Morrison government's increasing attempts to cut the scheme by stealth by refusing supports or slashing plans and defying the participant to fight on. The number of AAT cases as a proportion of NDIS participants more than doubled between June 2020 and September 2021. The government is doing everything in its power to discourage participants on the plans and to make changes to the plans of people with disabilities, forcing them to fight.
In regard to the second report, the quality and safeguards report, we still need an independent inquiry into deaths of participants who were under the care of the NDIS, and we will continue to push for an independent inquiry. The government makes its point about pink batts and talks about people who died as the contractors were rolling out poor health and safety in that scheme, but it is unfortunately silent when we talk about participants of the NDIS who died while they were receiving NDIS packages or who had their NDIS packages terminated. Geoff Barker passed away on 2 May. His family had told the NDIA's arranged support worker that Geoff was in crisis and needed daily check-ups or he would die. Despite raising the alarm on 20 April this year—Geoff, who was 50 when he passed, had uncontrolled diabetes and experienced a severe bipolar condition—he was found unconscious by a carer on 2 May. The family notified the support coordinator on 20 April. He was found unconscious by a carer on 2 May. He hadn't been checked on for several days when he was found. His family have since discovered that the approved regular checks on Geoff and his partner, who also lives with a severe mental illness, were not being conducted. The family do not know how long he was unconscious before he was found. It is the latest in a series of tragedies in the NDIS caused by negligent stewardship of the scheme by the current government.
In South Australia, Ann-Marie Smith died of severe neglect after being left in a cane chair for many months. She was left in the cane chair where she was toileted and fed and slept. In New South Wales, David Harris was found deaths months after he had died, after the NDIS cut off his supports because he hadn't attended a planning meeting. In Tasmania, Tim Rubenach, who passed in 2018, died in severe pain while waiting for the NDIS to send him a new bed and chair. In Queensland, Liam Daniher died earlier this year after months of fighting the NDIS for a seizure mat to help his epileptic condition that his family say would have saved his life.
The report makes 30 recommendations in respect of safeguarding people with disabilities in the NDIS. But where you have not one, not two, but at least five tragedies, surely this would prompt the government to do an independent investigation. How many people have to die on the NDIS before the government thinks this is more than just another day at the office? We should look at this report on the Quality and Safeguards Commission and it should be acted upon. As we break for the summer, if Minister Reynolds does not take heed of these clearly articulated solutions to a glaringly obvious, well-documented and well-known problem—a problem, though, which has lives at risk—people with disabilities are disproportionately unsafe under the Morrison government's toothless watchdog and ineffectual safeguarding system.
For every person who is harmed and the government fails to respond to the report, upon whose head does that rest? In a similar vein, the government's record on protecting people with disabilities during COVID has been disappointing to say the least. They were promised to be at the front of the queue with the rollout of the vaccinations—and we find out in a Senate hearing that the government had reprioritised people with disability down the queue—
You can get up later and say whatever you want, Minister for Health.
The Minister for Health finds the truth of the neglect of this government on the NDIS uncomfortable and he seeks to shut me down. You can try to shut me down but the voters will have their say on your poor stewardship. The federal government has a responsibility to show leadership. The minister says it is unfair of me to raise these issues. I bet you haven't even read the member for Menzies' report, which talks about 30 recommendations. Which one do you agree with? Which one don't you agree with? Indeed, have you even read it? But that doesn't stop you from lambasting me. The government looks forward to the 'prompt response'. You've had eight years, government. I look forward to your 'prompt response'. The minister's very good at laying the blame at Labor's feet for mistakes made under previous administrations, but he doesn't have a mirror in his own policy house to examine their own failings.
There are too many heart-rending stories. The people whose names I read out are real people with real families. There is too much victim-blaming. There is too much quiet whispering in the corridors of the gallery, where they say to the journalists that the scheme is too expensive, that the housing packages are too expensive, that too many people with autism are getting funding and that the safeguards commission is not functioning as it should. This is the report. There are too many stories of misery inflicted on people the scheme was meant to help. The first step of comeback, of build back, for the NDIS has to be honouring the scheme's original intent. I hope the reforms being made which are proposed in the member for Menzies's report are not in another report to gather dust on the desk of this work-shy government. This government's stewardship of and record on the NDIS and its care for the vulnerable, tragically, leaves a lot to be desired and, in the case of some people, is just too late.