House debates

Wednesday, 21 June 2017


National Disability Insurance Scheme Amendment (Quality and Safeguards Commission and Other Measures) Bill 2017; Second Reading

4:20 pm

Photo of Mark CoultonMark Coulton (Parkes, Deputy-Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

The original question was that this bill be now read a second time. To this the honourable member for Jagajaga has moved as an amendment that all words after ‘That’ be omitted with a view to substituting other words. If it suits the House I will state the question in the form that the amendment be agreed to. So the question now is that the amendment be agreed to.

Photo of Andrew WallaceAndrew Wallace (Fisher, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Prior to question time, I was informing the House about what a huge undertaking the NDIS is and how fully committed the government is to ensure its rollout—but not just its rollout; its properly funded rollout. The implementation of the NDIS is not just going to provide world-leading opportunities for the disabled to be able to gain various forms of assistance but it is also going to be a great boon for small businesses and small service providers.

As at March this year, there are 6,814 registered service providers that will be providing these services—and that number will clearly grow as the rollout continues. There will be 100,000 people who will be involved and be capable of receiving NDIS services who have never received disability services before. That is a fantastic outcome. In Queensland alone, there will be a necessary increase in the number of workers in the disability sector, from approximately 16,550 full-time equivalent positions to 35,950 by full rollout. That is nearly 40,000 people just in Queensland who will be directly employed as a result of the implementation of the NDIS.

Apart from having personal experience in this sector, I am also privileged to serve in this parliament on the NDIS committee. On that committee I have seen firsthand just how challenging the NDIS rollout has been and how much more it could become. That is why the coalition government is undertaking a considered approach to policymaking around the NDIS. To date, the Turnbull government has reached agreements for the full rollout of the NDIS with all states and territories. In Western Australia, we listened, and the federal government extended trials for a further year before coming to a final agreement with that state. The government's chairing of the COAG Disability Reform Council saw it endorse the Specialist Disability Accommodation Pricing and Payments Framework, an integrated market sector and workforce strategy with information linkages, a capacity-building policy framework and a rural and remote service delivery strategy.

Coming from a regional part of Queensland, I can inform the House that, as long as I am involved in the NDIS committee, I will always work hard to ensure that people in regional areas living with a disability have the best possible access to disability services and, as much as we can, match those services to those received in the city. When people live in the bush it can be very difficult to get the same sorts of services, but it is a top priority for me to ensure that, as best we can, those who choose to live in the bush or in the regions or even in remote Australia have access to the sorts of services that we who live in the cities take for granted.

The government is carefully considering the Productivity Commission's position paper on NDIS costs. The issue of costs is also a very important issue for the rollout of the NDIS. The contrast between the government's position on the NDIS and Labor's position in the past could not be clearer. Labor dived into trials of the NDIS a year earlier than the Productivity Commission recommended so that they could have it as part of their election campaign. Labor signed the federal government up to one-sided agreements which heavily disadvantaged the Commonwealth. In pursuit of a favourable headline, Labor signed agreements that took 100 per cent of the financial risk with little or no control over the levers to manage that risk. In the first quarter of operation under Labor, the average cost of an NDIS package blew out by an average of 30 per cent.

The biggest contrast, however, between the coalition and Labor on the NDIS is on funding. In total, Labor left a funding black hole of $50 billion over the coming decade for the funding of the NDIS, and shame on them. The coalition government took the difficult decisions needed to save the NDIS from Labor's funding black hole. It created the NDIS Savings Fund Special Account, which saw savings from other portfolios and other projects. The social services minister identified that this was an important opportunity for the NDIS and that any savings, any opportunities, from government projects would be quarantined into this special project account, which would go part of the way to funding the NDIS into the future, to try and make up this $50 billion black hole that was left to us. The government committed $1.3 billion to the fund from closing carbon tax compensation for new welfare recipients and another $62.1 million from additional reviews of disability support pension recipients. We tried to add a further $3 billion from the omnibus savings and childcare reform bill, though Labor did all they could to undermine all these measures. Labor would not accept the savings measures necessary, so we have to now take the politically tough decision to propose a 0.5 per cent increase in the Medicare levy for all Australians in two years time. Reasonable members opposite know that this is the right thing to do. They know that the NDIS, properly funded, is a vital strategy for Australians.

In Australia, we look after our mates. We acknowledge that people who are living with a disability deserve to live in dignity. A sensible approach for the government to plug that $50 billion black hole, because of Labor's obstructionist approach to these things, is by introducing that 0.5 per cent Medicare levy. Many of those opposite, I know, secretly support this. But there is one person who does not, and that is the Leader of the Opposition. It is an absolute disgrace that he is trying to prevent proper funding for those living with a disability. He should hang his head in shame. Those more reasonable members opposite should pull him aside and give him a jolly good stern talking-to, because Australians look after their mates—we look after our mates who are in their most vulnerable state—and this is Labor's opportunity to do the right thing.

The bill before the House is another example of this responsible policymaking of the government. Schedule 1 of the bill establishes an NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission in line with the Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs report into violence, abuse and neglect against people with disability in institutional and residential settings. The bill was carefully considered and developed in consultation with states and territories, providers, people living with disabilities and their families and carers. It creates an independent regulator with the necessary power to register providers, handle complaints, analyse reportable incident notifications, manage the standards which service providers work under and enforce a code of conduct for NDIS providers and workers. The measures are properly funded, like all coalition policies, with $209 million over four years. It will provide a single point of contact for all jurisdictions, maximising efficiency and making the process as easy for consumers and providers as possible. It has been brought forward early so it is in place in good time for the full rollout.

Schedule 2 makes some necessary amendments to the objects and principles of the act, especially relating to carers. It improves some definitions and repairs some technical flaws. Again, this follows careful consultation with COAG and following the advice of an independent Ernst & Young report. In my time on the NDIS committee inquiry as it relates to mental health, we received evidence and submissions regarding possible issues with definitions in the act and the role of mental health carers. Schedule 2 of this bill is a response to previous feedback of this kind in other areas of disability care and shows the government's positive engagement with these processes. The bill is another example of timely, responsible forward planning and consultative policymaking from the Turnbull government, and I commend the bill to the House. (Time expired)

4:32 pm

Photo of Emma HusarEmma Husar (Lindsay, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It is always jolly good to take a lecture from the member for Fisher, whom I also have the pleasure—or displeasure sometimes—of sitting with on the NDIS committee. And, as the member for Fisher, and respectfully his awareness with his own care of his daughter who has a disability, like me, he would have concerns around the safeguards for his own child, so perhaps he could get into his own Prime Minister and give him a jolly good talking to when it comes to dignity for people with a disability, which he mentioned during his speech.

I rise to speak on the National Disability Insurance Scheme Amendment (Quality and Safeguards Commission and Other Measures) Bill before us. This is a very important piece of legislation, and Labor supports the development of a strong quality and safeguards framework for the NDIS scheme. A robust, quality and safeguarding framework is important to protect and prevent people with disability from experiencing harm which arises from poor quality or unsafe support services under the NDIS. This framework is vital to the success of the NDIS.

The NDIS was, of course, created by Labor in 2013—not the Liberals; it was Labor who created it and fully funded it, and I can say it is one of the reasons that I am a member of the Labor Party and it is one of the reasons that I am the member for Lindsay. I immensely proud of the work that Julia Gillard, Jenny Macklin and Bill Shorten did to bring it to fruition.

I have a son with a disability—that is well known. When the campaign for the National Disability Insurance Scheme began, I immediately knew from my experience with my son that I needed to support this to ensure that kids like mine, mums like me and families like ours were able to access something that can and will change lives forever. I thank those people on my side who worked tirelessly to ensure that this was a national priority, and shame on the government for coming in here day after day after day accusing our government and our side of this House that we do not support it.

The NDIS is a great starting point. It will help serve the day-to-day needs of people living with a disability, raising their participation rates in open employment and ensuring that they can make a significant contribution to their communities. Before arriving here, I worked for the disability access committee serving Penrith City Council. Our committee advocated for improved accessibility within the local community, advocating for public bathrooms to be accessible for those who need it and changing tables catering to those families with older children and adults—basic necessities requiring immediate action. For those who rely on changing facilities like these, the choice currently is between a public toilet floor or leaving the venue altogether and heading home. Neither of those is acceptable. It undermines the quality of life for those with a disability and their carers, and provides zero dignity whatsoever.

The NDIS represents a dynamic shift from the services delivered under largely block-funded contractual relationships between providers, the Commonwealth, and state and territory governments to one where people with a disability are purchasers and consumers of services from a diverse market under the NDIS. This bill is an acknowledgment of the existing governance arrangements and will not be adequate by the time the NDIS reaches its full rollout in 2019-2020, although the current arrangements remain in place during the transition years.

This bill establishes an independent national commission to protect and prevent people with disability from experiencing harm arising from poor-quality or unsafe services under the NDIS, but that is only 10 per cent. This bill's explanatory memorandum states that the primary focus of the commission will be regulating NDIS providers to ensure that NDIS participants receive the standard of the service that they deserve.

However, I would like to address the Turnbull government's decision to rule out establishing a royal commission into violence and abuse against people with a disability. It is deeply, deeply disappointing, and it is a shame that the member for Fisher has left the chamber, because only a royal commission has the weight, authority and investigative powers to examine the horrific accounts of violence and abuse against people with a disability that have already occurred.

People with a disability suffer higher rates of violence than the rest of the community. Ninety per cent of women with an intellectual disability have been sexually assaulted—90 per cent; that is absolutely outrageous, and everybody in here should be absolutely outraged. Children with a disability are at least three times more likely to experience abuse than any other children.

So will this Prime Minister support the establishment of a royal commission into violence and abuse against people with a disability, because I think that is the community standard? He already knows these appalling figures, as do we all, but both the Prime Minister and Minister Porter have failed to support the calls to set up a royal commission. The disability sector is clearly calling on the Turnbull government to establish a royal commission into violence and abuse of people with a disability.

I take the opportunity to acknowledge the advocacy of the Disabled People's Organisations of Australia, VALID, AFDO and other community organisations that have called for this royal commission. The Prime Minister and Minister Porter should start listening to the concerns of people with a disability, their families and carers rather than come in here and accuse us on this side of the House of not supporting it; listening and not lecturing us.

These harrowing accounts of abuse are sickening and are absolutely unacceptable. The voices of people with a disability, who have been abused, must be heard and justice must be delivered. I notice now the interjections have stopped and heads over on the other side are hanging low in shame. We simply cannot let this abuse be swept under the carpet.

The Turnbull government's claim that the NDIS Quality and Safeguarding Framework is sufficient to prevent further abuse of people with a disability is absolutely inadequate. It only covers 10 per cent of people with a disability and does not take into consideration those people who have already suffered as a result. Therese Sands of Disabled People's Organisations of Australia has said of the NDIS Quality Safeguarding Framework:

It would also address the scale of violence and abuse against people with disability, its many forms and the broad range of services and settings where it occurs.

Labor will continue to call on the Turnbull government to begin the work to establish a royal commission immediately. If they fail to do so, a Shorten Labor government will get this done, because we are action over here, not all talk. We understand how important this is.

The scale and severity of abuse against people with a disability and institutional care was outlined by an ABC TV Four Corners program in 2014.

Ms Banks interjecting

I do make everything personal, the member for Chisholm—thank you for your interjection; I will take it. It is called emotion. It is called lived experience, and I can actually—it became a catalyst. The program on ABC TV Four Corners became a catalyst for a Senate inquiry in 2015, which made 30 recommendations.

Photo of Michael SukkarMichael Sukkar (Deakin, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister to the Treasurer) Share this | | Hansard source

We're funding it, unlike you!

Photo of Emma HusarEmma Husar (Lindsay, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I take the interjection again and note this government's lack of action on anything to do with this, which appeared in 2015, including establishment of a royal commission. It took the Turnbull government 16 long months—including the member at the table, who is continuing to interject. It took you 16 months to do anything, to even make a response. What an embarrassing joke to the most vulnerable people in our community. This government rejected a royal commission and accepted only one of the Senate inquiry's 30 recommendations—just one. In March this year, Four Corners again revealed further cases of sexual and physical abuse being inflicted on people with a disability. Thank God for the ABC.

It is outrageous that perpetrators have not been prosecuted and, worse, may still be working in the disability sector. According to the Department of Social Services' own national abuse and neglect hotline, a total of 891 cases were cited between July 2012 and December 2014, with systemic abuse at 23 per cent, physical abuse at 16 per cent, psychological abuse also at 16 per cent, and neglect at 15 per cent being the highest of the reported incidents. The cases of violence and abuse that we know about are just the tip of the iceberg. Disabled People's Organisations Australia say that people with a disability experience far higher rates of violence than anybody else in the community. As I noted, they estimate that 90 per cent of women with an intellectual disability have been sexually assaulted in their lives, with 60 per cent of these people falling victim to abuse before the age of 18. Tragically, people with a disability are often treated as unreliable witnesses and, as in the cases we have outlined, perpetrators have not been charged and continue to work with vulnerable people. I am proud of my lived experience with my son with a disability, but I would not be proud to have these things perpetrated against him. The continued abuse of Australians with a disability by people who are meant to care for them demands nothing less than a royal commission. Only a royal commission has the weight, authority and investigative powers to examine these horrific accounts of abuse and violence against people with a disability.

Disability organisations have been pushing for a national inquiry. People who live in institutions and residential settings are particularly susceptible to violence and assaults from staff and other residents. The violence is very difficult to detect, investigate and prosecute. Imagine being disabled and being in the hands of your rapist day after day. I want to repeat that proposition to the chamber: just imagine what it must be like to be in the hands of your rapist day after day. Clearly, there are significant structural flaws in the systems designed to protect vulnerable people from predators—the failure of our legal systems to seek justice for victims and the absolute failure of governments to ensure the appropriate safeguards are in place. This is not the fault of one person, organisation or government.

Ms Banks interjecting

These failings reflect on us all, including you, member for Chisholm. We cannot erase the pain and suffering that so many have already experienced. However, a royal commission will at least give people with a disability, their families, like me, and carers, like the member for Fisher, the opportunity to be able to tell their stories and seek justice. They deserve a royal commission and no less and we absolutely owe it to them. I call on the Prime Minister to do the right thing: give vulnerable people who have suffered abuse a voice. Once and for all, give them justice.

4:43 pm

Photo of Lisa ChestersLisa Chesters (Bendigo, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

As speakers in this place have said, the proposal that is before us, introducing a quality and safeguarding framework, is necessary. Like many on my side, I am disappointed that it has taken the government so long to bring this in. We have the NDIS rolling out as we speak. In my part of the world, we hit the go button on the NDIS back in May and, like other parts of the world, it has not been without its problems. What is disappointing is that the government knew that, when you go from a patchwork of government not-for-profit services being delivered by different agencies and different organisations to a market based system without quality and safeguarding frameworks in place, it is open to exploitation and abuse. Just as in other sectors when we have gone from predominantly public delivery, not-for-profit delivery or community delivery to one based upon a market system, we have seen exploitation and abuse. My fear is that the same could happen under the NDIS model if we do not get the framework, the quality and the safeguards right.

I welcome what the government has put forward but echo the comments that have been made by people on this side of the House that we want to look at the legislation carefully to make sure that it is a genuine safeguard and that it does ensure quality. We want to look at the impact that it is having on delivery of services. We want to make sure that if somebody does the wrong thing that they are out, that they cannot phoenix and set themselves up as another provider. We want to make sure that there are safeguards in place for training, quality training, to ensure that we have the highest skills possible for people working in the NDIS space. We want to know the impact on staff. We want to know the impact on jobs. We want to ensure that the quality and safeguards are there to protect some of the most vulnerable in our community.

We want to refer the bill to the Senate for an inquiry to allow full consideration and scrutiny. We want to work with the government to get this right. We want to make sure that it is right because for us this is about the people in our community. This is about the most vulnerable. This is about their families. It is also about the people who work in the sector. There are a number of concerns that have been raised and these have been played in the media. In my part of the world, just before we rolled out the NDIS we had one very popular organisation go into voluntary administration and then close down: Radius Disability Enterprises. There was a lot of heartbreak and a lot of tears when this happened, not just for the staff directly employed; also for their supported employees and many involved in their day programs. They delivered services, support and advocacy for people with a disability in our community for many decades. One of the reasons they gave for going into voluntary administration was that under NDIS it would have made it that much harder for them. This is the problem when we introduce market-driven systems without appropriate safeguards and protections in place.

We know that people with a disability experience higher levels of violence than the rest of the community. The statistics have been outlined by Labor during this debate. Ninety per cent of women with an intellectual disability have been sexually assaulted in their lives; sixty per cent before the age of 18. Children with a disability are three times more likely to experience abuse than other children. Tragically, however, people with a disability are often treated as unreliable witnesses and are not permitted by the law to provide testimony at all. It is for these reason that Labor are saying that we cannot just introduce a Quality and Safeguards Commission; we must also have a royal commission into what is going on.

We want to be able to look at what has happened in the past, so we can get justice for people who have been victims of abuse. We want to be able to work out what to do where all three levels of government intersect. We want to be able to work out what to do in relation to the term 'unreliable witness' to ensure that people get their day in court and can be heard. We want to be able to look at people's situations beyond those covered by the NDIS. As has been highlighted, only 10 per cent of people with a disability are actually NDIS participants. What about the other 90 per cent? We want to be able to look at schools. That is something that the government has not looked at yet. We have seen that where schools have not been resourced properly, there has been some shocking treatment of children with a disability. There have been cases of children being locked in cages, which is wrong and should be condemned. These are the kinds of things that we can look at and have thoroughly investigated with a royal commission, where recommendations can be implemented at the local, state and federal level.

We also know from reports that, unfortunately, abuse occurs in the workplace, whether it involves a supported employee or a directly employed employee. People take advantage of people with a disability because they believe that they will not be able to testify to their own abuse. The abuse of people with disability is shocking and alarming, and it is something that all of us do stand united to condemn. However, the action that we take to address it is different.

That is why Labor is calling for royal commission which can compel witnesses, evidence and testimony where other forms of inquiry cannot. It can make recommendations for local, state and federal governments to introduce to ensure that we end the level of abuse occurring for people with a disability. This is not what this bill does. This bill talks about a Quality and Safeguards Commission for the NDIS program, but it does not talk about ending abuse. The Prime Minister and the government say, 'We do not have to have a royal commission because we are introducing the Quality and Safeguards Commission.' The two are related, but they are also very different because one talks about the systematic ongoing abuse of people with a disability, and the other talks about how to manage the NDIS system.

As I said earlier in my remarks, the NDIS is basically a market-based system. It allows the individual with a disability and a disability package to choose the services and the supports they would like. However, as I said, as it starts to roll out, the experience of NDIS within our communities is quite different. Someone who might have a physical disability might be quite supportive of the system. They have been able to get the fit-outs they need in their homes, able to purchase their own car with specialist equipment so they can drive. It is wonderful for these people to finally have management and control so they can fully participate in life and in our community. However, for people with an intellectual disability, for people with autism or people who have more complex disability issues—sometimes it is physical and intellectual—the experience with NDIS has not been the same.

My office now has somebody working on this full-time to support people in their advocacy with our local NDIA office to ensure they get a fair package and their package is being spent in their best interests. We know from the rollout of the Living Longer Living Better and the My Aged Care packages that, if you do not have proper safeguards in place, you do get situations where people may lose 80 per cent of their package in administration fees—and that is just not on. We have situations as well where the workforce is , made to be casual because it is a demand-driven system. We have heard of situations where people who might have worked in disability their entire working lives, for 20 or 30 years, are being asked to go out and get ABNs. We have heard that some people with the skills to work in NDIS are not only asked to get ABNs, but they are having to register with three or four different agencies to try and make up a job.

This is not what we envisaged with NDIS. This was not our promise. Our promise was: a well-funded, quality service with the skills and supports for people with a disability. That means investing in the people who deliver the services—the people who do the work and who support people. Many of the people who work in the disability sector are heroes. They have chosen not to make money—they are not out millionaires. Many of them earn somewhere between $40,000 and $60,000, if they are full-time. They do this out of compassion and respect for their clients. They do it because they are people with big hearts and they care.

That brings me to the final point I wish to make about the NDIS, the NDIA and the rollout under this government. This government has basically got the pricing of some of the units wrong. They have pegged the unit price for core support items to the award for social and community services employee at level 2, pay point 3. For those who may not know what that means, that is an entry-level pay level for somebody who is not required to provide complex support and care. That is what most of the care is. Because it is pegged at the award level, the government is saying to state government and not-for-profit employees, 'You may be on a collective agreement above the minimum,' but it is now saying to those organisations that they have to renegotiate their agreements, cut the wages of their staff or look to cut back on services or slowly go broke. That is a fear that I have.

Within this quality safeguards and framework, if we are genuine about ensuring that people have access to the best quality and ensuring that they have access to the best trained staff, then we need to fund it properly and pay the proper wages. This government has got this wrong. We will see lots of people with the skills and qualifications in disability either have to take pay cuts, look for work elsewhere or cut back the level of service that they provide. We have heard from employers in the sector that, under the current pricing unit, somebody working in this area will only get three minutes of non-face-to-face time with their clients—three minutes to do everything from singing on to training, completing paperwork and handing over to the next shift. It is just not practical. It demonstrates how out of touch those in the government are with how disability care and support is rolled out. It is not putting the client at the centre. It is putting the price at the centre.

This government has screamed that Labor did not fund it. That is wrong. The money has always been there. It is their priorities—that they chose not to use consolidated revenue to help fund the NDIS. When Labor has chosen, we have said that we would do that. For example, $65 billion worth of tax cuts for big business is the priority of this government. Therefore, they are asking working people—people who may only earn $20,000 a year—to pay extra in tax to help fund NDIS at the same time as giving millionaires and big business a tax cut. Labor says: that is wrong; fund NDIS properly; look at the pricing unit; and do not expect working people to fund it. Stop giving your mates in big business a tax cut; stop giving millionaires a tax cut. If you were genuine about having a quality NDIS, then look to get businesses to pay their fair share of tax. Then we will have the resources to pay people properly. These are some of the concerns that people in my electorate are raising.

We know that there are going to be some heartbreak moments coming up as more and more not-for-profit community-based fund services look to see how they can continue. We have already found out that the Castlemaine Copy Centre will close at the end of the year. Under NDIS, they cannot continue to deliver the supported employee opportunities for the people that work there. It is heartbreaking for all of those supported employees. We have lost Radius. We worry who is next. Without a strong, quality safeguards and framework in place, without funding and without looking at how we fund people who work in the sector to have good-quality wages, we may see more and more really good organisations go to the wall.

4:58 pm

Photo of Chris HayesChris Hayes (Fowler, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I too would like to make a contribution on the National Disability Insurance Scheme Amendment (Quality and Safeguards Commission and Other Measures) Bill 2017. I have spoken on many occasions in this place about the National Disability Insurance Scheme and disabilities generally. I hope that when I do that I am reflecting the views of my community, which, regrettably, is over-represented with families that live with disability. My family lives with a disability. My grandson who lives with me, Nathaniel, is on the autism spectrum. So I have a lot of time and a lot of regard for families that live with disabilities. They do not want lectures. They do not want our sympathy. They just want to know that we are there to be supportive of them when they need it.

I ask you to cast your minds back to the inquiry of 2011 when the Productivity Commission was asked to report on disability care and support. They concluded this way: 'The current disability support arrangements are inadequate, underfunded, fragmented and inefficient, and give people with a disability little choice.' We in 2013 rose to that challenge. With due respect of those opposite, they supported Labor's position of the establishment of the National Disability Insurance Scheme. They supported the passage of the act through this parliament.

In regard of this, I indicate that Labor will support the passage of this particular bill through the House of Representatives. In saying that, this support is not without some qualification, which I will come to. But, in speaking about the bill, an important step towards implementing the NDIS is that the NDIS Quality and Safeguarding Framework be established. This was the recommendation that came from the COAG Disability Reform Council. This bill seeks to do that. The framework is based on delivering and strengthening the capacity of individuals, workplaces and providers, preventing harm, ensuring quality and enabling improvements in the oversight of this sector. I emphasise that we support this as a development. We support having strong and enforceable standards in this sector, and we certainly support the quality and safeguard measures provided in this bill.

Schedule 1 of the bill establishes the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission and the commissioner to undertake the implementation task of setting up a strong quality safeguard framework under the NDIS. The commissioner will be responsible for registering NDIS providers; overseeing provider quality, including information; and linkages and capacity building support for people with disability. At its core, this will see the introduction of information-gathering arrangements, creating an interface to other service providers, particularly in the health and education sectors and, sometimes, in the justice sector as well. The bill will also give the commission responsibility for compliance, complaints handling and risk management, including responding to and taking enforcement action against incidents of abuse and the neglect of participants. This will be complemented by the introduction of a practice standard and a code of conduct and by the introduction of a national policy of screening of workers, and there will be a focus on the provision of leadership to reduce and eliminate, as far as possible, restrictive practices. Section 2 of the bill introduces other minor administrative amendments resulting from the implementation review of the act, which was completed in late 2015.

It is my hope that the administrative framework instruments will ensure that the act operates in a way that is effective for the full implementation of the NDIS, redressing—or at least minimising—the many problems that we have seen so far under the Turnbull government's rollout of this scheme. I do not think I need to remind people about the problems that we found with the NDIS IT system at its introduction and the considerable delays that we have experienced. This was not the aim or intention of the bill when it was first brought before the House, but it certainly has had an impact on the usability of the service to date.

The bill also aims to maintain, protect and enhance public trust and confidence in the NDIS and support the robust, vibrant, independent and innovative NDIS market. The proposed amendments have been long awaited and certainly result from a series of reports and inquiries which have documented, on many counts, the weaknesses of the system, particularly in relation to safeguard arrangements. These inquiries include the Senate inquiry into violence, abuse and neglect against people with disability, two recent Victorian inquiries in a similar vein, as well as the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. All these inquiries have found failures to uncover and report abuse, inadequate screening of workers and ineffective regulatory arrangements. The need for the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission is further enhanced by the countless and disturbing number of cases of neglect and violence towards people with disabilities.

Something I did not appreciate until recently and something that put many things into perspective for me was the report by the Australian Cross Disability Alliance that revealed that a shocking 90 per cent of women with an intellectual disability had been subjected to sexual abuse, with six per cent of those women being under the age of 18. I am absolutely appalled by that statistic. I am appalled by those who have been convicted of these crimes. In many instances, they are people who have been employed to work in conjunction with and serving people with a disability. That is an indictment of our community as a whole. The truth is that people with a disability are three times more likely to experience abuse than any other. That is not the sort of environment I want to see my grandson growing up in. That is the reality, but it is something we all have the responsibility to try to do something to redress.

The Australian Cross Disability Alliance say that they are working tirelessly to spread awareness of institutionalised violence. They say—and I can agree with this—that it very much is Australia's hidden shame. They say that it is an urgent, unaddressed national crisis of epidemic proportions. While I welcome the passage of this bill through the House, people need to be clear that we need all stakeholders to work together, and that is the states, the employers in disability support and the unions representing the employees—as I say, all stakeholders.

One of my concerns is that too much discretionary power is being vested in the minister. Regrettably, in my opinion, this could lead to a number of inconsistencies, where separate agreements are being made, separate arrangements are being entered into and there is a lack of conformity between states and territories in the application of our national scheme. What is even more problematic, from my perspective, is that the quality and safeguard mechanisms enshrined in the bill apply only to NDIS participants and providers under that act. This leaves a significant gap for those people who are not participants in the NDIS but are victims of violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation. Disability advocates have highlighted that this is an inadequate protection for people with a disability as a whole. Dr Jess Cadwallader, advocacy projects manager for violence prevention at People with Disability Australia, says this:

The NDIS probably at full capacity will include about 10 per cent of people with disability, so we have some concerns about people who fall outside of services that are funded by the NDIS where the safety and quality in their service provision is going to come from.

I think that is a very real concern for all of us. I do not know whether my grandson, for instance, will fall under the NDIS, but I do not want him, as a child with a disability, to fall into that category of being one in three children to be abused during their lifetime. As I said earlier, that is a dreadful statistic and one we should be all be offended about. The bill does not establish a national role in respect of workforce screening. There has to be that consistency across the board. The case is more than made for that by the many prosecutions we have seen to date for crimes that have been committed against people with disabilities.

I would like to conclude by talking about those who do not fall under the provisions of this bill. As I said earlier, only about 10 per cent of people with a disability will be covered by the NDIS. That leaves a heck of a lot of people with a disability outside the system.

Those people outside the system, the NDIS, still fall under the same statistic that says that 90 per cent of women with intellectual impairment will be subject to violence or abuse. To end that, I stand with my colleagues on this side of the House in calling for a royal commission into the abuse of people with a disability. I think it is the only way to establish a proper investigation and put the spotlight on this, an industry which is absolutely vital to people who live with disability.

There are people I get to see in my electorate regularly. Many of them are parents whose children with disabilities are in their 50s and 60s. Their parents often talk to me about what will happen when they pass on. It is not that they are looking for a way to accommodate their children; they are trying to make financial arrangements to do that. They are looking at how to protect their children's vulnerability in this ever-changing world. I think that the notion of having a royal commission is a positive thing in terms of, as I say, shedding light on disabilities generally, on how people are affected and looked after and on the measures we take to include them in our broader society, but, more than that, on how we go about protecting people with a disability. I think that falls to all of us. I suspect that my electorate is not much different from many others. If you look closely at those people we have the honour of representing in our communities, you will find that many do it very tough. Many are dealt a very hard hand in life, and they love their children as much as any of us do and want the best for their kids. One of the things that they keep talking about is that they want assurances that their kids can grow up to be safe and free from abuse into the future.

I support the passage of the bill through this House, but I believe there is an argument that this bill should be subject to a more detailed review. I think that, as it proceeds through the other place, it should be subject to a Senate inquiry and given more attention, particularly as to the various stakeholder groups who will be impacted by this regulation, so that we can hear from all stakeholders: from those working in the disability sector, from the providers and from employees and the unions representing them.

5:12 pm

Photo of Ross HartRoss Hart (Bass, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I am pleased to be able to speak in support of the National Disability Insurance Scheme Amendment (Quality and Safeguards Commission and Other Measures) Bill 2017, subject to the amendment moved by the shadow minister, the member for Jagajaga. Despite what has been said by those opposite since the release of the budget, there is no doubting our commitment on this side to the National Disability Insurance Scheme. Labor did the hard work in the establishment of the scheme. No amount of reinvention of history by those opposite can gloss over the fact that Labor—and, in particular, the Leader of the Opposition and the shadow minister—undertook the necessary consultation and obtained the necessary community licence for the establishment of the NDIS.

The NDIS, at its heart, represented a significant and dramatic shift, from services which were largely delivered under block-funded contractual relationships between service providers and the state and territory governments to a scheme where people with disability purchase and consume services from a market which is funded by the NDIS. The NDIS, accordingly, approaches the provision of services having regard to the level of disability and, of course, need. It is not based upon diagnosis of a particular condition or constructs such as liability. There is, accordingly, a significant difference between an insurer accepting liability for a particular injury and funding care which is related to that injury, such as in a case of compulsory third party insurance for a motor vehicle, and the NDIS. However effective and efficient no-fault liability schemes may be, they are constrained by the fact that responsibility ends with the particular condition or impairment which is related to the injury suffered in the accident or incident.

Nevertheless, there are particular potential problems where a market is created for the provision of these services, particularly where there is a single body that is a funding body such as the NDIS. There are particular potential weaknesses in the current safeguarding arrangements for disability services which are as a result of the disconnection between quality assurance and oversight regulatory functions.

This is, of course, not something unique to the provision of disability services. As has been mentioned by others who have spoken in relation to this bill, emerging markets are sometimes ripe for exploitation and abuse due to an imbalance in the power relationship between provider and consumer. This is typically due to the fact that in emerging markets there may be a lack of information about the rights of the consumer or the range of services that are available. Sometimes, however, the defects are more sinister.

There have been recent inquiries and reports which have highlighted weaknesses in the current safeguarding arrangements for disability services. These inquires include the Senate inquiry into violence, abuse and neglect against people with a disability in institutional and residential settings; Victorian government inquiries; and the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. Multiple inquiries have found failures to undercover, report and respond to abuse. There is also inadequate national screening of workers. The inquiries have called for a nationally consistent provider accreditation and the use of behaviour support strategies that do not involve restrictive practices to reduce challenging behaviours.

It is self-evident that a strong quality and safeguarding framework is required to protect and prevent people with disability from experiencing harm arising from poor quality or unsafe supports or services under the NDIS. Put another way, there is a disturbing similarity between the exploitation of children and the exploitation of those who suffer from disability. As a former practising lawyer I have often had to explain to clients and junior practitioners the concepts of fiduciary duties which arise from the relationship between a person subject to a disability and a person who may be in a position of power and responsibility. I often resorted to using the analogy of a person being required to look after a child. Self-evidently, those responsible for the care of children owe duties to the child in their care to protect them from harm. Similarly, in broad terms, the courts have held that where there is a special disadvantage and that disadvantage is established, particular duties are imposed upon a person who might, because of a particular transaction or relationship, assume responsibility for the disadvantaged person. This can, in the appropriate case, extend to imposing upon, for example, a bank a responsibility to ensure that a person getting a mortgage is not subject to undue influence.

There can be no doubt that it is important to get this legislation right. Labor will consider legislation carefully in consultation with people with disability, the providers, unions and other stakeholders. Indeed, these very groups have already shown concern that the legislation will provide too much discretionary power to the minister make regulations regarding the framework, which will not require consensus from the states and territories and which might undermine the consistency of the national scheme.

As part of this consultation process we want to refer this bill to a Senate inquiry to allow for full consultation and scrutiny of this legislation. We want to work with the government to ensure that this legislation achieves this object. However—and this is very important—the NDIS Quality and Safeguarding Framework of itself does not provide a sufficient answer to systemic issues of violence, neglect, abuse and other shortcomings identified in the Senate inquiry report. Our joint response ability in this place is not just to act to safeguard those who are in receipt of services paid for by the NDIS. There are countless cases, harrowing cases, of abuse, neglect and violence toward people with disability that cannot and must not be ignored.

There is more than a suggestion that people with disability experience much higher rates of violence than the general community. The disturbing fact is that it is alleged that this violence occurs in places which should be places of safety for those with disability. The statistics demonstrate that instances of sexual assault exceed 90 per cent when a woman has an intellectual disability. Multiple speakers on this side have referred to this statistic, but I have to say it again: 90 per cent of women with intellectual disability have been sexually assaulted in their lives. Sixty per cent have been sexually assaulted before the age of 18. This is shameful.

Without in any way detracting from the very important work that has been undertaken by the child sexual abuse royal commission, there should be no argument whatsoever as to the necessity for a proper inquiry into institutional abuse of those with a disability, particularly having regard to the near certainty that a cohort of people with disability have been sexually abused during their life. Notwithstanding the horrifying nature of that statistic, children with a disability are at least three times more likely to experience abuse than other children—three times. Tragically, people with disability are often treated as unreliable witnesses or are not even permitted by law to provide testimony.

People with disability and their families have been campaigning for a royal commission for years. There are many cases that have described clear cases of abuse where perpetrators have never been charged and, worse, those perpetrators have been allowed to continue working with vulnerable people. We heard previously from the member for Lindsay as to those instances and as to a person contemplating their abuser or rapist looking after them.

Just as we have reacted with horror and disbelief at many of the stories that have been uncovered by the child sexual abuse royal commission, now is the time for us to face the fact that persons with disability have been abused. This abuse needs to be exposed in the same manner as the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has uncovered decades of wilful blindness to the abuse of vulnerable children. The government claims that the NDIS quality and safeguards framework will be sufficient to address these horrifying systemic issues of violence, abuse and neglect of people with disability identified in the Senate inquiry's report. 'Sufficient' is not enough, not when we know that the framework, whilst very important, will apply to only approximately 10 per cent of people with disability participating in the NDIS.

The Senate Community Affairs References Committee inquiry into the violence, abuse and neglect of people with disability in institutional care reported in November 2015. This government took 16 months to respond and chose to rule out a royal commission. To move forward, to heal and to know that we are on the right path to providing a safe environment for the vulnerable in our community this government must, as the previous government did for children, call a royal commission into the abuse of people with disability. Nothing less will enable people with disability, their families and their carers the opportunity to tell their stories to the Australian public, to share the pain that our inaction has caused and to create the legitimate chance to seek justice. A royal commission into the abuse of people with disability is what is required. It is the only way to compel witnesses, evidence and testimony. A royal commission is the only way to give clarity for a way forward, to make recommendations to prevent future abuses of people with disability.

It gives me great heart to know that I am part of a team on this side of the House that wants to get it right and that does not want to continue to make the same mistakes that have let down people with disability. As part of a Shorten Labor government, I will be part of a team that will establish a royal commission into violence and abuse against people with disability. Australian people with disability and their families have been campaigning for a royal commission for years. I call on the government to listen, to join Labor and to establish a royal commission into the abuse of people with disability. That decision needs to be made now.

5:23 pm

Photo of Christian PorterChristian Porter (Pearce, Liberal Party, Minister for Social Services) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank all members for their contribution in the second reading debate on the National Disability Insurance Scheme Amendment (Quality and Safeguards Commission and Other Measures) Bill 2017. The bill establishes a national independent body, the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission, to protect and prevent people with disability from experiencing harm. The NDIS is, of course, one of the largest social and economic policy reforms in Australia's history. At full scheme it is estimated that the NDIS will be supporting around 460,000 Australians with a disability. At that time the NDIS will be injecting $21 billion per year, each year, into the Australian economy.

The NDIS operates in a rapidly expanding market, driven by participant choice. Already participants are starting to exercise choice and control, and new innovative delivery models are constantly emerging.

The NDIS is a transformational social policy which has been delivered by this government. This will require a new, nationally consistent approach to quality and safeguards. This is critical to ensure that the new market based system delivers quality services and supports to people with disability in a way that promotes choice, control and dignity, and upholds basic human rights.

In February 2017, the Council of Australian Governments Disability Reform Council released the NDIS Quality and Safeguarding Framework. The framework was developed in consultation with a range of key stakeholders, including people with disability, their families, carers and providers as well as peak bodies. The bill is a very important step towards implementing the framework and giving effect to the Commonwealth government's regulatory responsibilities.

The commissioner will be responsible for overseeing quality and safeguards for full implementation of the NDIS, including information linkages and capacity-building elements of the scheme. The commissioner will also oversee quality and safeguards in other programs, including Commonwealth-funded advocacy services and older people with a disability who are receiving supports under the Commonwealth Continuity of Support Program—specialist disability services for older people.

The bill establishes compliance, complaints and risk management arrangements for the registration, and regulation of NDIS providers, including practice standards, a code of conduct, and mechanisms for complaints and reportable incidents. The commissioner will also be responsible for national oversight and policy settings in relation to worker screening, behaviour support and monitoring the use of restrictive practices within the NDIS, with the aim of reducing and eliminating such practices.

This bill will further the objects and principles of the act, and empower people with disability to exercise choice and control in the planning and delivery of supports and services under the NDIS. The proposed amendments mean that people with disability, their families and carers will have one single body to which they can raise concerns about the quality of supports or services, and a single source of nationally consistent and transparent information about NDIS providers.

For providers, the new national approach will enable a single registration and regulatory system across participating jurisdictions, reducing duplication and providing national consistency. The bill is intended to balance the need to provide appropriate protections that meet the Commonwealth's obligations in relation to regulation of the NDIS-funded supports and services, with the need to enable participants to take reasonable risks themselves so that they can reach their own goals. It is also intended to suit an emerging market based system in which participants are building their capacity to act as informed consumers. The workforce is growing rapidly, and new providers are regularly entering the market with innovative ideas and different models of providing services.

This bill complements and strengthens the existing measures to remove discrimination against people with disability in Australia and to provide them with support and assistance, such as the Disability Discrimination Act 1992; the provision of income support through the disability support pension; carer payment and carer allowance; the National Disability Strategy; and the National Disability Agreement.

In bringing this bill forward, the government is seeking to deliver a safe and high-quality NDIS. The government has provided $209 million over four years to establish this commission. The bill also makes minor amendments to the act in response to an independent review of the act. The amendments will improve the operation of the act in supporting the full implementation of the NDIS.

The review that was required by section 208 of this act considered the operation of the act in supporting the scheme and whether any changes were necessary for that purpose. The amendments in schedule 2 of this bill were recommended by the review and are supported by the Council of Australian Governments in its response to the review recommendations. The amendments are administrative and focus on ensuring the effective operation of the legislation. The amendments expand on the general supports that could be provided to people with disability under the scheme to support the implementation of information linkages and capacity-building elements of the scheme.

Additionally, the amendments clarify the operation of elements of the act to provide more guidance to participants and decision-makers—for example, how the disability requirements apply to people with chronic health conditions, how participants can request to have their plan reassessed, and how the agency can gather information on people who may be eligible for support as well as actual participants.

The government is fully committed to delivering a fully funded, high-quality NDIS. We have supported the NDIS from day one, and the establishment of the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission demonstrates this ongoing commitment. Preventing abuse of people with disability is obviously broader than the NDIS. The commission's work will not replace reporting to the police or other authorities, but it does represent a very significant reform designed to strengthen the standards to address abuse and neglect for the most vulnerable in our society.

I am aware of the amendment moved by the member for Jagajaga. The government's position, as has been stated previously, is that, rather than proceeding with yet another inquiry through a royal commission or other form of inquiry, the Turnbull government is focused squarely on strong, clear and demonstrable action by establishing this NDIS Quantity and Safeguards Commission to register providers, handle participant complaints and manage and enforce a clear code of conduct for providers and workers. The government takes the firm view that the opposition will be doing the right thing by people with a disability by agreeing to the 0.5 per cent Medicare levy increase that would fully fund the NDIS and this new NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission, rather than calling for an inquiry into the system that is very soon to be substantially reformed for the betterment of all Australians with a disability. I commend the bill to the House.

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

The original question was that this bill be now read a second time. To this the honourable member for Jagajaga has moved as an amendment that all words after 'that' be omitted with a view to substituting other words. So the immediate question is that the amendment be agreed to.

The question now is that this bill be read a second time.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.