Monday, 2 March 2020
Private Members' Business
National Disability Insurance Scheme
That this House:
(1) notes that:
(a) on 20 January 2020 the final report from the review of the National Disability Insurance Scheme Act 2013 was handed down by Mr David Tune AO PSM; and
(b) the report made 29 recommendations that have been endorsed by the disability sector, including people with disability, service providers and carers; and
(2) calls on the Government to act on the recommendations of the review as soon as possible.
The National Disability Insurance Scheme is a very worthy undertaking. It is an excellent idea, and it's one which Labor remains fundamentally very committed to. But, after $4.6 billion has been taken from the NDIS to prop up this government's dodgy budget, with reports that 1,200 people have died waiting for their NDIS packages, and with ridiculous staff caps which pretend that somehow you can increase the scheme fourfold but keep the number of staff at a certain number, it is true to say that the National Disability Insurance Scheme is not working as it should be.
I acknowledge the new CEO, Mr Martin Hoffman, and maybe he will be a breath of fresh air in the organisation, but that doesn't change the fact that there is a pathology within the organisation. This is not the fault of the staff who work in the organisation—they work hard, and I have the privilege to know plenty of them—but in the National Disability Insurance Scheme and the agency there is a pathology or a sickness which exists regardless of the government's inattention.
The fact of the matter is that since the election, and while I have been re-immersing myself in how the NDIS and the world of disability are going, everything that happens in the NDIS seems to be about protecting the corporate backside of the organisation but has very little to do with empathy. Everything seems to be about capping some costs but not looking at the correct areas in which to cap costs. There is a pathology in the organisation in the NDIS which needs to be dealt with.
The government's excuse for the last seven years is that it's required brute force to get the expansion of the scheme from trial to a scheme which now covers over 300,000 people and is heading towards half a million. The expression that's been used is that it has required brute force to get it to this size, and now, the brute force having been used, sensitivity will emerge in the conduct of the scheme. But, seven years on, it is highly unsatisfactory to have a scheme which, when it works well, works very well but, when it works poorly, works very poorly.
The response of the government has been to do a review. In fact, there have been 21 reviews of the scheme in the last six or seven years. This motion today, though, recommends that the government address the Tune review, the latest provided to the government. The Tune review makes many recommendations which I think are worthy of support, but at the core of the reform required for the NDIS is empathy. There is a requirement, I believe, on the NDIS and the NDIA to start putting people back into the scheme. What is required here, rather than unrealistic deadlines set for participants, is that realistic deadlines now be set for the organisation to make decisions. It is not right that the government can say to the people, 'Well, you've got a certain time period and you have to jump through certain hoops,' yet, when the shoe is on the other foot and the participant requires the scheme to be responsive in time, nothing happens.
So we are most supportive of many of the recommendations of the Tune review being implemented—in particular, but not exclusively, the proposition that there should be a participant service guarantee. The idea is that the agency and the insurance scheme work for the people and not the other way round. There are specific proposals which I think are worthy of being implemented by the government now, not later, including extending the time frame for participants to provide information to support an access decision from 28 days to 90 days. A participant's first plan should be put in place within 10 weeks of an access decision, which should be reduced to eight weeks from 1 July 2021. A plan implementation meeting should be offered and scheduled no more than four weeks after the approval of a plan. A scheduled plan review should commence no later than eight weeks before the scheduled plan review date. We need to ensure that there is certainty and accountability on time lines, as to the provision of assistive technology and the consideration of specialist reports. The internal review process should be completed within 90 days, reducing to 60 days from 1 July 2021.
Labor is very committed to the NDIS, but we need to ensure that the organisation demonstrates empathy to the people who are participants in the scheme. We think this is possible. This doesn't require an election to change. Instead, what we need is the NDIA and the NDIS to respond to the needs of the participants, their families and carers.
The National Disability Insurance Scheme is transforming the lives of people who live with disability and of their families and carers. Through the National Disability Insurance Scheme, the Morrison government is committed to providing individual choice. We are committed to providing individuals with control over the decisions about the support and care that they want to access, and we are committed to fully funding the NDIS so that people are able to do so.
The National Disability Insurance Scheme is a world-first system of disability support. It's supporting Australians with permanent and significant disabilities. By July 2020, the National Disability Insurance Scheme will be available across Australia and will grow to support more than 500,000 Australians with a disability by 2023. The National Disability Insurance Scheme will also be fully funded. The NDIS budget funding is growing strongly, from $13.3 billion in budget year 2018-19 to almost $18 billion in budget year 2019-20 to more than $22 billion in the budget year 2020-21.
The recent review of the National Disability Insurance Scheme Act, conducted by David Tune AO, PSM, heard about the experiences of people living with disability, their family members, carers, advocates and providers from around Australia. The review found that, while there was a need for faster processes, better service and more flexibility for some participants, the NDIS is improving social and economic outcomes for many of its participants while increasing their ability to achieve their goals and aspirations. Our government is dedicated to getting the settings right. The government will use the findings of the Tune review to update and clarify the legislation and remove barriers to an even better NDIS.
The government response to the Tune review will be released shortly, along with an exposure draft of the legislative changes so that NDIS participants, their families, carers and other stakeholders can provide feedback, prior to the finalising of a bill for passage through parliament. There are a range of things our government is already doing. In November 2019, the Minister for the NDIS released the Australian government's plan for the National Disability Insurance Scheme. The plan has six focus areas with specific activities under each area. The focus areas are: quicker access and quality decision making; increased engagement and collaboration; market innovation and improved technology; a financially sustainable NDIS; equitable and consistent decisions; and we will look to improve long-term outcomes for people with disability, their families and carers.
The government asked the NDIA what they needed, to deliver, and we listened. The NDIA is currently filling an additional 800 APS positions capable of exercising delegations under the NDIS legislation, bringing the total NDIA workforce to more than 11,000 people.
Empowering people with disability with a voice is critical to guaranteeing ongoing improvements to the NDIS. Last year I was delighted to host Prime Minister Scott Morrison and the Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme and Minister for Government Services, Stuart Robert, in my electorate of Boothby to meet with my constituents and hear firsthand about their experiences with the NDIS. Together with Vicki Rundle PSM, the former acting CEO of the NDIA, and Simon Edwards, the state manager of the NDIA in SA, the Prime Minister and the minister met with staff at the NDIS office in St Mary's in my electorate. The opportunity to discuss the experience of the NDIS with participants was absolutely invaluable. I know that my local residents appreciated the opportunity to speak directly with the Prime Minister and the minister. In common with the Tune review, some participants felt there needed to be greater flexibility and speed, while others were really, really happy with their experience and how it had helped them to take greater control over their lives and decisions and the support provided to them in their day-to-day lives.
The Prime Minister and the Minister have held these meetings all over Australia. This is the level of personal care and attention they are giving to Australians who are reliant on the NDIS to achieve independence and control over their lives and their quality of life. Underpinning all of this, of course, is our plan for a stronger economy, because we need a strong economy to be able to afford to pay for and properly support the NDIS, which is going to empower so many Australians to live the lives that they want to lead.
It's an honour to second this motion and to follow the Member for Maribyrnong, who was the driving force behind the establishment of the NDIS.
However, the implementation of the NDIS has not been smooth and it is evident that the pressure of rolling the scheme out across Australia has directly impacted the NDIA's ability to provide a consistent, effective and high quality service delivery offering.
They are the words of David Tune in summing up his findings as part of the independent review of the NDIS Act. I believe it succinctly puts in perspective what we've long been hearing from participants, their families and carers, and the disability sector generally about the operations of the NDIS.
The report into the NDIS Act made 29 recommendations for legislative change in order to improve the operation and efficiency of the NDIS itself. Among the many recommendations, the report calls for legislative time frames for decision-making as part of the participant service guarantee. The report also made recommendations for more flexibility in how the NDIS funds are used by participants, calling for a trial that would allow NDIS planners to also be able to approve participant plans and call for additional funding to support people with disability to understand and navigate the NDIS. Furthermore, the report made recommendations clarifying the test used by the NDIA in its decision-making as to whether support is reasonable and necessary. This crucial aspect of it is certainly driven by the lack of definition and the ambiguity and confusion surrounding what constitutes reasonable and necessary support. Another very welcome recommendation, which I know has often been raised at NDIS forums in my electorate, is the need to provide clearer guidance as to whether a psychological condition is permanent. It's imperative that guidance is provided recognising that some conditions, while they may be episodic and fluctuating, are nevertheless permanent conditions.
When the Labor government established the National Disability Insurance Scheme, it was built on the belief that each person in our community, including those who live with disabilities, deserves to know that their country is committed to building a society of inclusion and acceptance. This is why I find it extremely offensive to those individuals living with disabilities, and their families and carers, that this government oversaw a $4.6 billion underspend on the NDIS. This is not because the funding was not required, as it's clearly been highlighted in the findings of the review into the act; rather it was an opportunity for the government, while attacking the most vulnerable people in our society, to simply prop up a failing budget. This decision effectively denied people with disabilities the services, treatment and equipment that they so desperately need. Labor will continue to hold this government to account on its promises, because Australians living with disabilities, their families and carers simply deserve better. They deserve support and meaningful inclusion in a society like ours.
My office has been inundated with inquiries from parents and carers who are experiencing difficulty in navigating the NDIS and also in the associated waiting times for decisions to be made by the NDIA. Recently, a young woman came to my office—a constituent named Levina Pham. She is 21 years old and recently graduated from the University of New South Wales. Remarkably, she's a carer for her 15-year-old brother Kerry, who is living with stage 3 autism. She shed light on the issue by drawing on real-life experiences of families who care for those who live with disability—autism in this case. She said that the NDIS is extremely complex and that it lacks education and community awareness for families and carers living with a person with disability as to how to get the necessary support they need. This is particularly so for individuals coming from a culturally and linguistically diverse background.
That said, I call on the government to act promptly on recommendations from the review into this act. People living with disabilities, their families and carers simply deserve better. And we can do better.
The Tune review into the NDIS was an important moment for people with disabilities in this country. The original aim of the NDIS was to enhance the lives of people with disabilities, to give them choice and control over what they need to live their lives to the fullest. For some, it has delivered. But for many, it hasn't yet lived up to this aim.
To give one devastating example: in January it was revealed that since 2016 more than 1,200 Australians have died waiting for their NDIS packages. Clearly, this is not acceptable. The Tune review was an opportunity for people who access, supply or encounter the NDIS to voice their views on how to improve this system, which so substantially impacts upon their lives. This is important to me, because it is important to so many of my constituents. The NDIS is one of the issues people speak to me about most often, and my office has told me that since I was elected we've received an average of eight calls per week. Many people contact my office to express frustration at issues they've been dealing with for months, and sometimes for years. These systemic problems require urgent remedy. There are around 2,100 NDIS in the Ovens-Murray NDIS district, which covers almost all of my electorate of Indi. This represents 1.6 per cent of the population of Indi, which is higher than the national average of 1.1 per cent.
It's also important to me because I believe it should be important to all Australians. We all have a stake in a properly functioning NDIS, not only because we all might need it one day but because a society should be judged by how it treats its most vulnerable—and I believe Australia is a big society. I was proud to make a submission to the Tune review—apparently, and surprisingly, the only MP who did—on behalf of the many people whose stories I have heard in my time as the member for Indi. The things I heard from people, which became the eight recommendations I made to the Tune review, made a lot of sense to those people who told them to me.
They were things like requiring all plans to be approved by the participant before being agreed. Currently, it's the NDIA planners, and not the participants themselves, who are ultimately responsible for determining which supports are reasonable and necessary for an individual NDIS participant. The participant can put their requests forward, but has no say over the final decision about required supports. Many participants feel that enabling the NDIA to make an exclusive determination of the supports they need denies them the self-determination to make choices about how they can function to the best possible level. One constituent told me:
My son is in a second-hand wheelchair that was suitable when he was 13. He is now 21 and the chair is having serious detrimental effects on his body. His request for a new chair was refused and he was offered a service instead. His request for a motorised chair was also refused. He cannot walk.
I also recommended improved training for NDIA planners. The level of staffing and staff qualifications are regularly raised with my office as ongoing problems. Concerns have been raised about the ability of staff to deal with the complex and emotional nature of cases in a respectful, sensitive and compassionate way. One mother of a child with Down's syndrome was asked if her son would grow out of his condition. I'm sure the NDIA planners are hardworking people, no doubt stretched because of the staffing cap at the NDIA, but we need a better standard from staff that are making huge decisions about other people's lives. We must lift that cap to get enough people to do the job and we must give those people the right training to make sure they can do their job properly.
I'm pleased that the Tune review picked up on many of my recommendations. The participants' service guarantee, set down to be legislated by July, will empower participants to sign off on their own plans. This is a good step and celebrated by the people who told me it was so necessary. But the government must act on all of the recommendations of the Tune review and not stop there. It must lift the NDIA staffing cap and ensure those staff are properly trained to do the job. The NDIS is something all Australians should be proud of not just as a symbol but as a functioning real-life commitment to the type of nation we want to be. The Tune review lays out a path towards this better Australia that I know we all want to become, and the government must move swiftly to take us there.
The NDIS, as you are well aware, Deputy Speaker, was to be a game-changer for those living with profound and severe disability, for the people who care for them and for those of us who love them. As the former Prime Minister behind this scheme, Julia Gillard, said, the NDIS would finally bring the security and dignity to those who would benefit from the scheme. At the time, it was a bipartisan scheme due to the advocacy and action of those campaigning for it, including of course the mover of today's motion, the member for Maribyrnong. But what we've seen since the change of government in 2013—a bit under seven years ago—are some beautiful words from those opposite, but their words do not match their actions.
In an area that was the last in the rollout for the NDIS, I was absolutely appalled to find that, time and time again, when I raised an issue about people in my community working with the NDIS and interacting with it, that there was nothing new to be learned in our electorate, just a failure to systemically address things that had come up four years previously so that, wherever it was rolled out, the same issues arose time and time again. We have to look at this in the context that we're here to talk about the Tune review. It's the 21st review into the NDIS in seven years, so I join today with the member for Maribyrnong, the member for Fowler and the member for Adelaide on this side of the chamber to say: 'Please act on all 29 recommendations of this review.' I say this, having had the member for Maribyrnong in my electorate for a forum, where we heard from many people who have concerns about the processes, and we've heard a lot about that today.
I also attended a state-wide forum, where we heard from all of the stakeholders, all of whom went on to make submissions to the Tune review, and all had concerns about this government's record on the NDIS, because they delayed the rollout, because they capped the number of staff, because they kept the price of services too low, because they failed to invest in the workforce needed for such a profound reform in Australia, because they said the NDIS wasn't fully funded and misled the public to believe they needed an increase in tax before backing off that plan, because they built their own hopes of a surplus on the back of an underspend of $4.6 billion in the NDIS—I can't tell you how disappointed the families in my electorate who are getting NDIS support are about that last one—and now they're failing to implement all of the recommendations made by David Tune. In fact, many of the recommendations that were in the NDIS joint standing committee's interim report, published in December 2019. Like everyone here, we're all meeting with people in our offices, and our offices are assisting people with a disability or their carers or people who care about them. We're all hearing the same concerns over and over again, and it is only in enacting, through legislation, the 29 recommendations that these will be addressed.
We had feedback given to the review that showed the participants found the transition to the NDIS confusing and frustrating, with some people saying they missed the supports offered under state and territory systems, particularly active case management; that they're frustrated about delays and a lack of transparency around how the NDIA makes decisions; that they want to have more support and become informed and effective consumers; that they feel the NDIS is too complex and difficult to navigate; and they feel they're not recognised as the experts in their disability. More, they feel the NDIA staff do not understand disability or appreciate the challenges people with a disability face as part of everyday life.
In my electorate, I know about the work done by our local Warringa Park special school. I know that an assistant principal was working pretty much full time on supporting the families in their engagement with the NDIS. Schools aren't funded to do this work, but it was necessary the help the young people at that school so as to ensure that they ended up with the support they need. So I join colleagues today in calling for a properly funded NDIS to deliver security and dignity to Australians living with a disability, their carers and family. Deliver the things that they need. Deliver the NDIS that was promised in this place prior to your election.
I rise to speak against the motion proposed by the member for Maribyrnong. As the largest social policy reform since Medicare, the government recognise that the NDIS will require work to ensure we get the balance right and guarantee the future success of this scheme. We need to have a considered and proportionate response to the Tune review, not a hasty and poorly-thought-out kneejerk response.
The government is well attuned to NDIS participants' concerns and is committed to supporting people with disability to achieve their goals. In line with our promise at the last election, in January 2020 the minister for the NDIS, Stuart Robert, announced the independent review of the National Disability Insurance Scheme Act 2013 and introduction of a participant service guarantee by Mr David Tune AO. This shows a government committed to continual improvement.
The government welcomed the review, which identified the varied experience of NDIS participants. Many participants have had excellent experiences and are benefitting from the scheme; however, there are some frustrations with wait times and complexity of processes. In my electorate of Higgins, the community response to the NDIS has been overwhelmingly positive. Some have shared the aforementioned concerns, which I have duly relayed to the minister. As a government which prides itself on clear and open communication, I am confidently working to alleviate these teething issues.
Notably, the government has committed to legislating the participant service guarantee to ensure faster processes and better service for participants by 1 July 2020. The minister for NDIS is on to this. The government will release a fully considered response to the Tune review shortly, along with our exposure draft of the legislative changes to allow for community consultation. This review builds on the government's NDIS plan announced in November 2019 by the minister for the NDIS.
The NDIS plan reaffirms our government's commitment to deliver a world-leading NDIS to the estimated 500,000 participants over the next three to four years. The plan is about ensuring the sustained success of the NDIS and has six focus areas, with specific activities under each area. The focus areas are: quicker access and quality decision-making, increased engagement and collaboration, market innovation and improved technology, a financially sustainable NDIS, equitable and consistent decisions, and the improved long-term outcomes for people with disability, their families and their carers.
The government is working hand in hand with the NDIA to ensure they are equipped to deliver these goals. I am happy to report that the NDIA is currently filling an additional 800 APS positions, bringing the total NDIA workforce to more than 11,000. This is an unprecedented investment in helping Australians with disabilities.
The government has already implemented a number of changes to the NDIS plan as part of this. These include longer plan duration for participants and families, increased and more transparent pricing for providers and a new NDIS employment strategy. We should also be proud of the fact that there are now 338,000 Australians benefitting from this scheme. This notably includes 134,000 people receiving disability support for the first time. This figure represents 40 per cent of the total number of participants. Of the 28,000 participants who joined the NDIS in the December quarter, there was already a huge increase in the diversity of participants. This includes a greater proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, culturally and linguistically diverse individuals, and those with a psychosocial disability entering the scheme. Importantly, the backlog for children accessing support through the NDIS has been slashed over the last six months from an average wait time of 104 to 44 days. This is a minister who is listening and acting.
The findings of the review the government has asked for will be used by the government to update and clarify the legislation and remove barriers in order to develop a better NDIS. This can only be achieved by a strong economy and by managing the budget. As Australians we should all be proud of the commitment we have made to supporting Australians with disabilities and we should celebrate this new initiative and all it is delivering. (Time expired)
Thank you to the member for Maribyrnong for moving this important motion. The National Disability Insurance Scheme has been plagued by mismanagement and maladministration for too long. But is it any wonder, with an arbitrary cap of staffing at the agency, no coherent strategy and, worst of all, $4.6 billion in cuts? In the absence of proper support, people living with disability, and their carers, are forced to fight for their rights and for adequate funding to let them live a full and engaged life in our community. I have heard their stories and I have been appalled.
Krystal is a young mum with vision impairment, but she doesn't let that stop her from achieving anything. She has numerous qualifications in community services and she uses them to help and support others in our community. She is a mum and she is determined, capable and can achieve anything she sets her mind to. I had the pleasure of meeting Krystal recently and I was blown away by all that she has achieved, but I was heartbroken to hear about Krystal's experience with the National Disability Insurance Agency. Under the scheme, Krystal has received support for both work and home. Her workplace support workers have helped her minimise risk by conducting site orientations at the many and varied places she travels to for work. She also received help with her children and for things like grocery shopping. Nothing too out of the ordinary there. But one day the NDIS reviewed her plan and decided that she was receiving too much support—that she didn't need this additional help. It wasn't necessary. She had, after all, decided to have children. And, outrageously, she has a guide dog, so why should she need a transport allowance? This started Krystal down a long and extremely upsetting path, fighting to have the support she needs and should be entitled to under a system that has been botched by those opposite. Because Krystal has taken the matter to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, she has been told that they won't give her the normal yearly review. She will have to cope with the money left in her plan, which just won't be enough. Krystal's hearing has continually been pushed back. She has had to get lawyers and seek help from advocates, all because she wants to maintain her current levels of support. This is just not good enough and should not be happening. But I guess that is what happens with a $1.6 billion underspend that even their Liberal colleagues in New South Wales are calling out.
Tyson is a young man with quadriplegic cerebral palsy, which means he requires the use of a wheelchair. Tyson is studying at TAFE and his hobbies are information technology, such as web design and blogging. Tyson's main form of transport is a sedan that requires him to be lifted into the car by his father—lifted! The wheelchair is then pulled in a trailer. Tyson has applied for funding under his NDIS plan for a wheelchair-accessible van. However, he has been told that the scheme can only fund modifications to cars under two years old. At $40,000 Tyson just cannot afford this. I'm sure that is the case for so many; it is a huge ask. In Tyson's own words, the restrictions on his movements have left him unable to feel as though he is included in civic and community events and his capacity building moving forward is very limited. Heartbreaking. Cruel. Unnecessary. I wrote to the minister and was assured that the NDIA were working with Tyson on this issue, but Tyson has said this is simply not the case.
The whole situation has been a terrible stress for Tyson and his father, who cares for him. And why? Why, when this government has cut so much, when we know there is money left over, are people like Tyson and Krystal having to fight a system that should be there to help them? The government wanted this review of the legislation and now they have it. They need to act quickly to lift the staffing cap on the NDIA. They need to properly fund the scheme and make sure it is working for those who need it. We need a kinder, caring system, or people like Krystal and Tyson will continue to be left behind and we will all lose the amazing contribution they can make in our communities. The cost of inaction is simply too high.
The NDIS is one of the great pieces of bipartisan legislation. Disability funding had never been properly envisaged or sustainably managed before the NDIS. But, from the day this came into force, the 2,129 people in Bennelong on the scheme have been able to look forward to certainty of funding, no matter who sits on the government benches. It is important to note that the system is not yet perfect and that we must always monitor the scheme to ensure it remains fit for purpose, is accessible to everyone who needs it and is able to fund the needs of participants. That is why the Tune review was so important and why this motion from the member for Maribyrnong is also timely.
An independent review of the National Disability Insurance Scheme Act was promised at the last election. In January 2020 the minister for the NDIS, Stuart Robert MP, announced the release of the independent review of the NDIS Act by Mr David Tune AO PSM. The review's findings reaffirmed what many of us know: that while many participants have had excellent experiences and are benefiting from the scheme, others have had frustrations with wait times, complexity of process and a lack of understanding of their needs. The government will use the findings to update and clarify the legislation and remove barriers to a better NDIS. The response to the Tune review will be released shortly, along with an exposure draft of the legislation changes, so that NDIS participants and their families, carers and other stakeholders can provide feedback prior to finalising a bill for passage through the parliament.
Furthermore, as part of the consultation phase of the Tune review, discussions were had across the country between late July 2019 and early November 2019. Mr Tune met with 17 national peak and representative organisations for people with disability, carers and disability service providers to hear issues of concern from their perspective. The NDIS Act review team received a total of 201 submissions—of which 152 were authorised to be made public—and 1,740 usable responses to the survey, and 15 community workshops were held across every state and territory. Across all engagement platforms, responses to the review were materially consistent, with attendees expressing a desire for faster processes and better service for participants. This is consistent with the terms of reference for the review, which were designed to examine issues driving negative experiences with the NDIS.
Following the release of the report, the disability advocacy sector has welcomed the recommendations to provide more flexibility for participants. It's great to see that we are already making some progress on this. The latest quarterly report also demonstrates the backlog of children with disability accessing early intervention has been slashed over the last six months. As at 31 December 2019, the average wait time for children under six to get access has gone from 43 days last June to three days last December, while the wait time for children waiting for a plan has gone from 104 days in June to 44 days in December. These are excellent gains that mean more kids are getting help sooner.
I was honoured to welcome the Minister for the NDIS, Stuart Robert, to Bennelong towards the end of last year. I was delighted to take him to one of Bennelong's organisations that we are most proud of—the great Royal Rehab in Ryde. This rehabilitation hospital, which, incredibly, turned 120 last year, has helped thousands of people every year to get a sense of normality back following a catastrophic accident. Getting Alex McKinnon back on his feet was one of the most public miracles, but he is just one of tens of thousands they have helped. It was a delight to be able to show off to the minister the cutting edge of rehabilitation and their wonderful facility and, more importantly, to be able to give them a voice directly to the minister so they can work out their concerns and give the minister firsthand demonstrations about how the scheme works within their supported independent living arrangements. As always, I would like to thank the CEO, Matt Mackay, and the chair, Tony Staveley, for their incredible work, as well as everybody who works in this amazing facility.
I welcome this private member's motion from the member for Maribyrnong because it is such an important issue. All of us are dealing with NDIS cases in our electorate offices every single day. When this program was first put to the parliament—Mr Deputy Speaker, you were there and you would remember the joy and the great hope we had that this would give people with disabilities the dignity that they deserve, give them the services we all take for granted every single day of our lives and give them perhaps some form of level playing field when it came to applying for jobs, caring for themselves and living their lives the best they can.
But, unfortunately, that's not the case. Every single day of the week, we are contacted by constituents continuously telling us how frustrated they are about the delays and about the lack of transparency when they are asking questions about their plans. They need more support and they want more information. They feel that the NDIS is far too complex and difficult to navigate. These are the things that we hear every day. They also feel that they are not recognised as the experts in their own disability—after all, they are the experts when it comes to their disability.
So the NDIA needs to work out plans that are best for those people and listen to the people who are seeking the services. We heard earlier that there have been 21 whole reviews, and we know that is because it is not working properly. Of course it won't work properly: when you pull $4.6 million out of its budget, how can it work properly? There was $4.6 billion ripped out of the guts of the NDIA to prop up the so-called future surplus of this government. So we ripped out $4.6 million from some of the most vulnerable people in our society—people who need the services more than anyone else. As I said, the NDIS was meant to give people with disability the assistance that is required, which we all take for granted. This is what it was meant to do. Here we have a government that just rips out $4.6 billion and hopes no-one notices. And it wasn't a good decision. At the same time, the government continues to keep programs that are costing billions of dollars for those who are in very different classes of the population such as multinationals that have shelf companies all around the place—''We won't touch them, but we'll rip $4.6 billion out of the most vulnerable budget that exists.'
I have many examples of people contacting me and saying that they're waiting for days and months on end. For example, and just for a bit of background: Susan from my electorate contacted me. Her family is experiencing grave difficulties in acquiring a review for her son's plan. Whilst the family has the opportunity to discuss his needs at the annual review, that is a long way off—a long way off! Their circumstances are changing continually. They're speaking to coordinators and being told one thing and then they're being advised of something else. This child has severe autism and needs assistance. They know the assistance they're getting is nowhere near what's required.
In another case, the family did their own independent review with their clinicians and therapists of how much would be required to look after their child with autism. It was in the vicinity of $70,000 a year. The NDIS was funding less than $15,000 for this particular child. That is a shortfall which is massive—it's nowhere near the services required for this particular person.
I remember very clearly that I had a disability forum in my electorate back very early on in 2007, when Bill Shorten was the shadow minister for disability services. That was before anyone had even spoken about the NDIS, and people at that forum were telling us about an insurance scheme that could actually solve some of their issues for care. So we had great hope for this wonderful program—and it is a wonderful program. It is one of those programs that will assist people, but it won't do it when you rip out $4.6 billion from it. (Time expired)
I rise to speak on the motion moved by the member for Hughes on the health supports provided under the NDIS.
The National Disability Insurance Scheme aims to see people with disabilities live life to their full potential. The scheme is a world first that is improving the quality of life for its participants. However, the Morrison government has acknowledged that there is still work to be done to make sure that the NDIS is functioning as intended to meet the needs of participants. Since the introduction of the NDIS, the Council of Australian Governments' Disability Reform Council has been committed to resolving outstanding challenges in the interaction between the NDIS and other service providers so that Australians with a disability receive the supports they need. Since last year, the Disability Reform Council has resolved a number of longstanding issues between the NDIS and the health system. The council agreed that the NDIS will fund disability related health supports where the support is required as a result of the participant's disability and will assist the participant to undertake activities of daily living.
As a member of the Joint Standing Committee on the National Disability Insurance Scheme, I have participated in public hearings where valuable feedback from the community will help to shape improvements to the scheme. Part of the function of the NDIS is to provide supports for people with a disability, and these new health supports have been introduced to assist participants to manage a range of needs. These include needs associated with continence; respiratory care; nutrition; wound and pressure care; dysphagia, diabetes, podiatry and epilepsy. Additional supports have been available from October last year.
For an NDIS participant with dysphagia this means access to swallowing therapy and an oral eating-and-drinking-care plan to make mealtimes just that little bit easier. Those needing respiratory supports can now have access to a ventilator, air humidifier or cough assist machine to assist with breathing. The list of refundable supports is not exhaustive, and supports may be delivered in a range of ways. Disability related health supports can be delivered by suitably qualified and competent workers, which may include nurses and allied health professionals. The NDIA is working closely with the Commonwealth, state and territory governments to ensure participants who may be eligible for these supports have been included in their NDIS plans. The NDIA is also prioritising urgent and complex cases for plan reviews and has commenced working with known participants to ensure they have disability related health supports included in their plans.
The NDIA has also been making proactive outbound calls to participants assessed as likely to require disability related health supports to inform them of the opportunity to include these supports in their NDIS plans. This has included contacting all urgent and complex cases that have been identified by the states and territories. Since January this year, approximately 5,145 of these calls have been made. Many participants have welcomed the call, as they were unaware of these changes.
By embracing disability related health supports, the NDIS is upholding the principles of choice and control. This means the NDIS participants are at the centre of all decisions made about their plan. It will provide greater independence for participants in their everyday lives. Our government is continually reviewing the ways we can improve the NDIS. We want all participants to be able to access the services they need for quality and meaningful life. Since the election, the Morrison government has improved the NDIS, implementing longer plan durations for participants and their families, increased and more transparent pricing for providers and a new NDIS employment strategy.
In our communities, the supports I have discussed today are complementary to the work of thousands of NDIS supporters. I'd like to take this opportunity to acknowledge Aspire Early Intervention in Newington and the Differently Abled People Association in Homebush West, two organisations in my electorate of Reid who have each received $20,000 under the Transition Assistance Funding initiative. The NDIS has revolutionised how we are, as a nation, able to support Australians who are living with a disability, ensuring that they and their families have the resources they need to thrive. We will continue to improve the NDIS to ensure that all participants can have access to the supports and services that they need.
I rise to speak on the motion put forward by my electoral neighbour the member for Hughes. I know that, whilst he does have his faults, he has a deep and abiding interest and a personal involvement in disability, and I congratulate him on the work that he's done with disability organisations. I recently had the privilege of co-hosting an NDIS forum with the shadow minister for the NDIS, Bill Shorten; the shadow minister for carers, Emma McBride; and another neighbour of mine, the member for Werriwa, the inestimably good Anne Stanley. I would like to, first of all, thank my colleagues for coming to south-west Sydney and listening to the concerns of NDIS participants in my electorate of Macarthur. I'd also like to thank those participants and carers for attending the forum and giving us the privilege of listening to their personal stories. Hearing from participants themselves is invaluable and really is the only way in which we can identify how to make the NDIS better.
As many in this place know, I've been involved in the care of children with disabilities for over 40 years. The NDIS, as already noted, is a revolutionary scheme and is to the credit of former Prime Minister Julia Gillard. We now have one of the most comprehensive systems for helping people with disability in the world. Credit goes to Julia Gillard and to many others.
In June of last year, the Australian government's Disability Reform Council agreed to fund a range of disability related health supports in participants' plans. This was a long overdue reform and recommendation. My view about the NDIS is that it fails in many points because planners have not been trained in how to care for people with disabilities and, in particular, some of their medical needs. This includes things like incontinence aids such as nappies for children who are now teenagers or adults, and incontinence equipment; equipment required for gastrostomy feeding of people who can't feed themselves or swallow properly; other nutritional aids for people on special diets; and a whole range of medical things that are required for the care and, indeed, for the lives of many people with disabilities that I've been caring for. I commend the council's decision to fund these supports through the NDIS, but it is long, long overdue.
Many of the participants I've spoken to in my electorate have found it very difficult to navigate gaining access to these supports through the health system in the past, and it became even worse with the advent of the NDIS. This is welcome reform, but long overdue. I do fear that the red tape and bureaucracy of the NDIS will hinder participants benefitting completely from some of these medical supports. Time and time again, constituents approach me about the ridiculous wait times to access decisions, reviews and plan implementation for things like wheelchairs or vehicles that are able to take wheelchairs and move participants from place to place. There are huge waits for this. We've heard of children with muscular dystrophy waiting years to get access to motorised wheelchairs. These are children who will die of their disease. It's just unfair to make them wait. Participants need to be the centre of all decisions in the NDIS, especially the funding of health supports that are required to provide them with a decent life.
The NDIS was made for supporting people living with disabilities, but unfortunately the government has underspent by a large amount, and this is great shame, denying some of these much-needed aids to people with some of the most horrific disabilities that children can suffer from. The NDIS, in some ways, is taking away from the most vulnerable just to give the government a surplus. There are also concerns about how the NDIS is coping with organisations that are defrauding it. We know that there's poor oversight of this, and again this needs to be improved.
The NDIS is a life-changing scheme and was designed to lift people up and provide essential support to those most in need. In many circumstances, it's failing its main objective.
Since its introduction, the National Disability Insurance Scheme, NDIS, has been supporting people with disability to achieve their goals and live life to their full potential. I rise to support this motion and congratulate the Morrison-McCormack government and the Council of Australian Governments Disability Reform Council for working together to improve the NDIS so that Australians are able to access the support that they need.
Since 1 October 2019, additional disability related health supports have been made available to purchase using NDIS funding. The NDIS is now funding specific disability related health supports where the supports are a regular part of the participant's daily life and the need for support results from a participant's disability. These supports are for participants who need help to manage a range of health matters, including those associated with continence, diabetes, dysphasia, epilepsy, podiatry, respiratory, nutrition, as well as wound and pressure care. The approach agreed to by the Disability Reform Council to fund these additional health related supports recognises that NDIS participants and their needs are at the centre of all government decisions.
We are committed to getting this right for Australians who live with disability. The government is ensuring a process of continual improvement for the NDIS, which is why Minister Robert commissioned a review of the NDIS Act 2013. The independent review, commissioned by Minister Robert and undertaken by David Tune, reaffirmed that, while many participants have had excellent experiences and are benefitting from the scheme, others have had frustrations with wait times, complexity of processes, and a lack of understanding of their needs. This review has assisted the government in developing the participant service guarantee. The review identified opportunities to make NDIS processes simpler and more straightforward, and to remove legislative barriers to positive participant and provider experiences with the NDIS.
The introduction of additional disability related health supports is another step toward delivering the government's plan for the NDIS. I'm committed to assisting Minister Robert in implementing the government's plan, which will ensure quicker access and quality decision-making, improved technology, equitable and consistent decisions, a financially stable NDIS and improved long-term outcomes for people who live with disability and for their families and carers.
These changes will be instrumental to many people who are reliant on the disability related health services in their daily lives. By December 2019, there were close to 340,000 active participants in the NDIS across the country and over 130,000 people receiving disability supports for the first time—evidence that uptake of the program is strong.
Another promising sign is that the diversity of participants in the NDIS is increasing. Of the 28,225 participants who joined the NDIS in the December quarter, there were more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, more culturally and linguistically diverse people and more people with psychosocial disability who entered the scheme than in previous quarters. This is a positive indication that the NDIS is working for all Australians, including those from disadvantaged or minority backgrounds.
There are also over 2,600 participants in my electorate of Mallee and 210 registered NDIS providers. I've been speaking with participants and providers across my electorate, gaining an appreciation for the operation of the scheme and how it is benefiting regional Australians. I understand that the NDIS has been transformative for many people living with disability in my electorate, and I'm thankful that these people will now be able to purchase additional disability related health supports—for example, the development and review of clinical care and daily maintenance for respiratory support; the implementation of a nutritional meal plan; epilepsy seizure monitoring; or even consumables related to wound and pressure care, such as dressings, gauze and bandages.
The NDIS is working for many thousands of people across the country, and these reforms will deliver outstanding benefits for many people. There are still challenges within the scheme that we have a duty to resolve, and I'm committed to working with the people of my electorate of Mallee to hear their stories, suggestions and feedback and to help in any way I can.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on the NDIS today, and I thank the member for Hughes for shining a light on the NDIS in this chamber, but I note the hypocrisy in a member of the Liberal-National coalition spruiking this scheme. I also want to pay tribute to my colleagues the member for Macarthur, who has just spoken on the NDIS, and the member for Oxley, who will be contributing on this private member's bill today.
The NDIS provides packages of support to profoundly and severely impaired Australians, and it helps them to have some control over their lives, which was what this scheme was always about. It was an insurance scheme, insuring all of us, in fact, who might face some kind of disability. That was the key: to have choice and control—they were the two words coming from our peak bodies for the disability groups around Australia.
For this to be achieved, the scheme needs to be funded appropriately. Last year, the Morrison government 'underspent'—it used that word—$4.6 billion on the NDIS, calling it an underspend by participants. I know that, in my electorate of Paterson alone, people have been crying out to have their plans adequately funded. They are certainly not saying that they can't spend the money and it is an outrageous claim to say that they are, especially for people who are desperate for packages and for their existing packages to be adequately funded.
Chris Walker is an extraordinary human being. He is a grandfather from Raymond Terrace who is a tireless advocate for his two grandsons, Jordan and Logan Weir. These little boys have an extraordinarily complex and rare disease—in fact, they have an incredibly rare genetic condition—and, until October last year, under the scheme Jordan received $100,000 a year more than his brother, who has the identical condition. How is this possible? It took years and countless appeals for Logan to receive the same funding as his brother, though they have that same rare genetic condition. Indeed, the condition is so acute that they both require parenteral feeding. They don't have intestines. Their little bodies are just so incredibly complex. If it weren't for the love of their grandfather in particular and their broader family, their lives would be just indescribably difficult. In fact, they are now. My office has worked with Chris throughout this incredibly long and difficult journey to see justice for these really brave and inspirational little men. They're phenomenal. But it has been so frustrating, and at times the injustice has been palpable. Chris tells me it was almost a full-time job, as you can imagine—he's been constantly grinding away, working to advocate for his grandsons. Chris says:
The boys both have the same condition – it's a rare disease and that adds to the problem because the planners don't understand the rare diseases.
He's not the only one who's been working full time on this. I met Rachel Threadgate, from Abermain, a great little town, at an NDIS roundtable that I hosted with the shadow minister for regional services, Jason Clare, last year. Rachel's daughter, Ela, has been diagnosed with several disorders including autism spectrum disorder, hypermobility, anxiety and speech and language delay. Ela's NDIS plan has been reviewed several times and the results have been constantly disappointing. Rachel has followed the appropriate channels to have these reviews changed but has described the process as lengthy and ridiculous considering the review took as long as the new NDIS plan. In a recent email, Rachel wrote:
I feel like we have jumped through every hoop they have asked us to, but it seems like we are getting nowhere. We even got a functional assessment done but it seems that it has made no difference to her funding … We have had to cut her psychologist visits and speech therapy and currently she is only doing occupational therapy, but not as often as we used to. We were informed by our LAC that we got a tough assessor and we just had to take what we were given.
Bill Shorten also came and did a fantastic roundtable and forum with me, and we heard countless examples of this. But it gets down to the bottom line: the government needs to put their money where their mouth is and fund this scheme properly. (Time expired)
I really want to take this opportunity to speak on this motion this morning because the NDIS is a very important issue in my electorate and around the country. I thank all members on both sides of the house for speaking on the NDIS, especially on this motion. Whilst there can be robust discussion from everyone on this issue, I think it is important that we work together to help our most vulnerable people around the nation, and I look forward to working with everyone to help these people.
We know that there have been issues as this major initiative has been slowly but surely implemented, giving people with disabilities options. Let's remember that this has been about putting people's care in their own hands. No-one knows what someone needs better than themselves. While we can always do better and we will continue to improve, I want to highlight a couple of things that have been happening in this space in my electorate of Herbert.
It was three years ago now that the permanent home of the NDIS was officially opened in Townsville. This was a major step forward in helping locals get the assistance they need to transition onto the scheme. At the time, the National Disability Insurance Agency regional manager for North Queensland said the Townsville office would play a vital role in supporting North Queenslanders to access the NDIS, and this has definitely been the case. The new office allows participants to come in and meet face-to-face during the planning and plan review, and members of the community have the opportunity to come in and talk about any general inquiries they may have. In addition to the service delivery, they also run provider and participant engagement activities in corporate services out of the new office to support the NDIS rollout across Queensland's northern region. There are 80 NDIA staff and the centre provides support to NDIS service centres across Queensland's northern region in Rockhampton, Mackay, Townsville, Mt Isa and Cairns.
I'd like to acknowledge local providers Feros Care and Uniting Care for their work with the Townsville community. Feros Care recently advised my office that they'll be working with local health professionals, including GPs, to ensure they achieve the best possible outcomes for participants and their families.
On the numbers, the NDIS supports about 18,000 people with disability across North Queensland, injecting up to $840 million into local economy and creating additional 3,150 full-time equivalent jobs for the region. More importantly than that, the NDIS assists the most vulnerable people in our community to live their best life and allows carers to access support services and provide hope to those who most need it. Our aim with this scheme is to provide support for people with disability, their families and carers, throughout Australia. All Australians under the age of 65 with a permanent and significant disability will have the reasonable and necessary support they need to live their lives.
I want to acknowledge the work of the Council of Australian Governments Disability Reform Council, which has been helping shape the improvements as we work towards making the scheme deliver on its goals as best possible. The NDIS is such an important mechanism to help support people. Like I said at the start, it's good we have robust discussion but we should all be working together to help our most vulnerable people.
Honourable members interjecting—
And it's great to see the members interjections, but I really do stand here with an open heart going, 'We should work together and we should discuss it.'
An honourable member: And open your wallet.
The member opposite interjects: 'And open your wallet.' While it might be funny for the other side to interject, I find the NDIS something extremely serious that we should be discussing and we should be working together on, not just interjecting with comments like, 'open your wallet' and 'just go fund it'. That doesn't help the people who need it; all it does is just divide people once again. But that's what we see countless times from the other side.
I'd like to finish by saying that anyone who has found difficulty with the NDIS and the NDIA in my electorate of Herbert, please contact my office and I'll work closely with them and the minister's office to help out where we can.
We just heard a lot of rubbish from the member of Herbert saying the NDIS is important; the NDIS should be treated with respect. What he should be doing in this chamber is apologising to the tens of thousands of Australians who are being short-changed by his government. Enough of the platitudes, enough of the wishy-washy language and hushed tones, how about you start apologising to the tens of thousands of Australians who are being ripped off by this LNP government? It is not good enough. We know when he says, 'It's not about money,' he's kind of right because we know there is a $4.1 billion underspend.
An honourable member: It is a $4.6 billion underspend.
We have a $4.6 billion underspend for some of the most vulnerable Australians. So don't come in here, member for Herbert—through you, Madam Deputy Speaker—and start saying 'it's important' and 'we value the NDIS' and 'it's the Australians who need it'. Yes, they do, so just start funding it.
The federal government underspend on NDIS has been commented on a lot. I want to read a couple of quotes into the record. This is from the Liberal minister for New South Wales on disabilities:
I want to make sure that money doesn't sit in a bank account offsetting the Commonwealth's budget, which is what it's doing. … I want to see it improving the lives of people.
In an extraordinary attack, the New South Wales government has argued the $1.6 billion underspend on the National Disability Insurance Scheme was being used to prop up a budget surplus. So all those coffee cups you see with 'Back in Black'—which have now been hidden away—is this rotten government not spending the money. Don't take it from me; don't take from the shadow minister; take it from the New South Wales Liberal Minister for Families, Communities and Disability Services. If you're not going to start listening to the clients, the tens of thousands of Australians who have been ripped off, how about you talk to your Liberal colleagues? Because they're blowing the whistle on this. The last budget revealed a $1.6 billion underspend in the NDIS, which boosted the federal government's bottom line for the 2019-20 financial year. How dare those opposite come in here and say they're funding the NDIS. How dare you come in here wanting to be complimented and patted on the back for the shameful job that you're doing!
Mr Thompson interjecting—
Look, they're now feigning innocence and saying, 'No, I didn't say anything at all.' I will attack every single member of this rotten government that is holding to ransom some of the most vulnerable Australians—and he's laughing now, Madam Deputy Speaker.
Mr Thompson interjecting—
Now he's interjecting, saying that this should go on social media. I'll tell you what I will put on social media: the record of my local residents that the member for Maribyrnong has come to my electorate—I'll tell you how good your minister is: I've written to him three times—three times—and guess how many times he's responded to me? Zero. How about you put that in your pipe and smoke it and take it back there. And if the minister or his minions are watching today, please answer the correspondence on behalf of my residents.
The member for Maribyrnong came to my electorate, one of the first things he did after the election, and met with dozens and dozens of parents who are struggling under your scheme. So we followed that up, but time after time it has been ignored by this government. Well, I'm sick of it and so are the residents in my electorate. I want to read into the record the story of Ethan Boyd. Ethan is an 18-year-old who suffers from muscular dystrophy and requires a wheelchair full time. He required a repair to his wheelchair in January 2018 and was funded an emergency payment. He had issues uploading the paperwork—don't get me started on the paperwork today, Madam Deputy Speaker—onto the online portal, and once he made contact he didn't hear back from them.
So this is a young man who requires a pretty significant wheelchair to move around in the community so that he can attend sport and so that he can go on outings with his other brothers and his mum, who does a fantastic job looking after Ethan and her family. He made contact with my office in May 2018 and we began the long process of helping Ethan get his all-terrain wheelchair so that he wasn't immobile. He was entitled to this wheelchair. He was funded for the wheelchair. He was denied the wheelchair because of the incompetence of this government and the NDIA.
The long drawn-out process took over 12 months to finally come through, leaving a distressed family and a young member of my community unable to have independence and support to live with his disability. Now, I've met his mum, I've met Ethan; they are great people. All they wanted was a fair go, just as every single person with a disability in this country wants a fair go under the NDIS. Built by Labor; being destroyed by the Morrison government. (Time expired)