House debates

Wednesday, 7 October 2020


National Disability Insurance Scheme Amendment (Strengthening Banning Orders) Bill 2020; Second Reading

4:56 pm

Photo of Steve GeorganasSteve Georganas (Adelaide, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The original question was that this bill be now read a second time. To this the honourable member for Barton 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 words proposed to be omitted stand part of the question.

4:57 pm

Photo of Susan TemplemanSusan Templeman (Macquarie, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

In my last remaining moments I just want to talk about the carers who are part of this system. Carers Week runs from 11 to 17 October and it's a time to recognise the more than 2.65 million Australians who provide care and support to a family member or friend with a disability, a mental health condition, a chronic condition, a terminal illness, an alcohol or drug issue, or those who are frail and elderly. Think about that. If you're not an unpaid carer some of the time, your neighbours probably are. Anyone at any time could become a carer.

A recent report by Mental Health Australia illustrates just how COVID has hit carers very hard. It shows that support for carers and participants in the NDIS fell away. It also shows that families stepped into the breach when carers weren't able to be there and when providers dropped off. Carers were an at-risk cohort, so they carried a really huge load throughout COVID and continue to today. This parliament says thank you to all the carers, who have given up hours of their time and who save taxpayers so much money, but they do it because they love and care for the person that they want to spend time with. So thank you to everyone in the electorate of Macquarie who is a carer.

4:58 pm

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

I would like to join my colleagues in making a contribution to the National Disability Insurance Scheme Amendment (Strengthening Banning Orders) Bill. I should say from the outset that Labor is supporting the passage of the bill. We certainly welcome the measures in this bill to the extent that they aim to strengthen the powers of the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission. By the way, what is in this bill is not the panacea for issues that confront the NDIS. It doesn't resolve all the problems associated with the administration of the NDIS, but it's certainly another step to rectify some of the ongoing issues and, in this case, problems that have led to drastic and devastating outcomes in the delivery of care itself. We welcome the measures in the bill and, as I say, Labor will be supporting them. Nevertheless, we're not going to let the government simply say, 'This is it.' This is, as I say, just one more step in a long process of rectification. The bill does not even come close to fixing the mess that this government has made in respect of the NDIS, and, to that extent, the NDIS safeguard framework in its ability to prevent abuse.

I noted, as my colleagues have, the words that the Treasurer used last night when he spoke about the NDIS. He said: 'Funding of the NDIS is guaranteed. Government is spending a further $3.9 billion, ensuring that Australians eligible for the NDIS have access to support they need now and into the future.' I would have thought that would've been universally welcome. But those on the opposite benches should recall back to the previous budget. Remember that the government took $4.6 billion out of the NDIS, and not because it wasn't needed to help people with special needs or to assist people with disabilities. It was taken out to prop up a failing budget. It helped improve the budget bottom line. It was a 'book entry', as someone wanted to refer to it. This is money that should've been retained within the system. So I'm not sure that people are going to be on all fours thanking the Treasurer for simply putting some of that money back.

We are talking about the most vulnerable in our community. And it beggars belief that we have a situation where we get step-by-step adjustments when it comes to the administration of the NDIS itself. We have seen 1,200 Australians with a disability tragically die while waiting to be funded under the NDIS—and under this government's watch. This is simply not good enough for the standards of a country such as ours, a developed country and a country, I would have thought, that is made up of members on both sides of the House who have some element of care for such a vulnerable group as those with a disability.

Essentially, this bill makes two fundamental changes to the NDIS commissioner's ability to make banning orders against a worker. Firstly, it gives the commissioner the power to issue a banning order against a person who is no longer employed or engaged by the NDIS, and, secondly, it gives the commissioner the power to make a pre-emptive banning order against a person, whether individual or otherwise, who has been identified as unsuitable to work with people with a disability as a result of their actions in another field, such as in aged care or in child care. On the face of it, that's a good thing: to be proactive and to ensure that people who have such extraordinary responsibilities as carers are people of good character and are competent and committed to the task.

The amendment will also empower the commissioner to include details of the order, including enough information to identify the person, in the publicly available NDIS provider register. I note that highly sensitive information or details about the nature of the incident that has prompted the response will not be included in the register, because of various privacy issues.

But this bill is a direct response to an actual issue. It's a direct response to the death of Ann-Marie Smith. Mr Deputy Speaker, you'll know this intimately, because it occurred in your state. Ann-Marie Smith was a 54-year-old Adelaide NDIS participant who died on the 6 April from severe septic shock, multiple organ failure, severe pressure sores, malnutrition and other issues connected with her cerebral palsy, after being confined to a cane chair for 24-hours a day for more than a year. I think I probably speak for everyone in this House when I say that, when we read those accounts, none of us could believe this occurred under our collective watch. Why would it? We have an organisation. We have the NDIS. We have a regulatory framework. How did this pass muster? And yet, it did, with deadly consequences.

Ann-Marie Smith's NDIS package included six hours of support per day. Reports said that she only received two hours a day and had not been seen outside her house for years. That should have rung a few alarm bells, I would have thought, particularly for those responsible for overseeing the conduct within the system. Ann-Marie's tragic death is nothing short of unbelievable neglect. If there's one positive out of this dreadful situation, it's that the case has prompted this government to come to terms with the failures of the system and identify the gaps which this bill now seeks to address.

Unfortunately, even with the changes outlined in the bill, the death of Ann-Marie Smith would not have been prevented. This is because the carer was an employee at the time of the abuse. This means there was something else still at play and is yet to be addressed. It goes to the heart of the issue—that is, the failure of the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission to ensure it is monitoring and exercising the punitive powers where appropriate. In other words, it's got to do its job.

We expect those on the Treasury benches to ensure the commission is sufficiently charged with its legal responsibility to do its job. On the measures in this bill, El Gibbs from People with Disability Australia said:

The recent death of Ann Marie Smith, and other abuse of people with disability, have exposed the many gaps that exist in the current system …

The next steps need to ensure the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission has the power and resources to proactively investigate the conduct with random spot checks on disability support providers. Essentially, that's the same sort of thing we have demanded and now have in aged care. To that extent, we have random spot checks taking place now. It's absolutely cold comfort to think we were relying on the South Australian Police force to actually do an investigation and eventually lay charges, in relation to manslaughter, against a carer due to criminal neglect that occurred. This is not simply a matter of law enforcement; this is a matter that should not have occurred. We need a system that works and works for people with disability.

The number of times that the commission has used its monitoring powers is not recorded. However, consultation with unions and advocacy groups confirmed that most of the work undertaken by the commission is reactive and focuses on incidents that have already happened. We need to do better than that. Likewise, the minister has stated there's only been 13 banning orders issued to providers in the last 18 months, despite 1,422 complaints that have been made over the same period. I ask those opposite: if the commission has real regulatory powers and functions, why isn't it overseeing the care of people, and why is it that nothing occurred in looking after the needs of Ann-Marie? This is an indictment not on our system but on the exercise of these regulatory powers. The government must provide answers to these and ensure that there are proper plans in place of what it intends to do to ensure the commission's powers are being used properly and administered appropriately. Everything should be directed to preventing abuse and neglect in the first place. A slap on the wrist is not sufficient. Ann-Marie's service provider received a fine of $12,600 after allowing her carer to neglect her so severely and for so long. That is not satisfactory. It is highly offensive and it is disrespectful to the families who have endured a similar fate. And it is not appropriate to think: 'We have the men and women in blue. They can go out and conduct the investigations and, if they think there is neglect, lay criminal charges.' This is something that we must get on top of, and not just in terms of the bill that's before us. We must do this very, very thoroughly.

The National Disability Insurance Scheme is a vital service. After seven years of Liberal neglect, it has been slashed and mismanaged to such an extent that people are dying of neglect in their own homes. While we are supportive of the amendments in this bill, we call on the minister and the government to start taking seriously the interests of all Australians, particularly the most vulnerable Australians—those with a disability. Our approach must be focused on ensuring that we never again see a case like what happened to Ann-Marie Smith. All of us in this place have a responsibility to ensure that the kind of system failure that resulted in death by neglected needs doesn't happen again. Government must work beyond the measures of this bill. It owes it to all Australians living with a disability, and their families, to ensure that it is overseeing to the utmost the best system of care that can be provided to vulnerable Australians.

I also note that next week is Carers Week, and I would like to note for the record not only our support but our thanks for carers. The truth of the matter is that carers make an extraordinary difference for the better in our community, and we owe it to them to support them and, above all, to thank them for their service. As a community, we are indebted to them for their efforts.

5:12 pm

Photo of Zali SteggallZali Steggall (Warringah, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I would also like to start today by acknowledging that it is Carers Week next week and, along with many other members of this House, express my thanks to the carers for the really diligent work they do for those more vulnerable in our society.

The NDIS is now a foundational pillar of Australian society and a symbol of our fair go for all. The NDIS provides over 360,000 Australians with the support they need to maximise their opportunities, their happiness and their prosperity. It's therefore essential that we are constantly striving to improve and reach these ideals and ensure that the system is working to the best of its ability. This bill, the National Disability Insurance Scheme Amendment (Strengthening Banning Orders) Bill 2020, will make technical amendments to ensure that the scheme's participants are safe and looked after. In many cases, we've dropped the ball on this. While the system helps many, there are still many who become victims of callous indifference. This bill amends the National Disability Insurance Scheme Act 2013 to broaden the circumstances in which the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commissioner may make a banning order against a National Disability Insurance Scheme provider or other persons, and it clarifies the commissioner's related powers.

This is an important amendment. Firstly, of course, it is about thanking the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission for working under the exceptional circumstances we've had over the last few months. It hasn't been easy to adapt and provide the same level of care, with the added anxiety, safety conditions and regulations, so I commend the commission for that. The NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commissioner may already make banning orders. A banning order can be made against providers or persons employed by providers, and it restricts specific activities. It is usually a remedy that's a serious response to very serious and dangerous conduct. According to the commission, it is intended to apply to an NDIS provider or person employed or otherwise engaged by an NDIS provider in circumstances where it's the most appropriate regulatory option available to prevent people with disability from experiencing harm arising from poor quality or unsafe services provided under the NDIS.

A banning order may only be made in accordance with natural justice principles, of course, where the person has been given an opportunity to make submissions to the commissioner on the matter, except in the following circumstances: where there is immediate danger to the health, safety or wellbeing of a person with disability and where the commissioner has revoked the registration of the NDIS provider. The evidence brought before the disability royal commission and the various media investigations indicate that this kind of power is necessary.

We've heard in this place of horrendous events—the death of Ann-Marie Smith, who suffered from severe pressure sores and malnutrition after being left in a cane chair every day for more than a year. It's hard to imagine or contemplate that as a society we failed so badly. This is such a serious example of the kind of misconduct that must be addressed and now will be addressed with this amendment. Two weeks ago the commissioner used these powers and banned disability care agency Integrity Care for the appalling circumstances leading to her death. We must do all we can to stop negligent behaviour that can leave lasting, and potentially fatal, impacts on individuals and their families.

The problem with the current provisions is that, once an individual leaves their place of employment, the commissioner is not able to issue a banning order preventing their return to the scheme. Leaving or being terminated from a place of employment is common in individuals who are prone to these kinds of behaviours, and it's a loophole that must be closed. The bill amends provisions to ensure that the commissioner can make a banning order and stop an individual from re-entering the disability workforce. Importantly, the bill allows data from outside the NDIS to form the evidence for banning orders, so preventing unsuitable persons from entering the NDIS in the first place.

NDIS providers in Warringah have been doing a phenomenal job in the circumstances. I am sensitive to any arrangements adding further complications to their day-to-day operations. After reaching out to them, they wish to raise some operational considerations for this bill's provisions: the need for a confidential process to be in place to enable providers to confirm the identity of a person named on a register due to insufficient data on the summary provided by the NDIS register; the need for flexibility in arrangements for banning orders to apply to individuals who have changed name or gender; and consideration of the interaction with employee record exemptions under the Privacy Act 1988 and how providers will have to update their privacy policies, which could take some time. I urge the government to be generous in their extension of time to providers to update their system and work with them to ensure the best care possible is available.

In the past two years certain providers have also noticed a significant push from NDIS planners for NDIS recipients to utilise their packages under self-managed funding, with planners identifying this option as having more choice and control. Participants utilising self-managed funding are more vulnerable to providers or persons who don't meet NDIS standards or have been banned under the requirements of the proposed bill. The commission has been talking about implementing its national approach to worker screening arrangements, including the development of a worker screening database, which is currently in transition. This means all the various state based arrangements remain in place. I urge the commission to accelerate the implementation of the database so that individuals who opt for self-managed funding will still have the quality of care they are entitled to and are safe from negligent and predatory individuals.

This has been a hard period for the disabled and their families. The lockdown has stretched their capacity to cope. Some have come close to breaking point. In May and June this year, Every Australian Counts surveyed over 740 people with disabilities, about their experiences of the first wave of the pandemic, and their experiences are significant and need to be heard. In the report Left out and locked down some said they felt forgotten and ignored by the government and community during the pandemic. Thirty-two per cent said their costs had increased and many were under water, financially. They cited a complicated NDIS process and lengthy delays that were exhausting and threatening to their health and wellbeing.

The survey participants have six clear requests for the government. The first is recognition of the additional costs incurred as a result of their disability and the provision of additional financial support. This includes additional PPE, additional technology and data to attend telehealth and phone planning services, and the added expenses of online shopping. The second is clear, simple communication, which was a strong request. They want to know what is happening, when it is happening and what any change means for them. This includes information in all accessible formats, like Auslan and Easy Read, and translation into other languages. The third is that participants want extra support from the NDIS. This includes additional funding but also assistance to help reorganise supports or find additional services and being able to use the funding in the way that works best for them, to not have to ask for reviews every time they want to move funds from one item to the next. The fifth is simpler, easier and quicker processes. Participants found that in the middle of a pandemic they could not maintain the number of phone calls, emails or follow-ups to get an outcome. They found it frustrating and, in some cases, life-threatening. The sixth is that they need simpler resources for actions and better training for LACS and NDIS staff.

The report states:

Good intentions are no substitute for the experience and knowledge necessary to work effectively and respectfully with people with disability and their families.

This goes to similar feedback I've heard from disability advocacy groups in Warringah. They've found that in general there has been a steady improvement to the quality of plans and there is a greater consistency and quality. But some families and participants are often desperate to get a planner who has expertise and understanding. They are calling for a system where there can be confidence in all planners to deliver consistent high-quality plans. I agree. No participant should be negatively impacted by a plan that is produced by a planner who does not have the skills to provide this essential service at an appropriate level. This means having relevant qualifications, communication skills and continued comprehensive training and support across the country. I hope that the extra $800 million over four years, provided for the last night's budget for the NDIS, will go some way to addressing some of these concerns. It would assist stakeholders and decision-makers if there were a more detailed breakdown of what this extra funding will go towards.

I welcome the measures announced in last night's budget. The $125 million, over three years, for the new disability support for older Australians will allow disabled elderly Australians to access the same services as covered under the NDIS, if they're not eligible for that scheme. The $27.9 million, over two years, for extra community support for these individuals will assist with this. This is a compassionate response. I have certainly received a lot of feedback from constituents in these situations. This will give them confidence that they can still enjoy a quality of life in their later years.

However, industry associations, like People with Disability, have provided feedback on some of the more substantial measures in the bill, including the wage subsidy. They stated that they would like to see more incentives for young people with disabilities. These young people already face large barriers to enter the workforce. They also have concerns that the two $250 payments for people on allowances like the disability pension are insufficient to compensate for the increasing costs they face during COVID-19. These people have already missed out on both the JobKeeper and JobSeeker supplements. This bill is an important amendment that will protect families and participants from negligent behaviour, and I certainly welcome it.

I commend this bill, but I urge the government to consider the implementation of obstacles and constructive feedback on budget measures, and to listen to those stakeholders and people in our community that have feedback on how we can do better. I urge the government to consider adopting the recommendations fromEvery Australian Counts in their recent report as it will go to supporting participants and ensuring they maximise their prosperity opportunities and happiness. In a country like Australia, which we often say is all about the fair go, we should make sure that it is in fact a fair go for all.

5:25 pm

Photo of Rebekha SharkieRebekha Sharkie (Mayo, Centre Alliance) Share this | | Hansard source

Earlier this year, I made a speech in this place where I outlined a number of failings with respect to the operation of the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission in South Australia. The ongoing revelations in the matter of Ann-Marie Smith and the actions of her registered provider, Integrity Care, have done little to alleviate my concerns. Two subsequent independent reports on the matter prepared by the South Australian government task force and the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission respectively have only confirmed the views of the whistleblowers who have approached my office—namely, that structural impediments are placing those who are living with a disability at serious risk of harm and neglect.

While both reports made a number of recommendations, of particular note is the need for the commission to act earlier to identify those people with disability who are vulnerable to harm or neglect, the importance of ensuring that no one person is responsible for the care needs of a participant and the need to appoint a specific person with overall responsibility for that participant's safety and wellbeing. I understand these recommendations have received the support of National Disability Services, the Australian peak industry body for non-government disability service providers, and I look forward to working with the NDS and others to ensure that these recommendations do not fade into the ether. In the meantime, I welcome the government's attempt to improve the safeguard arrangements for NDIS participants through the measures contained in this bill, and I note the strengthening of banning order provisions were also the subject of a recommendation by the independent review conducted on behalf of the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission.

The National Disability Insurance Scheme Amendment (Strengthening Banning Orders) Bill 2020 will expand the powers of the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission to ban unsuitable providers and workers from working with NDIS participants, regardless of whether they are active in this sector or not. The NDIS commissioner, who is responsible for regulating NDIS providers and enforcing the NDIS code of conduct, will be granted additional banning orders to prevent people entering or re-entering the NDIS who may pose a risk of harm to participants. Therefore, the NDIS commissioner will be able to apply banning orders to people even if they are not currently working in the NDIS. The amendments also mean the NDIS commissioner can use information from sources outside of the NDIS such as a person's conduct in aged-care or childcare work to ban an unsuitable person from entering the NDIS in the first place. This means workers who have left the NDIS, including those who have been fired for unsuitable behaviour, can be banned from re-entering the field, and this is a very good thing.

The NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission will also make details to providers and workers who have been banned publicly available in the NDIS provider register. Importantly, people with disability, their families and their providers can use the register to check that people they are engaging to deliver NDIS services have not had a banning order against them. This measure will provide some comfort to those who are dependent upon the care of others for their day-to-day needs; however, I again stress, and I believe, that much more needs to be done to ensure that vulnerable NDIS recipients are protected, and that unscrupulous providers are called to account in a very timely manner. I thank the House.

5:29 pm

Photo of Tony ZappiaTony Zappia (Makin, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

In my contribution to this debate on the National Disability Insurance Scheme Amendment (Strengthening Banning Orders) Bill 2020 I want to highlight some of the matters that were raised by the independent review of this matter by Alan Robertson SC. But, before I do, I preface my remarks by noting that the NDIS was a Labor government initiative. In fact, it was back in 2011 that the concept evolved in this parliament. By the time the legislation passed this parliament in 2013, it was the year of an election, and, ultimately, the actual implementation of the NDIS rested with the coalition government that was elected at the time and that continues in office to this day. I understand the NDIS today supports about 400,000 Australians, 35,000 of whom are in our state of South Australia, Deputy Speaker Georganas. It is a concept that, at the time, was reluctantly supported by the coalition opposition. That reluctance seems to have permeated the implementation of the scheme once they came to office. Therefore, I'm not entirely surprised that the scheme has been very poorly rolled out under this coalition government. Indeed, some have referred to it as being a sham in terms of the way it has been implemented.

Those are comments that I cannot disagree with, because in my own electorate I have seen time and time again—and I might come back to that—the problems experienced on a regular basis by the people out there in the community who want to be part of the scheme and get supported by it. We see long delays; confusion; inconsistencies in the services being provided; a very complicated process which people often simply do not have the ability to deal with; and rorting of the scheme, which I suspect is much more prevalent than we might understand right here and now. Also, there is questionable delivery of services, where quite often too much of the money that is allocated goes to the service deliverer rather than the recipient of the service. Indeed, many recipients appear to get very poor value for the dollars that the government is expending on their behalf. That is one of the concerns that I have detected time and time again when I speak to people who are beneficiaries of the NDIS here in Australia. We saw all of that manifest itself in the $4.6 billion underspend in the scheme by this government—$4.6 billion that I suspect was underspent in order to allow the Treasurer to claim that he had gotten the budget back into balance. But the reality is that the balancing of the budget came at the expense of a lot of vulnerable people in this country who needed the services they had applied for and either didn't get them or had to wait a long time for them.

My office frequently deals with issues on behalf of families, and on many occasions it has been my office that has had to sit down with all of the different parties and pull them together in order to work through all the difficulties that were being experienced and come to a plan that was agreed to by all the parties. That isn't a role that my office—or the offices of other MPs in this place—should be doing. Nevertheless, that's how difficult it had become. That in itself highlights the failings in the very implementation of the scheme by the coalition government.

Nothing more clearly highlights the failings of this government than the tragic death on 6 April this year of Ann-Marie Smith, a death that both shocked and angered the Australian people. As a South Australian, I can tell you that, from listening to talkback radio and reading the local daily newspaper, the anger in respect of the death of Ann-Marie Smith was incredibly widespread. People saw the circumstances surrounding her death as inexcusable. We've heard about the septic shock, the multiple organ failure, the severe pressure sores and the malnutrition of a person already afflicted by cerebral palsy, who, it appears from all the evidence I've been able to read, was left in a cane chair with no visitors for months on end, other than the carer who was entrusted with her care. I found nothing to suggest that any other person had visited her during the almost two years that she was under NDIS care. Where was the comprehensive care plan? Where was the oversight of her care? Where was the medical care that she needed? How could a society and a government funded program fail her so badly?

Those are the questions that the public and the community I represent continuously ask. Those questions resulted in three or maybe four inquiries—I believe the South Australian coroner might be conducting an inquiry into the matter as well. They resulted, through the federal government inquiry, in the Robertson report. The South Australian government had a task force review of the matter, and there's a South Australian police investigation underway. All of those investigations were in response to trying to answer those very questions that were raised when the death occurred.

The death of Ann-Marie Smith was avoidable. It was the result of no oversight of a poorly administered scheme, which this coalition government now, belatedly, attempts to rectify through this inadequate legislation. The neglect of Ann-Marie Smith is symptomatic of the neglect of older Australians in aged care, exposed time and again, most pointedly by the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety. We have seen neglect of vulnerable people in publicly funded care—people who are out of sight and out of mind—time and time again through numerous inquiries, both in the aged-care sector and in the disability sector, and there is a royal commission into disability right now as well. I expect the findings of that commission to be equally as abhorrent as those we have already seen with the interim reports and recommendations of the royal commission into aged care. I note that both Alan Robertson and the royal commission into aged care have used the word 'neglect' in their reports, a word that I believe is starting to sink in to the minds of people who have responsibility for looking after these very people.

Older people are not part of the NDIS, simply because of their age, but the reality is that many of them are just as vulnerable as Ann-Marie Smith was. In the aged-care sector, almost half of the people suffer from dementia or Alzheimer's disease, and that effectively means that they are incapable of caring for themselves. They, too, would be on the NDIS were it not for their age. So it is people like that that we should also be incredibly concerned about. Only last week I was contacted by a constituent in my electorate. In the midst of the royal commission into aged care, when there is sufficient publicity about the poor care being received by so many older Australians, I was still receiving concerns from residents about the care that their loved ones were getting in facilities in my part of Adelaide. It's almost unfathomable that, even with all the publicity, people are still being neglected.

Alan Robertson, in his report, made 10 recommendations. His report was non-statutory—that is, he had no power to compel anyone to produce documents or to answer questions—but nevertheless he came up with 10 recommendations. I won't read them in full, but I want to outline the 10 recommendations for the benefit of anyone who is following this debate, which are:

(1) The Commission should act to identify earlier those people with disability who are vulnerable to harm or neglect …

(2) No vulnerable NDIS participant should have a sole carer providing services in the participant's own home …

(3) For each vulnerable NDIS participant, there should be a specific person with overall responsibility for that participant's safety and wellbeing …

(4) Consideration should be given to the Commission establishing its own equivalent to State and Territory based Community Visitor Schemes to provide for individual face-to-face contact with vulnerable NDIS participants …

(5) … the Commission should conduct occasional visits to assess the safety and wellbeing of selected individual NDIS participants, whether or not a complaint has been made or a "reportable incident" notified …

(6) The statutory definition of "reportable incident" in s 73Z of the NDIS Act should be amended to make it clear that it includes a real or immediate threat of one of the listed types of harm …

(7) The Commission must at all times be able to know whether a person is or is not an NDIS participant …

(8) There should continue to be improvements to the exchange of information and more formal lines of communication between those running the State and Territory emergency services (including police) and schemes for people with disability and the Commonwealth agencies, being the Commission and the NDIA, and vice versa.

(9) To this end, s 67A(1)(e) of the Act should be amended so that the word "serious" is deleted. A threat to an individual's life, health or safety should be enough to authorise the use of the protected Commission information …

(10) The Commissioner should have statutory power to ban a person from working in the disability sector even where that person is no longer so employed or engaged …

In regard to recommendation 4, I note that the community visitor scheme was not in operation in South Australia at the time because the scheme applied only to government institutions or people in private institutions. It didn't apply to people living in their own homes, as Ann-Marie Smith did. That is a matter that I believe needs to be immediately rectified because, had that scheme been in place, there would have been someone other than the carer calling in and checking on Ann-Marie on a more regular basis, and I suspect the end result would have been very, very different.

However, my question to the government and to the minister is simple. There are 10 recommendations and there are many other comments in Mr Robertson's report. Why is the government not implementing all of those 10 recommendations? I note that, in the minister's response to that report, there was no commitment to do so. Those recommendations all need to be followed up and should all be part of this legislation or, at least, future legislation, and we should get a commitment from the government that that will be the case. You don't have an inquiry into a matter if you're not prepared to accept the recommendations. In my view, they are all quite reasonable and proper recommendations that would prevent a similar occurrence in the future.

I conclude with these comments. The NDIS was a new scheme and there was always an expectation that there would be some initial implementation problems. I don't believe anybody would ever have expected that it would sail through absolutely smoothly. But, after seven years in office, the coalition government have clearly mismanaged the scheme. They have had seven years to rectify the problems, to roll it out, to implement the changes that were needed and to listen to the feedback that I have been getting for years now about the problems that exist that still have not been rectified, which I'm sure you, Madam Deputy Speaker, have been getting, along with all the other members of this House. They've had plenty of time to do so. Sadly, what's happened is that we've seen the issue come to a head only because of the death of Ann-Marie Smith. As I said earlier on, there is no excuse for Ann-Marie's death or for the failures and problems that continue under this government's oversight of the NDIS.

5:43 pm

Photo of Melissa PriceMelissa Price (Durack, Liberal Party, Minister for Defence Industry) Share this | | Hansard source

The National Disability Insurance Scheme Amendment (Strengthening Banning Orders) Bill 2020 strengthens the existing powers of the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commissioner, the NDIS commissioner, to ban a worker or provider from delivering services in the NDIS market. This bill aims to protect people with disability and to prevent people with disability from experiencing harm from service provision and the people who work closely with them. As an independent national regulator with integrated functions, the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission, the NDIS commission, plays a key role in building confidence in the NDIS through its regulatory and compliance functions. It is, therefore, important that the NDIS commission has robust investigation and regulatory powers, and can take strong action where serious matters arise that affect the safety of NDIS participants.

As at 30 June 2020, 17,253 NDIS providers were registered with the NDIS commission. Of those registered, 45 per cent were individuals or sole traders. Although the National Disability Insurance Scheme Act 2013, the NDIS Act, already empowers the NDIS commissioner to make banning orders, it has become apparent that the provisions under which these banning orders can be issued are too narrow. In short, this bill will strengthen the banning provisions of the NDIS Act and allow the NDIS commissioner to ban a worker or provider they believe is unfit to deliver NDIS services, even if they are no longer delivering NDIS services. It will also enable a banning order to be issued pre-emptively to prevent a worker or provider who is not yet working in the NDIS sector from doing so in the future based on information from another sector.

This bill will also make it clear the NDIS commissioner must use the existing NDIS provider register to include details of any current banning orders. This information will generally be publicly available, and people with disability and their representatives may search the NDIS provider register to ensure that providers or workers they are using are not subject to a banning order. The strengthened banning order provisions support the aim of ensuring unsuitable people who should not be delivering services under the NDIS cannot do so. This is an important part of developing trust in the NDIS market. Our paramount consideration is the right of people with disability to live lives free from abuse, violence, neglect and exploitation. We need to close these gaps in the banning order provisions, and the bill before us will do this.

I would also like to thank the Senate Standing Committee for the Scrutiny of Bills for their consideration. As requested by the committee, an addendum to the explanatory memorandum has been tabled to provide further clarification on the exercise of the banning order power. Once again, I thank all members for their contributions. I commend the bill to the House.

Photo of Sharon ClaydonSharon Claydon (Newcastle, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the minister for her contribution. The original question was that this bill be now read a second time. To this the honourable member for Barton has moved an amendment that all words after 'That' be omitted with a view to substituting other words. The immediate question, therefore, is that words proposed to be omitted stand as part of the question.

Question agreed to.

Original question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.