Thursday, 10 December 2020
National Disability Insurance Scheme Joint Committee; Report
I rise to speak and take note of this report, because the National Disability Insurance Scheme is so important to so many people in the electorate of Dunkley. It has provided an opportunity for parents to get the sort of support they need for children, who often have severe physical, behavioural and intellectual disabilities. It's offered the opportunity for adults to live lives of dignity that before the NDIS they really struggled to access or to afford. It's really important, therefore, that we do all that we can to ensure the NDIS is working appropriately; the NDIA is overseeing a system that's making people's lives better, not harder; and that we safeguard against incremental attacks on that very important scheme.
There are two matters I wish to raise briefly in this contribution. First is to join my Labor colleagues and the shadow minister in thanking the incredible people who work in the disability sector. Whether it be work with people who are participants in the NDIS or with people who aren't participants but have disabilities, disability workers are some of the most amazing people in this country. Their work is often, as with aged-care workers, as much about love as it is about pay. It is certainly not about conditions, because they are doing an essential job of caring for vulnerable people, often for very little pay and in bad conditions. To the unions that represent workers in that sector—the ASU, the HSU, the United Workers Union and the AWU—we hear you and the way you stand up for your members. I can promise to be part of ongoing work to ensure that the insecure nature of a lot of the work in this sector is a priority to be addressed.
The second matter I want to raise is the proposal from the minister for these independent assessments. This is something that has been raised to me by a number of my constituents, both participants in the NDIS and service providers. We've seen that the minister, through the agency, has released discussion papers or consultation papers, and I have given an undertaking to my community that I will be holding a forum early in the new year for all those people who are concerned or interested in what this proposal might mean to them, as participants, service providers or family and friends of those who are participants, so that we can, as a community, discuss the issues and contribute to the consultation process.
I hold grave concerns about this independent assessment process, as do almost all of the experts and participants that you would speak to. I don't often advocate that people go and read an article in a newspaper to educate themselves about the complexities of a policy issue, but I would suggest that anyone interested in the status of the National Disability Insurance Scheme and where this government appears to be taking it takes the time to read Rick Morton's article 'The seven-year plot to undermine the NDIS' that was in TheSaturday Paper on 5 December. It does identify the way that, under this government, more and more control of what happens in the NDIS is being vested in the minister and the Commonwealth and not in the states and the participants. Having the decision-making power concentrated in the hands of the federal government or the minister is not what the scheme was intended to be. As Labor's shadow minister has said, he is concerned that 'there is a faction within the government who just simply want to reduce costs and make it hard to claim'—'a faction'; it's not everyone in the government, and we've seen the hard work from government members on the NDIS review committee and others. So it's not a blanket concern, but certainly it would appear that there are those whose commitment to the NDIS is less than satisfactory.
The concern as to the independent assessment process is that it takes away the ability of participants to have assessments completed by medical practitioners and allied health professionals, like psychologists, that they have an ongoing treating relationship with, and puts it into the hands of someone who doesn't know their history and background. It may be that, in some circumstances, that sort of assessment might be appropriate, but taking away the choice from participants may possibly have grave negative consequences.
So too may the possibility also raised in Rick Morton's article that, in order to bring about this change, the government will need to rewrite sections of the legislation that governs the NDIS, including the provision that regulates the relationship between states and territories and the Commonwealth and that, if that occurs, it would be 'the final step in giving all significant control of the NDIS to the federal minister'. Given the history of the way social services have been run under this government and the responsible ministers, that should be a grave concern to anyone. It should be a concern anyway, even if the responsible minister was the best minister anyone had ever seen, because, as I said, it is not the intention of the legislation.
As former Prime Minister Julia Gillard told TheSaturday Paper, people:
… campaigned for the NDIS because they wanted to be able to make decisions about their lives and to customise the best mix of services for their unique circumstances, needs and life plans.
Any reforms to the NDIS must remain true to these aims.
That will be my guiding principle as I work with my community to put forward our response to what appears to be a very inappropriate move by this minister to yet again undermine this service that is essential to so many vulnerable Australians.