Senate debates

Tuesday, 19 October 2021


National Disability Insurance Scheme Amendment (Improving Supports for At Risk Participants) Bill 2021; Second Reading

1:05 pm

Photo of Marielle SmithMarielle Smith (SA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

[by video link] I also seek to make a contribution on the National Disability Insurance Scheme Amendment (Improving Supports for At Risk Participants) Bill 2021. Before I do so, I want to acknowledge the heartfelt contributions of senators before me. I know we will have many more contributions from senators in this debate, who I acknowledge too.

This bill comes in response to the Robertson review, an independent review into issues surrounding the death of South Australian woman Ann-Marie Smith in April 2020. Ann-Marie was an NDIS participant who died in what we know were disgusting and degrading conditions. Those conditions have been detailed by the senators before me; I won't detail them again. But I will reiterate that what happened to Ann-Marie was devastating. It completely shocked my state and it sickened us all. It left so many in South Australia with many, many questions about how this could happen—how this could happen in our community and how this could happen to Ann-Marie Smith. It was an horrific death. It was a death that should never have been allowed to occur. Before her death on 6 April 2020, police believe Ann-Marie spent up to a year confined to a cane chair for 24 hours a day. It is a grotesque image of what Ann-Marie was subjected to and how she spent her final days.

Labor at both the federal and state levels, as well as others in our community, called for a review into the circumstances of Ann-Marie's death. We called for answers into how this could happen. The review, which was limited to consideration of her individual circumstances, found that she had died after a substantial period of neglect, having been living in squalid and appalling circumstances. Despite its narrow scope, the report made 10 recommendations aimed at addressing broader system failures in the NDIS.

For the most part, the recommendations this bill would address relate to the sharing of participant information between the NDIA and the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission. But the government's bill today fails to address some fundamental issues when it comes to NDIS safeguarding. Specifically, it doesn't address the lack of proactive outreach to monitor service providers and it fails to strengthen what Labor knows is an ineffective and understaffed NDIS commission.

The government have taken 12 months to respond to the review. It has now been over 16 months since Ann-Marie's death. I wish to note the continued failures from this government to establish any sense of trust among the disability community. Their approach has been marked by a lack of real substantive consultation on issues that directly impact the lives of the disability community. This directly contradicts the NDIS's core principles of person centred care and respecting the choices of those with disability. We saw this in the government's attempts to rush through the introduction of mandatory independent assessments for NDIS participants, no matter how loudly Australians with disability expressed their opposition.

The government should be—must be—working every day to establish positive, collaborative and respectful relationships based on mutual trust with those in our disability community to fulfil the promise of the NDIS to give every Australian the support necessary to participate fully in our society.

Labor, of course, supports efforts to ensure the NDIS and its providers are held accountable. So we will be supporting this bill, as previous senators have acknowledged. We support this bill in order to ensure no further delay in improving protection for at-risk NDIS participants. But we will move amendments to ensure the privacy of NDIS participants by ensuring a proper process for the disclosure of participant information. Labor has listened to the concerns of stakeholders, the disability community and disability rights organisations.

The government has committed to a review of the NDIS Quality and Safeguarding Framework, and it is scheduled to begin later this year. This review may make recommendations that expand on or even contradict the changes this bill seeks to make. It should be broader in scope and must involve close and meaningful consultation with people with disability and disability organisations. Labor will work to ensure this review is robust as possible, and we will work to strengthen the currently understaffed and ineffective NDIS commission.

What happened to Ann-Marie Smith in South Australia should never have been allowed to happen. It shocked, disgusted and saddened the people of my state, who had many, many questions, and some of those questions remain unanswered in terms of what we need to do to make sure the NDIS and the supports and services within it are purpose-built and fit to care for people in our community with disability. What happened to Ann-Marie Smith should never have been allowed to happen, and we must do everything in our power to make sure all Australians with disability can live lives of independence, dignity and joy.

Labor built the NDIS. It is one of our proudest achievements. We believe in its power to deliver Australians with disability a better quality of life, to deliver them better supports and to deliver them full participation in our community and our society. But, at the moment, too many parts of the system are letting Australians down, and it's on that that we must be fully focused.


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