Senate debates

Tuesday, 3 March 2015


National Disability Insurance Scheme; Government Response to Report

5:07 pm

Photo of Rachel SiewertRachel Siewert (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

I wish to take note of both those responses, but I will start with the first one. First I would like to take note of the government's response to the progress report of the Joint Standing Committee on the National Disability Insurance Scheme. This is a progress report on the implementation and administration of the NDIS. It is pleasing to see that the government accepts most of the recommendations that were made in that report, because clearly it is really important that, as the NDIS is rolling out in what are now called the trial sites, we are learning as we go on that, because, as was discussed in estimates last week, the NDIA and the department are now busily working on how it is going to roll out across the rest of Australia

There are a couple of particular points that I would like to pick up out of this report and make a bit of a comment on. One of those is recommendation 2 of the joint standing committee, which made a point about gaps in service. While a lot of the evidence received by the committee was about gaps in services that are already there and should in fact be providing support to people with disability on issues around health and education, the other issue that I would like to talk about in terms of gaps in service is the problem that I think we are starting to see and may see more and more, and that is where state governments are starting to pull resources out of support for people with disability, saying, 'The NDIS is there,' and committing more of the funding that is committed for people with disability into NDIS. It is quite clear that there are a lot of people who are not going to qualify for NDIS but still need support. I have had an email from somebody suggesting that even local government are talking about not providing some of the resources and supports they used to for people with disability, because they are saying the NDIS will support people with disability, and therefore they do not need to put resources in. Also, states and local governments are hesitant to put resources into supporting people with disability in view of the NDIS coming just around the corner.

One of the other key recommendations made in the report was about economic participation. It says:

As people transition to the NDIS, the committee is cognisant of the need to assist people develop the necessary skillsets to enable them to successfully move into the workplace environment and participate in the workforce, where possible.

One of the key elements of the NDIS is economic participation of people with disability, so this is a particularly important point and one that I think needs a lot of focus. While the government agreed in principle, which is fantastic, I am concerned that we are seeing some pretty worrying trends. For example, the highest number of complaints that are received by the Australian Human Rights Commission is around disability and employment. These are concerns or complaints about people with disability trying to access employment and facing discrimination in the workplace. It is clearly an issue that needs to be addressed. One of my strong concerns—and I have said it in this place before—is that the government basically got rid of a full-time Disability Discrimination Commissioner—halved that. So now we have Ms Susan Ryan, who is doing a great job trying to work on ageing—she is the Age Discrimination Commissioner—plus fulfilling the role of the disability commissioner. Of course, we know that complaints are huge, again, around employment for people who are ageing and facing discrimination.

So I think we have a long way to go here. I think some of the disability employment services do a great job, but I think we need to be doing a lot better. Unless we really significantly lift the game in terms of providing support and dealing with discrimination against people with disability in the workplace—even in the Australian Public Service the number has gone down—we are going to be in trouble into the future, I think, and we are not going to fulfil the goal of economic participation along with the NDIS.

There was another recommendation that was made. When the committee was going around, we found that people were not getting to sign off on their plans. That is a very important point. NDIS is supposed to be about putting resources into supporting people with disability but, in particular, giving people choice and control. If you are not able to sign off on your own plan, that is certainly undermining that choice and control. The government has agreed to that in principle. But the committee recommended a cooling-off period so people get a chance to think about the plan before they sign off, and in the response the government says:

NDIS plans are not locked in and can vary as the circumstances of an individual change. This can mean the supports that are funded could reduce or increase over time.

While I understand that that is what happens in principle, what the committee heard was that in fact that was not happening and that people thought they were locked into plans. In fact, some people suggested that, when they had sought to further change their plans or discuss their plans, they found that difficult.

The other point is recommendation 6:

The committee notes the importance of the role of advocacy services in ensuring quality plans and supporting participants in the planning process. The committee recommends that certainty regarding the role and support for advocacy services in the NDIS be urgently resolved through the Ministerial Disability Reform Council.

Again, the government says it agrees, in consultation with jurisdictions. Of course, this is the government that has just cut funding to a number of peak disability organisations. The very organisations that do not only systemic advocacy but, in some cases, individual advocacy have been cut. Although there is a small amount of transitional funding that takes them through from March to June, they will not have funding after June. That is extremely disappointing. In estimates, Minister Fifield and the department did talk about some further funding for capacity building, but the funding cuts totally undermine their ability to be advocates. As the rollout of the NDIS keeps going in the trial sites and as it rolls out across Australia, advocacy is absolutely critical. When we were debating those bills in this place, this Senate was very clear about the need for advocacy. There are other organisations that have been funded, and not for one minute am I having a go at those groups, but it is exceedingly disappointing that the government took a top-down approach to the way it was going to work with disability groups and it came up with what it wanted. The sector has tried to respond to that, but it is very disappointing that those groups have had their funding cut when they provide very important services to people with disability.

People with disability across Australia were not consulted about which groups the government chose to support with funding. I am not for one minute having a go at the groups that have received funding. I think they have done and will continue to do an excellent job, but the other groups also contributed to advocacy for people with disability. It is a mistake, and I urge the government to reconsider that. I seek leave to continue my remarks.

Leave granted; Debate adjourned.