Wednesday, 21 June 2017
Social Security Act
I, and also on behalf of Senator Siewert, move:
That the Social Security (Tables for the Assessment of Work-related Impairment for Disability Support Pension)
Amendment Determination 2017, made under the Social Security Act 1991, be disallowed [F2017L00659].
I seek leave to make a short statement.
Yesterday I met with the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, who took me to the issues pertaining to this disallowance. They argued strongly that we should oppose this proposition, and that we should seek disallowance. They argued that many people hold the view that drug and alcohol addiction is self-inflicted and easy to overcome, but, as doctors, they knew that the reality was far more complex. They argued that, if this passed the parliament, the measure would hurt 450 people every year and it would hurt their families. It would not encourage people with drug and alcohol problems to seek the support or treatment they need from drug and alcohol treatment services. Society of Saint Vincent de Paul also opposed this proposition.
The government has proposed that from 1 July 2017 people will no longer be able to qualify for a disability support pension on the basis of substance abuse alone. DSP claimants who indicate they have a disability related to substance abuse will now also be required to undergo treatment for their abuse before any associated functional impairments can be considered to be fully diagnosed, treated, stabilised and assessed under the remaining DSP impairment tables. Once table 6 is removed, permanent impairments caused by substance abuse can be assessed under the remaining tables. However, they would be functionally based rather than based on diagnosis alone. For example, a permanent brain injury acquired from long-term drug use can be assessed under table 7, brain function. Our changes ensure that people with drug abuse issues are directed to the help they need.
This is the government once again launching an attack on the most vulnerable members of our community. They are showing us all how little they actually understand about substance addictions and its impact on the community. There are further showing us that they do not actually care about the devastating impacts of addiction and the people who experience it. They simply want to punish those who are suffering from addiction rather than helping them.
These impairment tables were a result of a review conducted in 2011. The government is claiming that that report is the justification for this measure. However, the government is selectively reading that report and has failed to understand the reasons for including table 6, functioning related to alcohol, drug and substance use. The functional impacts of substance addictions are unique and cannot be appropriately recognised under the other impairment tables. Experts know that the addiction encompasses both psychological and physiological characteristics and psychological impacts, and must be treated as such.
The Nick Xenophon team will be supporting this motion, because, if the measure proceeds, it will mean vulnerable people who are already in a desperate situation will be pushed into poverty, homelessness and potentially resorting to crime. The current impairment tables were introduced in 2012 after a clinician-led comprehensive review. It was guided by an advisory committee consisting of medical allied health and rehabilitation experts, representatives of people with a disability, mental health advocates and relevant government agencies. There was also a testing period before the table was introduced. The change proposed by this instrument has not been determined with any of the same rigour on the basis of expert medical advice. This is why the Nick Xenophon Team cannot allow the measure to proceed. Effective policy reform in this area requires engagement and co-design with the addiction medicine sector to ensure the proposals meet policy objectives. The Nick Xenophon Team would welcome the opportunity to work with the government to address this issue further.