Senate debates

Wednesday, 3 April 2019


National Disability Insurance Scheme

10:36 pm

Photo of Alex GallacherAlex Gallacher (SA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

That was a very entertaining dissertation from Senator McGrath. But I speak on a very important matter. As Deputy Chair of the Joint Standing Committee on the National Disability Insurance Scheme, I've learnt a lot in the last five years. I've learnt an enormous amount about this sector, this community, the people in it, the people who provide services in it, and we were engaged in what truly was a bipartisan effort to dramatically change the lives of people with disability. We've seen people's lives turned around through acceptance into the scheme and funding of their needs and aspirations. We've seen ageing parents relieved of an enormous amount of stress and worry because there is something in place for their children as the parents move into more fragile circumstances.

There is no doubt that the agency had an enormous task in front of it, and has improved on its delivery. We need to thank the workers at the NDIA who have worked so hard to make the lives of participants so much better. We've had wonderful assistance from the secretariat, a wonderful team that has resourced the joint standing committee for a couple of parliaments now. They do really great work. As a senator for South Australia, the member and senator contact officers at the NDIA have helped enormously with representations from concerned NDIS participants and members of the public.

Still, there is frustration with the scheme. Families, carers, service providers and those people in the NDIS workforce are under stress. There is a lot of concern about service delivery. There are providers who are concerned about a whole range of areas—some would even be construed as additional red tape, which is quite contrary to the mantra of this government.

I listened very carefully to Minister Fifield's answers to questions today about the use of surplus funds and the use of NDIS appropriations in balancing, so to speak, the budget. Nobody in the sector is casting any aspersions. It's entirely reasonable for governments to be prudent with taxpayers' money. But if you look at what the deputy chief executive has been reported as saying:

"Governments, of course, year-on-year, will look at expenditure and I could never guarantee to you in any year what a government would do," she said. "It (scheme funds) used to be our appropriation but scheme funds are now a Department of Social Services appropriation." This technicality, which essentially makes the department the postbox for NDIA money currently worth about $18bn, makes it easier for a government to obscure how much money has not yet been spent.

It is this money that contributes to a predicted surplus …

Very clearly, this is an accounting shift, if you like, and there are people within the scheme who are not very happy about it. And I can understand why. There are people who require 24-hour, seven-day-a-week support. Through my office, as late as last week, one such person was advised that there are no funds available. For a 24-hour-a day, seven-day-a week service, there are no funds available. There is a crisis allocation—there is a crisis process—and it is unlikely that the person will be in this dire situation, but that's what they were advised. There are people who have an audiologist and a doctor verifying that their hearing aid does not suit their hearing requirements, and under the scheme the decision is that you have to wait until it depreciates a bit further before it gets replaced. It doesn't make a lot of sense to people who cannot see their plan until it's been approved and, when it doesn't contain the things they need, are told they will have to go through a review process or that the funds which were made under a state or territory allocation are not available under the NDIS. It makes no sense to these people. Actually, it looks cruel and hurtful. The government will do what the government will do to balance their books, but the money in this scheme, properly and prudently appropriated for people with disability, should remain in that sector and be expended prudently, carefully and in accordance with the scheme guidelines, not shifted.