Senate debates

Thursday, 17 October 2019


National Disability Insurance Scheme Amendment (Streamlined Governance) Bill 2019; Second Reading

12:55 pm

Photo of Carol BrownCarol Brown (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Tourism) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the National Disability Insurance Scheme Amendment (Streamlined Governance) Bill 2019. This bill amends the National Disability Insurance Scheme Act 2013 governance arrangements between the Commonwealth and states and territories regarding rulemaking and decision-making under the NDIS Act. It creates provisions for a 28-day process for the Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme to consult with states and territories on appointments to the board of the National Disability Insurance Scheme, other than the chair, and NDIS Independent Advisory Council. It inserts a new requirement that the minister be satisfied that the Commonwealth and a majority of the group—consisting of the Commonwealth and host jurisdictions, rather than the Commonwealth and all states and territories—support the appointment of a board member other than the chair. The changes will require the minister to consult states and territories about the appointment of each member on the advisory council, other than the principal number.

The bill establishes a requirement that the minister be satisfied that the Commonwealth and a majority of the group consisting of the Commonwealth and the host jurisdictions support the appointment of a board member other than the chair. Under this process, the minister gives notice to one host jurisdiction minister for each host jurisdiction seeking agreement of the jurisdiction to the appointment. A request is made that agreement be given before the end of the 28 days, beginning on the day the notice is given. State and territory ministers may request a longer period of time to reply, in which case the process extends to 90 days.

The process for seeking agreement takes into account a host jurisdiction's need to seek a longer period in instances where there is a state or territory election and caretaker conventions preclude a response being provided. This 28-day process has been implemented administratively since it was agreed by COAG's Disability Reform Council in November 2017, where all jurisdictions agreed to provide responses to requests for agreement within 28 days, with no response taken as agreement. The bill introduces a definition for 'host jurisdiction minister' and replaces the words 'state and territory' with 'host jurisdiction' in section 127.

Labor will be moving two second reading amendments: removing the NDIA staff cap to allow the agency to do its job properly for participants of the scheme and to defer consideration of the bill, because we are concerned that it waters down states' and territories' stake in governance arrangements, that those governments and disability advocates have not been sufficiently consulted and that the Tune review, which is underway, has scope to overlap this area and is yet to report back on governance arrangements. This bill should be deferred until the findings and recommendations of the Tune review have been published. Senator Malarndirri McCarthy will be speaking on a second reading amendment regarding the issues relating to this bill and the timing of the Tune review.

The Liberals are deliberately underfunding the NDIS by $4.6 billion so they can prop up their budget position. They are doing it at the expense of Australians with disability and their families and carers. The effect of this underspend on NDIS participants has been terrible. Through the Liberals' maladministration and lack of any leadership, people are falling through the cracks as the NDIS is rolled out. This is the consistent feedback from NDIS participants, providers, carers and state and territory governments.

The very poor implementation of this scheme is clear from the state of the agency responsible for its very implementation. It has been without a CEO for nearly 170 days, with a mass exodus of its senior leadership in the past months; a staffing cap that means longer waiting time and less access to services to NDIS participants; and a substantial lack of proper representation and understanding, at the staff and board level, of lived experience of disability.

Labor has seen countless examples of the real-world impact that the Liberals' cuts and neglect have had, including families who can get a response from the NDIA or the Liberals only when they start a community campaign exposing the neglect, like Angus and his mum in Queensland, who relied on a wheelbarrow for transport on the family farm because he couldn't get access to a suitable wheelchair. I have mentioned a number of these examples before, but it is extremely important that the Senate again be reminded about some of the issues participants are having when they try to access the NDIS.

I mentioned Kayla in Penrith, born with spinal muscular atrophy, who has started a GoFundMe page to get a car so she can get to and from university; Tim in Tasmania, who died while waiting for the NDIA to deliver vital medical equipment; a wheelchair-bound man with progressive spastic paraplegia who was initially told he wasn't disabled enough; and the countless people with disability who end up in hospital because they don't have suitable NDIS plans, or the inconsistent and inadequate transport arrangements, like the cap on subsidies in Tasmania, that will leave people with disabilities isolated.

These examples show how little regard the Liberals have for people with disability and their families. Unlike the Liberals, the Labor Party will stand up for people with disability, their families and their loved ones. We'll make sure the neglect is exposed and that Australians with disabilities get the care and support they deserve. Labor will continue to stand up for people with disability and their families by making sure that they are in control of their plan through quicker, simpler and easier processes; holding the Liberals to account to increase the number of staff to clear the processing backlogs for the NDIS; resolving the issues of access to transport, employment and housing; and ensuring that the National Disability Strategy is appropriately resourced.

Why does the staffing cap need to be lifted? The staffing cap imposed by the government on the National Disability Insurance Agency is forcing the nation's disability scheme to breaking point and must be removed. Labor's vision for the scheme projected a workforce of nearly 11,000 by now. Instead, the Liberals have starved and stunted the National Disability Insurance Scheme by artificially and arbitrarily capping staffing levels for direct employees at 4,000. Our position is that the cap needs to be removed completely and the workforce needs to be at 11,000. The Liberals' cap, first imposed in 2014, has meant that the NDIA simply does not have the people to approve plans for people with disability and get vital equipment like wheelchairs, beds and hoists out to those who need them.

Labor has affirmed our pre-election commitment to scrap the cap and is urging the Liberals to do the same. This cap is causing too much dysfunction in the scheme and ultimately hurting people with disability and those who love and care for them. Groups ranging from disability advocates to the Productivity Commission also want to see the abolition of the cap. This cap is leading to massive and costly outsourcing and an over-reliance on temporary contractors who can't give people with disability any continuous service. The NDIA has reported a 600 per cent increase in the use of consultants and contractors over two years, from $70 million in 2016 to $430 million in 2018, and the agency's chair, Helen Nugent, has been embroiled in conflict claims over the lucrative outsourced contracts.

By ripping $4.6 billion out of the NDIS, overseeing executive exodus at the agency and failing to appoint a CEO for nearly 170 days, this government has done enough to harm this vital scheme. It is time that NDIS minister Stuart Robert did the right thing by releasing pressure from this overwhelmed scheme and scrapping the cap. We have heard from the Community and Public Sector Union how blowouts in processing times under the National Disability Insurance Scheme are being driven by the arbitrary cap on the number of staff the agency can employ. The joint parliamentary inquiry looking at the shortcomings of the planning processes under the National Disability Insurance Scheme has been inundated with stories of potential participants waiting months for their plans to be finalised, or up to 15 days for an email to be returned.

Fixing the scheme will not be possible without scrapping the average staffing level cap. More than 7,000 people working for the agency are employed through labour hire firms or local area coordinators. Inadequate staffing levels and insecure employment have led to high staff turnover, high workloads and a loss of expertise within the agency. Labour hire staff are placed on rolling contracts, which give them little job security and lead to high staff turnover. As a result, NDIS participants have little continuity, meaning they have had to tell their story over and over again to different staff. It is not uncommon for the NDIA to spend $430 million on labour hire in a financial year. Imagine if that were invested in ongoing employees? This is why Labor proposes the following amendment to the second reading motion. I move:

At the end of the motion, add:

", but the Senate calls on the Government to:

(a) remove the average staffing level cap for the National Disability Insurance Agency set out in Part 2 of Budget Paper No. 4 (2019–20); and

(b) directly employ the number of people required to administer the National Disability Insurance Scheme and the National Disability Insurance Scheme Act 2013."

Labor would welcome the support of the chamber for our amendments directed at ensuring that people with disability can continue to get a fair go from the scheme and the agency that was intended to work for them. I commend the amendment to the chamber.

1:07 pm

Photo of Jordon Steele-JohnJordon Steele-John (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

There is a saying very well-known to disabled people here in Australia. It is simply this: 'Nothing about us without us.' Its simplicity belies its radical nature. It's a statement that, when it comes to the systems and processes that shape our lives, we must be included in those decision-making processes—in fact, that we must lead the policy discussions in relation to disability policy. It's not a high bar or a hard ask. It is certainly that which should be able to be expected by disabled people, their families and organisations of a government that has under its responsibility a scheme as transformational and impactful to disabled people as the National Disability Insurance Scheme, and, indeed, has carriage and care for the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability. This is a simple bar that the government has not risen to in this piece of legislation, the National Disability Insurance Scheme Amendment (Streamlined Governance) Bill 2019. In fact, their conduct in relation to this bill has been the diametric opposite of those most basic of expectations.

Let's just go through it. This ridiculous bill, for which nobody can seem to draw a direct line to it coming from anywhere other than the mind of the minister, went to an inquiry and at that inquiry disabled people and their organisations gave their view, and their view was unanimous that this legislation should not pass, yet this government comes in here this afternoon and attempts to go ahead anyway. I ask you: Whom did they talk to? Whom did they consult with?

Did they consult with people with disabilities in Australia? No. Did they consult with the Australian Federation of Disability Organisations? No. Did they consult with children and young people with disabilities in Australia? No. Did they speak to Carolyn Frohmader, from Women With Disabilities Australia? No. Did they speak to Dwayne Cranfield from the National Ethnic Disability Alliance? No. Not a single organisation did this minister reach out to. They unanimously came before the inquiry and said: do not do this. And your response has been: we will do it anyway. Shame on you. What gives you the idea? I have spent two years in here talking a lot about disability issues and our experience in Australia. And one of the things that has never failed to stun me is the arrogance shown by the non-disabled folks in this place in their belief that they can speak for, and craft policy on behalf of, disabled people and their family and organisations without talking to disabled people. It is a stunning arrogance that seems, more and more, to be given form by this minister and his attitude to his portfolio.

Let's be absolutely crystal clear about what this bill does. This bill enables the minister to stack the board of the NDIS and the Independent Advisory Council. That is its purpose, that is its mission, that is why the government is working so hard to pass it through. The NDIS was a scheme founded upon transformational principles. It still retains the possibility of transforming the lives of the four million disabled people who live in Australia. Yet under this government six years have gone by—six years of failure, broken promises and stress beyond belief. At the core of that problem has been the government's appointment to the board of the agency of people who don't know what they are doing—people from organisations that wouldn't know a social security program based on a social model of disability if it painted itself purple and danced naked in front of them. We have hospitality chiefs, people from PwC, people from McKinsey and people from the institutions which live like pilot fish off this government, swarming into this board. This board has made decision after decision that has put profit and so-called efficiencies before disabled people and their rights, resulting in a scheme that is broken to the extent that $4.6 billion in allocated funds was not expended. That is bloody convenient given that that was just the right amount to get this crew of economic vandals over the line and back into the so-called black.

I honestly can say that I entered this job with the hope and belief that, when presented with facts and information and the voice of community, there may well be an ability to craft a bipartisan agenda when it came to the NDIS. I reserved judgement on the new minister, hoping that his appointment to a dedicated portfolio signalled a fundamental shift in this government's approach to the scheme. I met with him in good faith and shared my views with him frankly and openly. However, this piece of legislation shows that he was not listening. He did not pick up the phone and talk to the folks who would have told him what the impact of his decisions were and what the views of the community that is affected by this legislation were. If you cannot pass the basic metric of talking to the people affected by the legislation you are crafting, then you have no business being in any portfolio within a hundred million miles of social policy.

There's much debate yet to come on this piece of legislation. However, the reality of the Senate is that numbers mean so much in this place. We would not be debating this bill at all if the government didn't think it had a chance of getting it through. It thinks it has a chance of getting it through because it thinks it has secured the support of Centre Alliance. It thinks it has secured the support of Centre Alliance because Centre Alliance's portfolio holder in this area, Ms Sharkie, the member for Mayo, has indicated that they will support this legislation when it comes to a vote.

A couple of weeks back, when this legislation was so comprehensively condemned by disabled people, I had much hope in my heart about our ability in this place to act as a house of review to check the government's arrogance, as we so often are called to do, and to send a clear message to this government that, should it bring the bill forward, the bill would fail. I had this confidence based on the fact that I have in the past done much good work with Centre Alliance in relation to disability, particularly with Ms Sharkie. So I approached conversations with her and her office expecting to find the friend and ally of the disability community that I had so often found in them and their team. I have been very distressed and disappointed to discover that that has not been not the case.

I have had over the course of this week many a conversation with Ms Sharkie and her office and, where once I found, on the issue of disability, a community representative of compassion and care willing to engage with the substance of legislation, instead I found a politician whose only response was that she had already given a commitment to the government which she was not willing to break. No matter how many times I have had the conversation about the impact of this legislation during the course of this week, no matter how many times disabled advocates have rung her office—and, good Lord, countless individuals have rung her office, begging that team to change its mind—they have steadfastly refused to do so. I remain of the opinion that Centre Alliance are, on the whole, good people—better than many who often occupy these benches. However, they are about to make a bad decision, and I do not believe it is a decision which the people of Mayo support.

The NDIS has the potential to be a fundamentally transformational scheme. It has the ability to empower participants to live lives of purpose and dignity in their own time and on their own terms. It was brought about because of the comprehensive failures of the state based systems. There still remains an opportunity for the scheme to be that which people need it to be, but it cannot be that. It will continue to be mutilated if the corporatisation of the scheme is allowed to continue, and that is what this bill facilitates. It greases the wheels of the corporatisation of the scheme when there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that that will create better outcomes for participants. And after the debacle that has been the preparation for this legislation, after the steadfast refusal of the minister to countenance the views of disabled people, I have to ask the chamber: is this really a man which this place would like to give more power to to unilaterally appoint folks to the board of the agency—a bloke that apparently can't pick up the phone to the frightfully small number of national organisations which represent disability and our families at the federal level, a bloke who can't read a dissenting report, it seems, which so clearly sets out concerns? This is not the kind of person that we want to grant additional powers to.

At such a critical moment in the scheme's life, when so much is going wrong, we in this place, now more than ever, need to be guided by the voices of disabled people. Disabled people were saying to us very clearly this afternoon: 'Do not vote for this piece of legislation. Vote it down.' I would ask all of us in this place, before we cast our vote, to consider what gives us the belief that we are in a position to ignore those views? How can we truly say that we are representing the community if we are willing to simply brush aside those opinions because they're inconvenient, because they don't meet the script that we've written for ourselves about how to act in this area, because they're not what the agenda that we've laid out for ourselves looks like? That's not what the Australian people want to see from this place. They want to see us listen and they want to see us make life easier for people who are struggling.

A tremendous effort has been expended by disabled people in this week alone. Hundreds of calls have been made to MPs across this chamber on this one question. Advocates have spent hours, backwards and forwards, on phone calls, trying to convince this minister, trying to convince Centre Alliance at a time when—do you know what, folks?—we've got other things that are also really bloody pressing. We've got a royal commission, and each one of us, each one of the hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands of us, are trying to process how to put into words the pain and suffering and violence that we've been subjected to. But we're not allowed to be alone with that and to deal with it. The organisations that represent us are not being given the space to prepare for that deep work, that deep supportive work. This government have brought in here an administrative bill that's part of a long-term agenda to turn it over to their appointed mates—in many the same way, I have to add, that has now transpired with the AAT, that absolute administrative nightmare. It seems to be the sole preserve of whichever particular MP that feels like it to stack his friends onto the bloody thing.

Photo of Cory BernardiCory Bernardi (SA, Australian Conservatives) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Steele-John, I'm going to interrupt you. You've used the term 'bloody' on a number of occasions. I don't consider it to be particularly parliamentary. I'd rather you didn't incorporate it into your speeches. If you'd like to seek clarification from the President, please do, but I don't think it's appropriate for use in this chamber.

Photo of Jordon Steele-JohnJordon Steele-John (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Fair enough—you are known as a shrinking violet of the chamber! I withdraw 'bloody'. To be a disabled person in Australia is to be born into a world where your voice is automatically counted for less. It is to be born into a society which still tells you that you're wrong and broken and that you should get out of the way of normal people going about their lives. The NDIS was created and conceived to help end that discrimination, to be an agent of change for disabled people and their families. It was conceived as an agency that would be guided by people who have a profound understanding of disability, of the community and of the barriers that we face and would work tirelessly to tear down those barriers and give us a voice.

There have been in its life brief moments where it has met the challenge, where it has been that thing which people have needed. But far too often it has become an agent of the very opposite. This drift towards a broken promise, this drift towards a broken scheme, will continue if the board is continued to be allowed to be treated as something to which people with no expertise but a good relationship with the minister can be appointed. We must block this legislation. We ought to vote against this legislation. Listen to the voices of disabled people. Do the right thing in this debate.

1:27 pm

Photo of Helen PolleyHelen Polley (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the National Disability Insurance Scheme Amendment (Streamlined Governance) Bill 2019. The amendment only focuses on the governance of the National Disability Insurance Scheme and appointments to the board of the National Disability Insurance Agency and the Independent Advisory Council. This bill only relates to matters between governments and has no impact on people's access to the NDIS or the supports available to NDIS participants. But what we really need to do is focus on fixing a system that is broken. For far too long, the scheme has been without a leader—at a crucial time of rolling out the NDIS. My understanding is it was only this morning that a new CEO was appointed.

The National Disability Insurance Scheme was introduced under the previous Labor government. It is a scheme that was designed to give people who are living with disabilities a chance to have a choice and control over their lives. While there are some good experiences around people accessing the NDIS, there are also many horrific stories of those who are missing out due to the whole bureaucratic process and a process that is bogged in the sand.

Recently, in Launceston, the shadow minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme, the Hon. Bill Shorten, and myself hosted a round table to meet with participants and providers. What we heard was a scheme that is failing. During our discussions, we met with a participant who is suffering from an acute degenerative disease that is terminal. Ms Piper has been sleeping on a couch in her lounge room for nine months. This is due to delays in receiving an answer to the bedroom modifications from the NDIS. This is a terminal woman who is having to sleep on a couch in her own lounge room because she can't get advice from the NDIS. Ms Piper would be in pain, as the couch is not necessarily comfortable, especially with the disease that she has. She's at risk of getting pressure sores that could very well lead to bigger health problems that could potentially mean her having to stay in hospital.

The unfortunate part is that this is not the first time that Ms Piper has waited on the NDIS. She had to wait six months for bathroom modifications, and then still didn't receive an answer. She ended up having to use her own savings so that she could use her own bathroom. She was very frustrated, as you can imagine. Having to wash in a bucket is not something that you should be doing as a recipient of the NDIS, and certainly not when you have a terminal disease. It's just not right. I found out that the NDIS rang Ms Piper the day after her story made the local news. Only yesterday, they approved the plans for the bedroom to be modified.

Why should families have to get to the stage that they must lobby their local senator and members of parliament? Why should families have to go to the media to make their story highlighted in the hope that they can get some support to get answers? I know from the shadow minister responsible, the Hon. Bill Shorten, that this has happened every time he's held forums around the country and participants have told their stories—they receive a phone call. That's great for those individuals, but it shouldn't be that you have to go to a forum organised by the Labor Party before you get the assistance that you deserve.

Can I say that Ms Piper's situation is not an isolated one. Other families have had their stories put out into the public domain. Some people find it hard, as they don't like to have their private lives made public. Ms Piper and her family should not have this stress for over 12 months while they're constantly fighting the government for the assistance that they need. What Ms Piper and her family should be doing is making lifelong memories for the future because of her particular circumstances so that she can leave some good and happy memories for her family—not further stress, not further pain and certainly not sleeping on her couch. Communication is a big concern when dealing with the NDIS. Emails go unanswered, phone calls are never returned and there is no consistency in the information being provided. People can ring the 1800 number and ask the same question three times and get three different answers.

Another concern is the time delays people are experiencing, especially in Launceston, my home city in the electorate of Bass, where only a skeleton staff are working. Plans and plan reviews are taking longer than needed. As a result, people are left without plans and with no money for the supports. Providers are doing love jobs as they're propping up the scheme by providing support with the verbal guarantee that they will get paid by the scheme, only to then be told that they won't be getting paid at all. Providers can't afford to do that. Businesses are writing off thousands of dollars in debt they will no longer get as they must still pay their staff and overheads while trying to be a viable business. On the one hand the NDIS is encouraging new innovative businesses to come on board, yet on the other hand it has no incentive to make businesses want to stay when there are delays in payments or no payments at all. No business can continue under those circumstances over time.

Delays in planning approvals and delays in communication are adding to the stress of participants and their families. This all comes to the outrageous underspend of $4.6 billion in the NDIS by this government just so that it can bring down a budget with a surplus. What I ask is: at what cost? The cost is to the most vulnerable in our community. The delays in participants' plans are creating bed blockages. Currently at the Launceston General Hospital there are at least four people who are waiting to have their supported independent living plans reviewed so that they can move into a house that has been specifically built for them. To put it into perspective, we have a brand-new house sitting empty while beds in hospitals are being used by clients who don't require hospital care.

In Launceston, participants are waiting up to 18 months to see allied health professionals. A young mother has just brought her situation to my attention. Her young son needs OT assistance. She's been told she'll wait for 18 months, but that doesn't guarantee that he will ultimately get the services that he needs, and it certainly doesn't guarantee he'll get them at the time he needs them. These services need to be delivered in a timely manner. Why should a young boy and his family be so stressed because the NDIS can't ensure he gets the therapy he needs? Without that therapy, the consequences to his future education are adding more stress onto his family. The time delay for people waiting for speech and occupational therapy and physio can mean that they are not getting the support that they need. Research shows that early intervention in speech is extremely important. Children having to wait these ridiculous waiting times will miss out on therapies that may help them speak, walk, write—the list goes on and on.

Service providers have concerns. One in particular has 35 residents living in a large residential facility in Hobart. This provider is working with their clients to give their clients choice and control over the type of care facility that they would like to live in. But the problem that the provider faces is not knowing whether their clients will qualify under the funding model for specialist disability accommodation. This lack of clarity over the rules and implementation of the rules makes business wary of taking on innovative ideas, fearing they will be left picking up the expenses if the NDIS pulls the pin.

One participant—for privacy reasons I'll refer to her as Belinda—is currently living in a rental property with easy access for her wheelchair. The downside is that the owner is selling the property, and Belinda is required to relocate. The housing crisis in Tasmania is bad, but it's even worse when a person has limits on their mobility. Belinda has approached the NDIS for a plan review and was told she would hear back within two weeks. She has now been waiting for seven weeks. Again, the lines of communication are broken. No-one is taking responsibility, and this waiting game could potentially strip Belinda of her freedom to live independently. Belinda could have to move into a nursing home at the age of 53. That's just not good enough.

That was not the intention when the previous Labor government rolled out and introduced the NDIS. Under this current Liberal government the NDIS system is broken and urgently needs repair. It has gone off the road and, quite frankly, it's bogged in the sand. While the scheme is kind of working for some people, for others it is not. The NDIS is a bureaucracy. Service providers are having to fund the gaps that have been created. There's not enough transition support and not enough planning on how to increase the workforce in disability to encourage people to take on job roles to support people with disabilities.

Recently in Launceston the local Liberal member for Bass, Mrs Bridget Archer, held a forum for NDIS participants. In fact she planned and advertised for three forums but had to cancel two of those. As her advertisement had stated this, the local newspaper questioned her over her commitment to the other forums and why they had to be cancelled. But the invitation was for current participants only. What about those people who are waiting to see whether they can access the NDIS? After advertising the sessions, she ended up running only one. I can say with a great deal of certainty that, at the one and only session that did go ahead, there were only five participants. In fact she had more representation from her own office and the NDIS office than she did participants. Maybe people were too scared to turn up and scared that they might be blacklisted for speaking out.

What Mrs Archer fails to realise is that there are many people in Launceston who are transitioning onto the National Disability Insurance Scheme and are waiting for plans, waiting to even meet with a local area coordinator. This is an issue, as these people are struggling each day with limited access to services. Recently I heard of a gentleman in Launceston who was unable to meet with the NDIS, due to time delays, who was walking from Launceston to Rocherlea, a nine-kilometre walk. The gentleman has a developmental delay, also has issues with his legs, was on a disability support pension and was unable to afford a taxi or a bus. How can Mrs Archer know that these are the real problems for people if she excludes them from coming and having their say to be able to highlight these problems that are occurring in her own electorate?

I wonder if Mrs Archer knows the reasons people are having such long delays to access the system. In Launceston the NDIS office has had high turnover of staff. Now the office is understaffed and is going to be advertising for more staff. You can't blame the staff for under-resourcing. You can't blame the staff for resigning and leaving their jobs, because they're so badly under-resourced. Why would this government not have already advertised for staff, knowing there's a backlog of people waiting to access the scheme? The staff in the local office at Launceston are working as hard as they can. But we are hearing that the staff are going on sick leave. They are stressed. The pressure of the workload is just too high for some of those individuals. This just isn't acceptable.

In Tasmania we're hearing that there is a shortage of supports and that this shortage of supports is seeing people being unable to access the services that they have been funded for. Participants are finding it hard to get reports written to show evidence of their needs, as they are waiting up to six months and beyond, and some providers' books are closed to new participants. The Liberal government needs to act now, to look at the issues and to fix them. There is no point holding discussions if you're not really interested in hearing about the problems and you don't have any influence—which, obviously, Mrs Archer, the local member, doesn't have—to fix the problems and to give the support that is needed to participants and to staff. They have taken one step, after more than 170 days, to finally appoint a CEO of this important organisation, but people with disabilities were promised choice and control. It's about time this government allowed people this right, instead of holding them to ransom.

Labor on this side of the chamber will continue to lobby and advocate for people with disabilities until this government show compassion to the people who are struggling with a system that is broken and a system that needs urgent attention. They should be doing everything that they can to ensure participants have access to the services that they need, and the local member, Mrs Archer, and the Liberal Senate team in Tasmania should do whatever they can to ensure that the University of Tasmania introduces more courses so that we can have more OTs, more physios and more allied health professionals trained and educated in our home state so that we can take that step that is needed to train and skill up the people who are needed and will continue to be needed around not only disability but also aged care. If we educate those people, we will then have a better chance of keeping them in the state.

But what I hear from those opposite is deadly silence. As I said, when Mrs Archer advertised for three forums, she only wanted to hear from the participants. And I can assure you that, of the five participants who were there, three of those are people who I know and who have come to me for assistance. So what is Mrs Archer, as the federal member and as a member of this Liberal government, really doing and what influence, if any, does she have to ensure the people in her electorate of Bass have access to the OTs, to the physios and to having their plans reviewed in a timely manner? And what is she doing to support providers?

I want to put on the record how much the participants and the providers appreciate the fact that Bill Shorten took the time to come to Launceston and to Hobart to listen to the real concerns. We didn't want to hear about just the good stories. Obviously we wanted to hear about the things that are working, but, more importantly, we wanted to hear about the concerns that are had so that we can play our role in making sure that this government is held accountable. Nothing less will be accepted.

Debate adjourned.

Ordered that the resumption of the debate be made an order of the day for a later hour.