Senate debates

Thursday, 17 October 2019


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

1:53 pm

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

I rise to speak on the National Disability Insurance Scheme Amendment (Streamlined Governance) Bill 2019. This is a bill that I had a bit to do with during the Senate inquiry on these measures, and I've had a lot of concerns with the process, as I have a lot of concerns with the ongoing operations of the NDIS. The Greens have always been very strongly supportive of the NDIS. However, we have been very critical on many occasions of its implementation and with the interpretation of the bills at the time. This particular bill changes the process of appointments and terminations to the National Disability Insurance Agency, the NDIA, board and the Independent Advisory Committee, the IAC, from one that requires unanimous support from the states and territories to a process whereby the minister can override the states and appoint their own pick, thereby allowing the minister to stack the board, potentially, and the IAC.

There's been a lot of opposition from disability advocacy groups on this particular matter, because it's very, very important that people on these bodies have lived experience. No matter how sympathetic you are, you don't know what it's like to have the lived experience of a disabled person.

As I alluded to a moment ago, in August there was a Senate inquiry into this bill. The evidence given to the hearing and in the submissions overwhelmingly recommended against the passage of this bill due to concerns about the ability of the government to influence the independence of the NDIS. It is more important than ever that that independence is maintained given the problems that we've had with the operation of the NDIS virtually since it began. We've seen problems with planners, problems with advice being given and problems with accessing supports. We've seen delay after delay after delay, in terms of people being able to get their packages. We've seen inappropriate information being given and inappropriate decisions being made.

I had somebody in the south-west of WA who didn't get transport put into their package because they could catch public transport. They happen to live in Manjimup. Those of you from Western Australia will know that there isn't a bus service, there isn't public transport, from Manjimup to Bunbury, where people frequently have to go to seek treatment, to see specialists and to even access some of their equipment. So what's happening is that carers and support workers are driving people up from these remote locations—or more remote locations, because I wouldn't exactly call Manjimup remote. I'm sure it is happening all over Australia. They're driving people up in their own vehicles sometimes, which is not the appropriate thing to do, and at their own cost. That is simply ridiculous. What that indicates is that the planners, the people making these decisions, have no idea whatsoever about the circumstances of the particular person or the regions in which they're living.

The government did not consult with disabled people, or their representative peak organisations, in writing this bill. However, throughout the inquiry, they did hear from the disability community and their peak organisations that there is overwhelming opposition to this bill. We definitely heard it throughout the Community Affairs Legislation Committee inquiry into this bill. Both the ALP and ourselves contributed dissenting reports. There have been no substantive changes to this bill since that inquiry. The deeply concerning provisions remain, and the sector continues to express its deep concerns about it. We are strongly opposed to the passage of this bill and implore the opposition to stick with their dissenting position following the inquiry. We also urge the crossbench to support the wishes of the disability community, which is so avidly working to improve the NDIA. We all want to see a strong, very engaged NDIA.

Unfortunately, it seems that the government is continuing their obsession with the budget surplus and wanting to pass this sort of legislation to give them the power to potentially stack the board of the NDIA with more of their corporate mates. The NDIA board and the Independent Advisory Council should be just that: they need to be totally independent from the government to allow them to always act in the best interests of disabled people who are participating in the NDIS. As I said at the beginning of my speech, lived experience of disability should be critical for the board of the National Disability Insurance Agency to function in the best interests of disabled people, yet this is not the case. When we initially debated the NDIS legislation, this point was made repeatedly. These bodies needs to be independent. Disabled people's organisations were very clear at the time that there need to be people with lived experience making up these organisations, because it's only then that we'll get decisions that truly reflect the needs of disabled people.

The board has been largely filled with former corporate CEOs from the banking and financial sector. People who are good at balancing budgets do not necessarily have all the skills necessary to understand the issues that disabled people are facing or what it takes to improve their lives in our community. For example, Mr Robert De Luca, who was the past CEO of the NDIA—

Debate interrupted.