Senate debates

Monday, 18 March 2024


National Disability Insurance Scheme; Order for the Production of Documents

10:03 am

Photo of Katy GallagherKaty Gallagher (ACT, Australian Labor Party, Minister for the Public Service) Share this | | Hansard source

The government continues to reiterate its view that it cannot agree with the assertions made in the motion. We do, however, acknowledge the interest in the chamber in reforming the NDIS to get it back on track and ensure its sustainability for future generations of Australians. I also acknowledge the recent commitment by the Leader of the Opposition to working together with the government to this end.

On 8 February 2024, the government tabled the final report of the Independent review into the NDIS, which was publicly released in December 2023. In producing this report, the independent NDIS review panel travelled to every state and territory, including regional and remote communities. It heard directly from more than 10,000 Australians, worked with disability organisations to reach out to listen to more than 1,000 people with a disability and their families, recorded more than 2,000 personal stories and received almost 4,000 submissions.

The review delivered 26 recommendations and 139 supporting actions to respond to its terms of reference. In delivering its recommendations, the review provided exhaustive analysis and proposals to improve the operation, effectiveness and sustainability of the NDIS. The independent NDIS review panel has said that its reforms can improve the scheme and meet National Cabinet's annual growth target of no more than eight per cent growth by 1 July 2026. Discussions have continued with senators across this chamber, as well as members in the other place, to address questions about the government's NDIS reform agenda that it is pursuing together with the disability community. We look forward to working with senators in this place to get the NDIS back on track and ensure its sustainability for future generations of Australians.

In relation to the order being discussed, the government has previously outlined that we have claimed public interest immunity over the requested documents, as disclosure would prejudice relations between the Commonwealth and the states and territories. The Minister representing the Treasurer has already tabled key documents for the benefit of the Senate in addition to the aforementioned review.

10:05 am

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

I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer.

This is getting ridiculous. This is getting actually ridiculous. Month after month after month, the Senate has demanded that the Australian government cough up the documents required to give the disability community the certainty over what their plans are in relation to the NDIS. And, month after month after month, the government has trotted in here and given the same flat non-answer. It is actually becoming beneath this government that these answers keep being given. It is a parody of the transparency that was promised when they were elected.

Let's be really clear: the Senate is asking the government to make public the documents, the projections, that were agreed at a National Cabinet meeting now all the way back in July of last year. All the way back in July, this government got together with state and territory ministers, made a deal and announced something called the NDIS Sustainability Framework. And, based on that framework, they booked some $50-plus billion worth of 'changes'. We in the disability community know what a $50 billion 'change' means. It means less money in our plans. It means fewer hours for our support workers. It means fewer job opportunities. It means fewer opportunities to make friends, to participate in the community and to utilise our human rights. And so this Senate has come together repeatedly to demand the actual documentation.

And what has the government response been? 'We're not going to give it to you.' Why? 'Because we don't want to.' It is the logic that you find in a moody teenager that hasn't done their homework. We have asked them again and again, if their claim of public interest immunity is based on the risk of prejudicing the hallowed relationship between the states and Commonwealth government, to give us a letter from one state or territory minister objecting to the release of this documentation. They can't do it. They've had months to do it, and they've failed again, again and again.

The minister, in their contribution, spent about half of their time referencing the independent review into the NDIS, which is irrelevant to the question before the Senate. The independent review contains none of the information requested by the Senate. I know because I've read it multiple times. This is the equivalent of being asked to submit your homework and instead going: 'No, I'm not going to submit the essay I was required to. Instead, here is a paper swan.' It's absolutely ridiculous. It makes a mockery of the transparency promised to the Australian disability community by the Labor government.

We in the Greens will continue to work with all parties in this place to ensure that these documents are made public, that this Senate's demand for transparency is complied with and that the message goes forth from this place that embarrassment is not a reason to claim public interest immunity. I do not care and the Australian disability community does not care if the release of these documents make some in the government feel uncomfortable. It is, nevertheless, our right to know what your intention is in relation to our NDIS. You promised collaboration and co-design, and we in the Greens will hold you to that promise.

10:10 am

Photo of Hollie HughesHollie Hughes (NSW, Liberal Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Climate Change and Energy) Share this | | Hansard source

We know what we've heard before: 'My word is my bond' and 'This will be a government based on transparency.' Yet, it's all words. We know it's got nothing to do with actions. We see it here again.

Senator Steele-John, I join you again today. It's 'NDIS Monday'. We're back and we'll be back every single sitting week demanding that these documents be provided. It's not for our benefit for a little bit of entertainment. This is for the 600,000 participants and their families, who don't know what this growth cap means and don't know what the sustainability framework looks like. They don't know what dirty deals have been done with the states, and how their plans, their families, their lives and their ability to live their best possible life will be affected.

What we know is that a number of ministers in different states who look after areas like health and education don't know what they've been signed up to. They don't know what additional programs and steps they're going to be asked—most of them—to step back up into, because they vacated the field thanks to the way the Gillard government developed the NDIS funding model. What are the states going to be asked to deliver? Are they going to have to put more aids in classrooms? Are they going to have to run early intervention programs? Are they going to be expected to rollout substantial changes to community health so that people with children who have a developmental delay but not a permanent, lifelong disability can access early intervention, when required? When kids having a little bit of trouble with their speech or fine motor skills—but don't require NDIS because they aren't being diagnosed with permanent, lifelong disabilities—will they be able to access community health services or an OT or a speech therapist to get the help? Will they be able to access assistance and therapy options in less than two or three years, because know that's what the waiting list is for with most community health providers, where they even exist at all.

This is important not only for the sustainability of the scheme and for the participants in it, and particularly those with permanent and lifelong and significant disabilities, but for the families that need to rely on the scheme to know that when they are no longer able to look after their children, they know their children will be supported in the way they best can be. They need to understand this.

Again, this is a demand driven scheme. There are two ways to cap growth. You either cut the number of participants or you cut the value of the plans. That's it. There's no other way this can be achieved. So, which is it? A bit of column A, a bit of column B or a bit of both? We don't know, because those opposite are doing cosy, dirty deals with a sea full of red Labor premiers to keep it a secret. Thank God there's still one beacon of blue. I look forward to that beacon of blue being returned on Saturday. I'm pretty sure they'd be happy to understand what they've committed to and that their constituencies know what they've been committed to.

Senator Steele-John, it was quite a good analogy about the homework. I like that you said it was a teenager being petulant. Having three teenagers, I understand that petulance. But I think this is worse. This is like a foot-stomping toddler that won't hand the cupcake back when they've already had six and dinner's on the table. It's absurd the way they behave here and that we get this same spiel week after week. Senator Steele-John is right. Bring in a letter from a premier saying it's going to damage relations, but you can't. Stand up and have the integrity to say to the families on the scheme that are impacted by this, 'This is how we're planning to cap the growth to eight per cent.' We know that's not happening at the moment. The growth is exponentially increasing and continuing to increase.

We've also heard Minister Shorten say that this is a demand driven scheme, so that's just an arbitrary figure that they've come up with anyway. What's worse is that they're baking $69 billion worth of savings from this expected cap growth into the budget. But it's a demand driven scheme. Minister Shorten's saying if they can't reach it: 'It's all good. Don't worry about it; we'll just keep going.' But there's a $69 billion black hole that we could all fall into in the budget, because they've already factored in that they've capped the growth.

The growth is currently double what they've said they will cap it at in around 18 months. They're saying they are going to have this down to eight per cent annually in just over 18 months. There is absolutely no way that that will happen unless they are planning on making fundamental shifts to eligibility requirements for the scheme. What are they going to do to the early childhood pathway? Are they going to start kicking people off? How will they work this through? Are they going to start putting age restrictions on people that are in the scheme already? What are the things that they are planning to do that are going to restrict the access of people with a disability and their families from being able to achieve the best possible outcomes in life?

Question agreed to.