Second Reading - National Disability Insurance Scheme Bill 2013
(09:32): The cooperative approach that we certainly believe needs to be taken in relation to the National Disability Insurance Scheme is well exemplified by the Prime Minister and the New South Wales Premier Barry O'Farrell showing how effective cooperation can be achieved when they signed an intergovernmental agreement in December for a full state-wide NDIS rollout after the Hunter launch project. I referred earlier in my remarks to the role of the New South Wales minister, Andrew Constance, in that occurring. I would hope that what we see from the government is the Prime Minister applying that very constructive approach to negotiations with the other states and territories.
I also want to refer to those states which are not specifically hosting a launch site but which are nevertheless committed to the NDIS, including both Queensland and Western Australia. The Productivity Commission, in its work, did not envisage that every state would host a launch site but it also did not see the absence of a launch site as a barrier to participation in the national rollout. While the coalition supports the government's $1 billion commitment, we cannot reconcile this figure with the $3.9 billion the Productivity Commission said would be needed over the forward estimates for phase 1 of the NDIS. We are hoping that the government will explain this and make appropriate provisions in the coming May budget.
On the bill itself: it establishes the framework for the National Disability Insurance Scheme and the National Disability Insurance Scheme Launch Transition Agency, known as the agency. This will enable the scheme to be launched and the agency to operate the launch in five sites across Australia from July 2013. The first stage of the scheme will benefit more than 20,000 people with a disability, their families and their carers living in South Australia, the ACT, Tasmania, the Hunter in New South Wales and the Barwon area of Victoria.
The scheme will provide funding to individuals or organisations to help those people with disabilities to participate more fully in economic and social life through the provision of an entitlement enabling things such as aids, equipment, supported accommodation or personal attendant care.
The mechanics of the agency will be established by way of legislative instruments called the NDIS rules. These regulations will further detail areas such as eligibility and assessment criteria. The government released a discussion paper on the rules on 1 February this year, but the discussion paper perhaps left a little to be desired in the information it contained. It proposed a series of questions this but it was not really a draft set of rules. This is significant, as the bill itself is essentially a framework; it establishes a transition agency, the board, the CEO and general definition of eligibility. But the nuts and bolts of the scheme will be established by the rules.
A recurrent theme in the evidence presented by witnesses was that it was difficult to offer advice, to pose questions or to plan for the launch sites in the absence of the substantive rules. The government released seven drafts of NDIS rules on the final day of hearings of the Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs on Tuesday, 5 March. These included draft rules for becoming a participant; draft rules for children; draft rules for privacy—and my colleague Senator Mason has referred to those at some length in his remarks; draft rules for nominees; draft rules for support; draft rules for registered providers; and draft rules for plan management. They are still the subjects of consultation with the states and territories and disability stakeholders, and the coalition is also studying them carefully.
The government has also indicated that there are potentially dozens of batches of draft rules to be released. I suggest that that is not the way to do this. The rules need to be released quickly, and well before the passage of the bill through the parliament, but given the position in which we find ourselves here in this chamber today that would seem to not be the case. In her second reading speech the Prime Minister indicated the government's intention to bring the final version of the bill to a vote in the budget session. Those remaining rules urgently need to be released to enable proper scrutiny and consultation with stakeholders. The risk with this government, as always, is in its ability to implement it competently. In the absence of these rules it makes it very difficult for stakeholders in particular.
The interaction of three components—the NDIS bill, the NDIS rules and the operating guidelines for the NDIS launch transition agency—will determine how the NDIS operates. Developing a complete picture of how the NDIS will unfold is limited by incomplete and insufficient information. The work of the Senate committee has been critical in this space, and it should have had the benefit of the full rules and the operating guidelines for the agency before it was able to finish its work.
To sum up, it is appropriate to acknowledge the role played by figures on both sides of the chamber in helping to elevate the public policy profile of disability. I particularly acknowledge the coalition's shadow spokesman on this matter, Senator Mitch Fifield, who across my area of Western Sydney—and across the rest of Australia, from reports from my colleagues—has been unstinting in his efforts to make sure that we as a coalition engage with the most important stakeholders in this vital policy area and that we hear directly from them as to their views and their concerns. That is the way that we would formulate policy. That is the approach that we take, and there is no better exemplar than Senator Fifield. But the most credit must go to people with disabilities—to their families, to their carers and to the organisations that support them, including those very important organisations that I mentioned in Western Sydney in particular. They came together and decided that enough was enough. They said, 'There must be a better way to do this, and we won't stop until we find it.'
The coalition wants the NDIS to be a success regardless of who is in government at any time. We want the launch sites to run smoothly. We stand ready to work with the government and with all jurisdictions to make the NDIS a reality.