National Disability Insurance Scheme Savings Fund Special Account Bill 2016

15 February 2017

I rise to speak on the National Disability Insurance Scheme Savings Fund Special Account Bill 2016. I oppose the creation of an NDIS Savings Fund Special Account for three main reasons: (1) it suggests that Labor did not adequately fund the NDIS, and nothing could be further from the truth; (2) it suggests the need for a special account for the NDIS, and the government has not made a case for that; and (3) this special account, this savings fund, is most likely a euphemism for further savage budget cuts by this ruthless government that does not give a hoot about our most vulnerable people. This so-called savings fund is a wolf in sheep's clothing. The fund proposed in this legislation will not protect the Commonwealth's full contribution to the NDIS. The fund proposed in this legislation will be used as an excuse for further cuts to the Social Services portfolio.

Let's consider some of the submissions from non-government organisations to the inquiry that the member for Fisher spoke about, by the Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee, and the concerns they consistently raised about this bill. These concerns included: that the NDIS should not be used as an excuse for cuts to payments for the most vulnerable; that, contrary to what the government says, the establishment of this new account means funding for the NDIS is potentially less certain, given it is tied to cuts that may not pass this parliament, and that it may represent a cap on NDIS funding; that these groups could not see a purpose or a need for the account; and that this government has failed to establish evidence of the need for this fund, proving it is merely a political stunt in an attempt to use the NDIS to justify further cuts. It is a wolf in sheep's clothing.

How this government could suggest that Labor did not adequately fund the NDIS is beyond comprehension. In the 2013-14 budget, Labor clearly set out how the NDIS would be funded for 10 years, well past the transition to the full scheme. This included reforms to the private health insurance rebate, reforms to retirement incomes, the phase-out of the net medical expenses tax offset, and other long-term savings proposals. The Medicare levy was also increased by half a percentage point to two per cent. Together with the contributions from state and territory governments, these measures covered the cost of the NDIS for 10 years. It was fully and adequately funded by Labor. There was no NDIS funding shortfall left by Labor. There is no need for an NDIS special fund, and this government knows it.

My electorate of Paterson, in the New South Wales Hunter Valley, included some of the trial sites for the rollout of the NDIS. We were among the guinea pigs, and I will not pretend that there were not problems, but on the whole the trials went very well. It has only been since the full rollout of the NDIS, and the technology debacles around the online computer portal, that we have heard any negativity about the NDIS. I do not intend to underplay the problems. In fact, I have been vocal on behalf of people in my electorate, the electorate of Paterson, who have had problems—both people who are NDIS participants and those who are disability service providers, who are also struggling with this payments portal. It was terribly organised. I organised for those people to speak with Labor's shadow minister Jenny Macklin, and she has taken their concerns straight to the minister, Minister Porter.

There have been teething problems, but Labor as the author and the instigator of the NDIS, and the guaranteed funder of the NDIS, will continue to work with this government to ensure the future of the NDIS. We created the NDIS, and we will care for it. We will tend to it. Labor will not work with this government to undermine the NDIS. It is too important to too many people.

I would like to share just one story with you, about how important the NDIS has been to just one family in my electorate. The mother of a boy with disabilities wrote this letter to one of my staffers, thanking him for steering her in the right direction, and I will read it to you:

Dear Giacomo,

I just wanted to let you know we finally got an NDIS review today for Bailey.

I wanted to thank you so much for the direction you pointed me in and the people you put me in touch with.

I had only left the review meeting 30 minutes earlier, and I received an email with an amazing amount of new funding for Bailey.

This new plan is going to make Bailey's life much easier, with all the new services we can get with the increased funding amount.

Thank you so much for helping us.

Kids like Bailey need a strong voice to echo their needs.

Signed Leesa Morris.

This is only one family, but it is clear how, for that one family, the NDIS has been completely life-changing. This family lives in Metford, in my electorate of Paterson. Bailey, who is seven, has level 2 autism, sensory perception disorder and high anxiety disorder. He attends Maitland East Public School and, after some initial settling in issues, he now considers school to be the most important part of his routine. In fact, school holidays now pose more of a challenge than school, as Bailey wants to go to school even when he does not have to, and even when he cannot. It is all about the routine.

In the first year of the NDIS, Bailey's package of support allowed him to be funded for speech pathology, occupational therapy and psychology services. This year his package was increased threefold, and, as well as extending those speech, OT and psychology services, he now has a designated behaviour management consultant and a support worker, and both of these new services are working to improve his social skills. The support worker is particularly important in school holidays, when Bailey does not want to even leave his room unless he gets to go to school. It can take four to five hours to get him ready to leave the house, and having a support worker to do that means his mum, Leesa, is able to devote more time to five-year-old Sieanna, the sibling that is so often, in Leesa's words, 'on the backburner'.

Leesa told us this week that the NDIS package had really lightened her load. She said:

It has made a huge difference … Not just financially, but emotionally. And for the whole family unit. This support gives me more time to spend with Sieanna and it helps the whole family. It makes us more like a normal family.

There is no doubt the NDIS is life-changing. It is vitally important to so many in my community and in communities everywhere across Australia. It is too important to be undermined, attacked or whittled away by measures such as this savings fund special account—this wolf in sheep's clothing that is nothing but a smokescreen behind which the government intends to make further cuts to social services.

Do not think further cuts to social services are going to help anyone. Cuts to social services are certainly not going to help the many, many Australians who rely on government services and government benefits to live their lives. We have seen such savage cuts to social services by this Abbott-Turnbull government, cuts that have driven staff in these departments, not to mention the clients of these services, to the brink—people who are really on the edge.

My electorate office in Raymond Terrace constantly receives calls from people who are struggling in their dealings with government departments that have been slashed and burned by savage Abbott-Turnbull government cuts since 2014. Their list of complaints is long, and they are repeated over and over: long waiting times, whether it is on the phone or in the physical queue for services such as Centrelink; having to use the internet to process claims and accounts, but without technology; documents being lost; documents being provided over and over again and still being lost; and incorrect information being recorded on official documents and it being nigh on impossible to have it corrected.

One staffer took a call from a fellow so frustrated with Centrelink that he did not know where to turn. He said he had called Human Services regarding his mother-in-law's aged-care fees about 20 times in the past year. Not only was there an issue with her fees being, in his words, 'stuffed up' but also, almost every time he called, he was told his mother-in-law's file could not be accessed because the computer was down. That is maybe 20 times in one year when this one fellow called that the computer was down. How much time is the Human Services computer actually up? This poor fellow was so infuriated he called my office and said, 'Ask Meryl to do something about it.' Short of going round and trying to sort out the Human Services computer, I am trying to do something about it here. To add insult to injury, on two occasions, when the long-suffering staff who answered the phone could access his mother-in-law's file, he was told he was not authorised to speak about his mother-in-law's file, despite his wife sending two separate documents authorising him to speak about his mother-in-law's file. Seriously! It is a tragedy, but it is just farcical.

That is the story before we even get to the actual cuts to pensions, meaning our most vulnerable and elderly cannot cover their costs for rent, utilities and transport; and to cuts to medical services, meaning our most vulnerable and elderly cannot get access to medical services, to doctors that are prepared to bulk-bill, to specialists who make it very difficult for public patients to see them or to services outside major cities that are prepared to look after our rural and regional communities.

These cuts have hit all our communities, particularly the most vulnerable. They cannot afford any more savage cuts to pensions or to services. And Labor will not allow any savage cuts, particularly to the NDIS—because that is what this National Disability Insurance Scheme Savings Fund is. It is a cut disguised as a fund. It is a wolf in sheep's clothing, and we will not have the wool pulled over our eyes.