Thursday, 29 November 2012
National Disability Insurance Scheme Bill 2012; Second Reading
That this bill be now read a second time.
Few actions in public life give me greater pleasure than introducing the National Disability Insurance Scheme Bill does today. The scheme to be established by this bill will transform the lives of people with disability, their families and carers. For the first time they will have their needs met in a way that truly supports them to live with choice and dignity. It will bring an end to the tragedy of services denied or delayed and instead offer people with disability the care and support they need over their lifetimes. This is a complex bill, yet at its heart is a very simple moral insight:
To be born with or acquire a disability is to encounter one of those 'shafts of fate' of which Ben Chifley spoke in his last great speech as prime minister. The existence of disability in our community cannot always be avoided. But the consequences of disability—isolation, poverty, loss of dignity, stress, hopelessness and fear of the future—can be avoided. Every 30 minutes on average, someone in Australia is diagnosed with a significant disability. Only those of considerable wealth could possibly afford the costs of lifetime care that are required in response. Most Australians with disability cannot bear the burden alone, nor should they be left to. Yet in relying on public provision, they are forced to endure a level of care that is often shameful and generally insufficient.
It is a system that reacts to crisis. A system that metes out support rationed by arbitrary budget allocations, not real human needs. A system that I have rightly compared to a lottery—a cruel lottery where even the best outcome is far from satisfactory. So today our nation says enough. Our current system is inadequate and indefensible. It must be replaced.
The risk of disability is universal, so our response must be universal. The only solution is therefore a nation-wide, demand-driven system of care tailored to the needs of each individual and established on a durable, long-term basis. That can only be accomplished through the united effort of the community through the positive action of government, supported by the Australian people through our public revenues. Therefore, this bill will inscribe in our laws a substantial and enduring reform that will fundamentally change the nature of disability care and support in this nation:
The scheme is ambitious, and necessarily so. Because more than 400,000 people are living with significant and permanent disabilities. Because carers are required to stretch the bonds of obligation and kinship past breaking point. Because the nation is being robbed of the human and economic potential of people living with disability and the contribution they can make to our shared future. Because while the promise of fairness and equality that lies at the core of our national ethos is denied to some Australians, we are all diminished. The need for this bill is urgent, and the wait has been too long. My distinguished predecessor Gough Whitlam sought to introduce a national compensation scheme 40 years ago. Today, a new generation—no less idealistic—seeks to perfect and complete that work. So I am proud to present this bill to the House today.
This bill has two principal purposes:
The bill reflects the extensive work on design, funding and governance undertaken with states and territories and with people with disability, their families and carers, and with key other stakeholders. This bill will be subject to scrutiny, to further work, too. The government intends to refer this bill to a Senate committee to allow consideration in detail. And we will continue to work with the states and territories, with people with disability, their families, carers and advocates. We will also undertake public consultation on the legislative instruments that will be developed in conjunction with the bill. Any comments received through NDIS consultation processes will be considered. It is our intention to bring a final version of the bill for a vote in the budget session of parliament next year ahead of the start of the first stage of the NDIS from July 2013.
The National Disability Insurance Scheme represents a transformational approach to the provision of disability services in this country. Rather than attempt to patch and mend the existing system through further incremental change, we will build a new system from the ground up. The current funding model based on historical budget allocations will be replaced by an insurance approach, based on actuarial analysis of need and future costs. The scheme will respond to each individual's goals and aspirations for their lifetime, affording certainty and peace of mind for people with disability and their carers alike.
The agency will work with people to plan, and to take account of their individual circumstances and needs. The scheme will give people the care and support that is objectively assessed as being reasonable and necessary over the course of their lifetime. It will give people real choice and control over these supports, including the ability to manage their own funding, if they wish. It will offer early intervention therapies and supports, where it will improve a person's functioning, or slow or prevent the progression of their disability over their lifetime. The scheme will move away from the crisis model, where families only receive support if they are unable to continue in their caring role and there are no other options. Instead, it will work with families before they reach crisis to make sure that the valuable informal care they provide is sustainable. The scheme will also aim to foster innovative services that are delivered and coordinated by local people. This bill also clearly states the rights of people with disability within the scheme, and will give effect in part to our obligations under the Convention on the Rights of People with Disability.
I turn now to the detail of the bill. Chapter 1 of the bill outlines the objects and general principles underpinning the legislation. The legislation aims to support the independence and social and economic participation of people with disability. It clearly recognises the right of people with disability to exercise choice and control over the planning and delivery of their supports. The legislation is designed to ensure that people with disability can access reasonable and necessary supports, that there is an assurance of support over a person's lifetime, and that the scheme remains sustainable over the long term. It will facilitate the development of a national approach in access to, and planning and funding of, supports to people with disability, and will promote innovation and quality in the provision of those supports. The legislation also provides a foundation for all governments to work together to implement the launch of the NDIS.
Chapter 2 of the bill sets out a broad role for the National Disability Insurance Scheme Launch Transition Agency to provide general supports to people with disability and their families. As part of this role, the agency may provide funding to individuals and organisations to help people with disability participate in economic and social life. Chapter 3 of the bill then sets out the process for how to become a participant in the scheme, and how to develop a personal, goal-based plan with the agency and receive individualised supports. A person may make an access request to the agency to become a participant, and the CEO of the agency must determine whether they meet the access criteria. To meet the access criteria, individuals must meet age and residence requirements relating to the five announced launch sites. Each prospective participant will also need to meet either the disability requirements or the early intervention requirements for assistance.
The disability requirements assess whether a prospective participant has a current need for support under the scheme, based on one or more permanent impairments affecting their ongoing daily living and social and economic participation. The legislation also sets out early intervention requirements, which allow support to be provided to help minimise the impact of a disability from its earliest appearance or prevent a deterioration in function over a person's lifetime. Additional matters may be specified through a legislative instrument as we learn more about the real-world situations of the people who need this support. A participant's plan will include a statement of participant supports, prepared with the participant and approved by the CEO of the agency. This will specify, among other matters, the reasonable and necessary supports that will be funded by the scheme. The concept of reasonable and necessary supports will determine the scope of what the scheme provides. It means the scheme will provide a participant with what is necessary to achieve their goals and aspirations and take part in the community, in keeping with what it is reasonable to expect a scheme to provide. The legislation reflects community consultation on the factors to be considered in determining what are reasonable and necessary supports, including:
The legislation is designed to allow participants and their families to choose how their funding for supports under a plan is managed. It also sets out how a participant's plan may be reviewed over time to take into account of the participant's changing circumstances Chapter 4 of the bill sets out the structure for the NDIS, including comprehensive rules to protect personal information and rights to review of decisions. It also sets out the process by which a nominee can be appointed to make decisions on behalf of a participant, while ensuring that the rights of participants are maintained and that nominees must consider the participant's wishes. Chapter 5 of the bill addresses the interaction between the scheme and other compensatory schemes and common law actions for people with disability, such as those arising from motor vehicle or workplace accidents.
The provision of support and assistance under the scheme is not intended to replace existing entitlements to compensation. Accordingly, the legislation enables the CEO of the agency to require a person to take reasonable action to claim or obtain compensation in circumstances where the CEO is satisfied that the participant has reasonable prospects of success and where taking that action would not cause an unreasonable burden to the person with disability. The costs of supports paid under the scheme before a compensation claim is settled or before a court judgement may also be recovered. Chapter 6 of the bill establishes the National Disability Insurance Scheme Launch Transition Agency. In addition to delivering the scheme, the agency will perform a range of other functions.
These include managing the financial sustainability of the scheme, building community awareness about disability and undertaking research about disability. In accordance with the Productivity Commission recommendation, the legislation establishes the agency as a body under the Commonwealth Authorities and Companies Act 1997. This was recommended in order to give the agency a high degree of autonomy and legitimacy, placing it beyond the vagaries of politics, electoral and budget cycles. The agency will be overseen by a board made up of people with extensive experience in the provision or use of disability services, and in financial management, governance and the operation of insurance schemes. There will also be an advisory council comprising people with lived experience of disability and caring and other relevant experience. This will ensure that the board maintains ongoing connection with the interests and lived experience of people with disability, their families and carers. To ensure the agency is accountable to government, a ministerial council will be established through the Council of Australian Governments.
All governments—state, territory and Commonwealth—will be represented on the ministerial council. Finally, there is specific provision for an independent review of the new act after two years of operation. The purpose of this review will be to consider how the act has operated during launch, and to inform all governments on whether changes to the legislation are needed as we move to a national scheme. These are the main provisions of this bill which, when translated from dry legal words into action, will change the lives of thousands of Australians—lastingly and for the better.
In bringing this bill before the parliament, I acknowledge a deep debt of gratitude to some remarkable individuals and organisations whose persistence and belief have made this scheme possible. I take this opportunity, publicly, to thank the Productivity Commission, Commissioner Patricia Scott and Associate Commissioner John Walsh, for their thorough and compelling analysis that has been critical to the shape of the NDIS. I also pay tribute to a remarkable story of advocacy, led by Bruce Bonyhady and Rhonda Galbally, the National Disability and Carer Alliance, the National People with Disabilities and Carer Council, and friends, activists and advocates in communities right across the country.
Lastly I thank my ministerial colleagues: Jenny Macklin for her public policy genius in realising our vision for change, Bill Shorten for his passion for this cause as parliamentary secretary and his ongoing support and Jan McLucas for her patient, caring and accessible approach in dealing with all who need to be heard. I thank all our colleagues in the ministry, the parliament and the public sector who are working so hard to make the NDIS a reality. From our different sectors and backgrounds, we have united around a single idea, a compelling idea, an idea whose time has come. For four years, this idea has grown from seed. Over the past year, we have built the foundations. Now this legislation will make the scheme real. The National Disability Insurance Scheme is the greatest change to Australian social policy in a generation and a mark of how deeply the conscience of our nation has been touched.
The NDIS will stand alongside the minimum wage, the age pension, Medicare and universal superannuation as one of the great Labor pillars of social justice and opportunity for all Australians. It will change our society in profound and lasting ways, enabling those who live with disability to fulfil their potential as valued and valuable members of our society. I count it as a privilege to introduce this legislation today. I commend the bill to the House and to all those who have waited so long and worked so hard for this moment.