Standing up for Canberra

Disability Support Pension Reforms Bill 2012

Before I begin my speech on the Social Security and Other Legislation Amendment (Disability Support Pension Participation Reforms) Bill, I would like to comment on what the member for Menzies has said about the NDIS. At least we on this side are getting on with it and getting on with trying to implement this new strategy. All that you on that side have got is a waitand-see attitude on the whole thing. I find completely outrageous the comments that the coalition are making on this issue when they do not even know what they are going to do on it. That is a wait-and-see attitude.

We are having discussions with the states, as the member for Menzies outlined, and we are engaging with the community, as he outlined. What is the coalition doing? They are just going to wait and see—'Oh, we will just stick our finger in the air when the day comes to see what we will do.' It gives me great pleasure to speak today about an important bill that will mean so much to some of our most disadvantaged Australians. This is a bill that goes to the heart of Labor values, and the amendments it will make will give peace of mind to many people within our community who are living with a disability. Supporting Australians with a disability is important to the Gillard Labor government because we understand that more needs to be done in this area. We understand that fundamental reform of disability services in Australia is required which is why we are determined to deliver a national disability insurance scheme, not adopt a wait-and-see attitude on it.

An NDIS will give people with a disability the kind of support they have the right to expect. It will give Australians who are born with or acquire a disability the confidence that they will get the help they need to live a good life. I am proud of the work the Gillard Labor government has done to make a disability insurance scheme a reality. I thank John Della Bosca and his team at Every Australian Counts for all their hard work in making sure that this issue is at the top of the national agenda. Only a national disability insurance scheme will deliver high-quality care and support to people with disability, regardless of the nature of the disability or where they live. It will provide opportunities for people with a disability and their families to break down the barriers to work, to education, to being involved and active in their communities.

This year the Gillard Labor government will begin work on the design and the launch of the NDIS. We will establish a Commonwealth agency to lead our work on planning for the launch of the NDIS, working with the states and territories to achieve our goals. This is actually doing something; this is actually getting on with the job. At the same time we are continuing to deliver real services and better support for Australians living with a disability and their carers, to ease the pressures now while we get on with the job of delivering an NDIS. The bill I speak on today will go a long way to delivering better support for those Australians. But there are many other things the Gillard Labor government has done to support people with disabilities which I would like to touch on today.

In 2009 Labor introduced the disability support pension and carer payment, an historic pension reform which provided a significant boost to the rate of the pension and an improved indexation system to make sure the pension keeps better pace with the cost of living. Since September 2009 our pension reforms have delivered increases to the maximum pension of about $148 per fortnight for singles. Over 530,000 carers now receive an annual ongoing carer supplement of $600 for each person they care for. We have also delivered support for specialist disability services. Labor is doubling Commonwealth funding to around $7.6 billion over 6½ years for states and territories to deliver more and better specialist disability services under the National Disability Agreement. In 2013-14 the Commonwealth contribution will be around $1.35 billion, compared to $620 million in 2006-07 under the former coalition government—that is, double.

We are helping children, their parents and carers by giving children with disabilities that are affecting their development flexible funding to access up to $12,000 in early intervention services through the Better Start for Children with Disability program. This builds on our Helping Children with Autism package which since 2008 has helped more than 14,000 children with autism spectrum disorders access early intervention services. We have established more supported accommodation for people with disabilities through a new $60 million supported accommodation innovation fund to build up to 150 innovative community based supported accommodation places for people with disability.

Shortly after I was elected I visited one of the group houses in my electorate, which we had set up to get people with disability out of either hospitals or agedcare facilities and into something more in keeping with their age group and their peer group. This is a beautiful new house in a really good spot in Narrabundah. I went there with the then Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities and Children's Services who is now Assistant Treasurer. The young people, their families and carers visiting this new house were overjoyed with the new facility that provides them with independence and age-appropriate care. The house is beautifully designed with beautiful woodwork, fretwork and glasswork. It was designed with a great deal of sensitivity and respect, as well as architectural integrity. It was a real privilege to visit that lovely home in Narrabundah and see the joy on the faces of those who were moved from age-inappropriate caring facilities into something more suitable for their age group and their level of disability. I look forward to visiting this beautiful home again soon.

The support for people with disabilities I outlined above builds on our $100 million capital injection in 2008 to build over 300 supported accommodation places which are on track to be delivered by 2012. Then there is the National Disability Strategy that Labor is implementing with the states and territories, setting out a 10-year plan for improving life for Australians with disabilities, their families and their carers. The National Disability Strategy is the first time all governments have agreed to a joint national approach for disability care and support. And finally, Labor has launched the National Carer Strategy and Australia's first national carer recognition legislation to improve recognition and support for Australia's 2.6 million carers. This includes $60 million in funding over the next four years to improve access to the carer allowance and other carer payments. As you can see, Mr Deputy Speaker Leigh, the Gillard Labor government is leading the way when it comes to support for people living with disabilities, not waiting and seeing while having a big think about it.

The bill we are debating today focuses on ensuring Australians with a disability are able to participate in the workforce where possible, while also acknowledging the government's responsibility to continue to provide a safety net for those unable to support themselves fully through work, so it has the best of both worlds. The bill contains some key reforms to the disability support pension that are part of the Australian government's 2011-12 budget package, Building Australia's Future Workforce. The Gillard Labor government understands that working benefits people in many ways. It helps boost selfesteem, improves social contact, provides more income and leads to improved health and financial security.

And the Gillard government is absolutely committed to ensuring people with a disability can access these opportunities wherever they are able to do so. The Social Security and Other Legislation Amendment (Disability Support Pension Participation Reforms) Bill 2012 contains a number of measures that will better support Australians living with a disability here or abroad. First there is the work rule for the disability support pension. This measure allows all disability support pensioners to work up to 30 hours a week without having their payment suspended or cancelled. It extends the 30-hour rule to people granted disability support pension since the introduction of the Welfare to Work changes—that is, on or after 11 May 2005 —who currently have their pension suspended or cancelled if they work more than 15 hours a week. The amendment acknowledges that disability support pensioners subject to the 15-hour rule can find it difficult to find work limited to less than 15 hours a week. Many want to test whether they can work more hours, but are worried about losing their qualification.

This change will remove any disincentive for disability support pensioners to take up work or increase their hours if they are able to do so—it is very important to emphasise that point—and will help address the low workforce participation rate of people with a disability. I have had a number of representations and a number of constituents come in about this, most recently two women who want to make their own way in the world. They want to get some savings in the bank so they can go on holidays; they want to enjoy what many of us take for granted. The extension of their ability to work will be very welcome to these women, because it will allow them to get some money in the bank and go on a holiday. It will allow them to plan for the future, which is something they are really keen to do but have been unable to do because of the limitation on their hours. We estimate that this change will encourage around 4,000 people to take up work and encourage 3,900 people who are already employed, like the women I just mentioned, to work additional hours.

Participation requirements for the disability support pension is a further measure from the Building Australia's Future Workforce package. Many people with a disability want to work if they can but may need extra support. This measure will ensure that disability support pensioners under the age of 35 who are able to work at least eight hours a week will be able to engage with Centrelink to develop a work participation plan. They will attend an initial participation interview and develop a participation plan, tailored to their individual circumstances, to help build their work capacity. The participation plan could involve working with employment services to improve job readiness, searching for employment or undertaking training, volunteering or rehabilitation.

While attendance at Centrelink interviews will be compulsory, participation in activities identified in the plans will be voluntary. There will also be exceptions, particularly for pensioners who are manifestly disabled or who have a work capacity of fewer than eight hours a week.

Another measure in this bill relates to portability of the disability support pension. It introduces more generous rules for disability support pensioners with a severe impairment, allowing them to retain access to their disability support pension if they travel overseas for more than 13 weeks. This is an incredibly welcome measure, particularly for many people in my electorate. It is a particularly important and longawaited development for Defence and Foreign Affairs families, who can be posted overseas for significant lengths of time. Disability can affect these families just as it affects others in our community, and we should not allow these families who do such important work in Australia's national interest to struggle because their work takes them and their family overseas.

I am sure many in the chamber today will remember Hugh Borrowman. He is a distinguished diplomat and a fine public servant, and he is one of my constituents. He and his wife have been strong advocates of this reform for many years. Mr Borrowman faced difficulties of his own when he discovered his son would no longer receive the disability support pension in the long term if he accepted an overseas posting. Mr Borrowman testified at a Senate inquiry that his son would lose $329.20 a week if he moved overseas with his parents. It is for cases like Mr Borrowman's that we have moved to make this important amendment. It will ensure that a family member of a person who has been posted overseas by their employer—by Foreign Affairs and Trade, Defence, Immigration, Customs, the Australian Federal Police and a range of other government agencies—will retain their pension for the period of the person's posting.

I am proud that, this year, we can close this loophole so that a person who meets the criteria can live outside Australia indefinitely and continue to be paid the disability support pension. For many people like Mr Borrowman, living overseas and flying back to Australia every 13 weeks to continue receiving the pension is simply not possible, so I welcome this aspect of the bill. I take this opportunity to commend Hugh Borrowman and his wife for the tenacity they have shown and the fine work they have done over many years to get this measure introduced. It has been a very long road for them. I have spoken with them since I have been elected and I know it has been frustrating for them at times. It is such a welcome relief that we have finally reached this day. Many families in government agencies, but particularly those in Foreign Affairs and Trade, will rejoice when this bill is passed.

Finally, this bill also contains minor amendments that change references in the child support legislation, and make minor corrections to veterans' entitlements and social security legislation. The primary amendments will take effect from July 2012 via an investment by the Gillard Labor government of $124.8 million over four years.

These measures are important amendments that have required the coordination of the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, the Department of Human Services and the Department of Veterans' Affairs. I commend those departments and their wonderful public servants on their work.

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