Standing up for Canberra

Labor will continue to fight for our most vulnerable

I know the frustration that so many Canberrans and other Australians have felt in dealing with the NDIA, with the coordination that comes from the NDIA, or lack thereof, and the overwhelming bureaucracy. 

My attention was drawn to an article that was in The Guardian a few days ago, a tragic story about Denis and Annette Reid. Denis lives in Queanbeyan, grew up in Bombala and is an Army veteran. As the article says, Denis's experiences mirror the experiences of so many of those who've had to deal with the NDIS.

As I said in my remarks last night, this is a scheme that I am 150 per cent behind. This is an empowering scheme. It's a scheme that allows those with a disability to realise their full potential. It's a scheme that allows carers respite—well, that's what it's designed to do. But there have been challenges with the scheme, and that's why it's important that we discuss these challenges and don't sweep them under the carpet. We've got to get this right. This is vitally important for our nation's future. It is vitally important for those with a disability to ensure that they realise their potential and have a bright future. It's vitally important for carers who are worried sick and spend sleepless nights. They are worried witless about what's going to happen to their child when they get older, when they get frail and when they're no longer able to physically and emotionally manage, look after, support and care for this child. They are worried witless about what happens when they get older and also when they die. That's why the NDIS provides them with lifetime support that is tailor-made to each and every individual.

I start with this example of Denis and Annette Reid, whose experiences mirror those of many who are dealing with the NDIS at the moment. Annette, unfortunately, has MS. The article says:

Denis sought and was granted a $150,000 NDIS package to support Anne, which included $30,000 for a bathroom renovation.

He got a quote from a builder friend for a professional bathroom fit-out, which came in at $18,000, well below what he had been approved to spend.

Denis had been given prior approval to self-manage the funds, but sent in a request form for the work to the National Disability Insurance Agency.

He was bounced between staff and state offices. No one could give him a straight answer—

about the difference in the money for the renovation and the quote from his mate.

One moment the form had arrived, and was being processed. A week later, Denis was told it hadn't been received and needed to be sent again.

This is the experience of so many Australians, including Canberrans, and it's got a lot to do with the fact that there has been a cap on the NDIA staff. We've got this huge, incredibly ambitious scheme rolling out nationally—a scheme that will, as I said, realise the potential of so many Australians—and there just are not enough staff inside the NDIA and also not enough providers providing the services that people need. So Labor has made it clear that we are calling on the government to act urgently on the staffing issue. I understand the Productivity Commission suggested that the cap of 3,000 staff is underdone, and I call on the government to urgently remove the NDIA staff cap.

In the 2013-14 budget, Labor clearly set out how the NDIS would be funded for 10 years, well before the transition to the full scheme in 2020. Our plan to fund the NDIS included $6.5 billion in reforms to the private health insurance rebate, $6 billion in retirement income reform and $20.6 billion in other long-term savings proposals. These long-term savings included changes to tax concessions for fringe benefits and net medical expenses, changes to the indexation of the tobacco excise, and increases to import processing charges. The Medicare levy was also increased by 0.5 percentage points, to two per cent. Together with the contributions from state and territory governments, these measures covered the cost of the NDIS for 10 years.

Independent research from the ANU shows that twice as many households would be worse off under the plan that the government currently has before us than under Labor's plan. If the government's policy were in place from 1 July 2019 then, according to the ANU modelling, 60 per cent of households would be worse off, 39 per cent would see no change and just one per cent would be better off—just one per cent! By comparison, if Labor's policy were implemented from 1 July 2019 then 27 per cent of households would be worse off and 73 per cent would see no change in their circumstances, a huge difference.

Despite this, the government seems adamant on funding the NDIS through an increase to the Medicare levy. This is after its plans to help fund the NDIS through cuts to welfare were scrapped earlier this year. Of course, where do they go? They go to those most vulnerable in our community. Helping fund the NDIS through a further increase to the Medicare levy means that it will affect workers earning less than $87,000. It means that low- and middle-income earners in my electorate will feel the pinch of this bill. These are also people who are going to be getting a tax hike.

It's breathtaking that at a time of low wages growth and high cost-of-living pressures—especially when it comes to housing affordability—this government is prioritising an income tax hike for the same workers who have already had their penalty rates cut. Essentially, their wages have dropped. We're at the lowest level of wage growth in a generation. Productivity has gone up 10 per cent over the last 10 years, and yet wage rises have only gone up six per cent. We have a significant issue on wages in this country, and it's not just in terms of penalty rates; it's also in the fact that real wage growth has not happened over time.

I want to make reference to the fact that this government is hell-bent on targeting those who are most vulnerable in our community—those who can least afford it and who are struggling. There are a lot of Canberrans and a lot of Australians who are out there, struggling. Just recently, on Friday, I hosted a pensions forum with the shadow minister for social services. It was a pensions forum that covered not just the aged pension but also the disability support pension, Newstart or any pension that people can get. And what was really concerning from that event was the fact that people are really frightened about their futures. This is what this government has done to Australians and this is what this government has done to Canberrans. It's a fact that they're frightened about their future in terms of cuts to services, cuts to pensions and cuts to the energy supplement. They're frightened that they're constantly targeted by a government that is completely out of touch and which is absolutely hell-bent on pitting Australia's vulnerable people against each other—this government pits the most vulnerable in our community against each other.

In closing, I want to send a very strong message to those Canberrans and those Australians who are listening that Labor will continue to fight for you. Labor will continue to fight for the most vulnerable and those who are doing it tough in our community: only Labor has your back and only Labor has your concerns at heart. (Time expired)

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