Standing up for Canberra

NDIS isn't without its challenges

When the member for Maribyrnong was elected to the Australian parliament, he was also appointed to the position of Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities and Children's Services. 

I have known the member for Maribyrnong since my 20s, and I knew that, with that appointment, there was going to be significant change in the disability sector. I knew that the member for Maribyrnong would drive change in this area, would drive significant improvement and would drive a rethink and major reform in the disability sector. And what we're talking about today is the results of the effort from the member for Maribyrnong and also the member for Jagajaga. They had the vision to improve the lives, the potential and the choice for those Australians living with a disability, through a scheme that was actually tailored to their needs. That's what I love about the National Disability Insurance Scheme: it's actually tailored to individual need.

When I was in my teens, my mother worked with the Victorian Autistic Children's Association. We spent many a school holiday volunteering in the op shop there; wandering around the board table, collating roneoed newsletters; and giving parents of autistic children relief from their children by taking their kids away on holidays with us so that their parents could be given some respite. At that stage—and I'm talking here about the seventies and eighties—there was a little bit of respite around, but it was a pretty boutique market then. So that's why it was really up to friends and family to provide those parents and carers of people with a disability with the opportunity for respite, which is what my mother did. That's what we did over our school holidays.

So I've seen the systems that were around in the seventies and eighties, and—I suppose as a very small child and just by hearing from what my mother spoke about—what was around in the fifties and sixties, which was kind of Dickensian. In some parts of Australia in the fifties and sixties there was an outmoded kind of Dickensian view of people with a disability. There was very much the theory that people should be institutionalised and through that process essentially forgotten. How times have changed—dramatically!

Now we've got this fabulous scheme as a result of the efforts, the vision and the hard work. It's a complex scheme; it took a lot of time, a lot of effort, a lot of vision and a lot of hard yakka by the member for Maribyrnong and the member for Jagajaga to come to realise this incredible vision: the NDIS. Now, as a result of that, we have Australians with a disability actually choosing the services that they want, choosing how they want to spend their money, choosing what they're going to be doing on a Saturday night and choosing how many sessions of physiotherapy they go to. They are choosing, in many ways, the kind of wheelchair that they have.

I know that there have been significant challenges in the NDIS. Here in Canberra, we are at the vanguard of it: we piloted the scheme, and so I do know just from talking to constituents and from the many phone calls I've had that there are a range of issues. There's the issue of service providers actually being paid. There's the issue of service providers actually putting their homes at risk as a result of the fact that they haven't been paid. There's the issue of management plans being submitted and then basically just falling into this huge abyss, with people not hearing anything from the NDIA. As you know, Deputy Speaker, management plans are meant to be open to consultation with the carer, the person with the disability and the NDIA so that they can come to a kind of bespoke solution that is beneficial to everyone. And yet what is happening is that people are putting in their management plans for consultation with the NDIA and then basically just getting it back with, 'Thanks very much, stamp, off we go with the management plan.' There's been no form of consultation and no discussing what options are available; it's essentially, 'Okay, send in the management plan and that's the final version.' That has never been the case. Families in Canberra have always known that the management plan is a negotiated document. It's a document to be negotiated with the NDIA, rather than just a cookie-cutter solution.

I know that there have been challenges, particularly at Marymead. Marymead is going through some real funding challenges for those with chronic disability—again, back to respite: providing respite over a lengthy period of time. The NDIA has a range of categories of assessment in terms of the level of disability, but there's a significant shortage of those services that provide respite for families with members with a chronic disability. I know that Marymead has been going through that challenge.

Wayne Herbert, who is a friend of mine and a great member of our community, asked for a second pair of shoes and was told by the NDIA that, essentially, one pair of shoes should do him for the year. I know that there have been challenges for families who in the past have had services that are no longer provided because people have left town because they just don't find the business manageable enough.

Debate interrupted.

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