National Disability Insurance Scheme Workforce

House of Representatives
25 October 2021

Today I'm speaking on behalf of the 12,580 pensioners in the Oxley electorate—people I proudly represent. I want to make sure their voices are heard in this parliament. When I talk to local pensioners, many of them tell me of the daily financial struggle that they face. A lot of them go week to week, fortnight to fortnight, making sure they look after every penny. And now, thanks to this government, they have one more thing to worry about. Many of them have raised with me their anxieties about the possibility of this government forcing them onto the cashless welfare card. I can see why they are anxious. The government, shamefully, plans to oppose the bill introduced by the member for Bruce and seconded by the member for Richmond that would protect pensioners from being forced onto this outrageous scheme. To leave the door open to force pensioners onto this card—to even consider it as an option—is a disgrace.

Pensioners built this country. They paid their taxes their entire lives. They've worked hard to raise their kids and contribute to this nation. And this is how we repay them? Every weekend, I speak to pensioners who are worried that they will not be able to pop down to the local RSL for a cheap meal with their friends or won't be able to buy second-hand gifts for their grandkids. It's disgusting and it speaks to the character of this government. It's simple. If you have no plans to force pensioners onto this cashless debit card, then support our bill. We know that this government is not on the side of pensioners. I am. Labor is. I'm proud to support the bill introduced by the members for Bruce and Richmond, and I'm absolutely disgusted that those opposite do not.

I want to enter today's debate to place on record the appalling nature of this government handling of the NDIS and its workforce. I know the member for Mallee was put up to this by the Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme and Minister for Government Services, who is trying to get a pat on the back for the government. But the government seem to live in this Orwellian world where they say black is white and night is day. Are you kidding me? The member previous to me said that we know that the system needs some improvement. If that's not the biggest understatement in the history of the world then I'm not here. This is the member for Mallee who belled the cat about the better regions program, which she spoke about. You've got to get on the green spreadsheet, not the pink spreadsheet. No-one else got that memo. I'm not sure about anyone else in the chamber. Did anyone on this side get that memo about how to get on the approval list? I didn't. I didn't even know about it. Get real, members of the government.

I want to talk about workforce participation when it comes to vaccinations and the NDIS. We know that the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of people with Disability released the draft commissioners' report into the vaccine rollout. How did the government track workforce participation and people in the NDIS when it came to so-called improvements? It highlighted the clear failures of the government to vaccinate Australians living with a disability. In their scathing report, the royal commission found that the federal Department of Health's approach to vaccinating people with disabilities had been seriously deficient. People with disability living in shared accommodation or group homes were originally included in phase 1a of the vaccine rollout, but they were quietly bumped down the queue.

Who can forget the Minister for Health talking over and over again about 17 per cent of 64 per cent of four per cent of nine per cent? You didn't meet any of your targets when it came to the NDIS—it is appalling—so let's not have any lectures about how we need to tweak it here and tweak it there. It is a system of this government that is under complete collapse. They are praising themselves that they're running good workforce participation with the NDIS. Are you kidding me? I bet you that anyone who comes into the office of the member for Moncrieff or the office of the member for Bennelong doesn't line up and say, 'We love the NDIS. There's nothing else to do.' No, they would have the same line-ups that we do. They would have the same frustrations of parents and carers, over and over again: they can't navigate the system; they can't get the system; they don't have the workers to look after their loved ones.

I want to touch on something that the government doesn't talk about with the NDIS, and that's special schools. I want to paint a picture of the pattern of neglect by this government. It undermines the NDIS, making it harder and harder for people to access the system, so they eventually get off it. There is no support for the workforce from this government. I recently met with Goodna Special School in my electorate. They wrote to me outlining their concerns about the NDIS workforce and the impact on their students. Goodna Special School has approximately 190 students, each of them with a severe intellectual disability, many with comorbid conditions and physical disability. Many of their students come from a background of socioeconomic disadvantage, and the school has rightly identified that its students and families could benefit greatly from access to the NDIS and from having more support staff from the NDIS.

The school identified many barriers faced by families. The first of these is awareness. Of the families that the school identified would benefit from the scheme, many were not aware of how to access it or had tried to access the scheme and found the process complicated, confusing and distressing. This has led to many families abandoning the application process and giving up. That's exactly what this government wants—to undermine the system and push people out of the system. Those opposite have never supported the NDIS. It was a Labor initiative, and they've only gone along with it reluctantly. They were held over the barrel by the shadow minister when it came to reviewing the plans. They had to back away from that.

The second barrier is utilisation. Families of children who have been approved have not been able to properly utilise their plans, resulting in the plan being cut. They get approved for accessible services but can't find people to provide them, so the government then cuts those services, saying, 'We're not going to roll those services over, because you didn't use them.' Once again, the families have one hand tied behind their back.

I believe this government is making it as difficult as possible to access the NDIS. Families who already face social disadvantage, compounded by the challenges of raising a child with disability, are presented with a confusing and convoluted system and are expected to navigate it almost completely without assistance. This government needs to pick up its game, make our NDIS system more accessible and ensure that Australians with disability have the opportunities to get vaccinated, keep themselves and our communities safe and have better support from the workforce itself.