NATIONAL DISABILITY INSURANCE SCHEME TRANSITION

Mr PEARSON (Essendon) – I am delighted to make a contribution on the Disability (National Disability Insurance Scheme Transition) Amendment Bill 2019. We need to have this legislation passed in order to ensure that we have got the appropriate quality, safeguards and standards for participants in the NDIS from 1 July 2019, so we absolutely need to get on with the job of providing this level of certainty. Like many members, I have had constituents come and see me and talk about the NDIS in my brief time in Parliament. I understand at the moment there are something like, in my electorate, 376 people waiting for a plan, so getting on with the job of getting this legislation passed is vitally important for those people to have that level of certainty.

It is interesting that we are in this situation now as a consequence of a bold reform initiated by the former Labor government, and I think that it is fair to say that those of us on this side of the house, those of us who belong to the Labor Party, do belong to a very broad church. There are a wide range of views and opinions that people have in the Labor Party on a wide range of issues, and these issues manifest themselves in various ways over the course of time. But I think one thing that we have always had in common in the Labor Party is a belief that the state has got a really powerful and important role to play in addressing market failure. I say this because when you bed down reforms and you implement a scheme and you have a scheme that has run for decades, like Medicare, it is easy to sit down and appreciate Medicare as part of the furniture—as an important part of the fabric of our society but one that you do not really pay a great deal of attention to, which in some ways is a good thing because we are so used to Medicare now that it is just part of our lives. But you sometimes, I think, forget just how bold, how far-reaching, how dynamic Medicare and its predecessor Medibank were.

It was a scheme developed by Deeble and Scotton and championed by Whitlam. I think that it is really important today, in 2019, to recognise just how profound the thinking was around the NDIS, which was championed by Bill Shorten under the former Labor government. Bill was allocated the parliamentary secretary’s role for disability when the Rudd government was elected in 2007, and it was Bill’s focus and drive and vision and leadership in this space, supported by Jenny Macklin in her capacity as a cabinet minister, that resulted in this scheme being created. Like all of us on this side of the house, I would have loved to have seen Bill as our Prime Minister. It is easy to focus on the recent election defeat, but history will be kinder to Bill Shorten than the voters were on 18 May. I think history will show that the work that Bill did in his capacity as a parliamentary secretary will have a transformative effect on our nation and it will have a profound impact upon the most vulnerable and isolated members of our community. No-one will ever be able to take that away from Bill; no-one will ever be able to deny him that. And there will be generations of Australians who will be grateful for the leadership that he showed and for the strength and the courage and the convictions of the Rudd-Gillard governments for making sure that this scheme could come into effect.

I cannot imagine for a moment just how difficult and how frightening and how challenging it must be to be a parent of a child with a disability. I have had constituents come and see me and I have spoken with a local group in my community called Valley Carers about these issues at length over the course of the last five years. For members of Valley Carers it is a really frightening proposition because the group tends to be made up of older Victorians who might be more my parents’ generation—so they would be people in their 70s—and they are frightened. They are frightened about what will happen to their children when they pass on. To live your life with that constant fear and anxiety about who will take care of your child, how will you ensure that your child gets the protection that they need, how will you ensure that they have an ability to lead a safe life and an enriched life, albeit diminished in part because of a disability—the only answer is to have the state intervene and provide an appropriate regulatory scheme and framework to ensure that they are protected. That is why we are so proud of this scheme; that is why we are so proud that this is something that we have been able to do.

I joined the Labor Party because I have always believed passionately that you cannot let market forces deliver these sorts of services. There is a role for the state to play in protecting the most isolated and vulnerable members of our community. This is in our DNA; these are the things that we do. We believe in reform. We believe in supporting the isolated and the vulnerable, and we believe in the power of the state to make effective change. I have got no doubt that in decades to come my children and my children’s children may well regard the NDIS in the same way I regard Medicare—a great institution that is just there. It is there if you need it, it is just part of the furniture, but it plays such a vital role in underpinning a civilised society. The bill that is before us today ensures that we can have appropriate quality and safeguards in place from 1 July. The bill is about trying to streamline and harmonise the regulatory framework, not just here but around the country. For far too long I think we have had a situation where this has been delegated to the states. There have been probably patchy levels of care both in the private sector and in the public sector and across different jurisdictions at different times.

It is also marking, I think, that move away from—it is almost like the end point of the start—deinstitutionalisation, which David White precipitated when he was health minister in the 1980s. This notion back in the 1980s was that you could get someone who was profoundly disabled and you would just lock them up for life and they had no contact with their family, they had no activities that they could engage in, they were just basically shunted off into a room in a facility and they were forgotten and neglected. That was what we had as a society as recently as the mid-1980s. What we have started to do is that process of deinstitutionalising people so that they have got the capacity to go back out into the community. With that you have to make sure that you have got appropriate support networks and a structure around them. You cannot turn around and basically say, ‘Well, we’re going to close down the institutions and we’re going to push you out, and then you’re left to your own devices’, because we know that invariably you will see instances of issues around mental health and you will see issues around homelessness and you will see really poor outcomes for the individuals involved, but also for the society. That is why you need to have a strong framework, and that is why you have got to be able to protect these people.

Now, it is all well and good to say, ‘Well, we need to have a framework’, but you have got to think about how you structure it and how you do it. On this side of the house we are in the business of not just talking about problems but coming up with practical solutions that work to provide that framework in which you can actually protect people who need it. Again, I just come back to the leadership shown by Bill, by not only recognising a problem but trying to craft a solution and pushing that solution through the Parliament so it became an act and became a reality. That is a great gift, it is a great skill and it is something that generations of Australians will be the beneficiaries of. This business that we are in is not an easy caper; it is not an easy game. Sometimes it would be easier to turn around and say, ‘Well, look, I don’t quite know the answer to the question. I sympathise that there might be a problem, but I don’t know what to do, so we’ll just kick it down the road and let someone else address it and deal with it’. That is not why I joined the Labor Party. That is not why I seek to occupy the Treasury bench with my colleagues, including the minister at the table. I joined this great party because I wanted to not only talk about problems and solutions, but to devise solutions and I wanted to implement them. This is the hallmark of a civilised society. This is why we are here. This is why we are working day in and day out, because to tax a civilised society— (Time expired)