I rise to speak on the National Disability Insurance Scheme Amendment (Streamlined Governance) Bill 2019, and let me be clear from the very outset: the Greens are strongly opposed to this bill. Before I say any more, could I also say how proud I am of Senator Steele-John for his absolute passion, his work, his activism and his advocacy in this area.
This bill changes the process of appointments to and terminations from the National Disability Insurance Agency board and the Independent Advisory Council. If this bill passes, the process of selecting the board will go from one that requires unanimous support from the states and territories to one where the minister can override the states and appoint his own picks. This bill allows the minister, in effect, to stack the board and the Independent Advisory Council and then replace them with their own hand-picked mates. Really, this is just another step in the corporatisation and centralisation of the board. We all know that the federal government funds the National Disability Insurance Scheme, but just because it does so does not mean that the states and territories are absolved of their responsibility to scrutinise the National Disability Insurance Scheme. The states and territories still have the responsibility towards their communities and their people.
In August there was a Senate inquiry into this bill, which the government has completely ignored. How disrespectful is that to the people who appeared before the inquiry and gave evidence as to why this bill is such a terrible idea? How disrespectful is it to all those people who made submissions? The evidence given in the hearing and in the submissions overwhelmingly recommended against the passage of this bill due to concerns about government influence and the independence of the National Disability Insurance Scheme. The Greens want the National Disability Insurance Scheme to remain independent. Further, I think it is shameful that the government has not consulted with people with disability or their representative peak organisations in the drafting of this bill. How shameful and, again, disrespectful is that? It shows the government's contempt for the process and for the people who will be impacted by this bill every single day, every single hour, every single minute of their lives. We know that there is overwhelming opposition from the disability community and their peak organisations, which they have expressed throughout the inquiry into this bill. The government is just not listening.
Labor and the Greens both contributed dissenting reports to the inquiry. Nothing substantive has changed about this bill since the inquiry. The deeply concerning provisions remain, and the sector continues to express its concern. We are strongly opposed to the passage of this bill, and we implore the opposition to stick to its dissenting position from the inquiry. We also urge the crossbench to support the wishes of the disability community, who are working so avidly to improve the National Disability Insurance Agency.
The National Disability Insurance Agency board and the Independent Advisory Council should be just that—totally independent from the government—to allow them to always act in the best interests of the people with disability who are participating in the National Disability Insurance Scheme. I would like to quote from a submission made by Queenslanders with Disability Network. They say:
QDN notes that the proposed model of governance appears to be moving from a consensus model, where agreement among the States and Territories is sought before action is taken to a consultative model, where State and Territory governments (referred to in the legislation as Host Jurisdictions) are consulted.
Regarding the proposed changes around appointment of Board Members, QDN believes a reasonable argument can be made that there should be more constraint around the appointment of Board members due to the need to ensure the Board and Independent Advisory Committee's (IAC) composition reflects contemporary NDIS governance issues as well as the different compositions of each State and Territory. Importantly, given the national nature of the Scheme, governance arrangements should allow for strategic feedback and direction that reflects the diversity of jurisdictions' geographical spread and topography and the particular NDIS key issues impacting each. In Queensland, for instance, getting 30,000 new participants into the Scheme is a key priority which has seen the bi-lateral agreement with the Commonwealth extended by 12 months. This has not been reflected in other jurisdictions.
They go on to talk about the government's attempt to remove the consensus based model:
QDN agrees that the NDIS needs significant reforms in its governance structure to address interface issues between the Commonwealth and States and Territories. Now that the NDIS has achieved full roll out and interface issues with State service systems is such a critical issue with our members and all people with disability, QDN believes the role of the States and Territories needs to be more central to the scheme. This requires an overall strategic approach that sees the States/ Territories as partners with the Commonwealth and ensures the Scheme has improved integration with other service systems. QDN believes a thorough review of governance arrangements could achieve this.
QDN also say in their submission:
QDN believes the IAC composition should reflect the broad skill set required to achieve effective Scheme governance, including representation of people with lived experience of disability and their families.
And this bill does nothing of what people with disability and their advocates are actually asking for or need.
The Greens believe that lived experience of disability should be crucial for the board of the National Disability Insurance Agency. I just can't understand how you cannot have that in a board that governs the NDIS. It is ridiculous, and it is going to have a negative impact on the people who the scheme is supposed to help. It is not in the best interests of people with disability to not have a board that reflects people who are with disability. Yet this is the case, and that's not good enough.
This is a government that is obsessed with so-called budget surpluses. This government is literally balancing its budget on the fact that there is an underspend to the tune of $4.6 billion already in the National Disability Insurance Scheme. This is money that participants haven't been able to spend, because the system is so broken. What a farce! The Young People in Nursing Homes National Alliance said in their submission:
… we believe this Streamlined Governance Bill is premature and should be deferred until the review of the NDIS Act is complete, at which time the legislative provisions for efficient implementation become relevant.
Stakeholders who submitted to the inquiry all wanted better representation of people with a lived experience of disability. But this bill does none of that.
We know this government is already trying hard to break the National Disability Insurance Scheme. There are simply not enough staff to do the work necessary to run the scheme. They have capped staff at 3,300 even though the Productivity Commission recommended the scheme needs at least 10,000 staff. There is an ABC article that was published on 13 May 2019 that points out the complexities that people face in order to navigate the system, and I want to read out a few things from that because I think it's really important for us all to know that this bill is coming in the context of a system that is already struggling:
The ABC has reported examples of how people with disabilities have applied for funding for one type of assistance, only to be granted a different, less useful type or no assistance at all.
Including deaf man Lawrie Dobson who asked for $10,000 for hearing aids but received $15,000 for coffee and social outings instead.
This is what is happening out there to real people facing difficulties.
"Certainly in the advocacy sector, we see that there is a hole in the current system," chief executive of Disability Advocacy Network Australia, Mary Mallett said.
"It's a complex system for people to understand and navigate and there aren't enough people independent—
'Independent'—I think that's the key word here.
… there aren't enough people independent from the system to help people to work their way through it."
Out of more than 277,000 people currently on the NDIS, Ms Mallett said around 60 per cent have a cognitive impairment.
"These people are mainly dependant on family, friends and other people — like their support workers and service providers — to speak up for them," she said.
Ms Mallett argued that access to independent advocacy was "crucial" to the success of the NDIS.
These are just some of the problems that we see in the current scheme, but on top of this we know that there is inadequate training for staff. We know from reports that planners are asking participants inappropriate questions about their disability because they simply haven't been trained on how to work with people who have a disability.
One of the biggest problems with the services is that there is simply not enough service in regional areas. People can't access the services they have been funded to get, because they just don't exist, so, rather than doing some work on improving those, this government here is bringing in this bill to remove the independence. There is also an inability to utilise services properly. There is a massive bottleneck of services, meaning some participants can't utilise their plans properly, which leads to extra money left in their plans, which usually leads to a review where participants' plans are cut because they didn't spend it.
The IT system is not fit for purpose either. This was borrowed from Centrelink and is so confusing that even service providers are having trouble with it, let alone the very people that it is supposed to help: people with disability who are trying to use the system to access their funding. Yet the unspent funding is being cut through no fault of the people who got that funding but because of the fault of the system that isn't working for them.
The Greens believe that a healthy, functioning society embraces diversity and removes barriers to provide for equitable access and participation by all. All people have a right to independence, self-determination and choice in their lives. Surely everyone in this chamber agrees with that, and if you do agree with that then you cannot support this really flawed and terrible bill.
Disability policy and law is a matter of human rights as well as individual health and wellbeing. We want to see more people with disability on the board of the National Disability Insurance Scheme—people who have lived experience, who understand the complex nature of disability and who are committed to doing whatever it takes to ensure that every single participant has a positive experience that actually enables them to access all the supports and services they need to live a good life. And those supports and services also need to be provided to everyone in the community who needs them.
People with disability—we all know this—continue to fall through the cracks. People with disability continue to be locked out of the community. People with disability continue to be denied the same rights as other Australians. Failings of successive Labor and coalition governments have perpetuated this discrimination, often denying disabled people access to inclusive education, meaningful employment, adequate services and the support they need. It is an obligation on every single one of us who sit here and who sit in the other place to make sure that inclusive education, meaningful employment and adequate services are a bare minimum that people need.
Disabled people are so often shut out of our communities through outdated, discriminatory planning regulations. We must do better. We have to do better. There is no other option. It is definitely time—way past time, I would say—to talk about disability differently. It is way beyond time to start actually hearing and listening to what people with disability are telling us. It's time to build our places and spaces differently. It's time to change attitudes and realise that we are all different and unique and that an inclusive society is a better society for everyone, and we have a responsibility to change those attitudes as well as anyone else. We must recognise that it is not enough to just deliver services for people. We must work with them to ensure that they are the right services. We see that decisions that profoundly shape the lives of disabled people are currently being made without their genuine involvement. How can we ever justify that? We can't, because there is no justification for that.
The National Disability Insurance Scheme has the potential to transform the lives of people with disability, their families and their carers, and that must be our top priority. Of course, to do this, the scheme needs to work. The scheme needs to deliver on its promises and the scheme needs to meet the needs of the people. The Greens are 100 per cent committed to creating a fully funded and adequately staffed NDIS that is transparent, consultative and accountable. To be able to do that, we need the board to be independent. We need to have reflected on the board the lived experience of people with disability. We don't need the board to be corporatised and centralised.
The National Disability Insurance Scheme should, of course, be fully funded. The services that need to be delivered to people who need them have to be delivered as a matter of priority. It has to be staffed appropriately. Staff need to have the appropriate training, which is not actually being provided at this point in time. We need to remove the unnecessary staffing caps, because we need those staff and those services in every corner of Australia.
Senator Steele-John: People shouldn't have to fight.
Senator FARUQI: I take that interjection from my colleague. People shouldn't have to fight to get those services; that is the right of people who live in our country.
We need to improve the other deficiencies in the system, like the IT systems and the interfaces for participants and service providers. This government knows what needs to be done because people with disability have been telling them for a very long time. Today we should all commit not to supporting this bill but to those services that are so desperately needed and that are the right of the people who need them.
Those are the reasons why the Greens will not be supporting this bill. We are opposing this corporatisation, this centralisation and this losing of independence on the board. We want to see a board that has representation from people with the lived experience from the states and territories, because they are responsible for the people who live in the states and territories. We don't want to see people with disability falling through the cracks because of the lack of responsibility this government is showing towards them. The Greens oppose this bill.