TRANSCRIPT - National Disability Insurance Scheme Amendment (Improving Supports For At Risk Participants) Bill 2021

I am very pleased to follow my colleague the member for Shortland in this debate on the National Disability Insurance Scheme Amendment (Improving Supports for At Risk Participants) Bill 2021. I know time is going to be short this evening, but I absolutely concur with the sentiments that the member for Shortland just articulated. The National Disability Insurance Scheme is indeed one of the greatest social reforms this nation has ever seen.

I do want to acknowledge at the outset the extraordinary work of the former Member for Jagajaga, a very dear friend and colleague, the Hon. Jenny Macklin, for her leadership role and the terrific team that she had around her to really make the National Disability Insurance Scheme a reality for this nation. Newcastle, along with the Hunter region, was one of the pilot cities for the NDIS rollout, so we have had a long history and a lot of experience of the implementation of the NDIS. I've had the pleasure, really, of seeing firsthand how the NDIS can fundamentally change lives for the better. I think that we should never, ever lose sight of that incredible joy, but we can't let our appreciation of the NDIS and all of the great things that it does distract us from the appalling job that this government has done in its implementation.


After years of Liberal government mismanagement, the Prime Minister promised to fix the failures of the National Disability Insurance Scheme at the last election. But, true to form, the Prime Minister has failed to honour that promise, leaving the NDIS in a shambles for many of its participants. The NDIS has gone backwards and people with a disability and their families are paying the price for that broken promise. It's unconscionable that people with disabilities have to fight for the basic things that they need in order to live a decent life. We know this from multiple reviews which have revealed a litany of cases where people have been left behind and neglected. Perhaps one of the most devastating examples was the death of Adelaide NDIS participant Ann-Marie Smith, a story that continues to sadden all Australians to this day.


Ann-Marie Smith was one of many lives lost in a series of NDIS related tragedies caused by eight long years of Liberal government cuts and privatisation. Labor was relieved when the Morrison government heeded our calls for an independent investigation into the death of Ann-Marie Smith but, unfortunately, the government refused to extend that inquiry to include a review of the tragic death of David Harris. Just as Ms Smith's family deserves to know the truth and to seek assurances that others will not fall victim to a failing in the system, so too do the loved ones of Mr Harris and the countless other victims of abuse and neglect.


As is so often the case with this government, they remain tone deaf and oblivious to all of those warnings. Whenever there is an emergency, we know that this government is very slow to react. Sadly, so many Australians have paid a high price for that inertia. I have been contacted by many people who have experienced this government's incompetence firsthand. By the time people reach out to me for support to help navigate their way around the NDIS, I know that they're already at their wits' end. In most government departments there's usually a pathway for elected representatives to escalate critical cases and to get a response within a few hours, or a day at the most. However, with the NDIS Novocastrians are being forced to wait weeks or, indeed, months for an answer or a resolution.


Eighteen-year-old Shelby from Jesmond is just one of those people. Shelby has a complex neurological disorder and uses a wheelchair. She is currently living in medium-term accommodation, pending a review to transfer to specialist disability accommodation funded by the NDIS. While the review is underway, the NDIS have not granted Shelby an extension for her medium-term accommodation; despite her complex needs, they told her that she has to apply for public housing. With hundreds of people on public housing waitlists in Newcastle, I fear that Shelby is at greater risk of being rendered homeless every day.


And then there are stories like Rodney Fisher's. Rodney was contacted by the NDIS in August last year and was informed that they would be reassessing his eligibility. – Debate Interrupted


I will make my comments in continuation of my speech on the National Disability Insurance Scheme Amendment (Improving Supports for At Risk Participants) Bill 2021, which had to be interrupted with the adjournment last night.


Last night, I raised the case of 18-year-old Shelby from Jesmond. Today, I'd like to speak about another case which I want to bring to the attention of the House—the case of Rodney Fisher. Rodney was contacted by the NDIS in August of last year and was informed that they would be reassessing his eligibility. Rodney attended the NDIS office numerous times—in September, October and again in January of this year—seeking an update on the assessment of his eligibility and whether there was anything he could do to try to resolve the matter. He was told that it would be fine, but nobody provided him with any information about the progress of the assessment.


Rodney has psychosocial issues and the increased anxiety and stress of waiting for a response were really taking a very significant toll on his health. In April this year, after intervention from my office, Rodney was finally informed that he could remain as an NDIS participant. That was six months later. When my office made further inquiries as to why it took so long, I was told, 'Every time Rodney Fisher contacted the NDIS they referred his engagement to the delivery team, which is not the team responsible so it never went anywhere.' Without intervention from my office, Rodney's concerns were never going to be addressed.


Similar to Rodney's story is that of 11-year-old Taya Porter, who has been waiting far too long for the help she needs. Taya was assessed and assigned a power-assisted wheelchair that was inappropriate to her needs and is now already too small for her. Because of this, Taya was unable to enter her home independently. Taya's parents, Matthew and Courtney, now have to lift her in and out and around the home, causing great physical and mental strain on both of them. Taya's mother, Courtney, has advised me that this wrongly-scripted chair has greatly limited Taya's lifestyle, her mental and physical health and her independence.


Taya requires a new chair that is fully powered and is capable of moving across multiple terrains. But, despite every effort, Taya and her family are still waiting for a response from the NDIS. Will Taya ever receive the correct chair she needs? What sort of government treats families so poorly?


Australians with disability and the families who love and care for them deserve so much better than this. People with disability already face so many obstacles that they don't need any more. That's why I was devastated to hear the news last Friday that the only dedicated vaccination hub for NDIS participants in our region was going to shut up shop. If you ever had any doubts about how bad the vaccine rollout was going, you need look no further than that case. By close of business on Friday, people had no idea where they would be able to go in order to get the vaccine or whether the appointments they had already made were going to be honoured at any potential new site. That left vulnerable people in my community feeling distressed and anxious about where they would be able to get a COVID vaccine in a safe, accessible and secure location.


After scrambling all weekend to find answers for my constituents, I understand that, under the direction of the Commonwealth government, the contracted company is now setting up a co-located clinic for not just people with disability anymore; this is a clinic that's also going to have to cater for aged-care workers. Of course, these are the two cohorts that this government has utterly failed on each and over occasion to ensure are vaccinated. These are the people who were in categories 1a and 1b, who were all meant to have been vaccinated by Easter but who are not vaccinated. It also means that the disability sector in Newcastle have lost their dedicated disability vaccination site, which was meeting their specific needs, and will need to share it now with aged-care workers. I am truly hopeful that that model of co-location will work, but I do question it, because the dedicated disability vaccination centre was a phenomenal success, vaccinating 5,000 people in a period of 10 weeks. It's an absolutely stand-out model that probably should be rolled out across the state. In light of recent reports of the very poor vaccination rates amongst NDIS participants, I think the decision to close the disability dedicated site was reckless. Indeed, as I said, it should be rolled out across New South Wales.


There were many questions that I put to the contractor, but, as I said, they told me that it was done under the direction of this government, which I think hit the panic button when it realised how poor its vaccination rates were for people with disability and, indeed, aged-care workers. Unfortunately, the contractors are now having to mop up the mess of the Prime Minister's botched vaccine rollout, and they've been sent out to do the PM's dirty work on the messaging front. As I said, they've had to transition to a co-location model and pick up the government slack on the vaccine rollout for aged-care workers, and there is now no disability-specific vaccination clinic in my community.


This is typical behaviour for the Prime Minister. We know his track record of ducking, weaving and denying any responsibility every time that something goes wrong. In times of crisis, our communities need leadership. We have known for some time now that the situation for vaccination rates in both the disability sector—that's people with disability, their carers and their disability support workers—is appalling. We also know, given what the government has now directed the new contractor to do, that the vaccination rates in our aged-care facilities are diabolical.


I have mentioned in this House before that I'm aware of one not-for-profit facility that has phenomenally good vaccination coverage across its staff but only because the CEO made it her business to ensure that all her staff were vaccinated. She hired a bus and drove everybody to Sydney, which is more than a two-hour drive, to ensure that her workers were protected.


That has not been the case for every aged-care facility in my electorate. When I looked on the government's health website, I saw reports of some facilities with less than 10 per cent of their staff having received even one does. That is completely unacceptable. That is a matter of grave concern for my community, and it should be for this government.


So, I'm not surprised that the government has asked the people who knew and who were doing so well in the disability sector to now go and mop up their mess over in aged care. Having promised aged-care workers, firstly, that they were going to do these programs onsite, at their workplaces, they backpedalled 1,000 miles an hour away from that promise. Then they promised they'd be vaccinated by Easter—a massive retreat from that one. Here we are, in August, and still some places have less than 10 per cent of staff having been vaccinated, according to the government's own website. That is not okay.


This is a big, big problem, and this Prime Minister cannot just keep blaming other people. Too many people are falling through the cracks. There's no point in just announcing vaccine rates; you've got to drill down to the detail. It's about time the Prime Minister did his job.

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