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Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Wednesday, 22 May 2019

Tags: National Disability Insurance Scheme

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Madam Speaker, I rise to speak on Ms Standen's Notice of Motion Number 64 that relates to service providers who have fallen between the gaps in the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

I listened very carefully to what the minister said and have the proposed amendments to Ms Standen's motion before me.

Before I go to those amendments, I acknowledge the outstanding work of disability advocacy organisations, Speak Out, Advocacy Tasmania, the Association for Children with Disabilities and the critical work they do, working with people living with disability, their families and carers, to advocate for systemic change but also to represent people who are coming up against obstacles in the system.

I acknowledge the incredible, relentless tenacity and advocacy of Deb Byrne from the Brain Injury Association of Tasmania and her ongoing efforts to have government acknowledge the hidden impact of acquired brain injury on individuals as well as on our systems - our health system, our housing system, justice system and in our schools. Certainly, in the 11 years I have been in parliament, Deb Byrne has been one of the strongest and most tenacious advocates for a new way of looking at the impact of acquired brain injury, an often hidden disability on individuals and services in Tasmania.

I acknowledge the fantastic work of Tas Deaf, one of my favourite stakeholders. One of the most pleasant AGMs to go to is the Tas Deaf AGM. That organisation provides support, inclusion and, significantly, advocacy for Tasmanians who are hearing impaired.

There is a range of organisations that are not listed in Ms Standen's motion that have experienced acute funding uncertainty as a consequence of the rollout of the National Disability Insurance Scheme. The uncertainty is being experienced also by service providers because of the transition to a more market-based model where demand is driven in a large part by people living with a disability, so there have been some real challenges for service providers, and because of the way the NDIA pays out there has been huge lags in the financial viability of service providers that have long standing in our community and have provided decades of support to people living with a disability.

It is regrettable that we have got to this point where we have Labor saying one thing about organisations that have been block-funded in the past, the minister saying quite another, and clearly in the middle there are organisations who are not certain about what the future holds. It was only about six weeks ago that I had my last meeting with a key stakeholder in the disability advocacy sector who was extremely concerned about the future of that organisation which gives people with disability a voice and an opportunity to convey their concerns, hopes and aspirations for the disability service system in Tasmania but also for their lives. There has been a substantial communication failure on the part of the NDIA and the state Government because we are at a point here where the Budget is being delivered tomorrow and there are questions unanswered about the future of these organisations.

I acknowledge the amendment put forward by the minister that self-congratulates over securing transitional funding for some of these organisations, but by the same token the minister did not acknowledge that for at least 18 organisations the future looks extremely uncertain. While there might be four grant rounds that have yet to be finalised, we are still talking about a grant allocation. We are not talking about a commitment to ongoing funding of, for example, Speak Out, Advocacy Tasmania or the Association for Children with Disabilities. It is not a great comfort, I would say, to sector organisations who have expressed concern clearly now to all parties about what their future holds.

Mrs Petrusma - Those services are being funded. ACD are being funded by us. Individual advocacy services continue to be funded by the state government.

Ms O'CONNOR - When was that commitment?

Mrs Petrusma - Weeks ago. For ACD, Advocacy Tasmania and Speak Out, the funding they receive from the state government for individual advocacy services are funded next year.

Ms O'CONNOR - Next year. What about the year after?

Mrs Petrusma - We are committed to funding individual advocacy services into the future.

Ms O'CONNOR - For how long? Will it be in the forward Estimates?

Mrs Petrusma - We are committed individual advocacy services. It is our responsibility ongoing.

Ms O'CONNOR - Thank you for that, minister. By admission, what you are confirming is that BIAT, Guides Dogs Tasmania and Tas Deaf Society will be at the whim of the NDIA's grant funding.

Mrs Petrusma - Many of those are individual service providers so they are providing individual services. BIAT has already been successful in that they have doubled their funding under just one round of the ILC. That is why we are helping those organisations to gear up to the ILC framework.

Ms O'CONNOR - Thank you for that, minister. I have said all I really want to say on this notice of motion but I will close with these words. I had the great privilege of being Minister for Human Services when Tasmania signed up to the National Disability Insurance Scheme, and the most profound element of that privilege was the opportunity to engage with people living with a disability, their families and carers, and to have a really deep understanding of how badly the system had let them down in the period before the NDIS was agreed between most state governments and the Commonwealth.

We went from a situation where disability services were not allocated on the basis of need but were apportioned on the basis of available funding and the most desperate need. For people living with a disability the NDIS provided real choice and, to the greatest extent possible, control over the services they access.

The original intent of the National Disability Insurance Scheme was to empower people living with a disability and the foundational philosophy was 'nothing about us without us'. We had gone from a disability service system that used to pack people away in Willow Court and Royal Derwent where the service system providers were block-funded and people had to take what service the government told them was available to them, whether it was appropriate or not, or whether or not it provided those recreational and learning opportunities that we all need. It is a concern that the original quite generous and extremely inclusive intent of the NDIS has been eroded by a closer eye on the money than the human beings. It is a matter of recent historical record that $2.6 billion of the re-elected Prime Minister's purported surplus for next year actually comes out of an underspend on the National Disability Insurance Scheme. That is shameful.

I have spoken to people living with a disability, people who are absolutely stoked with the level of service and opportunity they have under their plan under the NDIS, but I have also spoken to people who are languishing on waiting lists for equipment, who have not heard back from the NDIA about their plan. I have heard from people who are concerned that the goals in the original NDIS - the individual goals - have been undermined and it is less about the goals of the person than it is about the funding that is allocated by the governments of the day.

As we know, Madam Speaker, this is a Commonwealth and state initiative that is profoundly life-changing for people with a disability and it was always going to cause sectoral disruption because we were moving from a block-funded model to a market-driven model and there was always going to be some providers who would not be able to survive in the new environment. When people living with a disability are empowered to make those choices about the services they access, there will be choices made about providers who have not provided the best service. At its best, that market-based model, if it is truly driven by choice, is extremely empowering.

I am not uncomfortable with the Government's amendment. I have not had an opportunity to talk to Dr Woodruff about it yet. We have been out there dealing with hundreds and hundreds of distressed young people. I need to say this now because this is my opportunity to do so. We went downstairs to the reception room after that vote and there were kids there in tears because they could not believe that this Tasmanian Parliament did not have the courage to acknowledge that we are in a state of climate emergency. As a mother, I found that very distressing. We walked out the front of the building. There were mothers of young children in tears. It is extremely disheartening to be in this place and to see all of my colleagues, except Dr Woodruff, vote the wrong way.