Ms LEY (Farrer) (17:50):  I would like to speak this evening about the NDIS and its rollout in my electorate of Farrer. People with disability are now living more independent lives, engaging with their community, entering the workforce or returning to work, and receiving the services and equipment they need. The Productivity Commission found that the NDIS could result in an additional 320,000 people with disability being employed. NDIS replaces a system that was often unfair and inefficient with one that maximises people’s independence and capacity to participate and contribute to our community. It wants to set itself apart from previous support mechanisms that had little focus on outcomes and almost no understanding about what works for particular groups of people.

The NDIS began last year and is being introduced in stages across Australia, through to 2019, to ensure it is successful and sustainable. This is a unique challenge for the National Disability Insurance Agency, the NDIA, as they work to implement the largest social reform in Australia since the introduction of Medicare. As a government we need to focus on as smooth a transition as possible, where we move from old systems to new and avoid disruption to services. After trials conducted in the Hunter Region and Nepean Blue Mountains, the runs are starting to appear on the board. Between April and June this year the scheme grew by 15,078 participants with an approved NDIS plan. This includes 6,134 children under six years of age accessing the scheme via the NDIS Early Childhood Early Intervention. I hosted an information forum in Albury, on 5 June, ahead of the NDIS commencing in my electorate from July this year. As many as 6,000 people with disability will join the scheme throughout the Murrumbidgee area. They are among some 140,000 people in New South Wales of 460,000 Australians set to benefit from the NDIS, with an extra $140 million to be allocated to meet their needs.

The NDIS also presents a huge opportunity for the development of a competitive and innovative disability services market, which will result in more jobs and significant financial investment. It is estimated that the national workforce needed will grow by an extra 60,000 to 70,000 people. In New South Wales alone, it’s expected that the number of jobs in the disability sector will grow to around 59,200—up by more than 30,000—solely due to the NDIS rollout. The NDIS should give all Australians peace of mind that if their child or loved one is born with or acquires a permanent and significant disability they will get the support they need.

The NDIS is designed to work side-by-side with health, education and other universal services which people with disability will need to continue to access, but it is not responsible for these services. The NDIA has acknowledged that things may not be perfect immediately, but it is committed to listening, learning and improving as the scheme grows. At its best, the NDIS will provide support that empowers people with disability to exercise choice in the pursuit of their goals and in the delivery of their supports. I’ve talked a lot about contributing to the community, about the number of jobs, about personal choice and about the architecture of the system, and I’m going to talk in a minute, if I get time, about the process. But I don’t think we should ever lose sight of the individuals who are at the centre of this scheme and for whom we built the system. It is entirely for them and their needs.

We have to be careful as we roll out the NDIS that we don’t get bogged down in too much bureaucracy, too much red tape and too much in the way of—although there has to be a necessary level of it—form filling, approvals and accreditation. For the families, particularly those with children, who are waiting to access the scheme it can get quite overwhelming. I know that in New South Wales access to disability support under the scheme that is the responsibility of the state government were quite arduous. And I don’t say that as criticism of the scheme, but, having noticed constituents, I again come back to the children of families whose parents are struggling, who are quite exhausted by it all and often don’t know where to get the help they need. So they come to their local member of parliament, and we’re very glad that they do. We appreciate and find it an honour to be able to assist. But it certainly informs me in my office about how the system has, unfortunately, let people down, and I want to make very sure that the NDIS doesn’t do the same thing. I see parents who are waiting for assessments, filling out forms, providing, as one mother said to me, their life story and their bank account details for what seems like the umpteenth time to yet another agency, trying to get the support that they know they need for their child and that any objective observer can see that their child deserves. Then I become more determined that we don’t fall for the same situation under the NDIS.

The challenge therefore is that the delivery partners in my own electorate, Intereach and Social Futures, are managing that local area connection, that they themselves design and frame the system with the person at the centre. And of course they have a list of instructions, procedures, accreditations, approvals, time lines and so on, but they have to make sure that they never lose sight of the person and the person’s needs. If everything they do relates to that central theme, they can’t go wrong. As I said to one family, I’m here to kick up a fuss for you, because you’re exhausted and worn out by what you’re having to do for your child within a clumsy and clunky system. Everyone recognises that particularly when it comes to children we have to make sure we do our very best. Sometimes that means turning ourselves inside out to make sure that the supports arrive when they’re needed and that where the system might have indicated an assessment date of December this year, as was the case in one example my office and I worked with, we say, ‘Well, that’s not good enough for this family; they need the help earlier.’ In this case they had a purpose-built vehicle for a young man who was 14 and presumably quite difficult to lift in and out of a vehicle, and they needed the NDIS to provide the dollars to support the hoist and the lifting mechanism so that the family could go on outings. It simply isn’t good enough to say that they have to wait until a certain date in a few months time.

Those sorts of cases need to have priority, and the system has to be flexible—person centred but absolutely flexible. Everyone who enters the NDIS will first receive a plan. Most people’s plan can be completed over the phone through a conversation between the participant and an NDIA representative about their existing supports, their needs and their goals. That plan is the entry point to the NDIS and the start of an ongoing relationship. The plan will identify the reasonable or necessary supports required to meet the immediate needs of a participant and start to identify and achieve their goals. Some may need to provide evidence, including information on what disability they have, how long it will last and the impact it’s having on their life. As I said, Social Futures is the local area coordinator partner in our local services of the NDIS in New South Wales in the Murrumbidgee and the far west. They are working with organisations such as Intereach to deliver the services on the ground.

But the choice and control over the delivery of the services in support is, as it should be, in the hands of the people who actually use and benefit from the services—the participants, their families and their carers. And that is the key transformation, apart from removing so many layers of approval and so many layers of bureaucracy which add considerably to the cost of any service that actually gets provided person to person.

The key thing is bringing those services back to the choice and control of the individual. Why would we not empower them to have that choice? Why would we not empower them to say, without even giving a reason: ‘I do or I don’t want this particular individual coming into my home to help me by providing personal support and by  taking me on outings. I don’t want that person, but I do want this person. I want to be able to visit friends in a nearby town. I don’t necessarily want to have to catch a bus. I want to be able to do these things when I decide to’? Particularly with mobility aids, it’s up to the individual to decide how they most need to be supported.

As I said earlier, this maps well with the aged-care needs in rural and regional communities. It is a huge industry providing services and supports and responding—always responding, first and foremost—to the needs of the individuals.