Dean Smith

In Parliament

QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE Middle East, National Disability Insurance Scheme

November 28, 2012

I rise to take note of answers given by Senator Bob Carr and Senator Wong to questions asked by Senator Abetz and Senator Fifield. I am sure all senators in this place will extend, in anticipation of tonight's National Disability Awards, our appreciation for the success and courage shown by many disabled people and the organisations that represent them. And, of course, in anticipation of next week's International Day for People with Disability, I am sure the Senate again wants to note its endorsement of the great work that many people do to support people with disabilities in our community.

I want to touch briefly, in the short time available to me, on comments in the debate about the importance of adopting a bipartisan approach to the issue of disabilities in our country. No-one doubts that this is an issue critical to the generosity of our country going forward. To reflect on the contribution of Senator Fifield, I think his defence of adopting a bipartisan approach is an appropriate one, and it is disappointing that the government and others in this place did not endorse it at the time of its debate. As Senator Fifield said, a bipartisan joint select committee approach does allow this parliament a mechanism to lock in support from all parties for this important policy issue going forward. In addition to that, of course, it does provide a very effective parliamentary oversight mechanism to ensure that the implementation of a national approach to disability services is well constructed and well implemented over many years and many parliaments.

Senator Fifield and coalition senators believe that this approach is sound and forward thinking. It was somewhat surprising to hear the contribution of other senators in this place—some Labor senators—who suggested that a bipartisan approach was a bad idea. It is a great shame, but the reality is that over time this government is increasingly being characterised by inflexibility—inflexibility in a whole range of issues, not least the ability to develop and implement a bipartisan approach to what is an important national social policy; that is, the creation of a National Disability Insurance Scheme.

In the contribution of Senator Moore she was quite right to talk about the necessary engagement of all levels of government across Australia when we move toward the implementation of a National Disability Insurance Scheme. Reports today in the West Australian newspaper and in the Australian Financial Review point very, very squarely to the fact that the government is being inflexible in its approach to a National Disability Insurance Scheme. Let me quote from an Australian Financial Review article headed 'WA rejects disability scheme bill':

The West Australian government says it doesn't support federal legislation to introduce the national disability insurance scheme, describing the bill as too prescriptive and likely to set the state back 30 years to a time when people with disabilities had little control over their support services.

That article goes on to highlight the government's inflexibility. It says of the final version of the draft legislation:

… the state's Disability Services Minister, Helen Morton, said the final version failed to address WA's concerns and limited its role in decision-making.

The article goes on to say that the Western Australian government thinks that this Labor government might be more about promoting its own self-interest and that it should be about promoting personalised services, encouraging choice and control, rather than a constant prescriptive and inflexible approach to disability services as proposed by the government draft legislation.

In addition to that the West Australian says that the Western Australia state government:

… remained unhappy that the Commonwealth was insisting on sidelining the States in regards to the issue of control.

The scheme in Western Australia remained deadlocked after the state rejected the Commonwealth's latest offer of a fifty-fifty funding split with Canberra because—

not because of the funding split but because—

Canberra wanted to maintain its control over the particular pilot program.

It is very, very disappointing that this government is again characterised by inflexibility in its approach to disability services. But I am an optimist and I am very, very confident that, when the government's legislation reaches the Senate and the Senate decides to embark upon a consultation process across Australian cities and other locations, the bipartisan spirit of this Senate will come to the fore and that we will be able to work towards developing a truly effective National Disability Insurance Scheme.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: The question is that the motion moved by Senator Fifield be agreed to.

Question agreed to.