National Disability Insurance Scheme

 Much has been said in recent times about the merit of a proposed national disability insurance scheme and a national injury insurance scheme. The Productivity Commission has strongly endorsed both schemes as a result of its recent comprehensive inquiry, Disability in Care and Support in Australia. I acknowledge everyone who took part, particularly those members of our community who live each day struggling with the heartbreak of life with a disability, either as sufferers themselves or as their carers. These people spoke bravely and passionately about the day-to-day obstacles of the current system and they pleaded for change at all levels. In recommending the implementation of a national disability insurance scheme and national injury insurance scheme, the Productivity Commission passed judgment on the current system, stating:

“Current arrangements are under-funded, inefficient and unfair. They also make it hard for carers to cope since the system relies too much on their informal support. We think that a new scheme is required and that the costs of the scheme are manageable and justified”

Two recent national awareness campaigns illustrate the importance of providing adequate support services to those in our community. The first is Brain Injury Awareness Week, which took place last week, from 15 August to 21 August. Acquired brain injury refers to any damage to the brain that occurs after birth. That damage can be caused by a motor accident, a fall, an act of violence, a work or sporting incident, a stroke, a brain infection, a tumour, a degenerative disease or the abuse of alcohol or other drugs. My colleagues in the House may be surprised to hear that over 500,000 Australians have an acquired brain injury. It affects young and old, with as many as two of every three people with acquired brain injury acquiring their brain injury before they turn 25. It can cause mobility problems, sensory loss, fatigue, epilepsy, and speech and language difficulties. Problems may also arise with thinking skills such as memory and concentration and changes in emotions, behaviour and personality. Those suffering a brain injury and their carers require a diverse range of services and support, depending on the severity of their injury. It is these people who would directly benefit from a national insurance scheme.

The second awareness campaign that aptly illustrates the need for adequate support services is Hearing Awareness Week, which is currently underway. According to the Australian Deafness Forum, 22 per cent of Australians aged 15 years and over have a hearing impairment. That is 3.55 million Australians. The theme for this year is “I am ready for anything, is anything ready for me?”—meaning that people with a hearing impairment are ready to be included. The challenge is to the community at large to be more inclusive. As the Deafness Forum rightly states, “Improvements in technology have minimised the barriers to communication and employers have more support than ever to make their workplace inclusive and accessible for Australians with hearing loss.”

The proposed national disability insurance scheme will bring some consistency as well as doubling the amount of funding to disability services and, most importantly, it will reform the care sector to a more person-centred system where individual needs are identified and funded. This is a much-needed and long-awaited development and is strongly supported by the disability services sector. I congratulate all those involved with the Every Australian Counts campaign. This initiative has done an amazing job of highlighting of the desperate situation faced by people with a disability and their carers. I also congratulate the Federal and State governments for their positive responses to the Productivity Commission’s report. Last Friday the Council of Australian Governments made arrangements to begin reform of the sector and I note Minister Constance’s offer to trial a national disability insurance scheme in the Hunter region. The State of New South Wales has already taken steps towards a more person-centred provision of care and I again commend the Government for the Living Life My Way consultation process. I encourage both levels of Government to commit to implementing the full national disability insurance scheme ahead of the Productivity Commission’s timeline of 2019, as we move towards an inclusive society where everyone is valued, regardless of varying ability and where disabled people and their amazing carers are genuinely supported by their community.