In reflecting on this bill, the National Disability Insurance Scheme Amendment (Getting the NDIS Back on Track No. 1) Bill 2024, I think it is worth looking back on where we have come from. The NDIS is in fact the largest social reform since the introduction of Medicare. It has fundamentally shifted the way we support people with disability right across Australia. The NDIS has been transformational and indeed life-changing for more than 640,000 people with disability, including for the very many across our country who have, under the scheme, accessed support for the very first time. As I said, it has been life-changing for people with disability, and also for their families and for their carers—and that includes for people in my community.

It is our responsibility, the responsibility of all of us in this place, to ensure the NDIS supports the best social and economic outcomes possible for people with disability now and, importantly, for future generations to come. Those of us here now are the custodians of what is this life-changing scheme. It is our responsibility to ensure the NDIS is effective, is sustainable and provides appropriate support to those who need it most both now and into the future—and that is, of course, what this bill is all about. It delivers on our government’s commitment to participants, and their families and carers, to restore trust in the NDIS and to ensure its continued success now and for many years to come.

At the last election our government said to people with disability and the disability community that we wanted to work alongside them to deliver essential reforms to make sure the NDIS was on track, to make the NDIS a priority and not penalise people with disability for wanting to live whole and fulfilling lives. We made a commitment to having more people with disability on the NDIS board—and, of course, we have appointed Australian Paralympic legend and disability advocate Kurt Fearnley AO as chairman.

We made a commitment to conducting a thorough and independent review of the scheme from top to bottom, and that was completed at the end of last year. We have said that we will make sure money is going where it should, to supporting NDIS participants. Importantly, we’ve said we’re committing to making the NDIS sustainable so that future generations have access to this life-changing scheme in the way participants today do.

This bill is for people with disability and for the disability community. It reflects their ideas, their voices and their experiences. It is for the more than 4,000 NDIS participants who live in my electorate in Jagajaga. It’s for the more than 640,000 participants right around Australia. It’s for future generations who will rely on the NDIS to achieve their potential and to lead the life they choose. Importantly, it’s for families, carers and supporters as well.

Whenever I talk about the NDIS, I think about the introduction and rollout of the scheme in 2013 under the Gillard and Rudd governments. I have spoken in this place before about the privilege of working directly with the then minister responsible for the NDIS—my predecessor as the member for Jagajaga, Jenny Macklin. In her valedictory speech Jenny rightly described the NDIS as the biggest social reform of our generation. She is enormously proud of it, as I know all of us on the Labor side are—Minister Shorten, former prime minister Gillard, the people who ushered the scheme into parliament and into our nation. The need was and remains great for this scheme. Again, I reflect on the needs we saw at the time—parents caring for children with disability with no end in sight worried about what would happen next as they aged, worried about who would take on that responsibility; people with disability waiting endlessly for support, and for supports that were not tailored to their need, on a waiting list for a package that didn’t meet their unique needs and that often took far too long to come. Right across the country, there were stories of needs not being met, of people not being understood, of families leading really quite desperate lives. The NDIS has changed a lot of that. There is still more work to do, and that is what this bill does.

Rightly, at that point people with disability, their carers and the people who work with them came together to demand better of the Australian government and of governments right across the country. As then prime minister Julia Gillard said when introducing the NDIS in 2013:

The Scheme is ambitious, and necessarily so.

Because more than 400,000 people are living with significant and permanent disabilities.

Because carers are required to stretch the bonds of obligation and kinship past breaking point.

Because the nation is being robbed of the human and economic potential of people living with disability and the contribution they can make to our shared future.

Because while the promise of fairness and equality that lies at the core of our national ethos is denied to some Australians, we are all diminished.

Those words applied then, and they apply now, and they apply to the work that comes next under this bill. This bill is important to getting the NDIS on track, restoring the intent of the scheme and delivering better outcomes for people with disability now and into the future.

Like many who have already spoken on this bill and, I’m sure, many who will speak after me, as a local member—the member for Jagajaga—I hear from hundreds of participants in my local community, families, carers, workers and advocates, who all share their experiences of the NDIS with me. I am very grateful to all of those people in my community who share their personal stories and their honest feedback. I recognise that often that takes courage and care, and it is vital in shaping how we improve the NDIS. As I mentioned earlier, there are more than 4,000 NDIS participants in my community. Forty per cent of those people are aged between zero and 14. I’m aware that some of those participants can’t advocate for themselves, so a parent, relative or friend often steps in to raise their voice on that person’s behalf. And I’m very aware that the reforms we’re pursuing with this bill must ensure that all of those people continue to have confidence and trust in the NDIS.

Overwhelmingly, the people who contact me about the NDIS are appreciative and grateful for the support they receive. It does make a huge difference in people’s day-to-day lives and in their ability to meet their hopes for the future. But we must also acknowledge that there are areas where the NDIS can do far better. People do struggle sometimes with their interactions with the agency. They struggle with confusion about what should and shouldn’t be included in plans and they struggle with understanding what their future looks like under the scheme. So we cannot afford to be complacent. We need to use what we’ve learned and what we’ve heard to make the scheme better, to realise the promise and to make sure that the scheme endures. As the minister has said many times, the NDIS cannot be the only lifeboat in the ocean, and I echo some of the concerns from the member for Higgins in her speech earlier, around children, in particular, accessing support in appropriate ways and locations. The NDIS shouldn’t push people into endless therapy if that’s not the best support and if support can be provided in other locations where children actually are.

Over the past two years, our government has been working with people with disability, their families and carers and the disability community more broadly to identify how we can strengthen and improve the NDIS. It’s important to recognise that this bill is based on that work, on the recommendations of the independent NDIS review which was released at the end of last year. The bill restores the original intent of the NDIS and prioritises access, plans and budget setting, and quality and safety. It strengthens the powers of the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission to protect NDIS participants from illegal and unethical conduct. The timing of this bill reflects the agreement our government made with states and territories last year, and it is important to note that this requires national reform. It will require all governments to be involved. The overriding principle behind these reforms is to put people back at the heart of the NDIS and ensure that every dollar in the scheme reaches the participants who need it.

The bill will be supporting the creation of a distinct early intervention pathway for participants who can have their needs best met by an early intervention approach, such as children under the age of nine or those with psychosocial disability or progressive conditions. It will be improving participant budgets, making them flexible and providing more straightforward information on how the participant or their family can spend them. It will be improving the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission’s ability to administer compliance and enforcement powers.

As I said, the bill is very much informed by the work done by the expert panel last year. That review panel was led by co-chairs Professor Bruce Bonyhady AM and Ms Lisa Paul AO, PSM. They examined the NDIS’s design, operations and sustainability, making 26 recommendations and releasing a very comprehensive report that reflected the serious care and time they took to talk to participants, people with disability, their families and carers and the broader disability sector. I think it is important to note the level of input that went into that report. The panel did travel to every state and territory, including regional and remote communities. They heard directly from 10,000 Australians. They worked with disability organisations to reach out and listen to a thousand people with disabilities and their families. They recorded more than 2,000 personal stories and received almost 4,000 submissions.

In concluding their review, the panel said that they urged all governments to commit to creating a unified ecosystem of support for people with disability. This should comprise inclusive and accessible mainstream services, a thriving foundational support system for all people with disability and a reformed participant pathway within the NDIS for those needing individualised budgets. The panel also noted that it’s in the interest of all Australians to secure the future sustainability of the NDIS. Our recommendations, if implemented as a package, will secure the future sustainability of the NDIS, as well as deliver better support for people with disabilities and a better experience for those in the NDIS. I very much endorse those sentiments and again note the level of work and consultation with people with disability that went into making them. I want to assure the NDIS participants and their families in my community that these changes are considered; they’re ones that the government is undertaking in a measured way. We will continue to put people with disability at the heart of our reforms. We will continue to walk alongside the disability community in making sure that we make the NDIS the best possible scheme it can be—now and into the future. NDIS eligibility hasn’t changed; plans are still set similarly and funding is, and will, remain based on need. This legislation is about ensuring the future of the NDIS, of a scheme that we, as a nation, should all be proud of. It is not about removing people from the scheme.

I know of course that in these times of change there can be a lot of fear and, in some cases, misinformation out there, so I really want to give those reassurances to people in my community and right around the country about both the intent and the actions that this government will be taking. All of us on this side of the House are so proud of the NDIS; we are proud of the lives that it has changed and we are committed to seeing it realise its full potential. In fact, five years ago, as I made my first speech in this House, I said that we hadn’t yet realised the potential of the NDIS. Making it work must involve an unswerving commitment on our part to listen to, and act upon, the stories and experiences of those who rely on it. I am really confident that that’s the approach the government has taken in drafting this bill. I’m confident it’s the approach the government will continue to take as it works to reform the NDIS, to make sure that it realises both that early promise and intent as well as its sustainability into the future—providing Australians with disability, their families, their carers and people who work with them the best possible options for their lives right now and into the future. I commend the bill to the House.

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