I rise today to highlight some of the many areas where people in my community are being failed and let down by the Morrison government, and the very real impact that is having on their lives. I’m sure that I am not the only one in this place whose office is currently inundated with NDIS participants and their families who are desperate for help. It is an absolute indictment on this government and the way it runs the NDIS that I currently employ a full-time staff member whose entire role, essentially, is taken up with helping participants and families navigate the NDIS system. The system is just not working as it should.
From the experiences people are relating to me, the story I’m hearing is one of parents lying awake at night with anxiety about what’s going to happen when their child’s plan comes up for review. It’s a story of families breaking down because of the level of stress and anxiety they are carrying. And these are stories in one electorate alone. Imagine what is happening across our country because of this government’s failure to take the NDIS seriously, to resource the scheme as it should and to respect people with disability, their families and their carers.
Some of the themes of what I’m hearing from NDIS participants and their families are of parents overwhelmed and in some cases emotionally beaten by the administrative barriers to getting support for their children. I’m hearing about long delays in decision-making. Sometimes, but not always, those delays can be overcome when my office intervenes and makes a representation, but it shouldn’t take that. It shouldn’t take people in our community having to go to their federal MP to be able to navigate a government system and get the support they need for a child or adult with disability. I’m hearing from parents who are at a point where they have actually just decided to disengage. The emotional trauma and the efforts they are going to are not worth it, so they are actually giving up on the system. What an indictment! Of course, like so many around the country, I am hearing of packages that are being slashed by tens of thousands of dollars after review and of the very real consequences that is having, particularly on children.
I want to go into some of the specifics of what families are raising with me, because I think it’s important that they are aired in this place, but I’m not going to use names or any identifying factors, because those families have rightly asked me to respect their privacy. I can tell this place about a boy under 10 with autism spectrum disorder. He’s had a reduction of tens of thousands of dollars on a previous plan. His mother said that, when she was needing to interact with an NDIS planner, those interactions came at times when she was caught feeling unprepared and off guard, and that had a negative impact on the outcome of her plan review. Since the plan has been slashed by tens of thousands of dollars, the boy’s therapists and the boy’s school have observed an escalation in concerning behaviours and a regress in his general coping.
His mother says: ‘The lack of empathy and of a person centred approach exhibited by the NDIA towards my son and me has been cruel and dehumanising. This decision disregards his needs, shuts him down and keeps him separate from society. The lack of funding and formal support has left me having to decide which of my children’s needs are more important. Without these supports, I must make heartbreaking decisions, as a mother, that could drastically change the future for my children.’ She says: ‘We are on the brink of a monumental breakdown, as a family unit, due to the sudden and extreme reduction in funding without explanation from the NDIA, despite us repeatedly asking them for a reason behind the decision. My family and I are literally drowning—emotionally, physically and financially—as a direct result of the sheer disregard and lack of support we’ve received from the NDIA.’
That should not be the case. This is not what the NDIS was set up to do. It was set up to give children and adults with a disability and their families the opportunity to live the best lives possible. Instead, it is causing families to break down—and that is on the Morrison government. A participant’s wife contacted my office in December last year because, despite submitting plans and an application for a bathroom modification in March last year, they’d heard nothing from the NDIS. They submitted the plans in March. By December they still hadn’t heard anything back from the NDIS, and all the while her husband’s mobility was declining. In her email to my office she said, ‘We don’t usually send complaints, but this time I felt I needed to.’ That’s absolutely fair enough. How is it reasonable that she was waiting from March to December for a decision from the NDIS on a bathroom modification which had serious consequences for her husband’s mobility?
A mother was told by the NDIA that there were no funds left in the plan of her son, who has a severe intellectual disability and complex behaviours. This meant he could no longer access his carers, therapists, day programs or any of his support services. This also meant his family were unable to attend or perform their usual occupations, due to having to take on the role of full-time carers. Obviously this led to high stress levels for the family, and there were wellbeing and safety concerns for both the NDIS participant and the family, given the extreme complex behaviours. This woman said that it meant limited access to the community, because of these complex behaviours, and that there were safety concerns for them. She was ringing the NDIA daily to try and get this addressed, but she didn’t hear back. In desperation, she had to turn to my office for support.
As I said, it shouldn’t be like this. The NDIS is a great system. It could be an even better system—one that supports all of these families, that doesn’t tie them up in red tape, that doesn’t send them down a bureaucratic rabbit hole that they can’t get out of without contacting their federal MP. It could be a system that doesn’t leave mothers lying awake at night, thinking: ‘Which kid can I prioritise? What’s the impact on my family? Are we all going to fall apart because I can’t understand what’s going on here?’ It could be a system that doesn’t mean that supports are ripped away from children, leaving families to deal with complex behaviours on their own.
As I said, the NDIS is a great Labor legacy, but it should not be operating in the way it does under this Morrison government. It’s an urgent problem and it does need to be addressed urgently. Unfortunately, in the past fortnight in parliament we’ve seen nothing from the Morrison government that would address any of these issues in the NDIS and in the way they operate the scheme. So I call on them today to do the work. Listen to the families, which I’m sure are in communities on the other side as well. Make sure the system works as it should. It just shouldn’t be this hard for all of these families. The NDIS should not be putting extra burdens and extra complexity on people.
Of course, it’s not just the NDIS. We also know that aged care is in crisis in this country. And, once again, this government’s response has been abysmal. Every elderly Australian should get quality care. All of the amazing people who are currently working in our aged care system should be supported. But that’s not what’s happening under this government. Have we been debating how we fixed aged care this fortnight? Has this government brought into this parliament urgent plans or urgent legislation to fix aged care? They have not. We got an announcement, about the ADF needing to come in—because the government had failed to fix the system, and we really are at crisis point—but now we know there’s also an issue about the pace at which the ADF are being rolled out into nursing homes. And, obviously, using Defence in nursing homes is a short-term plan. There is a deep structural problem in aged care at the moment, and that means that older people in these aged-care facilities are not getting the dignified quality of life that they should.
I’ve spoken in this place before about one of the most heartbreaking things I’ve had to do as a local member, when, two years ago, I had to speak to families in my local community who’d lost loved ones in aged care at that stage of the COVID pandemic. It was a horrible thing for me to have to do, but it was obviously devastating for those families to have to understand what had happened and why their loved ones had died. That was two years ago, at the beginning of the pandemic. We’ve had two years. We’ve had an entire royal commission. And still this government fails aged care. This government seems comfortable with people dying in aged care. This government seems comfortable with people not being able to visit their loved ones for months and months because homes are locked down. This government seems comfortable with overstretched, overstressed workers who are carrying a very, very difficult burden that they just should not have to—would not, if this government would do its job.
Well, I want to assure everyone in my community: Labor gets this. We know that aged care is in crisis. We know that this system needs the attention and support that it should have. We know that families in my community should not be worrying about their parents in aged care; they should know that those parents are safe and are having the quality of life that they deserve. Aged-care workers in my communities should not be doing 30-hour shifts while trying to run from bed to bed because there just aren’t enough workers in the facility. This is not acceptable. We talk a lot in this place about respecting older Australians and about the work they did to build this country. Well, the way we honour that, the way we recognise that, is to have an aged-care system that works.
I urge the Morrison government to make this a focus, because Australians are watching. Australians know that you have failed, that you have left a system in crisis and that, more than two years into a pandemic, you have failed to make the changes we need. In fact, the minister responsible, instead of talking about what was going on in the system, went to the cricket—not just once, but for three days.
Unbelievable, actually; unbelievable—if you think again about all the families in my electorate calling my office, asking: ‘Can you help me to get in and see my mum? I can’t understand why I can’t get in,’ or, ‘I’m really worried because my dad hasn’t had his booster shot yet and it’s been pushed back for three weeks; can you help me understand why?’ The minister wasn’t providing my office with information around that; he was at the cricket. And this Prime Minister seems comfortable with that, despite being asked numerous times, this week and last week in this parliament, whether he retains confidence in his minister for aged-care services. Scott Morrison seems to be fine with that; he’s not taking any action against that minister.
This points to a pattern from the Morrison government: a pattern of not looking out for everyone in our community; a pattern of not caring when the things that they are responsible for—the things that we should be able to rely on in our community—break, when they haven’t been up to the job. This government hasn’t stepped in and worked it out. This Prime Minister hasn’t ‘held a hose’. He hasn’t done his job. The effects of that are being felt, still, in all of our communities—in my community, with families lying awake at night wondering what they’re going to do with their young child with a disability, or how they’re going to withstand the pressures that they’re feeling at the moment, or if their mum in aged care is safe and when they’ll be able to get in and see her again. This goes to the heart of what sort of country we want to be, of what sort of society we want to be.
Do we want to be a society where we leave people who are elderly and people who have a disability on the edges, or do we want to be a society where we make sure that everyone is treated with dignity, where all of us know that, no matter what situation we end up in, we will be supported as we should be and we will have a government that cares for us and understands that our community, our society, functions best when we respect everyone in it, and, most importantly, a government that just does its job, doesn’t go to the cricket when there is an aged-care crisis, does hold a hose and does not play the ukulele and pull family stunts for a 60 Minutes special, a government that is interested in what’s going on in people’s lives in Australia and is concentrated on making those lives better? That is what a Labor government will provide to this country, and that is why we need an Anthony Albanese Labor government—to fix the mess this government has left us in.