Complications with the NDIS

As a piece of public policy, the creation of the National Disability Insurance Scheme [NDIS] was a monumental reform. Its objective was simple and yet profound: A tangled mess of chaotic, fragmented and inequitable support programs littered across the country would be replaced with a national scheme focused on equity.

The so-called "postcode lottery" would end, and the genesis of a person's disability would be irrelevant. Instead, the scheme would be based upon a person's needs. The purpose of the scheme was to enable people with disability to fulfill their potential, engage meaningfully with their communities, and to live their lives with respect and dignity. Alongside Medicare and superannuation, this Labor initiative will have a lasting legacy for the future of our country and our citizens.

However, unfortunately, as many members of this House will know, the implementation of the scheme to date has largely been a shambles that has been compounded by the Berejiklian Government's decision to wash its hands of all responsibility for people with disabilities in this State.

This Government's response to the NDIS has been to privatise home care and shut up shop on Ageing, Disability and Home Care [ADHC], with the result that supports and services that were once relied on by people with disabilities are no longer are available.

The Hunter's large residential centres—Stockton, Tomaree and Morisset—are now being managed by the Department of Family and Community Services, and not by ADHC.

As the acting shadow Minister for Disability Services and alongside my colleague the shadow Minister for Disability Services, Sophie Cotsis, I have met with countless NDIS participants, carers, advocates and service providers who are really struggling in their interactions with the NDIS scheme.

There are many people struggling at all stages of the process—trying to participate, trying to get a plan that reflects their needs, trying to maintain a plan that works, and then trying to access the supports and services that they, or their loved ones, need. This last element—trying to access the supports and services they are funded for—is particularly difficult for people living in the regions.

For the record, I acknowledge that I am hearing largely from people and organisations who are struggling. Many people have already benefited enormously from the scheme, and the life-changing independence they have achieved is what the scheme is about.

Those successes are definitely worth celebrating. But alongside that there are many people who are struggling.

It is interesting that among the people who are facing those challenges is a deeper understanding that the scheme is worthwhile and that the Federal and State governments just need to make it work. Systems must be improved.

The gaps in services need to be addressed. People need to be able to access services. We must ensure that there are oversights and safeguards for those services and the quality of those services. People generally need more help.

From the beginning, the New South Wales Government has seen the NDIS as a way of removing responsibility and liability and the cost involved with supporting people with disabilities. In doing so, it has ignored the fact that many people with disabilities in this State will never participate in the NDIS. Many of them are now looking for services and supports that are no longer there.

The Government's management of the closure of the Stockton Centre, Tomaree Lodge and Morisset disability centre is nothing short of shameful. The closure of those centres was announced many years ago and the orderly process of moving residents into new homes was meant to conclude next month. However, the promised new homes for those residents are not there and the closure of the centres has now been extended to 2020—residents are living in limbo.

I have spoken previously in this place about the neglect of the first group of residents who were relocated from those centres to a group home. I do not intend to revisit that tragedy here today, but suffice to say that people died in the most tragic of circumstances that were entirely preventable. Families of residents in those centres are now left wondering what the future will be for their loved ones.

The services on site at those centres have been whittled away and the departmental group tasked with supporting the transition has been disbanded. Many of us are frightened to think what the future holds for those residents with no family and for whom the Public Guardian is responsible.

We must always remember that the decisions we make in this place regarding the provision of services to people with a disability have very real consequences. So we have to get this right. When we are talking about people with complex intellectual and physical disabilities there is little room for error.

It is time that government—both Federal and State governments—took stock and returned to the original goals of the NDIS: the twin aspirations of choice and control that have not been met for too many people.

We need to ensure we have a society that is accessible to everyone and where everyone can achieve their potential, regardless of where they live. I urge the State and Federal Coalition governments to do more so that all people can access the services they need.


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