Speech to Parliament: NDIS in Kingsford Smith

The National Disability Insurance Scheme is a very important social and economic reform for our nation. For too long, people living with disability in Australia have been treated as second-class citizens.

They've faced unnecessary barriers to their full participation in Australian society and the realisation of their economic potential and contribution to the nation.

Those barriers have been associated with issues that have held back their living standards—difficulties in accessing transport to get around; difficulties in accessing education to improve their knowledge and their understanding of how society works and their ability to work in paid employment; and support for people living with a disability to ensure that they can participate in the community and, importantly, that those that look after them, their carers, particularly parents who care for children with disabilities, have the support they need to make a contribution to society as well.

The National Disability Insurance Scheme is a very important social reform but it's also a very important economic reform. That's been recognised by the Productivity Commission in the report that laid the foundations for the establishment of the NDIS in Australia. In that report the point was made very well that the NDIS, in providing support for people to fulfil their potential within our community, will generate productivity improvements for the nation and ultimately improve jobs growth and boost economic growth and national incomes for the country. So the economic benefits are there. The NDIS makes sense from both a social perspective and an economic perspective.

I'm sick of hearing this undercurrent theme, if you like, that's developed from some conservative commentators in Australia that the NDIS is becoming a burden, that it's too expensive for our nation to fund and that it can't be funded. Other nations with lower living standards have put in place insurance schemes funding disability. If they can do it then so too can Australia. What is required is the political will to overcome the excuses that people have put in place and ensure that a National Disability Insurance Scheme works and works well.

It's well known that Labor established the National Disability Insurance Scheme when we were last in government. There was a lot of lead-up work that went into the legislation introduced by the shadow minister for social services, Jenny Macklin, when she was the minister, and that lead-up work was done by the Leader of the Opposition, principally, who was the Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities and Children's Services at the time.

The Leader of the Opposition spent much time travelling around the country, consulting with people with disabilities, their parents and carers, the community organisations and not-for-profits that provide them with support in the work that they do, and dealing with the experts who have written and worked in this space for many years. He consulted with the states, which principally had the responsibility for providing disability support services in our community. He worked with experts, looked at international examples of best practice and formulated a policy that was well researched, well thought out and well consulted throughout the country. Subsequently, the NDIS had the support of the Australian community when it was announced by the Labor Party.

The NDIS was designed to make the system better so that it improved the lives of those living with a disability in Australia. When it was made law, Labor ensured that it was fully funded. We made sure that, in the budget after it was announced and during the announcement period, we fully funded the National Disability Insurance Scheme to the year 2023. Now, many have asked how we funded that. It's all there in the budget papers from the year in which it was established. It included increases to the Medicare levy, it included a contribution from the states and territories, it included changes to fringe benefit tax arrangements, it included increases in the tobacco excise and it included changes to things like import processing charges to raise additional revenue in the budget. It was signed off by Treasury as fully funded and met the commitments of the NDIS through to the period of 2023. So the claim by the Turnbull government that the NDIS was not funded when it was originally proposed by Labor is a furphy. It's simply not true. It's all there in the budget papers from that year, endorsed by Treasury.

To ensure that we on this side were on the money when it came to the proposed funding, we didn't roll the scheme out immediately. We trialled it in several local communities before it was rolled out across the nation. One of those trial sites was in the Hunter region in the state of New South Wales, where it worked very well. It met the guidelines and the budget proposals that were proposed by the Labor government, so that indicated that we were spot on the money when it came to the budget costings that Labor had prepared in ensuring that we were fully funding the NDIS.

When the Abbott government were elected, they began to undermine this notion that the NDIS was fully funded, and we began to seek leaks to conservative media outlets beginning the undercurrent and theme that I mentioned earlier that the NDIS was too costly and couldn't be properly funded. That undercurrent did not align with what Labor had established when we were in government. The reason why the Abbott government began that undercurrent and that theme of underfunding and the reason why they couldn't properly fund the NDIS was that they didn't adopt the budget savings measures that Labor had proposed in the budget when we established the NDIS. They didn't adopt a lot of those savings measures, so is it any wonder there's a funding shortfall when it comes to properly funding the National Disability Insurance Scheme?

At the moment it's proposed that the funding shortfall is in the nature of $4 billion from 2019 onwards, when the NDIS is fully operational in Australia. We could go on forever about who's to blame for this, but that's not going to help people living with disability in Australia at the moment who are facing the prospect of coming onto the NDIS —or, indeed, their families and their carers. They really just want the parliament to sort out the mess and ensure that the scheme that was established works properly. And if there is anything that we can do as a parliament, that we should be able to overcome party differences on, it is on something like this.

I have had cause to meet with many in my community, the community of Kingsford Smith, over recent weeks who've had some difficulties with the National Disability Insurance Agency and the plans that are being put in place for people living with disabilities in our communities. I've sat down with many, many parents who are facing the anxiety and the terrifying thought that their kids won't get the coverage and the support that they need to be able to participate in society. And the promise that was made by both Labor and the coalition was that no-one should go backwards when it comes to this, that all of the supports that are there at the moment should be properly funded and covered by the NDIS. But, having spoken to a number of people living with disabilities in the community I represent, I can tell you that's not the case at the moment unfortunately.

I met with several parents of kids with disabilities who have a terrible anxiety at the moment that the plans that have been drafted for their kids don't adequately meet the current coverage that they have in terms of support services. They're really worried that their kids are going to regress, that they won't be able to participate in their communities. When you're talking about a mother who's just gone back to work because her son who is living with autism has been able to participate in the community because of the support that he's getting, and that support faces the prospect of being removed because it's not properly funded in the plan that's been put together for him, then I can certainly understand their anxiety and their concern. Having the NDIS say, 'Okay, we'll review the situation, but it'll take us two months to review it,' quite simply is not good enough. It's not good enough and it's not the proposal of the parliament by which this was established or the intent of how it was meant to work—the intent of both sides of the parliament, I might add.

So the issue becomes how do we fix the problem? Definitely additional resources are needed. We all recognise that. The government's got a proposal; we've got a different proposal. And through these, we get a good insight into the different philosophies of the major parties in how they come up with providing adequate social services in our community, particularly for those living with disability. The Labor approach has always been one of a progressive taxation system, that those who have the capacity to pay should contribute a bit more than those on lower incomes. We see that through a progressive income tax system. We see that through a fair dinkum company tax system. We see that through our proposal to reduce concessions for negative gearing and capital gains tax discounts, ensuring that there's a safety net of services there that we can provide for people who live with disability or are pensioners in our community.

The Liberal Party and the National Party philosophy is a different one. Their philosophy is one that's colloquially known as 'trickle-down economics': the notion that if you provide tax cuts for the wealthiest and biggest corporations in our community, then they will earn more profit and that will trickle down to those that are in lower socioeconomic positions within society. The problem with that philosophy is that it simply doesn't work. It does not work, and history has shown that. The greatest example of the fact that it does not work is the United States of America. If you look at the incomes, the real incomes, of middle-class Americans, they have not increased since the 1970s. There's been no increase in the middle incomes of people living in America since the 1970s, and there's certainly no prospect of that increasing under the Trump administration. We take a different approach, obviously, but that philosophy of trickle-down economics is what we see here in this bill. It's the philosophy of the Liberal and National parties and the typical conservative approach to economics that we see internationally being implemented in this bill, because the majority of the burden from the increase in the Medicare levy will be borne by low- to middle-income Australians.

The effect of this bill is to increase the Medicare levy from two to 2½ per cent of taxable income from 2019-20 and beyond. Some would say this is reasonable given that this is what Labor did when we were in government, but you need to put it in context and look at what the government is doing in a number of other areas to see that what they're proposing here is unfair. Labor has a different approach.

The government is, of course, providing tax cuts for multinational corporations. The biggest, largest multinational corporations, including the banks and some of those big IT companies like Google and Apple, will get a tax cut under this government's proposal, and it's to the tune of $60 billion over 10 years. The government is proposing to continue negative gearing and capital gains discounts which benefit the top 10 per cent of income earners. Fifty per cent of the benefits of negative gearing goes to the top 10 per cent of income earners, and 70 per cent of the benefits of the capital gains tax discount go to the top 10 per cent of income earners. They have abolished the budget repair levy in their budget papers. They support cuts to penalty rates for people who work on weekends in the hospitality industry, and many on that side of the parliament are cheering on the fact that this will flow on to other areas of the economy through the award system. We've seen massive increases to private health insurance premiums and increases to energy costs at the same time as they're removing the pensioner supplement for energy in this country, all resulting in stagnant real wages. Similarly to the United States, the phenomenon is occurring in Australia at the moment for working-class people.

So that's the theme of the Turnbull government's approach to tax reform. The result is that in the budget, if you're a millionaire, you get a $16,000 tax cut, but, if you're on the average income of about $75,000 a year, you pay an additional $350 a year in tax. Labor thinks that that's unfair and inefficient. That's why our approach is to increase the Medicare levy, when it comes to the National Disability Insurance Scheme, only for those people who are on more than $87,000 a year, and we will keep the budget repair levy in place. Our system raises an additional $4.8 billion over the course of the next decade, so we achieve a better result than the government in fully funding the National Disability Insurance Scheme. But, once again, there is a different philosophy. We don't seek to take that money off low- to middle-income families. We ensure that the progressive nature of the tax system works well and funds the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

In conclusion, Labor is committed to fully funding the National Disability Insurance Scheme, but we want to make sure that this important reform is done in a manner that is fair by increasing the Medicare levy on those above $87,000 a year.

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