MR ENTSCH: I rise to speak on the National Disability Insurance Scheme Amendment (Improving Supports for At Risk Participants) Bill 2021.
There’s absolutely no doubt that the National Disability Insurance Scheme has helped and assisted many thousands of Australians, including many of those living in Cairns and in Far North Queensland in my region.
It has profoundly improved the lives of people with disability and their families.
The NDIS, of course, provides all Australians under the age of 65 with a permanent and significant disability with the reasonable and necessary supports they need to live a better life.
Previously, as I’m sure you’d be well aware, Deputy Speaker Freelander, the way of delivering services to people with disability in Australia was one where, generally, they had to fit in with whatever the system had to offer.
In fact, in many cases, we saw round pegs trying to be driven into square holes.
It just didn’t work, and the services that were delivered were, in many cases, far from adequate.
Of course this resulted in limited choice and control for people with disability in how and when their supports and services were to be delivered.
The NDIS replaced that system with one that maximises people’s independence and capacity to participate in and contribute to their community.
But it’s important to remember that the NDIS is about more than just individual plans.
The NDIS is about community inclusion, making sure people with disability have the skills, confidence and information they need to get involved in the community, and about building the capacity of the community to include people with disability.
In my electorate, like all others, there are many service providers who do an amazing job in this space.
But it’s the individuals who work inside these services that are the true heroes, in my eyes.
No doubt that everyone here will attest, too, that the NDIS has certainly been worth it and is changing lives.
It is something that, collectively as a nation, we can all be extremely proud of.
The Morrison government considers any abuse, neglect or exploitation of any National Disability Insurance Scheme participant to be abhorrent.
We are absolutely committed to improving the quality and safeguards in place and to protecting NDIS participants from harm.
This bill strengthens the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commissioner’s powers to improve support for NDIS participants.
It also builds on actions already taken by the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission in response to the review by the Hon. Alan Robertson SC.
The Robertson review was commissioned by the NDIS commissioner to examine the adequacy of the regulation of the NDIS services provided to Ms Ann-Marie Smith, a NDIS participant who died tragically and absolutely needlessly in April 2020.
The Robertson review made a number of recommendations to improve the NDIS quality and safeguards arrangements for at-risk participants.
This bill addresses important recommendations on information sharing and reportable incidents.
It also provides for improved information sharing between the NDIS commission and the National Disability Insurance Agency to better protect people with disability.
Currently, present clauses in the NDIS establish a relatively high threshold for sharing information.
This can at times be quite problematic.
This bill enacts less restrictive thresholds, in recognition of the Robertson review recommendations.
The NDIS market, as we know, is diverse, including not-for-profit organisations, very large private companies and individuals running their own businesses.
In my case I’ve had some of the not-for-profit organisations provide so much amazing service in the area of people with disability.
It’s great to see them continuing in the area.
With the adaption of the NDIS we saw a lot of big national companies attracted to my area, but I think it’s very important we continue to support those small not-for-profits that have provided such an outstanding service in our communities for such extended periods of time.
Of the clients they service, they’ve got the credibility and the understanding of the communities they work in.
I think it’s absolutely important that we make sure that we don’t lose those small not-for-profits, because, at the end of the day, they’re the ones that will continue to persevere and remain in our communities long after the big national companies have packed up and gone off looking for greener fields.
The NDIS Act recognises this by placing obligations on providers and workers and anyone else otherwise engaged by the provider.
However, there is a concern that this definition is not broad enough to cover the range of potential governance arrangements.
For the avoidance of doubt, the bill ensures obligations and regulatory responses also for the key personnel of a provider, which can include the CEO, the board of directors and any other relevant personnel.
While the NDIS Act gives the commissioner the power to ban an NDIS provider or worker on the grounds that they are not suitable to deliver NDIS services or support, it does not presently set out how suitability is determined for the banning orders.
It’s very important that we look at this very closely because we see a lot of backyard providers coming in and they don’t have the qualifications or the accreditation.
It really is an area of concern.
We need to make sure that the participants are not exploited and that the individuals who are going to provide the services, irrespective of their circumstances, are appropriately qualified.
While the NDIS Act gives permission to ban an NDIS provider on the grounds that they are not suitable to deliver NDIS services or support, it does not, as I said, presently set out suitability and the determination for banning orders.
The bill provides the power for commissioners to make rules in relation to suitability for that purpose, which is very important, aligning with existing provisions in relation to provider registrations.
The onus is on this House to strengthen legislation that actually protects our most vulnerable.
The government is absolutely committed and continues to consider ways to support people with disability to live life free from violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation.
This bill will certainly improve protections for NDIS participants, including those who have a greater risk of harm.
Also, it will strengthen the operational effectiveness of the NDIS commission.
I commend the bill to the House.