Speeches Chris has made in the Australian Federal Parliament.

Bills - National Disability Insurance Scheme Amendment (Strengthening Banning Orders) Bill 2020 - Second Reading

October 07, 2020

Mr HAYES (Fowler—Chief Opposition Whip) (16:58): I would like to join my colleagues in making a contribution to the National Disability Insurance Scheme Amendment (Strengthening Banning Orders) Bill. I should say from the outset that Labor is supporting the passage of the bill. We certainly welcome the measures in this bill to the extent that they aim to strengthen the powers of the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission. By the way, what is in this bill is not the panacea for issues that confront the NDIS. It doesn't resolve all the problems associated with the administration of the NDIS, but it's certainly another step to rectify some of the ongoing issues and, in this case, problems that have led to drastic and devastating outcomes in the delivery of care itself. We welcome the measures in the bill and, as I say, Labor will be supporting them. Nevertheless, we're not going to let the government simply say, 'This is it.' This is, as I say, just one more step in a long process of rectification. The bill does not even come close to fixing the mess that this government has made in respect of the NDIS, and, to that extent, the NDIS safeguard framework in its ability to prevent abuse.

I noted, as my colleagues have, the words that the Treasurer used last night when he spoke about the NDIS. He said: 'Funding of the NDIS is guaranteed. Government is spending a further $3.9 billion, ensuring that Australians eligible for the NDIS have access to support they need now and into the future.' I would have thought that would've been universally welcome. But those on the opposite benches should recall back to the previous budget. Remember that the government took $4.6 billion out of the NDIS, and not because it wasn't needed to help people with special needs or to assist people with disabilities. It was taken out to prop up a failing budget. It helped improve the budget bottom line. It was a 'book entry', as someone wanted to refer to it. This is money that should've been retained within the system. So I'm not sure that people are going to be on all fours thanking the Treasurer for simply putting some of that money back.

We are talking about the most vulnerable in our community. And it beggars belief that we have a situation where we get step-by-step adjustments when it comes to the administration of the NDIS itself. We have seen 1,200 Australians with a disability tragically die while waiting to be funded under the NDIS—and under this government's watch. This is simply not good enough for the standards of a country such as ours, a developed country and a country, I would have thought, that is made up of members on both sides of the House who have some element of care for such a vulnerable group as those with a disability.

Essentially, this bill makes two fundamental changes to the NDIS Commissioner's ability to make banning orders against a worker. Firstly, it gives the Commissioner the power to issue a banning order against a person who is no longer employed or engaged by the NDIS, and, secondly, it gives the Commissioner the power to make a pre-emptive banning order against a person, whether individual or otherwise, who has been identified as unsuitable to work with people with a disability as a result of their actions in another field, such as in aged care or in child care. On the face of it, that's a good thing: to be proactive and to ensure that people who have such extraordinary responsibilities as carers are people of good character and are competent and committed to the task.

The amendment will also empower the Commissioner to include details of the order, including enough information to identify the person, in the publicly available NDIS provider register. I note that highly sensitive information or details about the nature of the incident that has prompted the response will not be included in the register, because of various privacy issues.

But this bill is a direct response to an actual issue. It's a direct response to the death of Ann-Marie Smith. Mr Deputy Speaker, you'll know this intimately, because it occurred in your state. Ann-Marie Smith was a 54-year-old Adelaide NDIS participant who died on the 6 April from severe septic shock, multiple organ failure, severe pressure sores, malnutrition and other issues connected with her cerebral palsy, after being confined to a cane chair for 24-hours a day for more than a year. I think I probably speak for everyone in this House when I say that, when we read those accounts, none of us could believe this occurred under our collective watch. Why would it? We have an organisation. We have the NDIS. We have a regulatory framework. How did this pass muster? And yet, it did, with deadly consequences.

Ann-Marie Smith's NDIS package included six hours of support per day. Reports said that she only received two hours a day and had not been seen outside her house for years. That should have rung a few alarm bells, I would have thought, particularly for those responsible for overseeing the conduct within the system. Ann-Marie's tragic death is nothing short of unbelievable neglect. If there's one positive out of this dreadful situation, it's that the case has prompted this government to come to terms with the failures of the system and identify the gaps which this bill now seeks to address.

Unfortunately, even with the changes outlined in the bill, the death of Ann-Marie Smith would not have been prevented. This is because the carer was an employee at the time of the abuse. This means there was something else still at play and is yet to be addressed. It goes to the heart of the issue—that is, the failure of the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission to ensure it is monitoring and exercising the punitive powers where appropriate. In other words, it's got to do its job.

We expect those on the Treasury benches to ensure the Commission is sufficiently charged with its legal responsibility to do its job. On the measures in this bill, El Gibbs from People with Disability Australia said:

The recent death of Ann Marie Smith, and other abuse of people with disability, have exposed the many gaps that exist in the current system …

The next steps need to ensure the NDIS Quality and Safeguards commission has the power and resources to proactively investigate the conduct with random spot checks on disability support providers. Essentially, that's the same sort of thing we have demanded and now have in aged care. To that extent, we have random spot checks taking place now. It's absolutely cold comfort to think we were relying on the South Australian Police force to actually do an investigation and eventually lay charges, in relation to manslaughter, against a carer due to criminal neglect that occurred. This is not simply a matter of law enforcement; this is a matter that should not have occurred. We need a system that works and works for people with disability.

The number of times that the commission has used its monitoring powers is not recorded. However, consultation with unions and advocacy groups confirmed that most of the work undertaken by the commission is reactive and focuses on incidents that have already happened. We need to do better than that. Likewise, the Minister has stated there's only been 13 banning orders issued to providers in the last 18 months, despite 1,422 complaints that have been made over the same period. I ask those opposite: if the commission has real regulatory powers and functions, why isn't it overseeing the care of people, and why is it that nothing occurred in looking after the needs of Ann-Marie? This is an indictment not on our system but on the exercise of these regulatory powers. The government must provide answers to these and ensure that there are proper plans in place of what it intends to do to ensure the commission's powers are being used properly and administered appropriately. Everything should be directed to preventing abuse and neglect in the first place. A slap on the wrist is not sufficient. Ann-Marie's service provider received a fine of $12,600 after allowing her carer to neglect her so severely and for so long. That is not satisfactory. It is highly offensive and it is disrespectful to the families who have endured a similar fate. And it is not appropriate to think: 'We have the men and women in blue. They can go out and conduct the investigations and, if they think there is neglect, lay criminal charges.' This is something that we must get on top of, and not just in terms of the bill that's before us. We must do this very, very thoroughly.

The National Disability Insurance Scheme is a vital service. After seven years of Liberal neglect, it has been slashed and mismanaged to such an extent that people are dying of neglect in their own homes. While we are supportive of the amendments in this bill, we call on the Minister and the government to start taking seriously the interests of all Australians, particularly the most vulnerable Australians—those with a disability. Our approach must be focused on ensuring that we never again see a case like what happened to Ann-Marie Smith. All of us in this place have a responsibility to ensure that the kind of system failure that resulted in death by neglected needs doesn't happen again. Government must work beyond the measures of this bill. It owes it to all Australians living with a disability, and their families, to ensure that it is overseeing to the utmost the best system of care that can be provided to vulnerable Australians.

I also note that next week is Carers Week, and I would like to note for the record not only our support but our thanks for carers. The truth of the matter is that carers make an extraordinary difference for the better in our community, and we owe it to them to support them and, above all, to thank them for their service. As a community, we are indebted to them for their efforts.