HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, 16 FEBRUARY 2022
I want to talk about the way in which people with disabilities have suffered during the pandemic. Labor introduced the National Disability Insurance Scheme to deliver certainty and security to Australians living with disabilities and to their families.
Yet under this government, rather than providing certainty, the NDIS has seen plans arbitrarily and without clear cause changed.
Last December my constituents Belinda and Hugh Clifford contacted me about their seven-year-old daughter, Ashley, an NDIS participant diagnosed with a rare genetic condition. Ashley's condition causes a range of disabilities that prevent her from functioning independently, including autism and ADHD. Without help and supervision, she can't dress herself, use the bathroom, play or use fine motor skills. In 2021, Ashley's NDIS plan expired and, with no warning to the family, a revised plan was put in place, which cut the majority of her funding. In-class therapists who were assisting Ashley and her teachers at school were removed. Physiotherapy sessions that were helping her with toileting were cancelled. The family had been counting on this support. The Cliffords found themselves having to pay the costs out of pocket. The plan's accompanying report included incorrect information on Ashley's disabilities, diagnoses and educational history.
A few weeks later, Ashley's mum, Belinda, tried to rectify these errors by providing medical records confirming that Ashley's diagnoses had been incorrectly recorded. However, when a third plan for Ashley was put in place, much of that incorrect information remained, and her annual funding was slashed once again, this time by an additional 41 per cent. The Cliffords now receive less NDIS support than ever. To quote Belinda, 'Not only were the therapists supporting Ashley, but they were also putting strategies in place to support the teachers. These supports have been removed, and it is hindering her development, having negative long-term effects for her independent decision-making and capability. Both my husband and I are exhausted physically, mentally and emotionally. We are pouring from an empty bucket.'
We know that the Clifford family isn't alone. NDIS participants are facing arbitrary plan cuts across Australia. The Morrison government encourages them to bring their concern to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, but we know it is costly and that the tribunal is backlogged. Those families need support today. Families relying on the NDIS deserve more than uncertainty, instability and inconsistency.
I have been contacted, too, by others who are concerned about the way in which the National Disability Insurance Scheme is being managed. One provider contacted me and just said to have a look at this picture. They had sent an email requiring an update on a prosthetic payment to the National Disability Insurance Agency in April 2021. They then sent me the next email, which showed a reply being received in November 2021. That's what some of these agencies working with vulnerable people are facing—sending emails in April and receiving a response almost seven months later, in November. It's just not good enough.
Today, the member for Maribyrnong, the shadow minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme and shadow minister for government services, held a disability workers roundtable, drawing together representatives from the Australian Council of Trade Unions, People with Disability, Advocacy for Inclusion, disability workers and support agencies. That roundtable heard that, for people with disabilities, COVID has become an ongoing scary nightmare. They are facing challenges in getting rapid antigen tests, they are facing challenges in getting the booster shot and they are facing challenges in getting appropriate protective equipment.
People with disability, as the member for Maribyrnong pointed out, have effectively been in lockdown since March 2020. And it hasn't stopped. To the extent that there ever was a queue, those with disabilities should be at the front of it. They are some of the most vulnerable people in our community. They need better support. That's to do with how we treat people with disabilities, such as the two cases that I have talked about. But it is also about how we treat disability service providers and the people who work there. We have to ensure that working with people with disabilities is a worthwhile career. My uncle Brian Stebbins spent a career working as a disability support worker. I admire him for the work that he did and for the gallant way in which he respectfully worked with those with disabilities. But when we're underpaying disability support workers, we encourage people in that industry to think of it as a 'just for now' job rather than as a career. We need to ensure that those working with people with disabilities are properly supported so that their work can be an ongoing career through which they can pay a mortgage and raise a family.
Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.