Question Time - Payroll Tax
REGIONAL DISABILITY SERVICES
I direct my question to the Minister for Families, Communities and Disability Services. Since the introduction of the NDIS, providers in regional New South Wales who have historically relied on block grants are struggling to remain viable, and sadly others have shut down. Vulnerable people with disabilities in isolated communities cannot afford to lose the services. I am grateful for his genuine interest in this issue today, so what is the Minister doing to ensure that these vital services can continue?
Mr GARETH WARD (Kiama—Minister for Families, Communities and Disability Services): I start by acknowledging two people, with the indulgence of the House. I acknowledge Scarlett Wakelin from Nowra Anglican College. She is a student doing work experience in my office. I also acknowledge one of my electorate office staff, Anna Watson.
Ms Anna Watson: It is not me.
Mr GARETH WARD: No, you have been working for me for years! A different Anna Watson. Keep it coming, Anna! I acknowledge the member for Barwon for his question and for his genuine interest in disability services as someone who worked in the disability sector prior to coming to this place. I had a wonderful opportunity to spend some time with him in his electorate in August, and we travelled to many of the outstanding services and met some wonderful people. I acknowledge Campbell Quintrell, who is one of the representatives on the NSW Youth Advisory Council, from Broken Hill. We also met someone from Mac River, who had been with Youth Justice NSW but is now back in the community of Broken Hill. We met with Compass Housing Services as well as the Salvation Army, who are offering supports and housing services to people who need them most. We also met family support staff working for organisations like CatholicCare and Mission Australia, who are doing absolutely wonderful work in that part of the world. I thank the member for Barwon for his generous hospitality as part of that visit.
I am proud of the fact that I am the first disabilities Minister to have lived experience of a disability. I am proud of the fact that the Premier has stood strong in support of people with disabilities, as has this entire Parliament and every party from across the political divide, and I thank her for that. As members of the House would be aware, in July we celebrated two years of the National Disability Insurance Scheme. It might interest members to know that we now have 55,000 more people receiving support from the NDIS than ever before. The scheme is, of course, a tremendous reform that gives people choice and control again over their lives. I am so proud of the work that we have been able to do across the political divide to make this historic reform happen.
Is the NDIS perfect? No, it is not. There is still a lot of work to do. But since I have been the disability services Minister, New South Wales has championed reforms at the Disability Reform Council. We have seen changes to the way we support people as they exit health care using complex care pathways. The scheme has also ensured that we have resolved issues around voluntary out-of-home care, offered support for people with Information, Linkages and Capacity Building and aided disability workforce planning. These have all been positive reforms that have been worked on by Ministers from around the country. As a result of the recent review, we will see the Disability Reform Council continuing its work as per the full scheme agreement.
The member for Barwon references issues around thin markets. In parts of New South Wales, and indeed across Australia, there are thin markets or no markets for disability supports. I am proud of the fact that in December last year I argued for a project pilot at Wentworth and Walgett to look at utilisation of people with NDIS support payments and packages. Tragically, in that part of the world we are seeing package utilisation as low as 41 per cent. That money does not just get hived off into State or Federal coffers; it was meant to go into a reserve fund. This comes directly to the point made by the member for Barwon, and I was delighted to meet with workers for Silverlea Early Childhood Services when I joined him in his electorate. We met Silverlea President Mariette Curcuruto, as well as the board, and it was wonderful to see the great work that they were doing. As the member for Barwon referenced, because of the change in funding arrangements that mean funding is now focused on giving individuals choice and control over the use of their packages, arrangements have been changed, particularly in rural and remote Australia. [Extension of time]
It should not matter whether you live in Bronte, Bondi, Bomaderry or Bourke—the whole point of this scheme was to make sure that people with disabilities get the support that they need. I have to be frank with members: At Disability Reform Council meeting after Disability Reform Council meeting, I and other Ministers have raised the reserve fund as an issue because it was meant to have been established on 1 July this year. Minister Stuart Robert was recently on radio in this State describing the $1.7 billion that could be helping people with disabilities to realise their potential and providing vital life-changing support as a rounding error!
[An Opposition member interjected.]
I acknowledge the very disappointing interjection from the member for Canterbury, who should know better having been a shadow Minister, because I joined with a Victorian Labor Minister to write a letter to the Federal Minister telling him what we thought of the lack of a reserve fund. The member for Canterbury should be quiet so that she might learn something. Victorian Minister Luke Donnellan and I wrote to the Federal Minister and expressed that we have a deal with the Commonwealth in relation to that $1.7 billion. It is not a rounding error, it should be an investment in the people who need it, like those who receive the sorts of supports the member references at places like Cafe 64 or Silverlea in his electorate, of which he has been a great supporter. I will continue to raise this issue with colleagues from across the political divide, because the whole point of this scheme was to focus on the people who need support. I know that all too well, as someone who has my own lived experience and my own story to tell. I do not believe when New South Wales has signed up to this historic reform that we should short-change people with disabilities in this State, no matter where they live. The pressure still needs to be applied. I thank my colleagues from every other jurisdiction who want to see this reserve fund established, as it was meant to be established in July of this year. Every day we wait is a day that people with disabilities are being denied the vital supports they need.
It is important that we get the parameters of this fund right so we can continue to drive those life-saving and life-changing reforms for people who, for whatever reason, have not been able to realise their potential in life. We owe that to every citizen of this State. As the Minister for Families, Communities and Disability Services, I am passionate about this issue. I thank all my colleagues and friends in this place for their support and continued efforts in their own electorates to back in this reform and support people with disabilities.