SPEECH TO THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES: GOVERNMENT'S BACKFLIP ON ENERGY ASSISTANCE

GOVERNMENT’S BACKFLIP ON ENERGY ASSISTANCE

HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, CANBERRA

WEDNESDAY, 3 APRIL 2019
 

I have great pleasure in seconding this motion. The Treasurer is no Angus Young, and AC/DC would be absolutely mortified that they use that song. Not only do we have cuts, not only do we have chaos, but we actually have confusion, and the new thing is that we have copycats. We have copycats. Yesterday, when I circulated a second reading amendment for this bill to the crossbench proposing the government should expand the payment to those on Newstart, youth allowance and other payments, I never in my wildest dreams anticipated it would be so successful so quickly. Labor called on the government to extend the one-off payment to other people on means-tested income support, including ABSTUDY, Austudy, double orphan payments, Newstart allowance, parenting payments, partner allowance, sickness allowance, special benefits, widow allowance, wife pension, youth allowance and veterans payments. That's quite a lot to forget, don't you think?

But it seems that even the Treasurer was taken by surprise. When asked directly on 9 News last night about extending the payment to people on Newstart, he didn't say yes. This is what the Treasurer said: 'Well, Newstart does go up twice a year, when it is indexed. But, importantly, the majority of people on Newstart move off Newstart within 12 months. They hopefully go into work, and many have been doing that.' But it was a totally different script this morning. The Treasurer this morning told ABC, 'Well, a couple of things. Firstly, the energy supplement will be extended to people on Newstart.' That was a change from last night. Sabra Lane then asked, 'It will be?' and the Treasurer said 'It will be.' That's a bit of a change. How quickly things have unravelled—the unravelled budget. It is chaos, it is confusion and now you are copycats. It is a desperate tone from a desperate government and Australia will see through it. $75, six weeks out from an election, will not undo six years of cuts and cruelty. Labor moved to see this payment extended because there is no good reason for people on these payments to be excluded.

Finally, within in a bit more than 12 hours—not 24 and not 48—the government realised that they had forgotten quite a few people on several payments. These people face the same costs of living and in many cases they are in fact on lower payments, yet you, in your cruelty, forgot to add them into the energy payment. While Labor supports this payment, make no mistake that after six years of chaos and cruel cuts the Australian people will see right through this cynical and desperate attempt from this government to save its own skin. That's what this is about—saving your own skin. This government must take the Australian people for fools. Well, they are not fools. This incompetence—the fact that within 12 hours there has been a complete unravelling of this budget. There is an $80 million black hole. We are seeing the stature of this government.

While I am on my feet, let me address one other thing: the NDIS underspend. Let us remember that this is about building a surplus on the back of people with disability—$1.6 billion off people who can't use their plans. $1.6 billion off people on disability, people who are disabled. You are building a surplus on that. How cynical. How outrageous. Do you really think people with disability, their advocates and the broader Australian community are going to cop that rubbish? No, they will not. I think we are seeing that very clearly this morning. We are seeing a government that forgot a whole bunch of people and this morning is copying what Labor was going to do. It is just a cynical, outrageous act from this government. The bottom line is that Australians with disability are the ones who are going to pay for Prime Minister Morrison to bolster his books.

UNVEILING OF THE HISTORIC MEMORIALS COLLECTION PORTRAIT OF HON LINDA BURNEY MP

Can I firstly thank Aunty Matilda, Lynette and Ann for that wonderful welcome to country, and beautiful words that you have said about me, and the significance of this moment.
 
Can I thank the Speaker – the Hon. Tony Smith for being here, and for your forbearance with me – it’s a fine thing  - and I promise I will continue in the way that I have conducted myself in the past two years! But I am really thrilled that you’re here.
 
Can I also acknowledge Scott Ryan - I am not sure if he’s been able to make it - the Senate President.
 
Thank you Bill for your words, and for being here, and being part of this launch. I’d also like to recognise you Tanya for being here, and providing such wonderful leadership - particularly as a role model for women, in this Parliament. Thank you Anthony for coming.
 
And all my colleagues, both Federal and State. I know that Meredith is here, and Kayee Griffin, who I served with, and Jo Haylen in the State Parliament. And my federal colleagues, I am absolutely thrilled that you’re here, it means so much to me, along with very special mentions, Patrick, Malarndirri – I know you’re busy in your house this morning, but it’s really special for you.
 
To my many friends – personal friends that have come today – thank you for coming. And some of you have travelled such a long, long way.
 
I want to especially mention my staff, and in particular Mark Boyd, who is a bit bald, but he’s a bit balder now after this – so thank you Mark for all the work that you have done, and for all my staff as well.
 
Thank you Kim for coming, my sister – you’ve gotten up very early, and of course Justine and everyone from the Parliamentary Services that made this happen.
 
And most particular Jude, thank you for your kindness, for your carefulness, and for I think capturing the essence of this Wirrajiri girl – so thank you very much.
 
Everyone, my comments are brief, but I’d like to just share with you.
 
This portrait has been a huge effort for many people. As I said, in particular thank Jude for this beautiful portrait – for her dedication, her vision, and for sharing with us your talent. And for capturing the subject I think very very well.
 
The painting of a portrait, everyone, is such an intimate exercise, and I thank you for the care and sensitivity that’s been displayed with you all being here today.
 
I want to thank the Parliament for affording me this honour – a truly humbling experience – of having this portrait included in the Historic Memorial Collection.
 
Beyond housing portraits of our Governors General, Prime Ministers, Senate Presidents and House Speakers, it is a particular privilege however, to have this portrait join a gallery of firsts. Dame Enid Lyons, the first female parliamentarian, and of course Senator Neville Bonner, the first Indigenous parliamentarian. 
 
On this occasion, the Historic Memorials Commission saw fit to commission a portrait of the first Indigenous woman elected to the House of Representatives – I can’t remember her name, but she is around I think.
 
I am humbled because I am reminded that we all serve in this place, and we enter this place having been lifted up on the shoulders of many others.
 
This is not just about the portrait of me, this is about those who have come before me, and those that will come after.
 
This is about all of us – and I want to really stress that – it is all about all of us. There is a little bit of all of us in this painting. It is also about those who were generous with their time, and those whose sacrifices have gone unsung and unannounced.
 
But in my heart and mind, everyone here has helped build this subject. Whether you’re a Parliamentarian, a friend, a colleague, someone that works here in the Parliament, I know many of you here because you see this as a historic occasion.
 
It is an honour to serve. We say that often, but we all know it truly is. There is something beyond oneself in that service. 
 
I am constantly reminded about the significance of the election of the first Indigenous woman to the House of Representatives – young men and women from both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal and backgrounds understand what that election means to – because they tell me so - that it’s been important for them  - and that of course is extraordinarily generous.
 
This portrait is about First Nations Women. It is about First Nations People , but as I said there’s a little bit of all of us in it.
 
And in turn, I am driven in this place and energised by my work – of what young people - women and men –say to me.
 
I am grateful and honoured to have the Honourable Jenny Macklin unveil this portrait – and I thank her. I have known Jenny – I’ve said 20 years – but I think it’s probably longer.
 
She has been a source of wisdom, support and guidance, and full of generosity. Thank you Jenny, a true friend and colleague.
 
And as I consider all of you in this room – no matter what side of politics, not matter from what place you came, a true love to you all, a true friendship to you all, and a great collegiality.
 
I am extraordinarily proud to be here, and completely moved by this occasion. Thank you all so much.

SPEECH TO THE 48TH NATIONAL CONFERENCE OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY

A FAIR GO FOR ALL

***CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY***
 

I acknowledge the Kaurna people as the traditional custodians of the Adelaide region and that their cultural and heritage beliefs are still as important to the living Kaurna people today.
 
Delegates, I am proud and honoured to introduce Chapter 9 – A Fair Go For All.
 
This is a comprehensive and inclusive chapter – the result of the hard work, dedication and collaboration of the rank and file of our party, the industrial wing – as well as advocates from the community.
 
It reflects the passion and aspiration of our movement for fairness – the notion that all Australians are given the opportunity to participate to their fullest potential. 
 
Things in life aren’t always easy.
  
It’s part of the human experience to face illness, disability, unemployment, to have children, to become a carer, to age and to pass.
 
The fair go is a deeply held Australian value.
 
It goes to the heart of Labor’s agenda. It is so much of what sets us apart.
 
And it is our social security system that plays the biggest role in ensuring Australians get a fair go when they need it most.
 
Because we are all in this together – and we all have a responsibility, collectively, to each other.
 
This includes Australians who are looking for work.
 
I won’t mince words. The rate of Newstart is too low.
 
It’s a cause of poverty, social isolation and hardship.
 
It’s so low that it’s a barrier for jobseekers trying to find work – people are struggling to get to interviews and to buy the clothes they need.
 
That’s why Labor will urgently conduct a proper review of Newstart and associated payments and supports like Youth Allowance.
 
It’s important we have a proper process – and build the case for change with the broader community.
 
We need to make sure the changes most effectively benefit the people who need it most.
 
This is the approach Labor took when we increased the pension.
 
We consulted fully, carefully designed a response, and paid for it in the budget.
 
As a result, we delivered the biggest increase in the history of the pension, lifted people out of poverty, and put in place fair indexation to make sure the pension keeps up with the cost of living and wages.
 
That is how you deliver real change.
 
In opposition, Labor has defended fairness, and on many, many occasions we have won.
 
Reflect on this – if we hadn’t won these fights – which were spearheaded by Jenny Macklin, we would have:
 

  • A pension age of 70 and locked in one of the oldest in the developed world;

  • The Energy Supplement would have been cut to new pensioners; and

  • Changes to pension indexation that would leave pensioners $80 a week worse off would be locked in.


Labor established the NDIS. It’s a proud Labor legacy.

But with five ministers in five years, and serious implementation issues, it is abundantly clear the Liberals really don’t care about what happens to the Scheme.

Their hearts simply aren’t in it.

The turn-over of ministers has been so frequent, I struggle to remember their names.

People are stuck in hospital because plans aren’t in place or services simply aren’t there.

Families are regularly waiting months and months for early intervention for children – undermining one of the most fundamental elements of the NDIS.

People can’t see a printed copy of their draft plan.

And it is taking far too long for planning issues to be fixed.

The NDIS promised improvement – with new and better ways of enabling the accessibility and inclusion people with disability deserve in every element of life.

But as it stands, too many people are being left utterly frustrated by their experience of the NDIS.

Labor will work every day to get the NDIS back on track.

We want to deliver on the promise of the NDIS.

Labor will put Australians with disability back at the heart of the NDIS.

We will improve the planning process and cut down on red tape and bureaucracy.

We will work with the states and territories to stop people falling between the cracks in the health, justice and education systems.

We will tackle the long waiting times and delays head-on.

We will get rid of the NDIA staffing cap so the agency has the resources it needs.

And importantly we will value advocacy and the voice of people with disability.

Because Labor knows that real disability reform is not just about supports and services, but about accessibility and inclusion in every part of life.

We also know that without fair pay, good jobs and better training – we simply won’t have the workforce we need to deliver the NDIS.

And I want to acknowledge the thousands of people who work in the NDIS – you do important work and you are driven by Labor values.

Labor understands that the implementation of the NDIS needs to better value workers – and we will deliver on that.

I also acknowledge this chapter covers issues of migration policy.

And I also anticipate some very important amendments in relation to the Uluru Statement from the Heart.

Delegates, in closing, this Chapter builds on the work of previous Labor governments.

The ideas and directions outlined here will make Australia better and fairer.

I want to thank all who have been involved – and I commend this chapter to conference.

SPEECH TO THE NATIONAL DISABILITY SERVICES CONFERENCE

It really is a great pleasure to be here today –

To be among friends whose work is driven by their values.

I want to start by congratulating Chris Tanti, your new CEO, on his appointment.

Chris, you have taken charge of an important organisation at a time of great change.

I have every confidence you will be able to seize the opportunities, confront the challenges and advocate strongly on behalf of the sector –

Just as Ken Baker has done for 18 years.

Today I also want to pay tribute to Ken’s service.

Through your leadership, you have made a very significant contribution to the sector and to national policy development.

I wasn’t in the federal parliament at the time – but I know you played a critical role in campaigning for the NDIS.

Working with Jenny Macklin and so many others from across the sector to campaign for long-term improvement to the old, broken system of disability supports.

Thank you. I know your expertise and experience will be missed.

And I join with everyone here today in wishing you the very best for the future.

I also acknowledge Jenny Macklin, who has worked so tirelessly on Labor policy for over two decades – with compassion and effectiveness.

As you know, she will retire from the Parliament at the next election. She has left very big shoes to fill.

I don’t want to speak for too long today – because I want to allow time hear from you.

My appointment to this portfolio is still relatively recent and in my short time, I have already seen two ministers opposite – and you have seen five in as many years!

I will work towards a strong relationship with the sector, and while we might not always agree, I can tell you that I value your experience and insights.

I also want to assure you that advocacy is something I think is critically important – and something Labor values.

Advocacy is vital for good policy development and essential for effective implementation.

It’s not something government should be afraid of – quite the opposite.

NDS, along with people with disability, representative organisations, families, carers, the workforce and others –

All have an important role to play as advocates in improving the roll-out of the NDIS.

The NDIS has now been up and running in some areas for more than five years.

Over 63,000 people who were not previously receiving support now have access to the NDIS.

For many people it is changing their lives.

And for many, the scheme is working well.

In the NDS Report today Monique Cardon from Fairhaven has outlined just two such examples.

In one instance a man from Point Clare was able to access Co-ordination of Support money to get his forklift licence.

He already knew how to drive a forklift –

And, because of the NDIS, he was able to get support to have the questions on the drivers licence test properly communicated to him.

The second case was similar –

With support through the NDIS a man from Tuggerah was able to organise driving lessons, and support for a drivers licence test.

He is now on his Ps.

Every day, the NDIS is giving many Australians more choice, more control and more options in their lives.

There is strong support across the parliament and in the community for the NDIS – and there is enormous dedication to making it work.

That is something we all have a responsibility to maintain.

But we also have a responsibility to work together and address the very serious issues facing the scheme’s roll out.

For many Members of Parliament that I speak to, difficulties with the NDIS are the number one issue people contact our offices about.

It’s not hard data or robust empirical research.

But it’s a very good indication of what is going on for people in the community.

Your organisations are of course experiencing these issues first-hand, and that is reflected in the results of the NDS Report which has been released today.

Three in four providers have indicated that NDIS systems and processes are not working well.

And 80 per cent of you think the NDIS policy environment is uncertain.

Transition problems are to be expected for a scheme of this size, but much more needs to be done to build trust and genuine partnerships with your organisations.

It will not be possible to deliver on the promise of the NDIS in the long term without a viable, sustainable and innovative sector.

If Labor is fortunate enough to be elected at the next election, fixing the NDIS will be a critical priority.

There are several key issues I think need to be addressed as a matter of urgency.

Almost everyone I speak to about the NDIS is frazzled by their experience dealing with the scheme.

It has become bogged down in bureaucracy, red tape and complexity.

Problems have been papered over with layers and layers of bureaucracy.

This is driving people with disability and their families to distraction.

NDIA staff are working hard every day – but in many cases their hands are tied by rigid systems and processes.

While there are some signs of improvement, it is still too hard for people to get clear and consistent answers to fundamental questions about how the scheme will work for them –

To speak to decision makers –

Or even comment on a copy of their plan before it is finalised.

And when mistakes are made – as they inevitably will be – it can be difficult to get them fixed.

Reviews can take months.

Recently a parent of a terminally ill baby with a degenerative condition had Registered Nurse support suddenly withdrawn at an unscheduled review.

The baby’s mother raised the issue as a matter of urgency with the hospital, and with the NDIA – but to no avail.

It was not until this case was brought up in Senate Estimates that the required supports, which were incorrectly removed from the plan, were re-instated.

It should not be this hard to get a simple omission in the planning process fixed.

And when this occurs – it is your services that are left to deal with the confusion and service gaps.

Of course, many of the NDIA service issues relate to the unnecessary staff cap that was placed on the agency in the 2014 Horror Budget.

There simply are not enough staff to do the work that is needed.

The Productivity Commission recognised this – and Labor recognises it too.

Which is why we have committed to removing the staffing cap.

And we will prioritise the work that needs to be done to fix the maligned IT system.

Labor would also work with the sector, advocates and people with disability to reduce red tape and bureaucracy.

Another area that needs improvement is planning.

In recent months the NDIA has trialled a new planning pathway, and the initial feedback is positive. I would be very keen to know what you think.

Further significant improvements in the training of planners and consistency are needed.

I recently met with a man in my electorate office who was recovering from a stroke.

At a planning meeting in hospital he was promised 17 hours of physio per week.

But upon discharge, he discovered his plan only contained funding for 1.5 hours a week. Now he is going through the appeal process.

This isn’t how the planning should work.

Practical changes like doing away with annual reviews for people who don’t need them should be examined.

Along with a bigger role for advocacy.

Including the option for participants to have more choice over who helps them build their plan.

Planning isn’t something that should be done to people with disability.

Building a plan should be done by and with people with disability.

People shouldn’t be told what to do by the Agency or a LAC, people should be supported to find out what is possible –

And then fit it into a plan.

This is critical to achieving the choice and innovation that was promised by the NDIS.

Life is very different in remote parts of Australia.

And I think we also need to acknowledge that an effective NDIS should be delivered very differently in Tennant Creek and Thornbury.

It is a fantasy to think a pure market approach will deliver services in these areas.

Government and the NDIA need to take much more responsibility for correctly identifying disability in remote Australia, particularly in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities –

Bringing people into the scheme –

Working out flexible ways to deliver supports –

And partnering with local communities to build sustainable models of service delivery that are based on local employment and economic development.

This will require careful, long-term workforce planning and the consideration of different funding models. Including block funding and a realistic assessment of costs.

The NDIS is a huge opportunity for jobs and economic development in remote communities – an opportunity we can’t afford to miss.

I am pleased to see that today’s NDS Report has identified this issue – and the need for a different approach in remote areas.

Utilisation rates in the scheme are currently far too low.

For the scheme to date, almost half of all people are using less than 50 per cent of their plans.

This means people are missing out on the supports they need.

And with more people coming into the scheme every week, demand for services will continue to grow.

And it will be a big challenge to meet that demand.

Particularly when we still do not have a comprehensive workforce strategy, or a plan for skills.

And sector stewardship seems to be focused on responding to serious market failure, rather than pro-active planning and capacity building in the first place.

Critically, the right kind of skilled, values-driven and committed workers need to be attracted to the sector.

And this will only be possible if good jobs, with security, training opportunities and decent pay are on offer.

People need to see working in the NDIS as a career, not just another gig on the way to a better job.

They need to be able to get mortgages and plan for the future.

Ensuring good quality jobs is absolutely critical to the success of the NDIS.

Government also needs to do more in partnership with you, to promote the wonderful opportunities on offer – as well as the diversity of roles in the disability sector.

I acknowledge that pricing is the number one operational issue for the sector – it’s very clear in your survey.

And I have spoken to many providers who feel that even after the pricing review and the recent increases in some prices –

That quality is being compromised and the future of some services threatened.

From opposition I can’t commit to specific changes – that is the role of the NDIA and its board at present.

But I can say that that if I have the privilege of serving as Minister I will take a collaborative and consultative approach on pricing.

I recognise that service costs vary across the country, and that Tasmania is very different to Sydney.

It’s important that pricing is guided by ensuring that quality services can be delivered over the long term.

As the roll-out has progressed, there hasn’t been enough attention on the gaps between the NDIS and mainstream services – particularly state health, corrections and education systems.

There are simply too many gaps – and too many arguments over who is responsible.

The Productivity Commission is currently reviewing the National Disability Agreement.

Like you, I am keenly awaiting the findings.

But at this stage I can’t see how interactions with state services, and services for those who are not eligible for the NDIS can be co-ordinated and guaranteed without a new agreement.

Briefly, I would also like to mention Labor’s commitment to a Royal Commission into violence and abuse against people with disability.

We know it will come at a time when people with disability, advocates and the sector are working through the roll-out of the NDIS.

But we must confront issues of violence, abuse and neglect head on

– and make the necessary changes to protect people into the future at the soonest opportunity.

Lastly – and very importantly – I want to reset the relationship with the sector.

Listen to your expertise.

Hear your concerns about the roll-out.

And genuinely partner with you to deliver on the promise of the NDIS for people with disability.

Because you do incredibly valuable work.

And if we work together, every issue I have raised today can be addressed – I am sure of it.

The NDIS is a big, bold reform.

It’s a critical part of our national social infrastructure.

And I am always impressed by the commitment in the sector and the community to making it work.

Australians believe in it – despite the problems with the rollout.

By working together, we can overcome these problems.

None of them are insurmountable.

This is the spirit in which I have offered my comment today.

It’s up to all of us to deliver on the promise of the NDIS.