November 24, 2009
Mr CHESTER (Gippsland) (4.18 pm) — I rise to express my support for the government’s announcement of the Productivity Commission inquiry into disability services and particularly the consideration of the merits of the publicly funded social insurance system to help cover the cost of the care and support of people with a disability.
The level of support for carers and people with a disability was one of the key issues I raised in my first speech. Like many others, I have continued to highlight my concerns in the community in recent months. In addition to improving the level of financial support, we do need to provide better access to health services, particularly in regional areas and particularly for children with disabilities. For example, we know that early intervention will allow children with autism and other special needs to achieve better outcomes, but the lack of availability of allied health services is frustrating the efforts of parents to support their children at this most vulnerable time in their lives.
As children with disabilities get older, many adult carers are faced with uncertainty and a terrible angst about the future of their loved ones. We need to develop a better national system which overcomes the current confusion across state borders and provides certainty for families that their children with disabilities will be cared for throughout their lives. At the moment we leave the older carers in an insidious position where they are not only concerned about their own health but at the same time desperately worried about who will look after their children when they are gone.
The Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities and Children’s Services, Mr Shorten, is someone I have had conversations with and written to on behalf of my community, and I am confident he is working to overcome these issues. He made a speech earlier this year in Western Australia where he highlighted the fact that one in 12 children have a disability—that is 317,900 children with an impairment that could lead to a developmental delay. Another number that the parliamentary secretary referred to is half a million Australians who are primary carers of a person with a disability. These people are saving our nation a king’s ransom but they are paid as absolute paupers in terms of the financial support that we are able to offer them. The current system for looking after people with disabilities is disjointed and is not working. We must consider all the options for improving long-term care and support.
There is no question that it will cost more money, and how we fund the system in the future is a key issue for governments at the state and federal level. The concept of a national disability insurance scheme has been raised in the past, and I support it in principle. It would allow the government to fund a better safety net for people whose lives are affected by disabilities either at birth or acquired through injury or illness at a later stage.
I refer again to some of the comments from the parliamentary secretary in the media today. In the Age he is quoted as saying:
At the moment, if you have a terrible car accident or a workplace injury, there is reasonable coverage under state compensation schemes, but if you are born with a disability or fall off a roof, you are in a very residual system.
We need a sustainable system which isn’t crisis-driven and which can be funded according to the needs of the disabled, not according to the cause of their disability.
In the time that is left I would like to refer to the fact that we simply do not have a consistent definition across state borders of what constitutes a disability, which is adding to the confusion and to the angst of carers in our community.