I rise to speak on the National Disability Insurance Scheme Amendment (Strengthening Banning Orders) Bill 2020.
On behalf of the people of Corangamite, I do welcome the introduction of this amendment to the legislation that underpins the National Disability Insurance Scheme. However, it must be said that this amendment is, tragically, too little too late. For countless NDIS participants a lack of safeguards and protections has resulted in significant suffering and death, and this has happened under the Morrison-McCormack government's watch. While this bill will permit a commissioner of the scheme to place a ban on a former employee under the NDIS, this amendment will not bring Ann-Marie Smith back. This system and the Morrison government failed Ms Smith in the most egregious way. The bill will also identify staff that have clearly breached acceptable conduct. But, again, this amendment has been introduced after the horse has bolted. Too many people have suffered. Too many people have died. We need the watchdog to wake up and do its job and protect our most vulnerable.
Ann-Marie was an NDIS participant. She was a 54-year-old Adelaide resident who died earlier this year of severe septic shock, multiple organ failure, pressure sores, malnutrition and issues connected with her cerebral palsy after being confined to a cane chair for more than a year. What a shocking indictment on the Morrison government's inept management of the NDIS system. The minister must take responsibility for this shocking tragedy. To give the provider a banning order and fine them $12,600 is woefully underdone. Is this how much Ann-Marie Smith's life was worth? It is insulting, disrespectful and pathetic.
Ann-Marie Smith is not the only participant who has suffered due to the watchdog's underperformance. David Harris suffered from schizophrenia and diabetes. After being excluded from the NDIS because he missed an annual review, Mr Harris was found dead in his Parramatta home. He had died two months earlier. Another 12,000 Australians with disability have died while waiting to be funded by the scheme. Ann-Marie Smith's death was a tragedy. David Harris' death was a tragedy. They were both preventable. These deaths need to be approached with remorse, reflection and an honest, heartfelt commitment to do things better. The Morrison government must do better.
I acknowledge the government has undertaken an independent investigation into Ann-Marie Smith's death, but this only occurred after the shadow minister and the disability community applied significant pressure. And it should be noted the scope of the review only extended to the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission's regulation. This was far too narrow an investigation. The inquiry should have taken a broader view, including the events leading to David Harris' death and the other victims of insufficient safeguards within the system. A more earnest investigation would include why current monitoring has failed, and what impact $4.6 billion in funding cuts under the Morrison-McCormack government has had on the system's capacity to do its job. The investigator did not have, but should have had, subpoena power to conduct the inquiry.
Former Federal Court Justice Alan Robertson's review into Ms Ann-Marie Smith's death included clear recommendations to improve oversight of the NDIS provision. These included: identification of people with disability who are vulnerable to harm and neglect; a crosscheck of care provision by having more than one carer for vulnerable people; a clear identification of the primary responsible carer of every vulnerable person; a community visit scheme; spot checks; clearer reporting requirements; and better and more communication between state and territory emergency services, the NDIA and the commission. Justice Robertson's report also highlighted an unproductive blame culture between the NDIA and the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission. Importantly, it found that the two agencies are not sharing information, and people can easily fall through the cracks of government bureaucracy. These are clear instructions to this House.
It should not be lost on us that throughout the coronavirus pandemic the commission has only reached out to NDIS participants once. This was in a joint letter only sent to participants early last month. The NDIS joint parliamentary standing committee, of which I'm a member, was very concerned by witness testimony that the NDIS commission was not known to participants and carers that most depend on its work. We cannot be surprised the scheme is not adequately looking after participants, when participants do not know how the safeguards work and who they should turn to when they do have a concern. Even where participants know and engage with the commission, more than one-third of their complaints hit a dead end, without further action. This is the failure of half-measures and a system that does not adequately monitor, evaluate and act on its own failings. The Robertson review has made it clear that the government must reform the functions, powers and capacity of the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission to respond to the concerns and complaints of NDIS participants.
In my own electorate, many carers and people with disabilities have contacted me with their concerns about the NDIS. Because of this, I have formed my own reference group, who come to me regularly to discuss the issues and suggest how we can improve the system. One example is the case of a six-year-old boy with a long and complex medical history who has had issues with the NDIS. He was rejected for respite care twice, even though the NDIA agreed he qualified for support, given his situation. It is now under review, following advocacy from my office. It is still under review, but it should not have to take the intervention of a federal MP for participants to get the help and support they need. This is just one example of a system that has not accurately assessed the needs of participants. The result is ongoing anguish, anxiety and exhaustion for many participants and their families and carers.
It is an unacceptable moral failing for this House to presume that everyone who receives support from the NDIS is in a position to speak out when they need to. The system should be built to help people reach out when they need help, not make it harder for them. It needs clearer inbuilt protections to support our most vulnerable. The Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme has commented that we need the strongest possible protections to be available for participants. The Labor Party couldn't agree more. Australians couldn't agree more. So here's the question: where are the protections? True to form, the Morrison-McCormack government has responded to public outcry with aggressive commentary but little action—all announcement, no delivery. It is not good enough.
Every day, individuals and families in my electorate, who I proudly represent, depend on the National Disability Insurance Scheme. Carers and families do a great job, and I would like to take the time to acknowledge all the carers out there who work so well and so diligently to support people with disability. More than a quarter of a million Australians access the NDIS. It is not good enough to tinker around the edges with amendments to laws that sound well targeted but fail to deliver desperately needed reform. A properly functioning support structure for people with disability is not an add-on; it is not a luxury. It is an investment and it is an absolute necessity to ensure we protect our most vulnerable. We owe it to all Australians to get this system right.Share Tweet