Last week I visited Rod and Janette Mattingley, and their 25 year old son Thomas, who live in my electorate of Jagajaga.
Thomas has been severely disabled since birth. He has cerebral palsy, epilepsy and scoliosis. Rod and Janette have provided almost constant care for him since birth.
Rod and Janette kindly opened their home to me, and talked me through their days with Thomas and their experiences of the disability service system.
The Productivity Commission’s final report into the long term care and support of Australians with disability, which the Prime Minister released last Wednesday, judged the disability service system to be unfair, underfunded and fragmented.
It’s a judgment that sums up the daily frustrations and inconsistencies that the Mattingleys – and thousands like them – face each day.
The system of disability services in Australia today is letting people down.
This Government asked the Productivity Commission to examine reform of disability support services because we believe that the system we have today is not delivering the kind of care and support Australians expect for people with disability.
The Productivity Commission has recommended a National Disability Insurance Scheme that would entitle all Australians to support in the event of significant disability.
The scheme would provide individually tailored care and support to around 410 000 people with significant disabilities.
It would be accompanied by a National Injury Insurance Scheme to provide no fault insurance for anyone who suffers a catastrophic injury.
The Australian Government shares the vision of the Productivity Commission for a system that provides people with disability with the care and support they need over the course of their lifetime.
We understand that the system needs more funding, and people with disability need more services and support.
We also understand that the system needs a complete transformation to deliver the kind of care and support the community expects for people with disability.
We are acting on both fronts, right away.
We are already doubling Commonwealth funding to the States and Territories, who deliver disability support services.
We have more than tripled the rate of indexation from 1.8 per cent under the previous government to 6.3 per cent today, so that our investment in services grows faster.
We are investing in people with disabilities and those who care for them, by delivering record pension increases to people on the Disability Support Pension and Carer Payment. We have increased the maximum rate by around $128 a fortnight for single pensioners and $116 for couples since September 2009.
To improve access to services for people with disability and to drive reform, including in access to mainstream services like health and education, we have launched a National Disability Strategy, and to support carers and to shine a light on their work, we have recently released a National Carer Strategy.
We are making headway in overhauling key aspects of the Disability Support Pension to better support people with disability into work wherever possible, because we know that many people with disability want to do more.
We are investing $3 billion over the next four years in uncapping access to Disability Employment Services, so people with disability know they can get help to give work a go. Under the previous government, people with disability could wait up to a year for help to get back into work.
We are helping parents of children with disabilities to access early intervention services through the Better Start for Children with Disability program.
Under this program, around 9,000 children with cerebral palsy, Down syndrome and Fragile X syndrome, and sight or hearing impairments will be eligible for up to $12,000 of services under the program over four years.
Since 1 July this year, 725 Australian families have registered for funding for early intervention services through the Better Start program.
Since 2008, more than 12,000 children with autism spectrum disorders have accessed early intervention services through the Helping Children with Autism package.
To meet the need for community-based supported accommodation places for Australians with disability, we have established a new $60 million fund to build up to 150 innovative supported accommodation places.
This builds on the $100 million capital injection we delivered in 2008 to build more than 300 places for people with disability.
These are important investments, and they are being delivered to people with disabilities, their families and carers right now.
But we know we need to do more. That’s why this Government asked the Productivity Commission to undertake this major inquiry.
We know the disability service system won’t be repaired by increases in funding or more services alone, though both are necessary.
People with disability, their families and carers have argued that the system needs a complete overhaul. The Productivity Commission has agreed.
And so do we, the Australian Government.
The disability service system needs a complete overhaul so that it, first and foremost, meets the needs of the individual.
It needs to take an insurance approach, that meets the care and support needs of a person with disability over their lifetime – and not the crisis-driven approach of the past.
The Productivity Commission has set out a clear vision for change.
The Productivity Commission recommends work start right away, with the launch of a scheme in selected sites around the country in mid-2014, and they recommend the progressive roll-out of a National Disability Insurance Scheme to full operation by 2018-19.
The report demonstrates we have a lot of work ahead of us. Under the recently signed National Health Reform Agreement, the states and territories have primary responsibility for the funding and delivery of disability support services.
Reform of the disability service system must therefore be done with the States and Territories.
This Friday, the Prime Minister will ask the Council of Australian Governments to establish a Select Council of Ministers from the Commonwealth, States and Territories to drive disability reform.
We are starting work right away, to lay the foundations for reform and get disability services “NDIS-ready”.
This means working with the states and territories to develop common assessment tools, so people’s eligibility for support can be assessed fairly and consistently, based on their level of need.
It means putting in place service and quality standards, so that people with disability can expect high quality support irrespective of what disability they have or how they acquired it.
It means building workforce capacity so we have more trained staff to support people with disabilities.
And it will include developing rigorous timelines, milestones and benchmarks to support the delivery of these and other essential foundation reforms, and hold governments accountable for progress.
Much of this work has commenced through the National Disability Agreement. But this work must now be accelerated and extended because these, and other matters, are essential foundations for a National Disability Insurance Scheme.
Consistent with the recommendations of the Productivity Commission, we have announced an immediate $10 million to support this technical work.
This is in addition to our increased funding for the states and territories to deliver disability services through the National Disability Agreement.
We have also announced an Advisory Group to work with the Select Council on the design and oversight of activities to build the foundations for reform. This work will be led by Dr Jeff Harmer AO, supported by Mr Bruce Bonyhady AM and Dr Rhonda Galbally AO.
And in response to the Productivity Commission’s recommendations for the states and territories to harmonise their approach to catastrophic injury, the Government will convene a working group led by the Assistant Treasurer to work with State and Territory Governments, lawyers and other stakeholders to progress this element of reform.
Work is already underway.
And it will continue as we lay those foundations which are essential for reform, and are necessary precursors to the launch of a national disability insurance scheme.
Future reform of disability services will require investment from all levels of Government.
And it will require our shared commitment to fundamental reform, a complete overhaul, so that it delivers the kind of care and support we expect for people with disability.
The Australian Government is committed to this reform.
We believe that people like Thomas Mattingley deserve quality care and support, and that people like Rod and Janette Mattingley should be supported, and have certainty, in Thomas’ care.
Jenny Macklin is the Federal Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs