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Second Reading: National Disability Insurance Scheme Amendment (Strengthening Banning Orders) Bill 2020

Ensuring that, as a nation, we care for Australians with disability is one of our most important responsibilities. As a former Assistant Minister for Disability Services, this is a responsibility which is very close to my heart. The NDIS is an incredible scheme, unlike anything else in the world, but we, as a government and as a nation, have to make sure it continues to operate in the best interests of people with disability at all times. The National Disability Insurance Scheme Amendment (Strengthening Banning Orders) Bill 2020 is another critical step in protecting those with a disability in our community. We’ve heard in this debate some shocking stories of people with disability who have died as a result of horrific neglect, including Ann-Marie Smith.

It is incomprehensible to imagine that Ann-Marie Smith was left in her woven cane chair, dying from septic shock, multi-organ failure, severe pressure sores, malnutrition and issues connected with her cerebral palsy. She was given no nutritional food and suffered from very poor personal hygiene—and that’s being kind, I have to say. The 68-year-old woman who cared for Ms Smith has been charged with her manslaughter. I note that the coronial and criminal investigation into this death is continuing, and I will be circumspect in what I say because of that. The criminal law has stepped in now and has charged the carer of Ann-Marie Smith. It is reprehensible to consider that people with disability are subjected to abuse, neglect and horrendous treatment like that which Ann-Marie Smith suffered. That is precisely why the Morrison government has initiated the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability.

In relation to the further issues that have been raised by Senator Griff in particular, I want to say that our work is not done. We await what we expect will be very comprehensive recommendations from the Royal Commission about the further action that our government needs to take to protect people with disability. The NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission does play a very important role in protecting people with disability by ensuring that they have the very best of care, support and respect. Of course, we know that the commissioner has the power to make a banning order to prevent a provider or a worker from providing any NDIS supports or services. But the powers of the commissioner do not currently extend to making a banning order against a former employee of an NDIS provider, including someone who may have been terminated as a result of their horrendous conduct against a person or persons with disability. Currently also, the NDIS commissioner does not have the power to impose a banning order against a provider that has left the sector.

This includes providers that may have closed down their operations as a result of grievous conduct—including, of course, violence, abuse, neglect or exploitation against persons with a disability—so as to avoid a banning order being made against them. So this bill is a very important initiative in that it fixes this to ensure the NDIS commissioner has the power to make a banning order, even if the employer or provider has left the NDIS. The bill also provides that the commissioner has the power to make a pre-emptive banning order against a person or provider identified as unsuitable to work in the disability sector as a result of their actions in other sectors, such as aged care or child care.

Importantly, these amendments also compel the NDIS commissioner to publish details of every banning order on the NDIS provider register. This is a very important measure and is why the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights, which I chair, rejected the legal advice provided to the committee and found that, despite the privacy issues, this measure—the publication of banning orders—was a very, very important measure and was in the context of human rights law a permissible limitation in that it was reasonable, necessary and proportionate.

The Morrison government is implementing the most substantial package of reforms to the NDIS since its establishment, whilst continuing to deliver very significant and immediate improvements to the NDIS. We now have more than 400,000 participants in this world-leading scheme—an increase of approximately 100,000 participants over the past 12 months—and 175,000 people, a compelling figure, are receiving supports under the scheme for the very first time. The NDIS is a scheme of which we should all be mightily proud. It was initiated with bipartisan support.

As has been made very clear, the NDIS is demand driven and fully funded, so I want to take issue, obviously, with the misrepresentation made by Senator Bilyk in her contribution. As part of the 2020 budget, the government has announced a further $3.9 billion for the NDIS over the forward estimates to reflect demand for the NDIS into the future, which will see an increase of 14.5 per cent in NDIS funding between 2020-21 and 2021-22.

This bill is another important reform for the NDIS, a world-leading scheme. It reflects the very important responsibility that we as a government have to protect people with disability. I commend the bill to the Senate.

12 November 2020

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