Ms Bird (Cunningham) (19:40): There has been much commentary today around the government's promised surplus. In fact, one would increasingly have to call it the surplus that dare not speak its name anymore. After handing down six budgets, all deficits, the government have now resorted to desperate measures to try and continue the fairytale that they are good economic managers. One of the measures that this government has resorted to in desperation—in order to try to hide that economic mismanagement—is to withhold funding from some of the most vulnerable people in our community: people with disabilities.
'Money that is unspent at present is offsetting the Commonwealth budget's position and the NDIS should never be used as a budget measure—whilst we aren't sure this is the intention, it is a fact.' Those are not my words. They are the words of the Hon. Gareth Ward MP, state member for Kiama and New South Wales Liberal disability minister, in conjunction with his Victorian ministerial counterpart in a letter in which they accuse the federal government of 'prioritising a budget surplus over people with a disability by refusing to release $1.6 billion in critical unspent NDIS funding'. In The Sydney Morning Herald last Friday we saw both ministers, a Liberal state minister and a Labor state minister, demanding that this $1.16 billion in critical funding be released 'immediately'.
Gareth Ward, a state member in my regional area, is a minister in a Liberal government. But he became so frustrated and distraught by the way this government operates—like so many of my other constituents—that, as written in the letter, he has been trying to engage with his Liberal federal colleague, the Minister for the NDIS, and the minister's officials since before October last year, and he says there is still 'no formal proposal for agreement'.
This government should not be relying on ripping off vulnerable people to try and cover up its economic incompetency. Over the past few years I have heard story after story of families and carers of people with a disability having to fight for months and, sadly, sometimes years to access the services and equipment they need and—more than need—that they are entitled to. They've struggled to obtain the equipment they need in order to live full and productive lives. These families have enough on their plate and should not have to fight for years to obtain the services they need to remain in the workforce or to care for their family members with disabilities. I have watched my staff, all of them, lobbying hard on so many cases—despite the many obstacles they face—on behalf of these constituents.
One recent case was where a constituent applied for early intervention access to the NDIS for her son. NDIA rejected the application, saying that he did not meet the disability requirements. They asked for a review, and it turned out he did meet access requirements. While this review was quicker than had normally been the case, it was still a tremendous stress and hassle for this family to go through. The process involves getting new doctors' letters and all that sort of documentation, and it caused a great deal of stress. In another case, a constituent applied for access in October 2019, did not hear anything and asked us to make inquiries in December. We were advised that access requirements were not met. The constituent was never notified directly. They said they sent out a letter, from the NDIA, but he did not receive it, so he did not know about his appeal rights or the reasons why access requirements were not met. After lots of phone calls, he was finally told that the reason was insufficient detail in some of the reports—which was fine, but, if he'd known earlier, he would have had time to resolve it.
The government say the reason they are using the underspend to prop up their budget surplus is that there is a lack of demand. How anybody who has an electorate office that would deal day in, day out with people seeking to get access to services, assistive technology or house modifications could say there is an under-demand is beyond me.
Watch Sharon’s speech here.