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FAMILY AND COMMUNITY SERVICES LEGISLATION AMENDMENT (DISABILITY REFORM) BILL 2002: Second Reading

Mr CADMAN (Mitchell) (11.07 a.m.) —I begin my remarks on Family and Community Services Legislation Amendment (Disability Reform) Bill 2002 by saying that I am amazed that the previous speaker, the member for Canberra, has not taken the time or the effort when she says she is so concerned about people with disabilities to look at the total package of the provision of personal care and assistance and the extra funding that is offered in this package for disabled people.

It is a thoughtful process that has many facets, but for political purposes the Australian Labor Party is saying, `We are going to reject the lot.' You are not prepared to consider any of it. Mr Deputy Speaker Causley, I was not referring to you. I know that you are a thoughtful, compassionate person and, coming from the area of New South Wales that you do, I know that you would also be concerned, as the government is, about the sudden large increase in the number of people on disability pensions.

We have got a larger number of people on disability pensions in proportion to our population than any other OECD country, so we ought to be having a look at it. We are having a look at it, and this is the proposal to fix it. Patrick McClure in his comments on the budget said that he welcomes the budget and he welcomes the fact that there is a change in the way in which this is being looked at. He did, I admit, say that he wanted to look at the details, and the details are being released by the minister. But let us go back over the record of what used to be called invalid pensions.

The invalid pension was wiped out in 1991 by the Labor government. They were the ones that said, `We're going to have a disabled pension scheme.' These were the rules: impairment of at least 20 per cent against an impairment table. So you had to be impaired in your capacity in some way or another by 20 per cent, or you had to have an inability to work on full award wages for 30 hours per week for the next two years. Those were the rules introduced in 1991. I believe the minister who introduced that measure might have been Graham Richardson. This was going to change the black and white, strict measures that were used for the invalid pension: capacity became the measure, rather than medical inability. So we changed, and the change has been fascinating. From 1991 until now there has been a threefold increase in expenditure in this area. In 1991 the nation spent $2.8 billion on disability pensions; in 2002-03 we will spend $6.9 billion on disability pensions. In 1991 there were 334,234 participants; today there are 652,170. That massive increase indicates, as I have said previously, that in relation to this payment we are at the highest level of any nation of a similar standard.

Let us have a look at it. One of the things that is drawn to our attention is the range of groups that are now receiving the disability support pension. There has been a huge increase in the numbers of young people. I do not know whether that increase in young people relates to another table that I have which shows the medical conditions applying to DSP pensions, but I do know that the musculoskeletal and connective tissues, which could be bad backs, legs, arms or whatever, are the prime reason for people being on the disability support pension.

The second most significant reason for people being on the disability support pension—and it sits closely behind that of muscular damage—is psychological and psychiatric illnesses. In a week or two this House will have the opportunity to have exposure to the Rotary forum program that looks at mental illness in Australia. It is very interesting that at the same time as this gradual increase in mental illness the biggest increase in people on the disability grant tends to be young people. I do not know whether there are a number of things working together here that we need to come to grips with, but I certainly know that drug abuse and marginalisation—some would say poverty; I would say probably lack of opportunity and guidance—may all have had a compounding effect with the young and may be the reason that such a large proportion of young people are suddenly on the disability support pension. The other large group is at the other end of the age spectrum—the 60- to 65-year-olds—which is understandable. All evidence points to the fact that these may be older unskilled males who have been forced out of the workplace with little opportunity of further employment. So, rather than being eligible for an age pension, they are put onto a disability support pension.

What has the government said? The government has looked at what the rules are now for this massive increase in the number of people and the cost of the disability support pension and said, `Let's look at the rules. The rules say impairment of at least 20 per cent against an impairment table and an inability to work in full-time award for 30 hours a week for the next two years.' The government has said, `What is the difference between 30 hours and 38 hours? Can anybody reasonably be expected to measure a person's capacity to work 30 hours as compared with 38 hours?' [start page 2523]

To my mind, that is an impossibility. I do not think that somebody working four days cannot work five days, but there is a big difference between working 15 hours—or a couple of days a week—and working a full week. So the government have said, `We are going to apply a test of 15 hours per week.' They are not changing any of the other tests—just the 30 hours down to 15 hours. It is reasonable to apply a test and see how it works out. The fact of the matter is the growth in DSP has been by young people and males who have been unskilled and cannot be retrained or have not been retrained.

The government is not just cutting people off from this process. What the government is saying is, `We have a complete package of $700 million, plus another $230-odd million, making over a billion dollars in this disability area alone, to help and compensate for the process of change.' This is not a saving factor. There are some savings in the budget, but they are minimal when you assess them against the government expenditure over the next five years to compensate and put in place reasonable programs to help people that ought to be helped. Dumping people on the disability pension is not an answer for young people with perhaps a mental illness. Nobody on the Australian Labor Party side of this House has bothered to go into places—whether they be sheltered workshops or places of employment for the disabled—or even to contact organisations such as Employers Making A Difference to make an assessment. These are the organisations that are out there proving that people with disabilities can be employed and can make a big difference, even if they would normally, under the rules that this government is going to apply, be eligible for a disability pension.

This $1 billion increase, combined with the $250 million increase in funding for disability assistance announced last year in the Australians Working Together package, confirms that we are committed to the wellbeing of people with disabilities. If the opposition would care to listen—instead of playing politics with the process, because, after all, this is not an event that is going to happen tomorrow; it is going to happen in over a year's time—and if they were prepared to work through the process and block it in a year's time, maybe that would make some sense. But no, they are going to block it now. They do not understand it. They admit they do not understand it. They do not want to understand it, but they are going to block it straightaway. What a crazy way of making decisions. They call themselves a responsible opposition. No wonder they have the tag `Simon and the Creanites'. They just cannot make sense.

This is the way the disability pension is going to be paid in the various areas and how people are going to be assisted: 17,200 people in disability employment will receive the Commonwealth-state package of support; 37,600 will go into the Job Network. If people have not got a job, they will be required to look for one. They will be paid and supported. If they get a job offer they might have to take it. If they refuse it, their pension will be reduced a bit. If they refuse three offers of employment, they might go off benefit for eight weeks. There is a bit of a choice there, I would have thought. It means that 37,600 people have the option of going into the Job Network, with people working for them, trying to help them find employment and giving them retraining opportunities. Then they have to get a job offer before they would go off the benefit. It seems fair to me. There are 14,700 people who are going into rehabilitation places, and that is proper care for people anxiously looking for support. There will be 3,200 places in the Personal Support Program, which is intensive and compassionate. There will be 600 places in the language, literacy and numeracy program and they are all going to have access to Centrelink personal advisers, who will provide guidance and help for them to prepare for work, and access to appropriate support services. There will be better assessment into whether reskilling can help, particularly for the older age group. There will be an additional $33 million to the states and territories for mainstream vocational education and training places.

All in all, this is a reasonable approach to the growth of a problem which we have ducked. We, as a community and as a parliament, have refused to look at this because we have said that it is easier to put people on disability payments rather than cope with their real problems. It was much easier for the Australian Labor Party when they introduced it in 1991 to dump people onto this pension and say, `We have got unemployment falling.' That is the way it started; that is the way it was done. The honourable member who is going to speak next would not remember that. That was the way Paul Keating was able to strut into this parliament saying—

Ms Hall —I looked into this area when Paul Keating was Prime Minister.

Mr CADMAN —how good he was for the Australian people and how many jobs he had produced. He was reducing the unemployment figures: he was taking people off Newstart and putting them on to disability services, and that is why we have these large numbers. That is why it has to be dealt with, and it is going to be dealt with in a compassionate and sensible way.

The House needs to understand that the extra funding is contingent on the legislation passing. It appears to me that the Australian Labor Party just want things to go on as they are. The Australian people need to be aware of that. They need to know that the Australian Labor Party have no ideas, no policy—just obstruction. They are not concerned about people with disabilities and how they can be assisted. There is not one extra new idea in any of this debate about how things can be improved. `We are going to cut the extra money; we are going to cut the extra counselling; we are going to cut the personal support programs; we are going to cut the rehabilitation programs; we are going to cut the language, literacy and numeracy places; we are going to remove the access to Centrelink personal advisers; we are going to cut the better assessment for reskilling; we are not going to supply the additional $33 million to the states and territories for mainstream vocational education'—that is the attitude of the Australian Labor Party. They would prefer to deny access by disabled people to $1.3 billion to assist in this process than to think about how a change could be made for the better. [start page 2524]

This bill will go off to the Senate, it will rumble around in a Senate committee and the Leftist element of the Australian Labor Party will be waxing lyrical about what a terrible thing it is. But will they apply their minds to finding a better way? No, never—that has not entered their heads. Will the Australian Labor Party apply their minds to how we can give disabled people access to an additional $1.3 billion? No, they would rather play politics with disabled people and disadvantage people who deserve help. I believe it is time that the Australian Labor Party really examined the budget papers and the processes that have been thought about by the government. I would like to quote Patrick McClure. In an interview on 16 May—I have the transcript here—he said:

When you look at the issue of disability support pension, as you rightly point out, there are 650,000 people on it, and so it's a substantial outlay of income support payments. What the McClure report recommended—and we also welcome in this budget—is better assessment of individuals as they apply for a disability support pension.

That is from the man who conducted the inquiry for the government—the person from Mission Australia who was responsible for bringing forward some suggested changes—and the government has moved in this one area. That brings down all the comments and criticisms from the Australian Labor Party.

In closing, I want to point to a better way in which things have been done and the prospects for the future. I have mentioned the organisation Employers Making a Difference—EMAD it is called. The mission of this organisation is:

To facilitate and support employers to lead the change to a positive employment environment for people with a disability.

It was established by a dear man Steve Bennett. It is now nationwide and powering on because the differences that people with disabilities can make in regular employment are quite staggering when this is actually applied. EMAD says there are four good reasons for employing somebody with a disability:

1. It works for your company:

ˇTo develop a culture of inclusion.

ˇTo recruit from the biggest pool of skills.

2. It works for your customers:

ˇTo reflect your customer base—

Anybody can be your customer, so you need to have people working for you who represent your customers—

ˇTo benefit from improvements in the workplace.

3. It works for sales:

ˇ1 in 4 customers in Australia have family members with a disability ....

ˇPizza Hut recorded measurable sale increases through its hiring of over 14,000 people with a disability in the United States.

That trend is happening here in Australia. It continues:

4. It works for the bottom line:

ˇBecause people with a disability often make better workers—

and there is research to demonstrate that—

ˇTo minimise your exposure under the Disability Discrimination Act—

measures that may apply to people exhibiting discrimination.

As I said, research was undertaken in Australia at the instigation of Cavill and Co, Australia's leading cause related marketing agency by Worthington Di Marzio—an Australian research and strategic planning group. It identified that 49 per cent of customers felt they would change from their regular brand to one that supported a worthy cause and 75 per cent of respondents said they would buy a cause related product or service. The fact is that the report—back from employers who employ people with a disability—shows they are more reliable, they can do their work better and they are more conscientious and enthusiastic for their jobs. Companies such as IBM and Telstra are leading the way. We should be proud of these employers that are leading the way because they are showing us how to do it. That is what the government is on about: opportunities for people—broadening their opportunities, not locking them away or having them lying around the place on a disability pension. That is soul destroying.

John Temple, an Australian who earned the Order of Australia—a cerebral palsy sufferer—talked about the able bodied and the disabled, and he is one. He can do lots of things: he can drive bulldozers, trucks, cars, front-end loaders—everything. He built his own house and now runs a business on the Central Coast. He met Bob Hawke and Bill Hayden when Bill Hayden was Governor-General, and they applauded the determination and commitment that John Temple has to be able to care for himself and have the pride to progress, even though he suffers from a terrible disability.

Author: Alan Cadman MP
Source: House Hansard - 30th May 2002
Release Date: 10 Jun 2002

 
 




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