DISABILITY AMENDMENT BILL 2013

I rise to make a contribution to debate on the Disability Amendment Bill 2013 debate. In doing so I indicate that we support the reasoned amendment proposed by my colleague, and we do that for a number of reasons.

We believe the minister at the table, the Minister for Disability Services and Reform, and the Premier should delay this bill until such time as there has been further consultation with residents and their families about its future. This particular fee increase is going to be an enormous impost upon families, and it is one that we think is an unfair burden. It is an unfair burden on the families, and it is an unfair burden on the people who live in state-run disability accommodation. We think that there is potential for a broader knock-on effect from these changes.

Given the massive complexities in the sector due to the fact that it is a two-track system — we have both private sector providers and state-sanctioned housing — we would argue that it may be more prudent to see exactly where this lies as a public policy proposal going forward before imposing in advance what is, by any measure, a very complex formula, especially given, as has already been articulated by a number of my colleagues in their contributions, the unintended consequences of any changes that might be made.

One of the claims made by the government is that no-one in Department of Human Services accommodation is able to claim commonwealth rent assistance. As members of the house would know, I am somewhat familiar with housing provision having previously been the Minister for Housing. We know that the provision of commonwealth housing assistance attends to residents who are eligible for public housing and who are, for instance, housed in our housing associations.

Residents are not eligible for commonwealth rent assistance if they are living in public housing. Low-income people who are living in private rental market homes also attract commonwealth rental assistance. Although it is a relatively modest amount of money, it is nonetheless a fillip available to people in the private rental market. It is interesting to note that at a recent public forum, which I understand was attended by the chief of staff of the Minister for Disability Services and Reform, one-third of those in the room stated that their loved one was in receipt of commonwealth rent assistance.

We would simply argue to the minister that it is vital that this issue be looked at more thoroughly via a review instead of just blindly pushing forward and potentially putting residents, many of whom have quite severe disabilities, in real financial hardship. This hardship is not only experienced by the resident themselves but also by members of their family, who are often required to supplement their income because the level of support that is provided to people through the broader social security network is, by any measure, relatively modest. Even if tenants attract an income supplement, it is still often the case that family members — many of whom also face quite poor financial circumstances — find themselves having to subsidise the basic needs of their loved ones.

With those complexities in mind we simply say to the minister that it would be prudent for her to reconsider this bill. We ask that the minister come back with a bill — and we say this quite genuinely — that has been subject to broader consultation and which more appropriately engages client groups, user groups and their families. We believe we can reach a resolution to this that strikes a balance between what the minister is hoping to achieve but which also ensures that the quite significant financial burden that is being placed on these families is more appropriately addressed.

We do not want to get to see a circumstance where essentially you have a two-tiered system, where one group may be accommodated within the private sector, as opposed to state-run authorities, and enjoy different sorts of — —

I understand they have different sorts of benefits, but I ask the minister to let me finish. We want to ensure that there is not a massive disparity. That is the argument we simply put to the minister. We do so genuinely because on areas like disability I think there is a broad consensus across the chamber about the desire to reach an outcome, where we can comfortably agree that we have reached a public policy position that is fair and equitable across the board. It is in that context that we genuinely put this reasoned amendment to the minister.

I know my colleague the member for Yan Yean, who has been the main driver of this reasoned amendment and the opposition’s lead speaker on the bill, would genuinely want to work with the minister to see if we can find a better and more equitable way of addressing this public policy issue.

It is in that context that the opposition asks, by way of the reasoned amendment, that the bill be withdrawn so that the matter can be reconsidered and we can come back in a timely fashion — we are prepared to work with the minister on that — to seek a better resolution than what is currently before the house, which we believe is manifestly unfair to a particular group of people. It will impose a significant financial burden on those people which is simply unfair. On that basis we cannot support it.