As the Parliament prepared to pass laws allowing for an increase to the Medicare Levy to help fund DisabilityCare Australia, the Prime Minister reminded the nation what a significant transformation was underway.
The Prime Minister’s emotion as she spoke in the House was easily understood. There have been a number of occasions through the process of building a national disability insurance scheme where I have been overcome by emotion. Because for anyone who has travelled around our country meeting with people with disability, their families and their carers, the immense need for DisabilityCare is glaringly obvious.
The stories I have heard as I have travelled the country have all been individual and yet depressingly the same.
Stories of places not being available for care and support, and of endless waiting lists. Stories of not knowing where to turn, and of being sent to service provider after service provider without finding one that can really help. Of accepting third or fourth best options, because first and second aren’t even on the table. Of the endless worry about what will happen in the future, when a child with disability grows up, or a carer grows old. And of being denied the dignity that comes from being able to make choices over your own life.
They are stories that make it seem almost inconceivable that as a nation, we have not addressed this remaining gap in our social contract before now. It is a tribute to all those people who have campaigned so hard for reform that we are now so close to having a national disability insurance scheme in place, ready to provide people with disability with the care and support they need over their lifetimes, and to give them choice and control over that support.
DisabilityCare Australia will begin on July 1 this year. It will launch in an initial six locations around the country, before we reach full scheme by 2019-20. With agreements in place now with all states and territories except for Western Australia, this means that around 90 per cent of Australians will be covered by DisabilityCare Australia in the event they are born with or acquire a disability.
With the start of the scheme so close, I want to set out how DisabilityCare will work for people who live in those launch locations, to show just how fundamental this change is to our current broken and underfunded system, and how much work is going into getting this right.
DisabilityCare will be operated by the independent Agency that was set up through legislation that passed the Parliament earlier this year. There will be local DisabilityCare offices in each of the launch areas, each of them staffed by local people.
There are a couple of ways people can enter the scheme. If a person is already receiving support through an existing disability support provider, staff from DisabilityCare Australia will contact them through that provider. These people won’t have to go through an extensive new assessment process, as the aim is that the scheme does not double up on paperwork that has already been done.
This means these people can go straight into working with staff from DisabilityCare Australia to develop their individual plan of funding and support. Their current support will remain in place until this plan is finalised and agreed on, so we can make sure there are no gaps in their support.
If a person isn’t already receiving support from an existing disability support provider, they’ll be able to make contact with the DisabilityCare Agency directly, either through their website, on the phone, or in person. People can also be referred to DisabilityCare Australia from anywhere – a GP, a hospital, Centrelink, or a community organisation.
People will be able to do a preliminary self-assessment that will give them an indication of whether they could access DisabilityCare, or whether their needs are best met by another system – like the health system – or by community organisations or groups. If their needs are best met elsewhere, DisabilityCare will provide them with referrals and assistance in identifying where they should go for support.
DisabilityCare staff will then work with eligible people on their individual plan for care and support. The individual part is crucial here. Because while some people with disability may have the same diagnosis, they don’t always have the same needs. So a local DisabilityCare staff member will work with them, and where relevant their families and carers, to design a plan that provides them with the reasonable and necessary support they need to meet their goals.
For some people, this might be help to enable them to be more independent around the home, by providing aids such as hoists and handrails, or a new wheelchair that is better suited to their body shape. It might also be to provide support to be able to get out of home more often and get involved in community or work life. In these cases, staff from the Agency might identify local clubs, activities or workplaces that people could take part in, and help arrange suitable transport and facilities for them.
For family members and carers, it might include access to more respite, a formal carer to relieve them, or a plan to transition people into full formalised care when they feel they can no longer provide the support needed.
Importantly, once a plan is developed and agreed on, DisabilityCare remains involved. Staff will continue to work with people with disability, their families and carers, to make sure their package is still meeting their needs over the years, and adjust it as necessary.
Of course, some people will want less ongoing involvement with DisabilityCare staff than others. And because DisabilityCare is about putting people with disability in control, they’ll be able to choose how much help they get to manage their plan and funding package.
This is why the scheme is truly transformational. We are ending the stop gap situation that currently exists, and making sure we are providing care and support based on people’s individual needs over the course of their lifetimes.
DisabilityCare is a great Labor reform. It stands firmly in our tradition of governing for those people who need our support the most. July 1 will be a historic day in our nation and the beginning of a great journey towards a better life of dignity for people with disability across Australia.