My question is to the Minister for Family and Community Services. Given the unmet need for disability support services acknowledged by the Senate yesterday, and given the Commonwealth's powers as recognised under the CSTDA-
Senator Abetz-What does that stand for?
Senator SIEWERT-for example, section 4.2(b), which obliges the Commonwealth and states to: strengthen across government linkages to ensure access to appropriate services, and improve collaboration and coordination across programs and government, and section 4.2(d) which obliges governments to take a strategic approach to equitable funding to respond to unmet demand, and given the shared roles outlined in section 6(1)(b), (e) and (f), which encourage reform of existing services to achieve objective and policy priorities of the agreement and to fund R&D in the provision of services, does the minister acknowledge that the federal government has a clear mandate under the Commonwealth State/Territory Disability Agreement to address unmet need? Can the minister outline what actions she intends to take to meet these unmet needs? Is the Commonwealth prepared to put in more money to make this happen?
The PRESIDENT-Senator, that was a very long question.
Senator PATTERSON-I thank the honourable senator for her question. I also thank her for her cooperation yesterday, in discussing a formal motion, so that we could come to an agreement on it and actually pass it, unlike her Labor colleague who would not compromise on any part of it and therefore we had to oppose it.
Opposition senators interjecting-
Senator PATTERSON-But I do thank the honourable senator for her cooperation.
Opposition senators interjecting-
Senator PATTERSON-We were able to acknowledge the work of the people-
Opposition senators interjecting-
The PRESIDENT-Order! Order on my left!
Senator PATTERSON-We were able to acknowledge the people who came here in the program, 'Walk a mile in my shoes'-people who have been caring for their sons and daughters, some of them for 30, 40 or 50 years. In the last three years, I think we have had more money going into carers of people with a disability than ever before; unprecedented levels of assistance, through the good economic management that we have been able to share with people by reducing income tax. But to those people who are on carers payment, for example, and cannot benefit from that, people who might otherwise be working, we were able to give, last year, a $1,000 bonus and a $600 payment for those on carers allowance, and we have been able to give them assistance again this year because we ran a surplus budget.
Under the Commonwealth State/Territory Disability Agreement, the states have responsibility for accommodation and respite; we have responsibility for employment services and supported employment. We have actually increased funding by $99 million to business services, once called 'sheltered workshops'-those facilities and services that provide employment for people who are not capable of being in open employment.
We have worked assiduously, and I give credit to some Labor members of the House of Representatives who worked with Mr Pyne in addressing the issue of productivity based wages. We do get some cooperation sometimes from some people, and I acknowledge that some former presidents of the ACTU worked with Mr Pyne when he was my parliamentary secretary to ensure that we could have productivity based wages in business services. We are working with that $99 million to make sure those business services are viable.
On the other hand, the states have responsibility for accommodation and respite. I was very concerned about the fact that many older people were coming to me saying that they could not get respite, sometimes for ideological reasons. In Victoria, we have an old motel that was renovated to accommodate people from a nursing home while they were building the new nursing home. It is empty, like the facility in Bega Valley, because the state government said that, because it has 12 rooms, it is an institution and the state government will therefore not give any respite services there. People in the Warragul district are desperate for respite. Not only are the states not spending money, they are also driven by ideologues. When the parents say, 'We're prepared for our people to have respite in a place with 12 beds', the Victorian government says, 'We're not going to do it.'
The states have responsibility for accommodation and respite. I was so concerned that I got $75 million in the budget before last to ensure that older parents caring for adult sons and daughters with a disability would get up to four weeks respite a year. It has taken months-in fact, over a year-for most of the states to sign up. New South Wales-I suppose because there are a few bi-elections coming up-cynically said they would agree to it this week. Queensland has not signed.
The money is still languishing, waiting for Queensland to match it and actually do what they should be doing and giving respite and accommodation to people with sons and daughters with a disability. The states need to step up to the plate and meet their responsibilities under the Commonwealth-State Disability Agreement. We have poured more money into carers of people with a disability in the last three years than ever before. The states need to do the same. It is an increasing problem. They should have formulas to address the fact that we have more people with disabilities. They should do something about it and take their responsibilities seriously. (Time expired)
Senator SIEWERT (2.32 p.m.)-Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Given that successive CSDAs, as they were known previously, have watered down the Commonwealth's involvement in supported accommodation, are the government prepared to consider renegotiating the SDTA so that they can accept greater responsibility for supported accommodation?
Senator PATTERSON-It is actually the CSTDA, the Commonwealth-State Territory Disability Agreement. We have given the states assistance to carry out their responsibilities. In addition, they have had increased benefits from the GST, a growth tax, and some of that money should be going to people with a disability. They have had increased stamp duty, which should be going towards housing those people. They need to get rid of their ideological blockage. Those people are saying they want cluster housing; they want multiple facilities for people to live in maybe groups of 10, and we have places like New South Wales and Victoria saying, 'We won't do it because that's an institution.' As I said yesterday, we have a place in the Bega Valley, funded by the state government and supported by money raised by the community, empty and waiting for people who are in desperate in need of respite. The states need to take their responsibilities seriously and do something about a group of people who deserve all of our assistance and deserve a reasonable response from the states. (Time expired)
Take Note of Answer
I would like to start by sharing a note that I had from a carer yesterday in response to the motion that the Senate passed:
I generally prefer to be called a "mum" than a "carer", but your motion brought tears to my eyes. It's only words, but they touched me. Sometimes a bit of understanding and recognition is all we need.
I run a national e-mail support group for parents of children with CP. While I could send you a 20 page document of issues we face as carers, I'd say the biggest problem people face is equipment (from the big things like wheelchairs, hoists, wheelchair accessible cars, to the little things such as bathing chairs, feeding chairs, splints ... Second would be access to services - there is just not enough money for decent services. For example, kids get Botox pumped into their muscles at the hospital, and there is no physiotherapy follow up, as The Spastic Centre has not enough funding for the necessary physio that would maximise the effect of the Botox.
I am greatly disappointed that the minister failed to answer the question about whether she would acknowledge that she had a mandate to tackle this significant unmet need in accommodation support and other things. As I pointed out to the Senate earlier today, there are a number of ways under the CSTDA that the Commonwealth can be involved, but instead the minister chose to play the blame game. She chose to blame the states instead of actively looking at ways that she and the government could show leadership on this issue.
There are a number of things that the Commonwealth government can do to address this problem. The carers of this nation are looking for the government to show leadership and to ensure that there is a national commitment across all levels of government, not just the state governments. It is not just the states' responsibility to resolve the crisis in unmet need for disability support services. The minister chose to blame the states instead of looking at what the Commonwealth can do. The Commonwealth can, for example, provide an immediate injection of funding to expedite assistance to the people with disabilities and their families who are living in crisis. This funding is absolutely urgently needed by disability services and these carers.
If the minister was so concerned that she does not have the power to do these things, it is in the Commonwealth's power to renegotiate this agreement with the states. The original agreement-the CSDA as it was then called-shared responsibility for accommodation support services between the states and the Commonwealth. That has been watered down. The Commonwealth can, if they think they need the powers, renegotiate the agreement so that they do have those powers. I repeat that we are very disappointed that the minister failed to answer this question and fails to acknowledge the very real elements within the existing agreement that can be used to actually address this issue.
It is very disappointing that the government continues to blame the states. The states may not be perfect, they are struggling, but they are injecting a lot of money into disability services-twice as much as the Commonwealth, yet the government and the minister still blame the states rather than accepting their responsibility.