The Ageing and Disability Commissioner Bill 2019 will establish an office of Ageing and Disability Commissioner, with the aim of providing educational services and advice to the public, reporting on systemic issues in both the ageing and disability sectors and, most importantly, tackling allegations of abuse, neglect and exploitation of adults with a disability and older Australians. The bill also seeks to establish an Ageing and Disability Advisory Board to advise and guide the work of the commissioner.
As noted by the Minister in his second reading speech, while a number of national and State bodies already exist to assist those with a disability or the elderly, there remains a significant gap in services that puts vulnerable people at risk. The NSW Law Reform Commission has acknowledged this gap and has recommended that a new Act establish an independent statutory office to fill an advocacy and investigative role. The Australian Bureau of Statistics' Personal Safety Survey in 2016 estimated that 40,000 older people and 90,000 people with a disability experience violence each year in New South Wales. Those are appalling statistics that should give each and every one of us pause for thought. To paraphrase others, the moral test of any society must be in its treatment of its most vulnerable.
The NSW Elder Abuse Helpline and Resource Unit notes that the majority of alleged elder abusers are trusted people known to the victim. As such, while I welcome this bill's intention to tackle allegations of abuse and neglect of elderly Australians, the bill does not go far enough in that it does not provide specific powers that can be used by the commissioner if a complaint is found to be true. The bill lacks the explicit power for the commissioner to refer relevant matters to the police and to the Director of Public Prosecutions. It is also true that the bill cannot address the root cause of elder abuse in aged care in New South Wales: the lack of staff.
Like many members, I have been contacted by many of my constituents about the allegations exposed by the recent ABC7.30 investigation and by the royal commission into aged care. These stories include that of Michelle McCulla whose father, Terry Reeves, was strapped to a chair in his Sydney nursing home. On one particular day Terry was tied up alone in his room for 14 hours. Michelle McCulla believes her father was also chemically restrained without her family's knowledge or consent as he regularly showed signs of over-sedation.
The royal commission into aged care heard testimony from multiple aged-care professionals who pointed to a complete lack of staff and of seeing nurses run off their feet, which resulted in the use of chemical restraints and sedation of the residents. That testimony includes that of a Wollongong aged-care worker who works 16-hour days several times a fortnight and who stays back after finishing work to relieve pressure on staff in the facility. Ageing Australians deserve far better than this. As one of the fastest-growing demographic groups in this country, they deserve to know that they will be protected. They deserve adequate protections from abuse and neglect both through the ability to report abuse and to know that the body that they report to has the power it requires to refer an issue. They deserve to know that if they are in an aged-care facility they will be supported and cared for.
The bill also establishes protections for those in our community living with disability. It is safe to say that each of us in this Parliament shares a commitment to ensuring people living with disability are afforded respect, freedom from discrimination and, above all else, basic human rights and dignity. Despite the best intentions, this is far from the reality for too many people living with disability in our community. The gap between intention and reality could not be starker than in the National Disability Insurance Scheme [NDIS]. The NDIS is a game changer for people living with disability, their carers and their families.
I was lucky enough to work for Australia's first female Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, and I saw upfront the need for a scheme to protect and properly fund care for people with disability. The NDIS was bold policy, hard-fought and won by Prime Minister Gillard working across the aisle and after a long campaign by people with disability, their carers and their advocates. It captured the imagination and the hearts of many Australians and it was such an important move for our country. Unfortunately, the reality has not been what those people had hoped for nor what was promised. As is the case with many members in this House, I am sure, my office deals with many calls for help as the sector transitions to the new scheme. It has been a very difficult and bumpy road.
I have spoken with a single mum in her late 60s who was desperate to find respite care for her adult son after it was omitted from his NDIS plan—the lack of respite made more intense by her need to advocate for her son at the same time as taking on full responsibility for his care. I am deeply concerned for the many parents and carers who are managing their own health and financial pressures as they enter retirement and old age whilst balancing the needs of their adult children with disability. I have spoken with a representative of a disability care organisation who sat in tears in my office; she and her staff were at their wits' end with the pressure of bureaucratic reporting to meet the Government's deadline for disability services.
I have spoken with families like the Adderleys, whose children are long-term residents of the Summer Hill Centre in my electorate. The New South Wales Government recently transferred the centre to a not-for-private provider, despite the strongest objections of parents and carers with family members at the centre. For the Adderleys and other families of residents in the centre, ensuring the highest standards there was not a matter of politics or ideology; it was literally a matter of life and death. Their children are profoundly disabled. For them the centre is foremost their home and their sanctuary, but it is also a provider of last resort, more closely resembling a hospital given the complex medical and support needs of residents.
I was first contacted by families at the centre in 2016 following reports that the New South Wales Government would close Ageing, Disability and Home Care [ADHC] and transfer responsibility for the centre to a private provider. This caused understandable concern for families, who were worried that any reduction in the quality or extent of care would put their children's lives at risk. Over the next two years, they lobbied and advocated strongly for the centre to be kept in public hands, only to be rejected by the Government. Since the decision was made to transfer the site, families have faced more worries and uncertainty. At all stages they have felt sidelined by a process they believed was about the State Government washing its hands of responsibility for the care of their children. The families were invited to participate in consultations, but they believe their objections and concerns were ignored. They were subject to delays in the establishment of NDIS plans, only for critical medical needs, such as rubber gloves, to be forgotten as the State Government and the National Disability Insurance Agency [NDIA] engaged in a tug-of-war over responsibilities.
It is these bureaucratic difficulties that have plagued people's lives for several years now. I take the opportunity to thank my colleague the member for Port Stephens, Kate Washington, who supported the Adderleys and other residents at the centre. The member for Port Stephens' commitment and tireless advocacy for the Summer Hill Centre community meant the world to those residents, their families and their carers and I know it will not be forgotten. Those families were forced to fight for their children. They also took up the fight for those residents at the centre whose parents and carers could not, including families from culturally and linguistically diverse [CALD] backgrounds where there is a language barrier to engagement in the process. It is a story I have heard time and again. The shortfalls in the implementation of the NDIS are perhaps most starkly shown through the statistics concerning enrolment in the scheme by multicultural and CALD communities. [Extension of time]
Earlier this year, Settlement Services International reported that at the end of 2017 only 7 per cent of NDIS participants were from a CALD background despite representing an estimated 23 per cent of the Australian population. They also noted that a vast majority of people from CALD backgrounds that they interviewed had no idea that the NDIS even existed. More worrying still, the National Institute of Labour Studies recently evaluated the NDIS and determined that the scheme had left people from CALD backgrounds no better off and sometimes in an even worse position. This gap is so often filled by organisations such as the Ethnic Communities Services Co-operative, based in the Addison Road Community Centre in my electorate. They do the hard work of educating their community about accessible services, including the NDIS.
They are a lifeline for families who might otherwise be unaware of the safety net that is available to them. The NSW Disability Advocacy Alliance is at the forefront of the Stand By Me campaign calling on the Government to reverse cuts to disability advocacy organisations. I am so proud of the Ethnic Community Services Co-operative and all organisations that have fought hard and forced the Government to retreat from the funding cuts to the sector. I recognise that the primary intent of this bill is to provide protections for adults in family and community settings who are not covered by existing schemes. But the restriction of the bill to adults creates new gaps for the carers of children with a disability. They will be heartbroken if their concerns cannot be investigated by the Ageing and Disability Commissioner.
I welcome the Government's commitment to raise awareness and educate people through the bill. It will raise awareness of the obstacles and barriers for people living with disability. It is of great importance to raise awareness of the plight of those facing discrimination whether in schools or the workplace. We must champion a more inclusive environment within which those with a disability and the elderly can live and work. I commend the Minister.
Finally, I welcome the commitment in the bill to pursue research-based projects and the commissioner's ability to prepare special reports on any issue, as requested by the Minister. I believe this is critically important to the bill. At the root of recent policy failures affecting those with disability and the elderly is a lack of research and understanding to underpin policies to support and protect those communities. The investigation by7.30 and reports from the Law Reform Commission and the Aged Care Royal Commission will go some way towards resolving the lack of research. We must endeavour to fulfil the potential of this bill for those disadvantaged communities. This bill will set us on the right path and I commend the bill to the House.