Ageing and Disability Commissioner Bill 2019

29th May 2019

Mr GREG PIPER (Lake Macquarie) (12:40:19):I support the Ageing and Disability Commissioner Bill 2019. This is one of the most significant pieces of legislation to come before this House, and it is noteworthy that it is the first bill to be debated in the Fifty-Seventh Parliament. As members have said, it refers to some of the most vulnerable people in our society. It is appropriate that those of us who have so much do what we can to help those who are in great need. The bill will create the position of Ageing and Disability Commissioner to oversight the interests of a particular cohort of people who are aged or adults with disability. The cohort of ageing people is growing and it is in all our interests to put the right systems in place to ensure that our caring and wealthy community does what it can to look after them. People with disability have also needed this support for a long time. The delivery of a solution in the form of the Ageing and Disability Commissioner is a good step forward.

I commend the Government and the Minister for Families, Communities and Disability Services, the shadow Minister and members of the Opposition who have contributed to this debate, all of whom have indicated support and great compassion for these vulnerable people. Sadly, we know there are many people in our communities who, for various reasons, do not live in a nurturing, caring and safe environment. In some cases, they live in an environment of wilful neglect. Some are exploited, threatened and abused, whether it be in group homes, nursing homes, hospitals, hostels and, most sadly, in their own homes—a place where they should feel safest. I note the comments by the Leader of the House. He referenced the fact that I come from an area of care, having worked for 26 years in the nursing sector in mental health and for the past 10 years in developmental disability.

I engaged with the Leader of the House in his former ministerial role and with other members over the years, all of whom had the best interests of these vulnerable people at heart. It is a very complex issue that must be addressed, and I think this bill is a very good initiative that focuses on it. We can legislate and regulate but if society does not truly believe and acknowledge that there is a problem then change will not happen. Some fantastic campaigns have been built on creating awareness of issues such as the impact of domestic abuse with the White Ribbon Campaign. Through the work of courageous people who do things, we get change—although sometimes it is too slow. Having a commissioner who is focused on elder abuse and the abuse of people with a disability will drive change. I am sure that a big part of the role of the commissioner—whoever that may be—will be to raise the profile of this insidious problem.

In the past few years the media has exposed some shocking and horrifying circumstances to the community and to members in this place. Unfortunately, it had to be led by people who courageously came forward as whistleblowers—who, I note, will be protected under this legislation. Inquiries such as the royal commission into institutional abuse and the royal commission into ageing have revealed that much of the problem has been hidden and, in many cases, wilfully ignored. People are often subject to systemic or wilful exploitation. This bill is not only a response to that, but also an opportunity to talk about this issue in a much more open and constructive way. Royal commissions create a forum to shine a light on these issues and develop conversations about them, raising awareness of the abuse and exploitation of vulnerable people as has been done with other important social issues, such as White Ribbon Day for domestic violence.

The role of the commissioner is well defined in the bill. It is not the commissioner's role to take over the responsibilities of other agencies such as the Health Care Complaints Commission, Family and Community Services, the National Disability Insurance Scheme [NDIS] or even the police or the legal system. I note the amendments foreshadowed by the Opposition. I am concerned that they will cause the role of the commissioner to be too broad to be fully inclusive, especially when other forums and agencies already practise in this area. But that is not to say there is no merit in other suggestions or amendments the Opposition may put forward. The amendments will be considered if not in the lower House then in the upper House.

This is important legislation that is of great moment in this Parliament. The Minister has obviously approached this matter with the right attitude, and I am sure he will be very proud when the bill is passed. But we should not then rest on our laurels. I believe, as with the NDIS, we should always respond to and address problems in the system through regulation or a referral back to this House if needs be. I note that the bill will have a three?year review period, which is very important for advocacy groups. I will not touch on the issue of advocacy as I know many people have spoken about funding for it. I will simply throw in my two bob's worth and say that it is not a big amount; let us just provide it. The bill also addresses other matters. I commend the Minister and the Government for introducing the bill and acknowledge the great input of the Opposition and other members of the House.

Website: Read full parliamentary debate here

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