The National Disability Insurance Scheme, NDIS for short that the Productivity Commission recommended in August last year was seen as the hero that could help people with a disability with the immense costs of living with an impairment. It promised to do this through meeting the costs of treatment and equipment and aligning the states and territories with the same level of assistance as fellow states. It was received well by both sides of politics at the federal level after being instigated by the Gillard Government through Bill Shorten, at the time the Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities. Both sides of politics and the Greens committed to supporting the policy idea. Not only that, the states, all of them at least in principle agree and continue to agree with the policy, even if some of them believe that they simply do not have the cash to contribute to what could be a game-changer.
The idea then headed to the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) for discussion with the states who are needed on-board as service providers in the disability sector are currently under the purview of individual states rather than the commonwealth government.
It was just ahead of the debate commencing at COAG when the cracks started to appear in the bipartisanship and commonwealth-state agreement on the need to go forward with a the scheme. The federal Opposition committed to the NDIS, but only when the budget was back in “strong surplus” and not that long after, both before and at COAG the state consensus appeared headed for a small crevass, with in-principle support (read far from certain delivery) even starting to sound shaky.
Nonetheless, through all this time the ALP Government continued to hold up the NDIS as a must do and a great achievement of a Labor Government despite not even a trial or a strong agreement with the states to work toward a timeline or concrete progression on trials and implementation frameworks having been agreed to.
By then, the hopes of those with a disability and their carers and families had well and truly been raised, certainly too high for a policy that was and still is just a policy and at this stage a small step further to fruition.
At the NDIS rally the week before the budget and for a time before that, the Prime Minister and her government raised expectations even further, mentioning the insurance scheme at just about every opportunity, in just about every list of talking points for MP’s and ministers.
The highest level of hope was raised just 8 days from the budget at the Every Australian Counts rally in Sydney where the Prime Minister spoke, announcing that the NDIS would commence a year earlier with four launch sites providing services to 10,000 people with a severe and permanent disability, going to 20,000 the following financial year.
But the Prime Minister said we must wait until the budget for the digits on the funding allocation for the initial roll-out of the disability policy which we found out would be $1 billion over 4 years, $250 million per year for those awful at maths. This is not an insignificant amount of money, but in the scheme of things, a small allocation for the four year period which would need a significant further investment by the future commonwealth government who the Productivity Commission be the sole funder anyway.
Alas, since the budget the crickets have come out in force with the NDIS doing a vanishing act from the political discourse that any illusionist would be happy to achieve in their act. For a government which held up the scheme as a centre-point of their social and broader policy agenda, it has certainly fallen off the radar in a more comprehensive way than any plane that has disappeared in the Bermuda Triangle.
It could certainly be surmised that this amazing Copperfield like disappearing act is down to wrangling between the commonwealth and states over the policy which has spilled out into the public domain and certainly stymied the progress of what is an important, much-needed and well and truly overdue policy response to an issue that has lacked any major attention since de-institutionalisation.
If the National Disability Insurance Scheme really is as powerful and as certain to happen as we were made to believe up until just weeks ago when it was front and centre of the debate then it simply must return to the political discourse in as big a way as it was less than about a month ago.
This could certainly have been avoided by adopting the Productivity Commission recommendation on funding from the outset. The states though could still contribute existing funds allocated to service provision in areas covered by people the Medicare like scheme would capture and provide for.
The question that must now be asked would be, is this just an illusory disappearance from the political landscape of the NDIS or is this a case of a real disappearance without a trace? The cynic would say it leans toward the latter.