Today in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, Adelaide and Hobart rallies were held as a show of support for the policy of a National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). Those who could converged on events in their capital cities with their friends, families and supporters of the cause to put a strong public face to the calls for action in the often neglected and always underfunded area of disability policy. Today the silent minority, Australia’s largest minority in fact, found their collective voice.
The numbers were propped up in many cities by the presence of politicians of all political colours, with attendees at different rallies around the country including the Prime Minister, Minister for Disability Reform, the Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities, the Shadow Minister for Disabilities, Attorney-General and others.
It was a red sea of sorts at rally locations around the country. All in attendance were united in the fight to pursue the announced but not yet commenced policy development and implementation of the NDIS which the Productivity Commission has identified as a necessity for so many Australians who receive little or no support and face barriers of inclusion because of their impairments.
Speculation surrounding the NDIS and the upcoming federal budget has been rife in recent weeks, with speculation mounting that there would be a significant announcement in the fiscal statement on the evening of May 8 on the future of the policy.
Today the Prime Minister announced, at the Sydney NDIS rally that the speculation was indeed true, though, giving us the detail of an earlier commencement of the scheme, but teased us with just how it would be funded, saying we would have to wait for the budget to be told how the quicker rollout would be achieved.
Prime Minister Gillard today announced that the Medicare-like scheme would commence in July next year in four sites around the country, helping approximately 10 000 people with significant and permanent disabilities seek the treatment and care that they need to be able to, in many cases, perform basic daily functions.
The Prime Minister also stated that those covered by the program would double to 20 000 by the following year after the initial implementation of the scheme.
Probably of most importance and central to the delivery of this policy promise, the Prime Minister announced the establishment of the agency to oversee the NDIS. The new body to oversee the delivery of the necessary care and support programs will be called the Disability Transition Agency.
For their part, the Coalition came out in strong bipartisan support again for the NDIS, as they have reaffirmed in recent weeks save for comments from the Shadow Treasurer questioning how the federal government would be able to fund the scheme.
But nevertheless, Mr Hockey reiterated that it was an “extremely important” initiative and that it did have bipartisan support.
Truth be told, the scepticism will probably continue to exist until the budget and even the eventual delivery of the scheme. People with a disability who cannot help themselves and their carers have been let down time after time with piecemeal action in this big and complex policy area and even a reluctance to deal with the issue since de-institutionalisation.
But the budget should and will go a long way to placating many of those who are wary
about how the promise will be funded and in any case, the query seems to be more about how it could be funded in what we have been warned to expect to be a tough budget with the government trying to return the budget to surplus.
What is important in the end is that the bipartisan nature of the NDIS continues and there are few real indications that it will not, except perhaps in terms of detailed negotiations on the scheme with the states.
In another 8 days the government will outline just how this essential policy will be funded and further detail on the rollout will be outlined and the Opposition have already locked in supporting any supply bills for the scheme.
The signs are good, but we wait for the detail and the costs.