Category Archives: Queensland Politics

A Look at Queensland’s New Ministry

Two weeks have passed since the shock result of the state election in Queensland. The Electoral Commission of Queensland has declared all 89 seats and confirmed a surprise Labor Government, just three years after the ALP were spectacularly turfed out of office. On Sunday, new Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk unveiled her first ministry to the waiting public.

Unsurprisingly, given the turnaround in electoral fortune, it contains a significant proportion of inexperienced ministers, with a few old faces returning to the frontbench. There are some good choices and some bad ones and also some lost opportunities.

The new ministry also rewards those who claimed big scalps at the election.

The ministry is slimmer this time around, with 14 personnel making up the frontline of the Palaszczuk Government as opposed to 19 in the former Newman Government

 

Premier, Minister for the Arts: Annastacia Palaszczuk:

The accidental Premier. Someone many thought would lose the Opposition Leader job to a returning heavy-hitter such as Cameron Dick.

The excitement of becoming Premier is still there to see on Ms Palaszczuk’s face. Premier Palaszczuk did not have to do much work to earn the title, so will she grow into the role?

The new Premier will have to learn the ropes quickly or the ALP could very easily be a one-term government.

 

Deputy Premier, Minister for Transport, Minister for Infrastructure, Local Government and Planning, Minister for Trade: Jackie Trad

A rapid rise to prominence for the MLA for South Brisbane. Just three years after replacing former Anna Bligh in a by-election, the former opposition’s spokesperson on Transport and Main Roads, Environment and Heritage Protection, Small Business, Consumer Affairs and the Arts becomes Deputy Premier, coupled with a big portfolio.

Annastacia Palaszczuk aside, Ms Trad was definitely one of the better performing of the ALP’s 9 parliamentary representatives.

The role of Deputy Premier might have been better suited to an MP with ministerial experience like Curtis Pitt who is the new Treasurer or Cameron Dick.

The combination of portfolios is a little strange and is an unnecessary result of the smaller ministry. It would have been ideal if the new Deputy Premier simply had the additional ministry of Infrastructure, Local Government and Planning, with Transport tacked onto the end. After all, transport is a vital form of infrastructure. The trade portfolio should have been given to Treasurer Curtis Pitt.

Will the diversity of responsibilities be a hindrance?

 

Treasurer, Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations, Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Partnerships: Curtis Pitt

Unsurprisingly, Curtis Pitt moves from Shadow Treasurer into the Treasury Portfolio.

For someone in such an important portfolio in opposition, he was not seen and heard as much as he should have been over the three years of Campbell Newman’s Government. This could have been a product of the fact that there was no anticipation from the ALP that they would be in government in 2015, or that he would have been replaced in the portfolio by a returning MP.

Employment and Industrial Relations is quite a natural match for the Treasury portfolio, so it is a good move from the ALP Government to link it with the treasury portfolio.

While it can easily be argued that there is an important relationship between employment and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Partnerships portfolio, that is not all there is to the latter portfolio. This responsibility should have been given to the Minister for Communities or the Attorney-General.

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Partnerships portfolio should have gone to one of the two indigenous MP’s who won seats at the election. It beggars belief that this did not occur.

The salient question here is, will we see the modest spending commitments made by Labor in opposition carry through into government? History says no.

 

Minister for Health, Minister for Ambulance Services: Cameron Dick 

It is entirely unsurprising that an MLA with ministerial experience like Cameron Dick was given the health portfolio. The former Attorney-General and Minister for Education has 3 years’ experience in senior ministerial positions.

It is also not a big secret that the MLA for Woodridge was seen as a leadership contender leading up to the election and what better portfolio to give someone with leadership aspirations than the poisoned chalice of the health portfolio? Trouble is, he could shine at the role, repairing relationships with the sector which were broken by the LNP.

While this portfolio is often used to temper the leadership ambitions of colleagues, it should have been given to someone skilled in areas related to the portfolio. Doctor Anthony Lynham would have been the ideal person to take on this job.

The question is whether or not the new minister can get on top of important issues relating to prompt care of patients who present to health facilities?

 

Minister for Education, Minister for Tourism, Major Events and Small Business, Minister for Commonwealth Games: Kate Jones

The MLA for Ashgrove, who took on Premier Campbell Newman and won back the seat she lost to him in 2012, has been rewarded with a plum role in the form of the education portfolio. Ms Jones brings some ministerial experience to the cabinet table and should again be one of the better performers in the ALP caucus.

Kate Jones has also been given a variety of other roles in what can only be described as a bizarre mismatch of portfolios.

Tourism and Major Events belong together, and should also include the Commonwealth Games portfolio. These responsibilities should have been given to the Minister for State Development. The Minister for Sport and Racing should have also shared in the Commonwealth Games portfolio. Quite clearly, Small Business should have been included in Minister Pitt’s portfolio.

The question here is will the people of Ashgrove like that their returning local member will be busy with such a large portfolio of ministerial responsibilities?

 

Minister for State Development, Minister for Natural Resources and Mines: Doctor Anthony Lynham

For winning back Stafford for the ALP at a by-election brought on by the resignation of Dr Chris Davis, then of the LNP, Dr Lynham has been given a very important portfolio.

This portfolio combination is sound. As mentioned above however, Dr Lynham should be in the health portfolio.

A question people will want to know the answer to, is just how much development will be allowed by the new minister? Over the last three years the ALP has railed against some key development projects.

 

Attorney-General and Minister for Justice, Minister for Training and Skills: Yvette D’Ath

Yvette D’Ath, another by-election winner has been rewarded with a senior role in the government.

The former federal MP takes on another oddly shaped portfolio. What kind of logic was used in separating the Training and Skills portfolio from either the education or employment portfolios? Terrible logic.

Yvette D’Ath is not the best choice for this position. There are at least two members of the ALP caucus better suited to this position. The Premier should have chosen former Attorney-General Cameron Dick, or high-profile lawyer Peter Russo.

One question with regard to this portfolio is whether the new Attorney-General and the ALP Government will show due deference to the rule of law and principles of justice? Another essential question is will the government be able to swiftly regain the confidence of the legal fraternity?

 

Minister for Police, Fire and Emergency Services, Minister for Corrective Services: Jo-Ann Miller

The combative member for the safe ALP seat of Bundamba, who has sat in the parliament since 2000,  picks up a portfolio which was front and centre of the last 3 years in the Newman Government’s response to criminal gangs.

A question on everyone’s lips is how will Jo-Ann Miller deal with the outlaw gang issue? It looks certain that a softer approach is on the way. The rule of law and principles of justice have to be front and centre, while at the same time making sure that the public continue to feel safe.

 

Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries, Minister for Sport and Racing: Bill Byrne

Bill Byrne is now in his second term as the MLA for Rockhampton. He picks up a ministry different to the one he held while in opposition.

The member for Rockhampton has also been awarded a strange portfolio mix. Agriculture and fisheries go well together, but sport and racing is a strange addition. The latter should have been included in the Tourism and Major Events portfolio as sporting tourism is an important drawcard for visitors to and within Australia.

It was a smart decision to make Bill Byrne the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries. His electorate is well-known for agriculture, especially beef production and is in close proximity to the coastline.

A crucial question is how will this minister assist his colleagues in ensuring the ongoing viability of our fisheries as climate change hits and mining impacts take their toll?

 

Minister for Main Roads, Road Safety and Ports, Minister for Energy and Water Supply: Mark Bailey

Mark Bailey is a brand new MP, having beaten former LNP MP Carl Judge in Yeerongpilly. He takes on a large portfolio for a parliamentary newcomer.

Mr Bailey’s portfolio is also a hodgepodge of seemingly mismatched responsibilities. Main Roads should have been kept with Transport, along with Road Safety. Ports should have been included in the Infrastructure or State Development portfolio and those two areas merged into one ministerial area of responsibility.

There are two important questions in this space: What will happen on the ports front? And how well will Mark Bailey work with the self-appointed ‘infrastructure Prime Minister’ on what may well be competing priorities?

 

Minister for Housing and Public Works, Minister for Science and Innovation: Leeanne Enoch

The story of Leeanne Enoch is one of the best to come out of the 2015 election. The new minister and equally new MLA is one of two indigenous MP’s who were elected to the Queensland Parliament – a first for the state.

But yet again we have a case of confused ministerial priorities and missed opportunities.

The Housing and Public Works portfolio should be closely associated with either the Community Services, Infrastructure or State Development portfolios. The Science and Innovation responsibilities should be wedded with either Education, Employment or even State Development.

While housing is a big issue for indigenous Australians, it is a missed opportunity that Ms Enoch was not appointed to a broadened role relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island affairs, or even Community Services.

A question which has barely been countenanced in this area in recent times is what will be the strategy in relation to homelessness? This appears to be a forgotten issue in Australian politics.

 

Minister for Environment and Heritage Protection, Minister for National Parks and the Great Barrier Reef: Steven Miles 

Yet another first-time MP straight into a ministry. The new member for Mount Coot-tha has been rewarded for unseating Saxon Rice in the inner-city electorate. Over the next 3 years this portfolio will be one of the most widely mentioned in the political arena.

This is the best constructed portfolio of all fourteen ministries. Every aspect of it is interconnected.

People will be wanting an answer to the question of how much this portfolio will focus on the reef and also around Gladstone?

 

Minister for Disability Services, Minister for Seniors, Minister Assisting the Premier on North Queensland: Coralee O’Rourke

Coralee O’Rourke unseated a Newman Government Minister in David Crisafulli on January 31 and has been rewarded with what is a vital portfolio, given the aging population and the NDIS, which is in the important trial phase.

The North Queensland focus, while clashing with what is a social policy portfolio, will suit the Townsville-based MP. The North Queensland part of Ms O’Rourke’s responsibilities could however have been given to the state development minister if the Premier had chosen an MP from North Queensland to fill that role.

This is yet another case of picking the wrong candidate. Rob Pyne, a quadriplegic, was also elected to parliament on the 31st of January and given his personal experience with disability, would have been the ideal candidate for this ministry.

A topic of consideration will be what issues the NDIS trials raise and how the government works with other state governments and the federal government to ensure the NDIS becomes fully operational.

Also under consideration will be what additional government support is required in North Queensland.

 

Minister for Communities, Women and Youth, Minister for Child Safety, Minister for Multicultural Affairs: Shannon Fentiman

Another minister, another rookie MP. Shannon Fentiman joins the Palaszczuk ministry after defeating Mike Latter of the LNP at the January 31 state ballot.

This is quite a large portfolio to start with but could have been even bigger if a streamlined version included disability and other areas of community services.

In the area of multicultural affairs, state governments do very little, especially when the Commonwealth Government has carriage of immigration policy. Nonetheless, making people from different backgrounds feel welcome and included in Australian society is a role state governments can play

There are a number of issues to consider in this area including: homelessness, getting more women and young people into the workforce and protecting children from online dangers.

 

Leader of the House, Assistant Minister of State Assisting the Premier: Stirling Hinchliffe

Stirling Hinchliffe returns to state parliament after losing his seat along with most of his colleagues in 2012. Mr Hinchliffe has effectively been demoted, given that his last role in government was the Minister for Mining.

Using his experience in key economic portfolios in the former Bligh Government, Mr Hinchliffe’s main task will be to help the new Premier behind the scenes.

As Leader of the House, he will also be both a general and guide to the whole ALP caucus.

First and foremost, we wait to see how well he negotiates with the crossbench. We know that most legislation is likely to be passed. However, it is unlikely everything will be smooth sailing.

Experienced, With Political Baggage

The political scene in Australia continues to amaze. We are ever closer to the motion to make the Liberal Party leadership positions vacant. That vote will come on Tuesday, or possibly Monday if a rumour doing the rounds is confirmed fact. And in Queensland we continue to witness the fallout from the extraordinary election result just one week ago. Peter Wellington has declared his hand and the ALP are ever closer to government – a situation barely even considered by anyone.

In the midst of negotiations between the two major political parties and Katter’s Australian Party, the LNP moved to elect a new leadership team.

This move was a necessity to give some clarity of direction and focus to the negotiations. A leaderless team cannot possibly be considered for office – especially one with multiple representatives seeking to put forward the case for the continuation of a LNP administration.

In any case that is likely a forlorn hope, even with the uncertainty of the Ferny Grove poll result. Negotiations should continue in good faith, but it seems the LNP may as well begin planning for the 2018 Queensland election. If anything has been learned in the last 5 years, it is that almost any opposition could find themselves in government. And those political parties may not even have to work hard for that privilege.

After a meeting lasting about three hours, the LNP Party Whip, Ted Sorensen, emerged from the caucus room to inform the waiting media and the public that the new leader was Lawrence Springborg and his deputy, John-Paul Langbroek.

Those who have kept up with Queensland politics in the 21st century, and the media today, will realise that the LNP have chosen to return two former leaders to the top two positions in the LNP caucus. On the face of it a good thing, but not necessarily.

In terms of the negotiations between cross-bench MP’s and the major parties, the new yet old leadership team is a sensible move. The Katter’s Australian Party MP’s have said this week that they are most comfortable negotiating with Lawrence Springborg. This is obviously a sign that he is one of the most rural-minded MP’s in the amalgamated Liberal National Party.

When speaking of the need for an experienced leadership team, it is also hard to go by a duo who have held the leadership three times between them. Contrast that with the ALP leader, Annastacia Palaszczuk, who has been the Opposition leader for three years. However, Lawrence Springborg is also experienced in electoral defeat, having led the coalition and subsequently the amalgamated LNP to three poll losses.

This kind of experience in leadership and electoral defeats means less in political terms for the party though, than the political journey of Mr Springborg and Mr Langbroek over the last three years. For the entire term Lawrence Springborg was in the troubled health portfolio, and John-Paul Langbroek the Education Minister. To put it simply, the ALP will have a fine time with this right up until the next election. The Health portfolio was an absolute disaster for the new LNP leader. And education policy was not without difficulty either.

It is entirely possible that a rush to impress the KAP team of two will backfire on the LNP, or at least provide some serious discomfort over the next 3 years.

What is needed now is a sustained disavowal of elements of the last three years. This has happened to a degree, including today. However, actions, including a mix of jettisoning some policy and tinkering with others would be a far better way for the LNP to begin regaining the electorate’s trust.

Ideally though, the LNP could have gone with a different leadership team. Two of the candidates touted – Scott Emerson and John McVeigh – might have been a safer option. Both Mr Emerson and Mr McVeigh have some ministerial experience, and therefore some guilt by association with the former LNP Government. On the other hand, they are far less politically compromised than the team which the partyroom voted for today. Transport and Agriculture were never the cause of mass angst during Campbell Newman’s time as Premier.

The reality is that the decision was made to go with two different candidates. Whether or not they are there in 2018 remains undetermined.

Queensland Helps Break the Political Mould

In the world of politics there is a lot of talk about different eras. In most countries politics is referred to in terms of pre and post-war eras. In Australia we talk about pre and post war politics and even post-1975 Australia. And in the United States of America there is also discussion of a post-war era. Today in Australia, we can fairly comfortably talk of there being a post-2010 age of politics.

The Newman Government – and Campbell Newman himself – dramatically lost power in Queensland in what has to be one of the biggest shock results in politics, even eclipsing the hung parliament outcome in federal politics in 2010. To put it simply – nobody saw this coming, surely even the Australian Labor Party in Queensland.

A number of people argued after the Victorian election earlier this year and the hung parliament in 2010, that one-term governments could be the big new possibility in Australian politics. It was far from certain that it could be a new feature of Australian democracy on a semi-regular basis back when Daniel Andrews became Premier, but now it seems it can be seen that way. Barring drastic change in the fortunes of the federal coalition, it seems the Abbott Government will be a one term government.

The questions that will be asked a lot over the coming days and weeks are ‘what happened? And how/why did it happen?’. Without a doubt there were multiple factors, including things the LNP had control over and that they did not.

By far the biggest factor which the outgoing government in Queensland could control but failed to was how they governed the state. Campbell Newman and the LNP governed with an arrogance, surely in large part fuelled by the whopping majority handed to them by voters in 2012.But they also began governing without listening to voters. It is one of the simplest rules in democratic politics that you must listen to the public.

Even in conservative Queensland, it is hard to deny the fact that federal politics played a role. A number of state and federal Coalition MP’s admitted as much, including Jane Prentice in a most dramatic fashion on the ABC election night broadcast. Long gone is the time when you could safely say that federal issues had little or no bearing on state results. In this space, it has come very quickly to a point in time when most people are asking when Tony Abbott will lose his job as Prime Minister rather than if he will.

The assets question is an interesting one. It is a question that was put to Queensland voters by the LNP Government a while back and one the LNP thought they could build a case for on the back of deciding to lease some assets rather than sell them. However it seems that polling indicated it was one of the big issues on the minds’ of the voting public.

The cuts made by the LNP at the beginning of their tenure surely played a role in the devastating result too. Voters knew that the LNP had to make cuts and they always have to after a long-term Labor Government. It was the terrible and shady way this issue was dealt with which would have really annoyed the people of Queensland.

It is hard to argue that the ALP won this campaign, and therefore government. The whole campaign it felt like they were going through the motions. It was quite obvious that the only goal many in the party saw achievable was knocking over Campbell Newman in Ashgrove. To put it quite simply it was the LNP who lost government. They did so through a series of politically stupid decisions.

The LNP have to make some difficult choices now in order to become electable again in three years’ time. They have to pick a new leader and really think about which issues to keep on fighting on in the usual way and those where they need to have a different perspective.

In terms of the leadership question, it looks reasonably likely that the Liberal National Party will finally turn to Tim Nicholls. As far as experience in a key economic portfolio goes, he looks like the ideal candidate to replace Campbell Newman. The trouble with his candidacy will be the question of whether or not he is viewed by the public as damaged goods having been the Treasurer for Campbell Newman.

The LNP would really want to think long and hard about this very important consideration. The issue with John-Paul Langbroek and Lawrence Springborg, other than their ministerial association with the former government, will be their failed attempts at the party leadership in the past. However, working in their favour is the example of John Howard.

There is one other contender thrown up in the leadership equation, and that is Scott Emerson, the former Transport Minister. There is the ministerial association with the outgoing administration, however he has not been as heavily linked with a string of tough decisions as the other candidates have been. Mr Emerson would also be a lacklustre choice, but then so was Annastacia Palaszczuk and she will become the new Premier.

There are not a lot of certainties in Australian politics anymore. We will have to keep watching intently to see what else may happen and just what is possible the next time Queensland heads to the polls.

We Must Remain Vigilant

The National Disability Insurance Scheme, now renamed DisabilityCare is a step closer to becoming reality after the Queensland Premier Campbell Newman signed an agreement with Prime Minister Julia Gillard in Brisbane. The agreement confirms the funding commitment of both levels of government to the disability scheme.

The deal will see Queensland contribute $1.9 billion dollars over the next decade and see the disability reform starting to emerge in 2016, before it is fully operational in 2019-20. In signing up, Queensland now joins New South Wales, Tasmania, Victoria, South Australia and the Australian Capital Territory as signatories to the funding arrangements. That leaves Western Australia and the Northern Territory as the only governments still to put ink on the page.

Understandably, excitement is growing about the future of disability care in Australia and that has accelerated with each individual agreement reached between the state and territory governments and the commonwealth. People with a disability around Australia, their carers and families, are slowly rediscovering a long lost hope, that their needs might be sufficiently met by government. Of course there is going to be palpable excitement. Of course there will be some celebration.

But we need to be very careful about how we view recent events. As advocates and supporters of this much-needed reform we must not allow ourselves to get too swept up in the emotion of important days like yesterday. There is no doubt that commitments like that agreed to by Julia Gillard and Campbell Newman are a big step forward, but a lot can still go wrong between now and 2018-19. In fact, there is a need to continue to be cautious until well after the scheme is fully operational across the country. Things can still go a bit pear-shaped.

The first, but most surmountable roadblock is getting the recalcitrant state of Western Australia and the Northern Territory to agree to a funding commitment for the rollout with the commonwealth.

Western Australia wants to sign up but wants more decentralised control of the scheme in the state and that is fair enough, because service delivery should be based on a largely decentralised bureaucracy. Negotiations between WA and the federal government will continue and a resolution of some sort appears inevitable. But caution is still the order of the day here and both the state and the commonwealth must continue negotiations with an open mind and a desire for compromise on the specific issues WA has with the policy.

The Northern Territory will also need to get the pen out and sign a deal with Canberra for the full rollout of DisabilityCare. The NT Government just recently penned a deal to have their own launch site in the Barkly Region. In light of this, realisation of the funding for the full commitment surely cannot be too far away. But again, all possible eventualities must be taken into account, including the negative ones. even though 6 of the 8 states and territories have agreed to terms with the Gillard Government.

Bilateral agreements aside, there is still the issue of where the commonwealth, even the states, will get the rest of the money for the disability insurance scheme, despite the commitments to fund the scheme. At present the agreements are simply words between two parties and in the interest of making sure DisabilityCare happens, the positive developments must be viewed with the utmost wariness until the full policy has actually commenced.

The Opposition too, who will almost certainly be in government come September, will need to be pursued just as relentlessly over its commitment to the NDIS. There is bipartisan support but it means nothing until we actually see the policy up and running.

Finally, we must continue to run a critical eye over the policy even when it is operational. There may be shortfalls in standards of delivery and even funding and we should not be particularly surprised if either of these possibilities arises. In fact, it is completely within reason to expect that both problems may exist, though hopefully the  launch sites will allow enough time to remedy most, if not all potential issues.

With the agreements signed to date between commonwealth and state and territory governments, about 90% of Australians with severe and permanent disability and those that look after them can now have a little more hope.

We need to make sure over the coming years that the agreements are transformed from words on a page to deeds.

A Little Bit About Bundaberg

The annual pilgrimage to Bundaberg for Christmas celebrations with the family has begun. I now find myself in the suburbs of Bundy, a bustling town, readying my stomach for an early Christmas feast.

Because I just could not last more than a day without writing- yes, let’s call it an addiction, a passion, I’ve decided to share some information about the place.

Bundaberg is of a decent size. There are over 70,000 residents in the town which is about 4 hours from Brisbane.

The town is famous for two things: sugar and Bundaberg Rum. And the latter is not made without copious amounts of the former.

Though Bundaberg is really famous for the teeth-rotting stuff and ‘cane-cutter’s cordial’, a significant amount of fruit and vegetables are grown in the area.

In terms of politics, the town is the main centre of the the Bundaberg Regional Council area.

At the state level, Bundaberg has two MP’s. They are MLA for Bundaberg, Jack Dempsey, the Police Minister and the MLA for Burnett, Stephen Bennett who won the seat from former LNP member, Rob Messenger. Both representatives are from the LNP.

When it comes to federal politics, the MP is Paul Neville, the Member for Hinkler. Mr Neville is also from the LNP, a National Party MP before the merger of the Liberal and National Parties in Queensland.

Now that you’re all schooled up on Bundaberg I must get ready for some overindulgence.

Queensland Seeking to Pay the Fare for the NDIS Bus

It appears, less than a week after the last Council of Australian Governments meeting, that Queensland has jumped firmly on the National Disability Insurance Scheme bandwagon. Queensland Premier Campbell Newman today announced a “timeline” for providing funding toward the NDIS. Premier Newman also confirmed that he has written to Prime Minister Julia Gillard with a formal bid for a funding split between his state and the federal government.

Mr Newman has written to the Prime Minister and is seeking a 50-50 funding split between Queensland and the commonwealth for funding of disability services under the national reform to the disability sector. The Premier flagged this offer last Friday while in attendance at the COAG meeting of first ministers.

Campbell Newman has however reiterated that his government will wait until the budget is in surplus. Therefore he has said that the decision to commit money to the disability insurance scheme will be delayed by two years.

A further element of the promises today from the Queensland Premier was a pledge to begin increasing funding of the disability sector from 2014, with plans to reach the national average spend on disability by 2018, the year that the NDIS will be fully operational. This will mean, in dollar terms, an increase of $868 million over the four-year period from the current levels, very low compared with other states, to $1.77 billion in the year that the NDIS is due to come into force.

The offer is similar to the deal reached between New South Wales and the Gillard Government, a which will see the national government contribute a little over 51% of the funds for the NDIS and the New South Wales Government over 48% of the shared contribution.

The offer of an even share from the Queensland Government will likely receive approval from Julia Gillard. However, this evening the ALP Government has responded to the offer from Queensland, saying the spending plan does not contain enough funds for the full implementation of the disability insurance scheme.

The Australian Capital Territory has also committed to the full rollout of the NDIS. Because of the size of the population in the territory, the ACT Government has been able to guarantee that, just a year after the launch site is established, approximately 5000 disabled Territorians will start being covered by the full national disability scheme. And by 2016-17, the scheme will be fully operational in the territory.

There is however one element of the NDIS rollout that the Newman Government has not committed to. From the start of the negotiations at COAG, the Liberal Government in Queensland has refused to commit to funding a NDIS launch site, a minor commitment which would have cost between $20 and $30 million dollars.

It is somewhat true that a launch site in Queensland is now redundant, with five already agreed to in other states and territories. Well, that is true at least in theory. Originally the Prime Minister had called for bids from four state and territory volunteers, but thanks to a somewhat joint effort from NSW and Victoria there are now five.

Queensland offering to establish a launch site however, would be an inexpensive symbol of their commitment to the future of the National Disability Insurance Scheme, above and beyond the political promise they made today. A launch site in Queensland would be priceless in terms of the information it would provide. Another launch site in Queensland would help ensure that the full implementation of the scheme is informed by the best, most robust data available.

The next move requires Queensland to come back with a higher offer.

An Open Letter to State and Federal Politicians Regarding the NDIS

Dear state and federal governments,

I do not believe that all of you, despite protestations to the contrary, are actually one hundred percent serious about pursuing the implementation of a National Disability Insurance Scheme. Furthermore, I am concerned that the bipartisanship at the federal level may well be in name only.

Labor: You announced, with great fanfare as a result of work precipitated largely by Bill Shorten as Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities through the Productivity Commission, that a NDIS was needed. That report identified that the disability services sector is fragmented and under-funded. You pledged to work towards implementing such a scheme.

The Coalition: You announced swiftly, despite a perceived disposition towards opposing major reforms, that you wholeheartedly supported the idea to assist some of the most vulnerable Australians.

Since that wonderful day when you, our federal politicians gave a feeling of hope that many people with a disability and their carers have never experienced before, things have changed.

The future of the much-needed reform looks far less certain than it did this time last year and that worries me. I have no doubt it also worries many others with a connection to disability. We are used to disappointment and people with a disability are used to being largely left out of government calculations.

I acknowledge that the problem is not wholly because of you, the federal government. Blame for the uncertainty must also be laid squarely at the feet of some of our state governments. Yes, you did ignore, as governments generally do an important recommendation. This recommendation from the Productivity Commission said that you, the commonwealth should be the sole funding government of this important initiative.

To Tasmania, South Australia, the Australian Capital Territory and later New South Wales and Victoria: Thank to all of you for getting past the Gillard Government’s refusal to be the sole contributor to the National Disability Insurance Scheme. Your contribution is much appreciated, even yours NSW and Victoria. At least you were willing to remain at the negotiating table even if your government’s played it trickily for a while.

Queensland: Despite the dumping of the key recommendation from the report into the insurance scheme, you could have contributed a modest amount of funds toward a launch site.

You should have been able to get past that point and negotiate with the federal government from the viewpoint that they must be responsible still for the bulk of money contributed towards the establishment of a NDIS. We know and acknowledge that your revenue streams, as with all states, are limited. However, giving something was entirely possible.

To all the states: Please now operate on the assumption that the commonwealth government should provide the vast majority of the funds toward the NDIS. That includes you Queensland.

But back to you, the federal government: A half thanks for the $1 billion over 4 years in the May budget. You contributed something. But in the scheme of things it falls remarkably short of the mark. The meagre sum of $250 million a year for four years for a project that will cost over $13 billion in the first full year is a bit of a joke, especially considering how much more you like to waste in other areas.

To the federal Opposition: Thanks for what appeared, at least initially, to be earnest support for an essential new way of catering to the unmet needs of people with a disability.

Since that initial endorsement though, there have been mixed messages which make me and many others concerned that your professed interest in pursuing this in government might actually be a little on the fake side.

If this is a false assumption then please stop people like Joe Hockey from appearing to question the ability to fully fund the scheme years into the future. Please stop the Shadow Treasurer from referring to it in a negative light.

Contribution to the scheme will be more than possible by the time of implementation put forward by the Productivity Commission. Even the timetable of the ALP Government is within reason. It is only one year earlier.

Again to Labor: I hope you did not think that my concern over your actions, or lack thereof was limited to that already mentioned. It is not.

I am very concerned at your ability to appear to be doing something while actually doing little at all, other than mostly talking. You now say you will introduce legislation to establish aspects of the NDIS, including the transitional agency. That is great, but it is useless without money being funneled towards it.

You have said, or at least hinted over the past couple of days at more money being directed toward the policy, but only next year. If your hilariously small contribution in the May budget is anything to go by, then a contribution next year, keeping in mind the state of the budget and the fact that it is an election year, will either be inadequate or potentially peeled back upon change of government.

The disability community would appreciate it if all of you would address our concerns. Some of you are doing very well, some okay and one state, that’s you Queensland, doing terribly.

There are a lot of people now more cautious, some cynical and some even scared about the prospects of not having the NDIS going ahead. We need reassurance that our concerns are not based in reality. That can only be achieved through strong actions, not strong rhetoric.

Yours Sincerely,

A NDIS fan

Games and More Games, But Where to Now for the NDIS?

The latest Council of Australian Governments meeting has gone off with a bit of a hitch. The National Disability Insurance Scheme launch sites were front and centre of the COAG agenda today with the states and territories coming together to try and win a launch site, well in most cases at least.

At the meeting today in Canberra a total of three launch sites were announced by the Prime Minister Julia Gillard. South Australia, the Australian Capital Territory and Tasmania managed to reach agreement with the Gillard Government to co-fund trials in their respective states and territories.

But alas, a fourth and final trial location could not be found. The states and territories who will be hosting launch sites are all Labor administrations. Those loudest in their criticism of the government over the project, from a positive interest in at least trying to find an outcome, to in Queensland’s case, not having an interest at all in contributing funds until at least 2014-15 are all Liberal state Premiers.

Western Australia a Liberal state, under Premier Colin Barnett will at least be trying out their own version of the scheme, ‘My Way’ which the federal government will have a look at to see how their experiment at a state-based scheme goes. But really, all states should just get with the same program, but points for trying.

New South Wales and Victoria, on the face of it, seem part of the way there. NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell announced that his state had $570 million for the trial, a not insignificant amount, over half of the commonwealth allocation in the May budget which put aside $1 billion for the four initial locations for the disability scheme.

Together with Victoria, the two states with conservative Premiers put together a joint bid. Their proposal was to cater for 15,000 people with a disability with the New South Wales part of the two-state agreement to be put in place in the Hunter region.

But again money was the killer here. The Prime Minister wanted NSW Premier O’Farrell to contribute a further $70 million for the trial and the Victorian Premier, Ted Baillieu an extra $40 million for their states to be able to have one of the four initial NDIS service areas.

The first point is that the money that NSW were willing to bring to the table was an extremely generous sum for a scheme which the Productivity Commission recommended should be fully funded by the feds.

Second, surely each of the three parties in the negotiations for the joint bid had the ability to make up the $100 million funding shortfall between them, whether that be either of the two states or the Gillard Government, or all three sharing the extra burden.

As far as Queensland goes, with relatively new state Premier Campbell Newman at the helm, the whole situation is far from encouraging. The Queensland Premier, Mr Newman came to the meeting of Australian governments proposing to spend not a single cent on a proposal for a launch site. Interestingly though, Mr Newman brought a proposal to COAG today for a launch site to be held in the town of Gympie, north of Brisbane.

But that of course was never ever going to translate into the northern state being granted the right  by the commonwealth to enjoy the benefits of being one of the first four places in the country to see how the eventually national scheme will operate.

The overall point is that all Liberal states were playing politics. It (the funding job) could have been done. Surely too, the federal government, in the knowledge that in twelve months time they will likely not be in power and not having to stump up further funds for the essential disability policy. were also playing political games.

What was interesting today and in the lead-up to the crucial Council of Australian Governments meeting was that the Northern Territory Government, under Chief Minister Paul Henderson, a Labor administration appeared relatively absent from the debate and discussion. The motive likely the upcoming election in the Northern Territory.

So where to now for the National Disability Insurance Scheme?

While the federal government should have followed the Productivity Commission recommendation to fully fund the scheme it is clear that it will never happen that way.

But it is clear that the NDIS just has to happen. People with a disability have waited far too long for a serious attempt at a framework meeting their basic but diverse needs in a converted national approach.

Like it or lump it, the states have to alter their stance on the project to a standpoint where they are willing to contribute more whilst still pushing for the commonwealth to fund the vast majority of the costly policy.

With a likely Liberal Government at the federal level next year, it is important that their in principle support, which appears to be wavering quite strongly, is converted into real support for following the already embarked upon implementation process.

Lobby groups, the state and current federal government will need to continue to put the pressure on the current federal Opposition to make their uncertain bipartisan support a reality. Nobody wants to see an incoming Abbott Government in power suddenly baulk when faced with needing to implement a policy that the Liberal Premiers have all had varying degrees of difficulty acknowledging is important.

But again, at the same time, the current administration at the federal level must take their share of the blame for what is a very worrying juncture in the NDIS debate.

All states and the federal government need to work together more and be more willing to compromise. They all have the means to contribute something. People with a disability cannot afford to miss out with another failed policy.

The Will They Or Won’t They NDIS Game Rears Its Head

After a short period of time where discussion of the National Disability Insurance Scheme was almost completely non existent in the political discussion engaged in by the federal government we’ve seen in recent weeks a return to the discourse of the very important initiative. This is because the Council of Australian Governments, that’s COAG for the politically inclined, commences tomorrow.

Funding has been a key area of dispute between the states and the commonwealth and this has been telegraphed in the media ever since negotiations over the funding and implementation of the scheme began. This is set to continue in earnest at COAG as is competition over which states or territories have the privilege of hosting one of the four launch sites announced by the Gillard Government as part of the May budget. This announcement came with $1 billion over four years in federal funding for the scheme.

The states of course are crying poor, particularly Queensland, where the new Premier has inherited a budget deficit from the former Bligh Government of $2.8 billion and a debt of $64 billion for 2011/12.

The South Australian Premier, Jay Weatherill, whose state has agreed to put $20 million toward the policy but has said today “we don’t have the budget capacity to go further at this time”.

In Queensland’s case, the Premier will go to COAG asking for a launch site to be held in Gympie, north of Brisbane, but without a commitment from his state to put any money toward the launch site.

Premier Campbell Newman supports the scheme in principle but wants the commonwealth government to fund it and he is right with the latter part of the following comment where Mr Newman today said “we’re prepared to support the program, we’re prepared to support a trial site in Gympie, but they (federal government) must fund it and that’s what the Productivity Commission said”.

It is indeed true that the Productivity Commission in its advice to the government on the implementation of the important NDIS said that the commonwealth should fund the scheme.

But the commonwealth itself is limited to what it has available to allocate to the implementation of the policy. They’ve allocated that $1 billion over 4 years, that’s $250 million a year for the first four years.

That’s not to say they couldn’t have done much more, they could have. Instead of plunging more money into areas of spending that have had or will likely not have highly positive outcomes they could have contributed more of the billions of dollars they did allocate during the budget on a policy initiative that will help people with a disability engage in community activities.

Policy to help people with a disability has been chronically overlooked by successive governments of both political colours at the local state and federal level since de-institutionalisation. So the government must be praised for at least bringing this onto the agenda and trying to get outcomes in the area even though they’ve not exactly followed the policy prescription from the experts.

But back to the state governments and their response. They all want it, but some are much more willing than others, for differing reasons, to stump up funds for the Medicare-like project.

Regardless of what the Productivity Commission said about which level of government should fund the scheme and despite the wrong policy response from the ALP Government, all states do have the capacity to at least contribute some existing funds used for disability support were their respective states to win the right to host a launch site. The money would be going into providing the same services to the people in the areas chosen for crying out loud. Surely even Queensland could spare $20 million or at least something, a few million dollars perhaps.

It does appear increasingly like the federal government, aware that this time next year they may well be close to or have already lost government, are trying to look like they’re doing something on the issue while actually achieving much less than they’re capable of.

It’s also less and less likely a future Coalition government, who’ve announced strong support for the NDIS, but then had MPs unleash rhetoric which makes you question the sincerity of the bipartisanship will be willing to take up the political challenge and implement the National Disability Insurance Scheme. If not that, it is reasonable to at least question the cohesion and level of agreement within the party over such a big funding initiative. This would have the ability to collapse further once in government.

The important thing to note is that all levels of government do have the capacity to deal with the implementation of such a scheme. If governments didn’t waste so many millions and billions it could be done in a heartbeat. But the political games are now on and the political will of both the Labor Government and the Opposition are being and will be tested. So to the collective will of the states must be put under the spotlight. That first test has started and will accelerate tomorrow.

1950’s Style Brain Farts Continue in Queensland

The Queensland LNP Convention has been and gone over the weekend, just months after the Liberal National Party in Queensland crushed the Bligh Government at the ballot box in an historic victory which saw the ALP reduced to just 7 seats in the 89 seat unicameral legislature. Since the electoral rout pundits have been saying that the LNP would have the ability to do pretty much anything and they have, with some of us, this author included, slow to realise just how far back the Newman Government is prepared to wind the metaphorical clock.

So far, since gaining power the new government have moved to alter, albeit not completely, but 3/4 of the way the civil unions legislation introduced into the parliament by former Deputy Premier and Treasurer, Andrew Fraser.

The LNP administration decided to remove the similarity to marriage as well as the state-sanctioned civil ceremony. To be a little fair, we did expect worse as Queenslanders with the consensus being that a full repeal was on the way. But who’s been hurt by proper civil unions anyway? Certainly not me.

They have also decided to move to ban so-called ‘altruistic surrogacy’ laws brought in by the former Bligh Government which recognised surrogate rights of same-sex couples, single people and couples that have been in de facto relationships for less than 2 years.

And that’s just a start before the over the top and censorial moves that the LNP State Convention agreed to over the weekend.

The first move was a motion put to the convention asking the Queensland Education Minister John-Paul Langbroek to ban what was termed as “post-normal science”, read climate science, from the curriculum and examination materials.

Government simply does not and should not have the right to decide what is right and correct science and individual MP’s and the government’s that they represent simply do not have the scientific expertise to determine what is correct and what is not.

Fair enough if the government simply wanted the raw science of climate change to betaught without it being coloured with some of the extreme predictions which have so far failed to materialise.

And then came that motion from Young LNP State Secretary Luke Barnes, who proposed an end to the Abstudy program for indigenous people. The motion narrowly prevailed despite vigorous protestations by LNP federal MP Paul Neville that passage of the proposal would lead to the LNP being labelled “bigots”.

It’s certainly the case that the motion will lead to the LNP being called bigots, but that is nothing new for the party, they’ve been labelled bigots at the state and federal level numerous times before, including for their stance on civil unions and the surrogacy changes.

The LNP in passing this motion, however marginal the motion victory shows a complete lack of understanding of the importance of the Abstudy program to the principle of equality of opportunity in education.

Indigenous students under the program receive an $8000 grant to assist with education, travel and accommodation costs which are quite high for rural and regional students having to travel large distances to have access to education, particularly at the tertiary and secondary school level.

Indigenous students travelling for study from areas outside the major cities and education hubs are often out of pocket even after having the grant, so any downgrade bringing it in line with similar programs would just make it all the more challenging for this group to be able to continue undertaking a basic level of education that is so important to future life opportunities.

Thankfully after the passage of the motion yesterday, it has been slammed by the federal indigenous affairs spokesperson, Nigel Scullion as an idea that nobody with “half a brain” would want to bring into effect, a glorious slapdown to the brain fart of a suggestion put forward at the convention.

Another positive, if it can be called such, is that the federal government controls the Abstudy program and so the Queensland LNP, whilst now being forced to call for the abolition of the grant is unable to touch the important and essential policy, especially after the glorious slapdown by their federal counterparts.

All of these moves are a sign of a party at least as far as Queensland goes and to a similar extent the federal party sliding to the right and further away from the ideology of liberalism that gives the party its name.

Yes, from the beginning it is true that the Liberal Party was founded on a combination of a liberal and conservative tradition, with the latter always particularly based around a form of religious conservatism and that still clearly holds true today.

However, progress should be toward more individual rights  and promoting more opportunities for all as well as less government intervention in the day-to-day lives of the individual and their relationships.

A very strong separation of church and state is also required where at present the collective church is wagging the government tail, more so at the Queensland state government level, but this observation also applies to an extent to the federal government and the opposition.

Of course too, as already highlighted, these moves are in large part a result of the unprecedented power that the LNP gained at the ballot box, especially aided and abetted without an upper house to put a check on extreme use of power to deny individual rights and progress.

It’s about time to head down to that op shop for some trendy 1950s garb, but at least one decision by the state party won’t take Queensland any further back in time despite strong efforts at the weekend.

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