Today marked a potentially momentous day in the lives of people with a disability around this fair nation of Australia. Today marked the day where, after a prolonged period of campaigning, the Gillard Government, in response to a Productivity Commission report, announced it would pursue a National Disability Insurance Scheme. To their credit, the Liberal and National Party coalition also announced support for the scheme.
The type of scheme recommended by the Productivity Commission is a commonwealth funded scheme, costing $6.5 billion and covering everyone who has a disability or acquires one. It would include all reasonably required programs of care and support to make the lives of people with a disability easier than the state and federal-based schemes currently available.
Having an overarching scheme, run by one tier of government, but with input from the states will cut duplication of services and potentially cut substantial waste, compared with the current approach which has little uniformity in available services.
Prime Minister Gillard announced that discussions and work on the scheme would commence from the very next Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting where the states will be invited to form a committee to work on and oversee implementation.
States having a role in the implementation of the new scheme means that the current services offered by states, in differing ways can form part of the infrastructure to be built upon, rather than starting the scheme from scratch.
Presumably too, as part of this new National Disability Insurance Scheme, all existing laws in the states would be either added to or brought up to the same standard as each other and consistent with commonwealth legislation. For instance, housing and accessibility laws would need to be tightened across the country to make it easier for people with a disability to access universal design housing and to have easier access to buildings in general.
The question of cost is a very important one, particularly in the economic circumstances we find ourselves at present. We simply haven’t got $6.5 billion dollars to spend without either borrowing more from overseas, an unpalatable option, or increasing taxes, the most unpalatable of unpalatable options.
The Prime Minister today put forward those two options and also a third, cutting spending by doing a tax swap deal with the states. Without knowing the figures, I cannot see for certain how this would work so I will halt judgement on that option.
It seems to me that this program is of the utmost importance and has been needed for some time. It is a shame that any future overspending may put it in jeopardy into the future and again relegate the politics of disability into the ‘not sexy’ basket.
Work is not over for the NDIS movement and its followers. It is incumbent upon us to keep pursuing the matter right through to expected delivery in at least 7 years time. From that time the job will be to make sure the scheme is meeting all the expectations of its users and to be loud in calling for reform when it does not. Anything less will not see this become a positive reality.