A not insignificant breakthrough has been achieved in the journey toward a fully-funded National Disability Insurance Scheme. The Gillard Government and New South Wales have reached an agreement on joint funding of the full NDIS, due by 2018-19. The deal brings the full scheme closer to fruition. However, there are still challenges which will need to be overcome before people with a disability can say with absolute certainty that the National Disability Insurance Scheme is going to happen.
Under the agreement the federal government has agreed to fund 51.4% of the cost of the scheme to NSW, with the state government set to fund the remaining 48.6%. Under the deal, in dollar terms, both the state and federal government will contribute over $3 billion to the scheme, with the commonwealth providing $3.319 billion and New South Wales $3.133 billion.
From financial year 2018-19, the major disability reform, under the Commonwealth-NSW agreement, would see 120,000 disabled people in the state have their needs met by the NDIS.
To have the biggest state by population being the first of the states and territories to sign up to the full disability scheme is a sizable coup. What the deal means is that 120,000 of the over 400,000 set to be covered by the full disability insurance scheme now have their future assured, at least on paper.
The announcement does not assure that the NDIS will go ahead, but it does provide a level of hope that has not yet been experienced by people with a disability, their carers, families and advocates.
There are another 5 states and two territories which will need to sign onto the scheme for the national project to go ahead.
The NSW deal could provide a catalyst for other states getting onboard with the disability reform, either when they meet with the Prime Minister at the Council of Australian Governments meeting tomorrow, or at some stage in the future after tomorrow’s COAG.
Today Queensland Premier Campbell Newman appeared to have changed his political tune about the reform, saying that he and his government are “very interested” in a deal like the one Barry O’Farrell and Julia Gillard reached today and that it is “very attractive”. He did however say that at this stage his government did not have the funds for the implementation of the policy.
Western Australia are at present looking at their own trial of a similar scheme to the NDIS, but they too could change their tune tomorrow when the Premiers and Chief Ministers meet at the COAG table.
And Victoria, a state closely aligned with New South Wales in terms of political allegiances could easily agree to follow the lead of the O’Farrell Government when the Council of Australian Governments meets.
It would appear likely that the state Labor Governments which have signed up to the trial will be prepared to sign on the dotted line, providing their formal support for a fully established National Disability Insurance Scheme.
An argument raised today, as it inevitably is when there are major reforms announced, is just how believable and enduring the agreement between the Australian Government and NSW will be.
It is true that the agreement lacks detail at this stage and that it might fall victim to politics. Six years is a long time away and governments, state and federal may fall in the meantime.
The agreement however is a commitment from the O’Farrell Government of New South Wales, that it can and will find over $3 billion dollars to fund a fully operational NDIS. Some of that will come from the approximately $17,000 per person that is spent at present by the biggest Australian state. The rest, the NSW Government has today agreed, will be found elsewhere in the state budget.
Even less of a worry is the prospect of a change of government at the state level.
In the event of a Labor administration taking power in New South Wales by fiscal year 2018-19, it would be unlikely that you would see them walk away from the O’Farrell commitment to help fund disability services. Indeed, it would be a politically stupid government that would choose to walk away from a commitment set to benefit so many people.
The prospect of more states agreeing to deals like the one between New South Wales and the ALP Government too might actually help the deal endure.
It is true that the commonwealth government will likely be a different one in 2018-19 and that in itself could provide problems even though the NDIS is the subject of bipartisanship.
Whichever side of politics is in power during the year 2018-19 will need to act on the NDIS and by then will well and truly be in a position to do so.
The next move or set of moves may come tomorrow, or some time in the near future.
The pressure from the disability lobby must remain strong. There are still five states and two territories which need to commit funds and the advocacy work cannot cease, even after the scheme is operational.
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.
A NDIS fan
Well, the long-awaited response to the Gonski review into education has finally arrived- or has it? The Prime Minister made an appearance at the National Press Club to launch what was supposed to be her response to the the recommendations of the report by businessman David Gonski into how to better fund our education system in the future. Julia Gillard spoke of the need for a new model of funding along the lines of that suggested by Mr Gonski in his report. But what was missing was the dollar amount though the Prime Minister says the Gonski recommendations would require about $6.5 billion. After winding us all up with expectations of new education dollars the exact financial commitment was left unsaid.
The new model of funding that the Prime Minister has accepted calls for a base level of money which is directly in relation to the number of students enrolled in a particular school. On top of that, the Gonski scheme of school funding calls for loading for schools that are in a rural or remote area, teach children with poor levels of English, if the school is smaller, has students from low income families enrolled or caters for people with a disability or those from an indigenous background.
From the outset, the Gillard Government knows that they have little money to play with and that any would be borrowed, so this is not a good starting point.
Like the National Disability Insurance Scheme, the future funding of the new system of education will be fought over in Council of Australian Governments meetings. This is certainly why the PM didn’t announce a price tag for the much needed education reforms.
The Prime Minister today signalled that negotiations over the joint funding of the future of education will take place between the commonwealth and the states. This could well lead to the collapse of the proposed policy before it begins, the COAG process isn’t exactly a walk in the park, and at the very least this will result in protracted negotiations.
There’s also the small matter of the timing of the implementation of the new framework. Prime Minister Gillard announced that there would be a six year process of policy implementation which would start in 2014. Based on this timetable alone it is within reason to think that the Prime Minister is not serious about setting up the new system. It’s increasingly likely that the Prime Minister and her government will not be in power from 2013 and we already know that an incoming Coalition Government would get rid of this vital education reform.
It seems clear that this announcement today is about pretending to do something while not taking seriously the need to put the ideas that Mr Gonski put forward after his review into action. There have been a number of policies where either the money has been announced or just the policy itself, or in the case of the NDIS, some cash put towards the scheme, but not enough. This isn’t brave, it’s just pure politics.
The report has been sat on for months and all that the ALP have managed to come up with is a timetable and a promise to negotiate with the states and territories, knowing full well that at the very least negotiations will take a long time. and at worst, the talks will collapse completely without an outcome. Or alternatively, and more likely, a Liberal and National Party Government would repeal the legislation and money upon taking office.
What is a real shame about the half announcement today is that there was no immediate commitment to the loading payments for various types of disadvantage which have been overlooked with previous ways of dealing with education costs. Indigenous students, children from low income families, rural and regional students and those with a disability are the most in need of increased support and have fallen behind because that extra financial commitment for their specific needs has not been available.
This is clearly a policy response on the run and gives the appearance of action to the naked eye. When you look closely there’s no clear goals, other than for Australia to be in the top 5 countries in reading, science and maths by 2025. This is another policy area that the Labor Government would well know is almost certainly not going to come to fruition and that’s a big shame given that it’s about education and providing equal access to learning opportunities. This should, for the most part, be a politics free zone, especially when developed from expert advice.
It seems a bit odd speaking of yet more potential woes surrounding the National Disability Insurance Scheme on an otherwise very happy day for people with a disability around the world with the London 2012 Paralympics beginning. But unfortunately that has to be done. A new report has placed serious doubts on the price tag for a fully-funded NDIS . Therefore the future of the scheme is put into question even more before the launch sites in New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia and the Australian Capital Territory have commenced operation. This would no doubt be a scary prospect for those with severe and permanent disabilities around Australia, their carers and families.
A report by the Australian Government Actuary shows that the initial figures put out by the Productivity Commission in its report into the establishment of a National Disability Insurance Scheme could well be wrong to the tune of billions of dollars. The Commission said in its report that a fully-funded NDIS in the first year of operation would cost upwards of $13 billion. The report by the actuary however, shows that the eventual cost in the first full year of the Medicare-like policy would be closer to $22 billion, that’s almost $9 billion more than the Productivity Commission determined the cost to be in their report to the Gillard Government.
That’s a horrifying extra hurdle that needs to be overcome in providing much needed, essential and coordinated services to a cohort that is all too often overlooked when calling for extra funds just to be able to do simple things like getting out of bed of a morning and out of the house to engage in the community.
Such a scary proposition requires a rethink of how to proceed with funding such an important initiative. Previously, the state governments, barring a few exceptions, with different degrees of vigour, have asserted that the commonwealth must do as the Productivity Commission recommended in their recommendations. That advice was that the federal government, to avoid a COAG bunfight with the states, be the sole-funder of the insurance scheme.
Particularly the Liberal state governments, but also the Liberal and National Party Coalition in Canberra toed the Productivity Commission line from very early on, saying that the feds have to be the sole contributors to the NDIS. Back when the figure was nearly $14 billion dollars, this wasn’t such a silly thing to pursue the government on, given what the Productivity Commission thought possible. But it would still have been a difficult proposition given that the initial figure was not exactly small change.
Now two Liberal states agreed, after the conclusion of a Council of Australian Governments meeting, with much pressure applied by federal Labor, the press and lobby groups, to contribute some not insignificant funds in order to host launch sites in their jurisdictions.
The state and territory Labor Governments of South Australia, Tasmania and the ACT got onboard with the discussions from the very beginning, willing to put money toward such an important and necessary idea. They were rewarded at COAG, being named the hosts of the first three sites to see the National Disability Insurance Scheme in working order.
Then there was Queensland, the only state or territory, other than the Northern Territory, which was nearing an election and Western Australia, trialing a similar policy of their own, that wasn’t willing to stump up a single cent in order to be chosen to host another commencement location for the scheme.
Regardless of the recommendations, it could have easily been said back at the time of the COAG meeting of the Premiers, that the policy really needed agreement and an ability for all the states and territories and the commonwealth to work together on achieving this policy outcome.
Now, with the newly inflated figure being bandied about, it is absolutely essential that all the states and territories, in conjunction with the commonwealth government, are willing to put all the money needed toward a properly funded disability scheme.
All states and territories, as well as the national government must now work towards agreeing to put all of the money they currently contribute to disability services into the funding pool.
Then, the state Premiers and Chief Ministers along with the federal government must discuss and agree to contribute their fair share of the extra funds necessary to realise the benefits of an NDIS.
There is the possibility of instituting a levy to make up any short fall, but this should only be considered if both levels of government cannot agree to contribute all the funds necessary for the full operation of the proposed disability services framework.
It’s also politically risky for the incumbent government, with people generally not liking new taxes. But if all or at least a majority of states and territories can agree that a levy is a good way ahead, then that could go some way to ameliorating the concerns of the public in having to pay a new tax.
Particularly in light of the very contradictory statements coming from the federal Opposition over the NDIS, it is important that their suggestion of a multi-party committee to work together advancing the insurance scheme is instituted. This would give the Coalition no wriggle room to back away from a commitment to funding their part of the National Disability Insurance Scheme if, as many believe likely, they take the government benches in 2013.
Were such a joint committee to be established, it would also take the politics out of the equation which has infested debate over the scheme and ramped up in recent months. We all know who ‘owns’ this policy prescription, but it is so important that it should not be seen as something that the government and the opposition cannot work together on to achieve.
There are murky days, weeks, months and years ahead for the National Disability Insurance Scheme. The future of the not yet rolled out scheme looks tenuous. What we need now, more than ever, is for our politicians to shine, to rise above politics or the very worst fears of people with a disability, so often let down by government, will again be realised.
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.
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.
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.
The short period of time since the findings of a Productivity Commission report on a way forward for a National Disability Insurance Scheme and subsequent announcement of the Gillard Government and Abbott-led Opposition of support for such a project has been one of brilliant, euphoric highs for people with a disability and their families and carers and of painful lows. The last 24-48 hours have been no exception with both wonderful developments and potential roadblocks popping up as Premiers prepared for the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting which took place today in Canberra.
Bipartisan support for the concept of an NDIS was quickly established in the short moments after the Productivity Commission report was released by the Gillard Government in August last year. An audible collective applause of people with a disability and those that support them could be heard across the nation back then when first the Gillard Government announced it would pursue the idea and soon after, the Shadow Minister for Disabilities, Carers and the Voluntary Sector, Senator Mitch Fifield announced Coalition agreement with the proposal.
Since then, interested groups have waited, for over six months now, with baited breath for an announcement of a commitment to funding this immense project, slated to cost over $6 billion dollars. That hasn’t come to date, however in recent weeks there has been immense speculation that there will be some allocation of funds in the forthcoming May budget for the much needed program.
There has also been much consternation over the words of the Opposition Leader Tony Abbott in a recent speech to the National Press Club where the scheme was referred to as an “aspirational” target and something to be pursued when the budget is back “in strong surplus”. These comments were taken by many as a backing away of sorts from support for the idea of a NDIS and angered disability advocates.
But alas, today most of those fears appear to have been obliterated with the Leader of the Opposition using a press conference to again profess Opposition support for the essential proposal which would transform the lives of people with a disability, helping them with the massive costs of living with a disability and allowing many of them the ability to participate in the Australian economy.
Today Mr Abbott said that he and the Coalition would support the allocation of money in next month’s budget for the design and consultation work needed in the implementation of the NDIS.
Further to that, the Liberal Leader also proposed, in a letter to Prime Minister Julia Gillard today that the parliament set up a Joint Select Committee c0-chaired by both major parties of interested parliamentarians to help progress the big change which is projected to take some years just to finish the implementation of the Medicare-like policy.
But as has been the roller-coaster that is the NDIS since the August 2011 announcement, it is far from certain that all the Premiers are onboard with implementation of the NDIS at this stage, while all do agree in principle with the idea of having an NDIS.
Both Queensland and Tasmania have stated in the last week and again in the last 24 hours that their respective cash-strapped states are in no position to fund the implementation of such a grand-scale initiative as the NDIS. Other states too have said that negotiations need to continue on the scheme, with all at least indicating “in-principle support”.
The Productivity Commission preference is that the Commonwealth fund the entire National Disability Insurance Scheme and this would appear, from interviews with the state Premier’s to be the major sticking point in moving toward implementation of the idea, giving the impression that the ALP Government is pursuing the states for money for the implementation of the NDIS.
It seems clear that the impasse over the scheme has a lot to do with the poor budget position that the states and the federal government find themselves encountering. This does threaten to derail the program implementation and indeed has been a reason for a lack of effort in relation to disability for some years, with governments of both shades not seeing disability as a major priority even though that constituency is large and growing, particularly in step with the rapidly ageing Australian population.
But there is a way forward toward the realisation of a National Disability Insurance Scheme to help those Australians that have a disability. That is for the states to use their current funding allocation for services that would be provided under the NDIS to put toward implementation of the scheme as the states would be using that money for disability services.
This method could be unpopular though, with commonwealth funding put on the table by the Productivity Commission report, with states wanting to use money saved in the event of full commonwealth funding for the insurance scheme for other budgetary priorities.
It seems clear that the bickering between the states and the federal government is set to continue for some time over a way forward on the NDIS, but with the Abbott Opposition seemingly showing a firm interest in helping the Labor Government implement the scheme over the entire process, there is hope that the states will be finally brought into line, but this may not occur for some time yet. The noise from disability advocates must continue until the full implementation and delivery of the scheme is realised, but the highs and the lows will continue.
By far the biggest political action in Australia this week occurred in the state of Queensland, which overnight saw its majority eviscerated at the hands of a unified Campbell Newman led Opposition. But alas, this blog is about Australian politics and aside from some electoral implications for the federal Australian Labor Party and the change in complexion of the Council of Australian Governments (COAG), the events of the week in Queensland have little relevance when examining the events of federal politics over the past week.
Yes, the result is in many respects another stake in the heart of federal Labor which on results tonight would be all but wiped out across Queensland if swings were uniform statewide. When the Gillard Government is already in a minority government situation, the trend toward the Coalition in Queensland alone, if it were borne out at the next federal election would see the government fall easily, before even adding in New South Wales where there is potential for catastrophic losses.
An incoming Newman LNP Government means that another Coalition Premier has a seat at the COAG table, along with the Premier’s of Western Australia, New South Wales and Victoria. This probably will not have a major impact as COAG in recent years has tended to be fairly tame and “cooperative federalism” has reigned supreme. However from time to time issues may present themselves where the Liberal Premiers feel the need to join together in opposition to something that the ALP Government chooses to pursue. It would appear that the carbon tax is in the sights of the Premier-elect, so this and the MRRT appear to be at least two exceptions to the rule.
Julia Gillard and her government saw the passage of their Minerals Resource Rent Tax (MRRT), by the Senate this week which was alone in major events in Canberra for the week in Australian politics, the last sitting period before the budget is handed down by Treasurer Wayne Swan in May. Tony Abbott and the Opposition have vowed to continue to fight the tax after its implementation and to repeal it in government and their parliamentary strategy over that and the carbon tax in recent months have echoed those words.
The parliament shared its focus in Question Time between the carbon tax, largely as a result of Opposition questions and the newly passed mining tax. The Opposition focused on perceived effects of the carbon tax on business and households and the revenue projections of the mining tax and the effect the tax may have on the economy.
The government focused on the spending associated with the Minerals Resource Rent Tax and the tax cuts to small and big business which the Coalition opposes because it opposes the tax.
Also this week, Canberra descended into gaggles of laughter which transcended political boundaries after a very strange speech from mining magnate Clive Palmer who has since tried to put distance between himself and his comments. Mr Palmer claimed that the Greens were funded by the CIA to wreck the Australian economy by destroying the mining industry which helped keep the nation afloat during the GFC.
As Australia continues to meander toward the May budget, the focus outside of the parliament will be on Treasurer Wayne Swan and the ability he and his government have to deliver the surplus they promised for fiscal year 2012-13. The focus of the media will be on trying to get a picture of the extent of the task before confirmation of the severity of any further cuts and just how much the effort will rely on the sneaky deferral of spending priorities for the budgetary year. There promises to be much political fodder over the coming weeks and the political discourse will certainly not be dull.
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.