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.