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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.

Gap Between NDIS Idea and Reality Narrowing

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.

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

Gonski Another Lacking in Detail Policy Almost Certainly Heading for the Scrap Heap

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.

Another Hurdle for the NDIS

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 Disappearing Act That is the NDIS

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.

None of the Political Players Are Blameless in the NDIS Political Game

The National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) has been seen since the Productivity Commission recommended its establishment last year as the best hope that people with a disability have had for their unmet needs, needs that are almost impossible to reach for some, through no fault of their own. It was received with great fanfare by the Gillard Government, with Bill Shorten a key instigator in the Productivity Commission examination of such a policy move. The hope was raised further when the Coalition outlined bipartisan support for the very important initiative.

But alas, as swiftly as the idea of an NDIS has come around, so has the impression that the solid ground the idea was built upon, the unanimous support,  is now cracking beneath those who have a disability.

Th major political players in this are threefold. First there is the commonwealth government, then there is the Opposition and finally the state governments who at present provide many of the services that would be involved in the running of the future scheme and who have been a part of the political discussion of funding for the important new policy.

In the uncertainty that now clouds the future of a NDIS roll-out no single political player, be it state or federal government or the Opposition is without blame for what looks at the moment to be a shaky future for the not yet realised scheme.

From the outset, the Gillard Government ignored the Productivity Commission recommendation that the NDIS be fully funded by the federal government, the whole $13 or so billion dollars of it. This leaves it to the Council of Australian Governments to squabble behind closed doors and also apparently in public quite openly over just how much each state can or are willing to contribute to the implementation of the program.

The second major player, the states must also take their fair share of the blame for the growing concerns being raised over the future of an idea that has has not even began operating yet.

Even though the ALP Government should have stuck to the recommendation emanating from the Productivity Commission report regarding the commonwealth being the sole funder, the state governments are not, regardless of what they say, without the capability to contribute to the establishment and commencement of the scheme, particularly in combination with the $1 billion over 4 years that has been stumped up by the federal government, no matter how meagre that sum of money is.

The Labor Government sticking to the Productivity Commission timetable for the construction, implementation and operation of the insurance scheme would also help relax some of the long-term funding concerns which look to be playing their part in destabilising the entire process.

The state governments are surely able to funnel some of their funds allocated to delivery of services that would be covered under the scheme into the funding pool for the National Disability Insurance Scheme so that this essential project does not fall before it even has a chance at operation. That’s not asking any state to search for any extra funds that have been difficult to find for many state governments in recent years, it’s just asking for an amount of existing funds to head toward a new idea and only when the services will start being delivered in their respective states.

The other player that is crucial, particularly for the long-term success of the NDIS, the side of politics likely to be in government and needing to oversee the full introduction of the scheme is the Coalition.

Things started well when the Coalition were quick to signal bipartisan support for a long-needed but not yet delivered policy response to the immense and fragmented costs and services that people with a disability have had to endure. But from time to time support has appeared to go up and down like a yo-yo.

Just yesterday at the National Press Club, the Shadow Treasurer appeared to be backing away on behalf of the Coalition from guaranteeing the future funding of the National Disability Insurance Scheme despite assurances from others in the Opposition previously that the NDIS will continue to have bipartisan support. This statement casts some doubt on whether the Coalition are fully committed to contributing to the NDIS including from late next year when all indications are that they will be occupying the government benches.

It is understandable that the Coalition will be cash-strapped through a combination of factors, but they have indicated from the outset their bipartisan support for the NDIS and must make it a reality. There are no shortage of options for achieving the aim of a fully-funded NDIS, even if they cause minor short-term political pain, think a small levy and/or removing some of the wasteful garbage spending that the government simply needs to get out of doing.

The Opposition must continue to commit to the implementation and operation of the scheme which they were so swift to support. If it means returning to the original timetable to make it easier, then so be it, at least then there might be certainty over the future of a sorely needed policy.

What is clear is that all the players need to reach a compromise, make sacrifices and work together better, though with so many competing needs at the table this is already a very hard task, but people with a disability cannot miss out again.

The Ups and Downs in the NDIS Process

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.

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