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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.

Giving a Gonski Proving a Political Challenge

The Gillard Government has announced its plan to stump up funding for the Gonski Review reforms it has been contemplating since David Gonski presented his plan for school education reform to the government. The Prime Minister’s pitch to the states will be the commonwealth and the states will fund Gonski with a 2:1 ratio. But it is the Labor Government’s planned cuts to fund the education reform which have garnered the most attention and indeed significant criticism since the weekend announcement. And that criticism is warranted.

To help pay for the commonwealth’s share of the changes to school education, the government has decided, in their infinite wisdom, to cut $2.3 billion of funding from the university sector. This will include taking a knife to university grants, putting a cap on self-education tax deductions, compelling students to pay back scholarships and getting rid of the 10% discount for those who are able to pay their HECS debt up-front.

Then of course you have an efficiency dividend of 2% from January next year, reducing to 1.25% the following year. This is a technical way of saying universities must do better with less. In and of itself this is not necessarily a bad thing, though if it results in front-line jobs being trimmed it should rightly be slammed. It is hard to see this not leading to cuts at the coal-face.

There is at least one measure announced at the weekend which is sensible and more sustainable for the budget and one that has the potential to be either good or bad for the fiscal bottom-line.

The decision to scrap the 10% discount for paying HECS up-front is a good move, providing it does not lead to more people moving overseas and taking their university debts with them. At present there is approximately $26 billion in unpaid HECS debts and that has the potential to balloon even further, perhaps aided by this budget measure.

One move that can be praised is the decision to put a cap on self-education tax deductions. This will prove a sustainable budgetary measure which is not likely to act as a disincentive in any way, either over the short or long-term.

Craig Emerson was at pains on the weekend to make the point that education funding will still increase over time. The Tertiary Education Minister made the point that the spending increase was simply delayed by two years. A delay however is still a cut, especially when it involves money promised to a particular sector. There will be real people who miss out on real assistance and real tough decisions made by real universities which will hit people involved in that level of education.

One must not forget that the ALP Government decided in the first place that there was a need to continue to increase the funding to the university education sector. There was obviously a reason for that, a real and tangible need for extra funds to flow to our universities to help more people get a better education.

Why the government thought it was a smart strategic move to take such a swing at universities is alone, beyond comprehension. Why the ALP decided they needed to cut education funding to fund education is quite intriguing. There are a number of other areas of public policy which could, at the very least, do with a bit of a trim.

The Gonski reforms absolutely have to happen. The loading for dealing with different types of disadvantage is essential in going towards ensuring there is equality of opportunity at the heart of our education system.

But tinkering with one level of education to help deal with another is just utter stupidity.

A Recipe for Chaos and Fatalism

The Prime Minister paid a visit to the Governor-General today for the swearing-in ceremony of her latest ministry. This is the second visit to Yarralumla in as many months for Julia Gillard and it comes just a matter of days after the ALP again found themselves facing a leadership spill, which this time did not happen. The election date was obviously firmly in mind in the ministerial considerations the Prime Minister again had to make ahead of the May budget session. The result – the continued perpetuation of some of the same issues which have plagued the Gillard Government.

Perhaps the most striking think about today’s announcement is the decision made by Julia Gillard to create multiple ‘ministers for everything’. Five existing ministers in the Gillard ministry now have extra portfolios.

Anthony Albanese has had Regional Development and Local Government added to his title, Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus takes on the dual role of Special Minister of State and Minister for Public Service and Integrity and Craig Emerson snares Chris Bowen’s former role in Tertiary Education, Skills, Science and Research. Finally, Greg Combet becomes Minister for Climate Change, Industry and Innovation and Tony Burke adds Minister for the Arts to his already lengthy ministerial title.

Gillard backers have clearly been rewarded with the exception of Anthony Albanese, the conciliatory Rudd backer who has received the key portfolio of Regional Development which is a very neat fit with his existing responsibilities in Infrastructure and Transport.

There are just six months until the election. Obviously that has had a major impact on the distinct lack of change and renewal in the changes announced today at Government House. It would have been wise to promote existing talent, despite the electoral prospects of the ALP at the September 14 election. Some would consider that a waste of good people, but the best team should always be made available regardless of the state of play.

There were a number of new additions to the ministry, but for the most part they were underwhelming choices. Andrew Leigh and Gary Gray were the best appointments in the new ministry. Others elevated were Sharon Bird, Don Farrell, Catherine King, Michael Danby, Senator Jan McLucas, Senator Matt Thistlethwaite, Amanda Rishworth and Shayne Neumann.

If the Prime Minister was looking for a way to continue to foment chaos within her government, today she found it. Having so many ministers, already struggling with burdensome portfolios is not a smart political move at all. Yes, there is only six months to go until the polls and there will not be much more legislative work undertaken, but the policy effort must continue and will be stifled by the mega portfolios created today.

If ever you wanted a glimpse at the thinking of our leaders, without actually needing to hear an answer, you got it. Far from the bloated portfolios simply making policy work more difficult, the ministerial announcements also portray a fatalism within the Labor Party. That fatalism is obviously at the forefront of the Prime Minister’s mind, the reshuffle was designed by her.

If there was one strong positive about the announcement it is that there will apparently be a decrease in the size of government, or at least a bit of a streamlining of it. The Department of Climate Change will now merge with the Department of Industry and Innovation.

Like many problems, the solution to the personnel issue was rushed and ill-considered. There was a small amount of good done in the selections made, but it was cancelled out by the poor decisions.

Chaos will continue to reign and now the government quite clearly looks to have given up all electoral hope.

A Tale of Two Election Campaigns and What One Means for the Other

The Australian Labor Party in Western Australia were roundly defeated at the state poll on Saturday. It would appear that the ALP have been reduced to just 19 seats in the 59 member lower house of the West Australian parliament. The WA Liberals could govern in their own right after Saturday’s election drubbing, but will not. Despite the huge win, Colin Barnett’s Liberal Party will again join with the WA Nationals to form a coalition government in the westernmost state. Together they won an estimated 40 seats.

It was not as big a win as the New South Wales Liberals experienced, nor the Queensland LNP, but it was a very significant victory for the Liberal team in Western Australia and an extra painful loss for the ALP in the state.

After such defeats – in fact, after almost all election losses, the usual questions are asked. What went wrong? Why did it go wrong? Was the campaign strong? Were there external factors which influenced the result?

It is abundantly clear that there were a number of factors which, when put together, led to the election result we saw at the weekend. The electoral age of the Barnett Government was a factor as was the campaigns run by both the major political parties. The result was also undoubtedly influenced by the state that the federal ALP finds itself in.

We can learn a number of lessons from the WA result.

The first is that most political parties will almost automatically spend more than one term in government. That happened here after four years of minority rule by Colin Barnett and his team of Liberals and Nationals. But what might have shocked was the extent of the voters’ desire to see the Barnett Liberals serve out another four years in government. And in truth, the kind of result we witnessed cannot be simply explained as the electorate giving the government another chance. Voters clearly wanted to deliver much more than just another four years.

Both the Liberal Party and the Australian Labor Party ran strong campaigns. And both were praised in the media for their strong campaigning efforts. But obviously the Liberal Party ran the stronger campaign. It is impossible to argue against that assumption given the result. And both campaigns were also very positive and based around further developing Western Australia.

Since the results came in late on Saturday night, thoughts turned to what this meant for the Labor Party locally and nationally. Discussion, as it does after a string of poor poll results, also turned to the question of leadership. Funnily enough, there was no questioning of the suitability of the ALP leadership team in WA. Instead, talk turned to what the result might herald for the Gillard Government and its figurehead, Prime Minister Julia Gillard.

There is no doubt that the Labor brand is toxic. We discovered that pretty quickly after seeing Labor Governments fall around the country, in two cases, into a deep electoral abyss. But it is not WA Labor that is on the nose in a particularly major way, it’s the ALP in the federal parliament which people are particularly weary of.

Because it is the Labor name that is toxic, it really does not matter much about who the federal Labor leader and Prime Minister is. Even though polls say Kevin Rudd would win an election if he were to become PM again, realistically, the electoral prospects for the party are still dire. So if the federal parliamentary Labor Party heeded the calls of former WA parliamentarian Alannah MacTiernan, apart from an initial bounce and a prolonged narrowing in the election-winning lead of the coalition – there would not be the required poll surge past the opposition.

Perhaps the strangest part of the election result was the unwillingness of commentators to give much credit to the Barnett Government. The people are not particularly stupid. If they thought he was doing a terrible job they would never have given him as Premier, and his government, as much as an endorsement as they did on Saturday at the ballot box.

Saturday too was just another message for Canberra about what is coming their way in September. It has an inevitability to it. The result will cause further leadership rumbles, but whether or not the federal ALP go into a panic is yet to be seen.

It is however, unlikely.

Manufacturing a Half-Baked Manufacturing Policy

Another weekend, another big political announcement. The Gillard Government today unveiled what is to be their big plan, their attempt to keep manufacturing viable in Australia. The plan involves money, lots of it, and will also require legislation of a somewhat coercive nature enacted by the parliament. When it all boils down, what we are left with is an expensive set of ideas which will not have much benefit for the Australian manufacturing industry. On top of that, government interference in industry decision-making markedly increases – again for little material benefit.

The Gillard Government’s attempt to keep manufacturing jobs in Australia will cost $1 billion. To fund this new manufacturing policy, the government announced it will remove a tax concession for big businesses with a turnover of more than $20 billion, which is aimed at promoting research and development.

The government would want to be absolutely sure that removing this tax break will not hamper the research and development efforts of Australian companies. Who knows, perhaps research and development conducted in Australia might discover a way to produce Australian manufactures more cost effectively.

The move to end the tax concession is also effectively a hit on the bottom line of those companies.

Under new legislation to be introduced into the parliament, large companies with projects worth more than $500 million and business opportunities which receive $20 million in state or federal funding, will be required to give local firms the ability to bid for contracts before any off-shoring can occur. They will be required to compile Australian Industry Participation Plans. All this does is increase the length of time businesses will have to take in order to make commercial decisions.

Individual ventures which are worth $2 billion dollars or more will be required by law to employ Australian Industry Opportunity Officers. They must do this in order to receive a five percent tariff reduction on imports. Further, these businesses will need to report on their efforts twice a year. Again we have another cost to business and more red tape to negotiate.

Neither of these two initiatives place any emphasis on improving the competitiveness of Australian manufacturing. For there to be any real benefit to the whole economy, it is essential that aiming to improve the manufacturing side of the equation is not neglected by government policy. All efforts the government can make which help cut the cost of business should be explored and implemented.

The Gillard Government also plans to spend $500 million dollars of the money raised to establish ten industry precincts in manufacturing hubs around Australia, starting with Melbourne and Adelaide. This will go part of the way to improving the manufacturing industry in Australia. It will bring manufacturers closer together so that collaboration is easier. This is however just a small element in the overall policy framework required to improve the lot of manufacturing in this country of ours.

Other elements of the policy include plans to help SME’s attract business and an increased vigour in the area of venture capital which is an integral part of modern business.

Like other policies the government has announced, the manufacturing policy is an attempt to influence decision-making that only looks at half of the policy equation. It’s also a further attempt to pursue big government at the expense of smart government.

It is quite intriguing that the plan which will cost $1 billion over four years, according to government figures, may add as little as $1.6 billion dollars to industry. This is not a particularly large sum when taking into account both the cost of the new framework and the susceptibility of the industry to internal and external shocks.

A Not So Plucky Swan

Wayne Swan has had a bad year so far and so has the government he is a part of. Just one and a half months into an election year, the Treasurer in the Gillard Government looked uncharacteristically flustered, utterly chastened in Question Time today, especially after another faux pas at the despatch box in the parliament.

This week Mr Swan has copped it from both sides of politics, after late last week revealing that the Minerals Resource Rent Tax has raised just $126 million so far which is just a fraction of the full-year estimate of $2 billion. The opposition has chided the Gillard’s man in Treasury for getting the numbers so wrong and now members of his own caucus are openly pushing for an amendment to the tax. There is no doubt that political damage has been suffered.

Polls show that the tax is popular, so if the government chose to amend the profits-based tax it is unlikely to result in the loss of any political skin. An ugly battle with the mining companies would eventuate though

The problem would not be so terrible had the figures just been ordinary. The political damage has been compounded because the MRRT was supposed to fund a number of initiatives proposed by the government. Now, that revenue has to come from elsewhere and there is just no money to be found in the budget.

The mining tax problem gave rise to claims of another possible tax problem, but the confusion and uncertainty appears to be all the making of a Treasurer stung by the last couple of weeks in politics. Asked if the government would increase the personal income tax rate, Swan initially refused to rule it out on breakfast radio and this provided more than enough fodder for the opposition. Later in the day, the matter was cleared up, but the verbal diarrhoea had already done its damage.

The Coalition should however tread very carefully around the matter of tax increases. Perhaps they should not even bring it  up. There is a tax on the cards unless the Coalition ditch their expensive paid parental leave scheme or radically amend it before the election.

But Wayne Swan’s day did not end there. In Question Time the Treasurer miscommunicated the unemployment rate, falsely stating that it was 5.1% when it is in fact standing at 5.4%.

Such a mistake is relatively common in politics. But when a simple error like that comes on top of a couples of weeks of political hell, a small problem is easily magnified. And he was not helped by the lethargic performance he gave in correcting the record. He was not his usual overly confident, often cocky self. He looked downtrodden.

There have been calls for Wayne Swan to resign. This will not happen and it should not happen. Neither a resignation or a sacking would help the situation for the government, which has already subjected the voting public to enough confusion in the six weeks or so since the start of the year. A new face in the Treasury portfolio would not make a difference.

Anything the government does wrong now just feeds into the narrative of a government in chaos, hurtling toward an electoral drubbing. The best thing that they can do is try to appear as stable as possible and that will be very difficult, nigh on impossible.

Who Does Law and Order?

Tonight I sat and watched, as I always do, the nightly edition of The Drum. The topic turned to gun violence in our own backyard, with the Gillard Government foreshadowing plans to tackle the recent spate of highly publicised gun-related crime, mostly gang related, across Sydney’s west. It was an interesting discussion, coming so soon after the Newtown massacre in the United States of America and in the same week as a report which found that the level of gun ownership in Australia has returned to pre-buyback levels.

Ostensibly, what was actually announced by the Prime Minister today was an examination of what could possibly be achieved by the government under the present legal arrangements. Prime Minister Gillard has given Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare that task and has asked him to bring a list of options to the cabinet table.

Crime is an emotive issue. Talk about cracking down on crime and criminals plays to something deep in our psychological make-up. We as humans love to feel safe. We love to feel as if we are being protected not just by ourselves, but by others, by a sizable and powerful police force there to watch over us.

Now, we all know it’s an election year and law and order is often an election issue. The trouble is, that law and order, under the Australian Constitution, is a concern for the states to wrestle with. And state political parties do make battling crime a big focus at election time and throughout the electoral cycle. The commonwealth government does however have the Australian Federal Police and Customs under its purview, so in that sense, it is not strictly true.

There is something that the discussion seemed to forget and that is what John Howard did in the first year of his time as Prime Minister, after the indescribable horror of the Port Arthur massacre which saw 35 people gunned down. He was not a state Premier, but through discussions with his state colleagues, was able to secure a national ban on automatic weapons and a uniform gun buyback scheme.

By virtue of the fact that law and order and policing is largely a state issue, there really is little that can be done by the federal government on its own. The Gillard Government can however try to negotiate a package of measures with the states for them to implement in their own jurisdictions.

There is however one thing that the government can do unilaterally. They’ve cut funding to Customs and they can, since they no longer wish to return the budget to surplus, restore funding to the crucial agency. Alternatively, or at the same time, extra funds could also be directed to the AFP.

The question of what the states and the federal government can do in terms of powers in a more broad sense is interesting. It would appear that traditional state/commonwealth roles are becoming increasingly blurred, with the commonwealth appearing to want more power and resources at the expense of the states.

And that shift clearly extends to law and order issues, with politicians at the federal level wanting to affect change, or at least be seen to be trying to reduce crime.

Law and order will be an issue during this federal election year and beyond. We just have to get used to it.

Cutting Aid: Why, At What Cost and For What Gain?

The Gillard Government has today confirmed their intention to shift hundreds of millions of dollars from the overseas aid budget to the immigration budget. A total of $375 million in foreign aid will now be redirected to paying for onshore processing of asylum seeker applications. Not surprisingly there has been a significant amount of anger directed at the government from overseas aid providers in the charity sector.

The refocused budget allocations will help pay for the living costs of asylum seekers, 400 of whom have been released into the community, while their refugee claims are being processed.

The move comes weeks after the end of the parliamentary year. The contentious decision has arrived at a time when the government’s budget surplus is looking an even more impossible and unbelievable prospect than when Treasurer Wayne Swan announced that there would be four successive budget surpluses during his May fiscal statement.

Governments have a habit of making bad decisions, ones that will cause a political storm, when they think few are watching. And few likely are paying as much attention to the political debate, not just because of the toxic year in politics, but because we are coming ever closer to Christmas and there is always much less attention at this time of year.

And this latest decision about the aid budget comes after an announcement by the ALP Government that, in search of the elusive surplus, they would delay increasing the aid budget to 0.5% of gross national income by a year.

With the Australian Government moving to temporarily decrease our contribution to foreign aid, the question must be asked: What will be gained by our decision in terms of our domestic political environment?

The answer is, absolutely nothing. The chances of our budget returning to surplus are non-existent unless much more dramatic cuts are made. Returning the budget to surplus is not even seen, according to some polls, as a political necessity to help curb the poll woes facing the Labor Government.

If the Labor Party is so desperate to return to surplus, perhaps they could have considered cutting unnecessary subsidies and government programs which offer assistance to people and businesses that do not require government help.

What makes this decision harder to contemplate, even more baffling, is, as Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop has pointed out, that it comes just two months after Australia won a seat on the UN Security Council. And what did we do to help our chances of winning a temporary spot on the Security Council? Why, we played around with our aid budget, offering significant financial incentives to developing nations.

But far more important than the terrible look this has in terms of our recently won UN campaign, is the human cost of such a short-sighted decision, from a government desperate to at least appear as if they have a shred of credibility when it comes to balancing the federal budget.

Of course foreign aid can always be better targeted and is most efficiently allocated when it is focused completely on our sphere of influence.

But development aid should never be cut . This is especially the case when such funds will not be replaced by payments from other nations, when our ultimate aim is to increase foreign aid and especially not when the domestic political situation is part of the equation and will not be changed by such a decision.

This is exactly what has occurred and in the shadow of Christmas.

How the Gillard Government Wants to Tackle Female Genital Mutilation

On Tuesday night Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced her government’s intention to attempt to cut down the number of people suffering because of female genital mutilation, or FGM. Julia Gillard, in making her announcement highlighted a number of elements in her government’s plan to cut down on instances of FGM happening in Australia.

First and foremost is a review of the legal framework. There will also be a national summit, cutting out the ritual will become a national health priority and grants will be offered to community organisations so that they can run education campaigns and increase community awareness about the illegality and barbaric nature of the procedure. And finally, the Gillard Government will seek to ensure that there is more research done on the ugly ritual and that better data collection procedures are in place.

The World Health Organisation defines female genital mutilation as “all procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.”

The WHO goes on to say that FGM “involves removing and damaging healthy and normal female genital tissue, and hence interferes with the natural function of girls’ and women’s bodies. The practice causes severe pain and has several immediate and long-term health consequences, including difficulties in childbirth also causing dangers to the child.”

Female genital mutilation is most commonly practiced by people in and from African countries, though it does exist in other countries around the world including in the Middle East and Asia.

It is important to note that conducting such procedures has been made illegal in all Australian jurisdictions, with the short operation being illegal when inflicted upon both children and adults.

With this in mind we should look at the individual elements of the package announced by Ms Gillard and whether or not they will be effective in the fight against FGM.

The first aspect of the government’s response to FGM is to review the legal framework.

There is probably little scope for any dramatic change to the laws and any potential changes are not likely to make the largely secretive practice easier to prosecute. And the consistency of legislation across state jurisdictions is not an issue with the practice illegal across the states and territories.

The best response in terms of the legal framework is to make penalties for those found guilty of this form of harm much stronger and perhaps even more clearly distinguished from other crimes involving physical harm. Making the criminal penalty nationally consistent might also help.

The Council of Australian Governments will provide the best forum to discuss changing state-based criminal laws which make FGM illegal.

Another part of the policy response offered by the Labor Government is a national summit on the outlawed act.

This is the most unnecessary and useless part of the policy puzzle when it comes to trying to prevent this type of harm to young girls and women. It will be an expensive exercise which will not in itself provide a catalyst for a dramatic change in the use of FGM techniques and practices in Australia.

Making tackling female genital mutilation a national health priority is, at the very least an important symbol of the government’s desire to try ensure that this vile and unnecessary act is stopped wherever possible. There are short and long-term health related consequences wrought by this particularly grotesque form of bodily mutilation which will also have a growing monetary cost if the problem is not effectively tackled.

Part of the package announced by the PM is the intention to offer grants to community organisations which will educate people about the harm caused by genital mutilation procedures.

Whether or not this kind action will result in a significant decrease in female genital mutilation is yet to be seen. The program will surely have some kind of impact on the number of procedures which occur when the negative medical and legal consequences are made clear. FGM is however a practice strongly entrenched in some cultures.

A further problem with this part of the response however is that the sum of money involved is too small. Only $500,000 is on offer under the proposal from Julia Gillard and that will not be enough for ongoing programs to educate particularly migrant communities about the negative effects of genital mutilation.

Research and data collection will continue to be difficult unless victims present to medical authorities with obvious signs of the effects of female genital mutilation. A nationally consistent reporting mechanism which takes into account both prosecuted cases of FGM and suspected cases should however be pursued.

The government appears willing to make a greater effort to rub out a practice that is very secretive. But there are gaps and unnecessary elements in the response that has been triggered.

Queensland Seeking to Pay the Fare for the NDIS Bus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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