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Question Time Ahead of Time

Another day of federal parliament and Question Time has passed us by. Tuesday was a bit of a noisy one, louder than Monday anyway. Tuesday’s session of Questions Without Notice saw the Member for Mayo, Jamie Briggs booted from the lower house under standing order 94a for abusing a point of order he raised in relation to an answer from the Acting Prime Minister, Wayne Swan. Despite that, a wide array of issues were canvassed from across the parliament, though the variety of policy areas was more diverse on the government side through the use of the Dorothy Dixer.

The Opposition spent the bulk of Questi0ns Without Notice pursuing the government over their spending priorities, in particular the so-called “big new spending” announced by the government this financial year. The questions pointed out the spending and revenue problems that the Gillard Government faces as they prepare to, most likely in vain, return to surplus next year. Most of the questions asked whether or not taxes would be raised in order to aid the government in returning to surplus.

Though there were a majority of questions focused on the budget, the price on carbon did make a much larger return to the Question Time arena on Tuesday, with questions about hospitals and the carbon tax and closing coal-fired power stations which will at this stage no longer occur as the government seeks to cut carbon emissions.

Oh, and there was the obligatory asylum seeker question from the Coalition at the start of Question Time.

The government again was much less focused on one or two issues during Question Time and continued using the Dorothy Dixer to ask a number of different questions on different policy areas. There were questions on the economy, supporting those in need, the so-called ‘super trawler’, schools investment, health, jobs, skills, wages and housing.

Because of the predictable nature of this, the 43rd parliament, it is almost certain that the strategy for Questions Without Notice for both sides of the political divide will remain the same, or at least largely identical.

On Wednesday, again the Coalition will most likely focus questions to the government around the budget. They will again ask how the government will return to surplus with new and continued spending commitments and whether or not this will require tax increases or whether or not it just won’t happen.

A second major focus may be the price on carbon again which was the focus of the second part of Question Time on Tuesday afternoon. This will likely focus around coal-fired power and businesses and organisations that are impacted by the carbon price but will not receive compensation from the government.

Of course, it being the Coalition, there is always the distinct possibility that there will be at least a question or two on asylum seekers and refugees as the government prepares to send the first boat arrivals to Nauru.

The ALP for their part will again try to prosecute their case for having acted in a wide selection of policy areas. This will likely include again, the comparative strength of the economy, schools investment, health, vulnerable people, jobs, wages, skills, housing and infrastructure.

The only unknown is how bad the behaviour will be, but we can all live in hope that it might just be a little more constrained and dignified than we have become accustomed to when it comes to politics.

NDIS, But When?

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.

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