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Harry Jenkins Leaving the House and Ending an Era

Henry Alfred “Harry” Jenkins entered the federal parliament in Canberra representing the electoral division of Scullin from February 1986. He replaced his father, Dr Harry Jenkins who served in the electorate from 1969 until his son replaced him in office. Today Mr Jenkins announced that his now 26 years in the parliament would be coming to an end at the 2013 federal election, one the ALP is almost certain to lose.

Harry Jenkins’ father after 14 years in the parliament rose to the position of Speaker of the House of Representatives under the former Labor Prime Minister Bob Hawke, serving in the role for 3 years from 1983 until his retirement in 1986 when his son took up the role of MP for Scullin.

It (the Speaker’s chair) appeared a place that Harry Jnr was destined for. Seven years after becoming the member for Scullin, Harry Jenkins, in 1993 under Prime Minister Paul Keating was Deputy Speaker for 3 years until the 1996 election when John Howard won government from the longest serving Labor administration of Hawke and Keating.

After the election of the Howard Government, Jenkins enjoyed the support of the lower house to become the 2nd Deputy Speaker during John Howard’s government, a role he stayed in until the end of the Howard Government in late 2007.

When Kevin Rudd was swept to power in a crushing defeat for the Howard Government, in office for over a decade, Harry Jenkins was elected by the house as Speaker, the role his father had enjoyed. He stayed in this role under both Prime Minister Rudd and his successor, PM Julia Gillard. The MP for Scullin served in the role until he left under interesting circumstances, suddenly one morning late in 2011 informing the parliament he would resign from his role to become a regular everyday MP.

It is widely acknowledged by both sides of parliament, Labor and Liberal alike that Harry Jenkins was a good and fair practitioner in the role of Speaker, helped along in the later years by changes to the Standing Orders, the rules that dictate how House of Representatives process is undertaken and policed.

Manager of Opposition Business and Liberal MP for Sturt, who enjoyed a run-in or two with the long-serving Speaker Jenkins said today that Mr Jenkins’ retirement would be “our loss, but his family’s gain”.

In acknowledging the bipartisan respect for the role Mr Jenkins played as Speaker, Mr Pyne also said “I always found Mr Jenkins a fair Speaker. It is a tough job and he did his best to perform with dignity.”

Mr Jenkins was also a Speaker known to take little nonsense from misbehaving MPs, with a healthy appetite for the usage of Standing Order 94a which allows for naughty MPs constantly interjecting or calling other MP’s names among other things to be sent from the chamber for one hour in what should become known as the “coffee order”.

Life largely away from politics beckons, about a year from now should all go to plan, for an MP who is the longest serving Labor MP in the House and the second longest serving MP currently in the parliament, behind Phillip Ruddock.

May his future be bright and his future dealings be with slightly less boisterous individuals than the MP’s he presided over.

Turnbull Appearance on Q&A Again Launches the Twitter Derp

There’s just something about Malcolm Turnbull going on Q&A, pretty much anything publicly other than talking on broadband and communications that results in the unleashing of unmitigated derp from both sides of the political spectrum. Combine this with a predictable recipe of asylum seekers and marriage equality, with a bit of a healthy and thoughtful discussion on the arts and at least some of the chaos and stupidity was held back.

You see, the situation is quite strange when it comes to Malcolm Turnbull being a part of the public debate on a broader range of issues than his present shadow portfolio.

Pretty much everyone on the moderate left at times profess some kind of what they say and act like is undying love for Mr Turnbull when he isn’t so much in the spotlight, or more rightly when he might well be saying something that they tend to agree with, like on climate change, after last night somewhat on the arts and also to a large extent on marriage equality.

There are even people on the left who shout “Malcolm for PM” but would surely recoil from that belief were there a Liberal Party government in power, even with Turnbull at its head.

And so it goes that there was all of that fake, ‘soft’ love from the left for Malc0lm Turnbull that would surely diminish again among this demographic were he to return as leader.

Some too may profess a love for Malcolm Turnbull now but forget they used to decry his substantial wealth, self-made no less, undoubtedly much of it to do with people in this country seeming to despise entrepreneurialism and success and yes that tall poppy bashing syndrome definitely rings true.

There are those however, somewhere around the centre that would and do accept Malcolm Turnbull as a sensible and at least relatively balanced choice for leader of a Liberal Party that more and more lacks the ideology in its name. Turnbull is one of the few you’d consider to be a liberal in the modern Liberal Party or at the very least, someone with strong liberal tendencies.

Then you get started on what the right of the party, though more often the more right wing supporters of the Liberal Party think of the man and that’s where things start to get just a little misguided.

Those on the right of him decry him for sticking up for markets, for advocating that for the most part, the market is by far the best response to a range of things, notably climate change, though the electoral reality with this is that the idea of a market response has lost after having prevailed just years ago.

Then comes the socially progressive stance of the former Liberal Party leader, particularly on marriage equality, which closely behind his climate change stance attracts the most ire from Liberal Party supporters. He wants a conscience vote on the matter, said so some time ago, a conscience vote being a long-term stance of the party on controversial matters.

Mr Turnbull also over the weekend backed calls for a compromise of a nationally backed civil unions scheme which will be seen by many on the right of the party again as too far even though it is just a compromise position, though some on both the left and right will not see it that way.

The Twitter response last night mirrored the public thoughts on Turnbull with some soft backing and the next minute complete disavowal of all Turnbull believes in from the left and the occasional outright condemnation, simply because he’s a member of the “evil” Liberal Party.

Of course then, at the same time from the right was the complete disavowal of all he’s ever said even though the vast majority, if not all, is fully aligned with what the Liberal Party is supposed to stand for.

The reality of the situation is that Malcolm Turnbull on social issues lies somewhere around the political centre without being radically progressive but still being open to social progress that can’t be delivered by markets.

On economic issues Turnbull is clearly of the right so that clearly makes Turnbull centre-right overall which should at least in reality give comfort to the knocker’s on his own side of the spectrum but it does not.

Stay tuned for much of the same before, during and after the next installment of Q&A featuring Malcolm Turnbull, complete with predictable leadership comments masquerading as questions and the “you have him, no you take him” fight between right and left which is sure to spawn more of the most lovely derpiest derp.

Coalition Asylum Policy: I’ll See Your Malaysian Solution and Raise You Denying Refugee Claims

Policies on people coming to live in Australia, whether in desperate circumstances or as migrants hoping to make the most of opportunities that Australia has to offer continue to veer toward the insane and abhorrent, even appealing to the xenophobic in some cases. Under the Prime Ministership of Julia Gillard the ALP veered even to the right of the Liberal Party on asylum seeker policy, thankfully failing in getting through the so-called ‘Malaysian Solution’ because of two disparate political parties, the Greens and the Liberal/National Party Coalition.

In roughly the same period of time, we have also been reminded that the Coalition would also like to see asylum seeker boats turned around if safe to do so, slammed by many.

But today we have had the Liberal Party remind us again that temporary protection visa’s, TPV’s for short would be reinstated under a future Coalition Government.

The granting of TPV’s was used as part of the Howard Government ‘Pacific Solution’ which saw boat arrivals dramatically reduced in the early 2000’s until the government lost power in 2007.

The announcement went even further too with a new policy announcement by Opposition Leader Tony Abbott and his Shadow Immigration Minister Scott Morrison.

Today it was announced at the press conference held by the two representatives of the Coalition that asylum seekers arriving without identity papers or a passport should not be given refugee status in Australia. The exact wording being that there would be a “strong presumption” that people arriving in Australia without any form of identification would not be given refugee status.

The stance on TPV’s and on the denial of refugee status to people arriving without documentation is problematic.

Visas granting temporary protection assume that in the event a conflict ends within a nation where a refugee has come to Australia from that they will no longer face persecution in that country and in many cases this is just not the reality, persecution of particular ethnic groups can still continue even when broader tensions have ceased.

Of course though, people who wish to return to their country of origin, if they feel it safe to do so, should be able to make that journey home of their own volition.

There too are problems  with denying refugee status to asylum seekers that arrive in our waters without papers which will make them more easily identifiable to Australian authorities assessing their claims.

The first is that in many cases their papers are confiscated by the very people who are plying this horrific trade in human misery, the people smugglers themselves.

Second, where will these asylum seekers be sent when there claims are denied by the government because of having no papers? They cannot be refouled simply because they didn’t have papers, they would need to be sent to another country where they would be free from persecution at least until the veracity of their claims was able to be properly assessed even if made much harder by the lack of documentation.

Put simply, this policy takes the Malaysian asylum seeker deal and says, “Hah I have a stronger hand. So much stronger that it will make yours look like child’s play”.

Very few people deny that the trade of people smugglers needs to be broken, it sure does. But this is simply not the way to do it, using people in this situation as a political football. Both the asylum seeker deal with Malaysia and this increasingly strengthened Coalition policy are und0ubtedly deterrents, but they are the wrong kind of deterrent that could see people needing protection denied that.

What is needed is global action as well as a regi0nal solution where the processing of refugee claims in countries of origin are sped up through concerted global action involving all nations and the agencies charged with assessing refugee claims.

More countries in our region too need to urgently sign and ratify the Refugee Convention so that asylum seeker numbers can be shared around the region more while we still do our fair share.

Indeed an Australian solution is also needed where we increase the numbers we take directly from conflict hot spots and from camps in our region before people get on incredibly shoddy vessels putting themselves at risk of perishing at sea.

It’s a tricky situation but the one-upmanship has to stop and solutions which help vulnerable people and convince them against making expensive and unsafe boat journeys simply have to trump policies which above anything punish these people and put them in further danger.

Question Time Ahead of Time

They say that politics is unpredictable and of late you could not disagree more with that statement, especially when talking about the Question Time strategy employed particularly by the Tony Abbott led Opposition, but also the plan of attack of the Gillard Government. But that all seemed to change for at least yesterdays hour or so of Question Time where the usual focus of the Coalition was turfed out for the most part and the issue of importing overseas workers for a mining project took centre stage in the political debate during Question Time in Canberrra.

This issue came to the fore because of the leadership tensions which it apparently stoked and will likely fizzle out as a story fairly quickly and as a major point of attack for the Coalition who will probably return to the usual suspects of topics if not today, then tomorrow or maybe later this week.

The Coalition may continue to attempt making some political mileage out of the leadership issue tomorrow in relation to the deal struck between Gina Rinehart and the ALP Government, but it will almost certainly be less of a focus than it was during Question Time today.

What seems more likely is a return to the script which has been performed to within an inch of its life and that is the Coalition returning to focus on the carbon tax which will play front and centre of the political strategy and be the major election issue that the Liberal and National Party will fight on during the (presumably) 2013 election campaign.

There might also be somewhat of a focus on the Craig Thomson/HSU debate which despite not being particularly evident yesterday, except for during Senate Estimates still bubbles along as an unresolved issue for the government even though they have ditched the Member for Dobell from the caucus. Pretty much every avenue of parliamentary attack and then some around this issue has been utilised.

The Murray-Darling Basin Plan which is currently being debated in Canberra may also be a subject of parliamentary debate in the House of Representatives, though this is much more likely to occur in the Senate and come from Nationals Senator Barnaby Joyce.

The government will likely again focus on the economy with the post-budget message still needing to be sold to the groups targetted in the fiscal statement just weeks ago.

The ALP will also focus the use of the Dorothy Dixer on the Household Assistance Package which will provide compensation for the carbon price which will commence in just over a month on the 1st of July, with initial payments hitting the accounts of pensioners already this week ahead of the introduction of the controversial policy.

It could also be legitimately expected that the Labor Party focus their questions too on a wider range of issues with one or two questions possible about the Murray-Darling Basin Plan and other issues not canvassed by the Opposition in which the government thinks they can get a good message out on.

Whatever tomorrow holds, you can be certain that it will be the start of a return to business as usual after some ever so brief respite from the one issue politics that has seemed to dominate political discourse in Australia in recent years and accelerated under this minority government.

All the Question Time action begins at 2pm though you will be forgiven if you decide it’s best to give it a miss.

Question Time Ahead of Time: Post-Budget Day

The budget we all knew was coming and was practically announced before it was formally read out in parliament last night has now passed and today is the day when the Gillard Government will sell the package as a a whole and the Opposition forensically analyse the detail. Question Time will play a big part in that sell for the government and for the Coalition it must be a time to test the government on both spending priorities, cuts and those sneaky deferrals that have been made overnight.

The Coalition will almost certainly not focus all its questions on items from the budget papers, but put up a mix of previously broached subjects as well as mixing those with questions on the budget.

To that end, the Coalition will almost certainly place a focus on the Craig Thomson issue which, despite the budget, continues to be a feature of the day, thanks in large part to the Fair Work Australia report findings that Mr Thomson must answer to a  list of allegations.

The Liberal and National Party Coalition would quite possibly also ask questions on the allegations surrounding the Speaker, Peter Slipper, especially after attempts yesterday on the floor of the House of Representatives to replace him in the chair with the previous Speaker, Harry Jenkins.

However, the budget will probably be the major focus of the Opposition during the session of Question Time today. Expect to see questions on the purported surplus, the spending and deferrals which cast doubt upon the forecast surplus actually achieving its real end.

The lack of business assistance will likely also be put to the government.

For the ALP Government, the focus will be on the social spending programs that have been announced as much as it will be trying to convince the public that the budget will actually finish in surplus by the end of fiscal year 2012-13, a slightly easier task than convincing the parliament.

Undoubtedly, as previous statements have done, the government will focus on talking up the National Disability Insurance Scheme, which now has a monetary figure attached to it: $1 billion over 4 years.

A further focus will also likely be other social spending areas in the budget which includes education payments which will now be directly paid into the accounts of eligible families, a new aged care allocation and an increase to some families in Family Tax Benefit A.

Today will also be the second day with Deputy Speaker Anna Burke occupying the Speaker’s chair during Question Time and looks set to be a noisy one for all involved and Standing Order 94a will probably get quite a workout.

It all begins from 2pm AEST.

The Palmer Intervention

Today, to the amazement, but apparently to many on social media not shock, the billionaire mining magnate Clive Palmer announced at a press conference this morning that he would be seeking preselection for the seat currently held by the Gillard Government Treasurer, Wayne Swan. Many are treating it as gospel that Mr Palmer will be the one to take on Mr Swan in the Queensland electorate of Lilley, despite the fact that he has just self-nominated for the preselection race.

Those in the commentariat who have already conceded that any other LNP member who is standing, or will put themselves up for the party nomination would do well to remember a recent precedent that was set in recent history within the party.

Prior to the 2010 federal election the senior federal MP Peter Dutton, now Shadow Minister for Health and Ageing stood for preselection in the safe LNP electorate of McPherson after the retirement of Margaret May, doing so after his electorate of Dickson saw redistribution turn his seat won from Cheryl Kernot of the ALP, into a notional Labor division.

Despite his standing within the party, including his position and the support of the Liberal Party leader at the time and former Prime Minister John Howard as well as that of the retiring representative of McPherson, the senior Liberal lost the campaign to local businesswoman Karen Andrews.

Clive Palmer too, is considered a prominent LNP member and voice, albeit for different reasons to Mr Dutton. The mining billionaire Clive Palmer is the biggest single donor to the LNP, having given more then $3 million to the LNP. That sum has, rightly or wrongly led to complaints of Palmer “buying the party” and/or “buying influence” within the party.

Today, despite that supposed influence, the response from within the party at the federal level to the announcement has at best been lukewarm, with Liberal Party MPs probably cautious after the recent comments from Mr Palmer about the Greens and a supposed CIA link.

Like the McPherson example, the LNP in Lilley may well and probably should go for a grassroots, local candidate for the electorate, as opposed to a non-local. Yes, the margin is slim, sitting at only 3.18%, well within reach of a Liberal Party Opposition that seems all but poised to take government at the next election, whether it be in 2013 or sooner. It has been held by the Liberal Party before, as recently as 1996-1998.

The LNP, especially in an electoral division like Lilley, with a mix of middle and working class voters, would do best to have a candidate not just from the area but that whose background best fits the needs and aspirations of the voters in the electorate north of the Brisbane River.

But alas, again a warning. This is just an announcement of candidacy for preselection, it is far from a fait accompli that the colourful character Clive Palmer will be the candidate  for Lilley at the next federal ballot. Precedent stands in the way of a certain Palmer candidacy and there are still processes that need to be gone through before anyone can say, “I told you so” or  otherwise.

 

My Kind of Liberalism/Liberal Conservatism is Mixed with a Bit of Big Government

I would like to take the chance today to outline in a broad sense the kind of liberalism/liberal conservatism that I identify with personally and how that translates into my thoughts in different policy areas, be they economic or social.I fully expect to lose a number of followers in the hours after this post gets out as people discover that I am not quite as conservative as I thought I once was.

On economic policy I would consider myself to be strongly of the economic conservative faith, believing that, for the most part, government spending should be kept to a minimum. I also believe in trying to avoid deficit spending, a key facet of fiscal conservatism as well as lower taxes and deregulation of the economy.

In saying this, I do not believe that all government spending is evil and should be avoided, there are some areas where government should be spending, particularly in the area of providing public goods making me also by definition a fan of the theory of economic liberalism.

Although both of these theories argue for limited government intervention in economic decision making and regulation, I do believe it is a political reality that there is and needs to be some level of limited regulation in the economy that provides some kind of protection to the individual. In saying this I, do not believe that regulation needs to be drastically added to, on the contrary, I think in many areas that regulations can and should be eased.

On social issues I consider myself to be a bit of a mixed bag again, combining some social conservatism with social liberalism, though I think that the latter is the predominate issue in my thoughts on social policy.

I firmly believe as social conservatives do, that the family is one of the most important institutions that exist in society along with the courts and other bodies that have long been a foundation of western society and our beliefs.

Where I differ with social conservatives  and where my social liberalism comes in is a firm belief in basic human rights, including freedom of speech, that have for a long time been an important and essential consideration in policy and political discussion.

While I believe that the family is an essential institution, I do not believe, like many social conservatives seem to, that the family is under threat from gay marriage. It is a ridiculous claim in my view, to assert that the family would be impacted in a detrimental way if same sex marriage were to become law in Australia. The family will continue to exist after this inevitable change is made and in any case is more under threat from the incredibly high levels of divorce in many western nations.

There are also areas of social policy where I would also consider myself at times to be a fan of a big government approach. The biggest of those would be disability policy.

I am a firm supporter of the Gillard Government policy of a National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) providing that it allows individuals to exercise their own free choice of which particular service or services they need to or choose to access which is best suited to their own individual needs and is not overly influenced by any healthcare practitioner or government regulation.

I also believe that the government needs to step in to strictly regulate areas which impede equality of access for people with a disability that destroy the ability of those of us with a physical or intellectual impairment from participating fully in the day to day activities that any “able bod” is fully able to enjoy at any given time.

For me this means strict accessibility provisions imposed upon both government and private institutions to, wherever possible provide all reasonable access for people of different physical abilities in everyday life. This means widespread accessible transport, buildings and housing.

I therefore think, as I have stated before, that principles of ‘universal design’ ought to be mandated by government, to provide the 1 in 5 Australian’s with a disability and the rapidly ageing population ready access to new dwellings built to these strict construction guidelines.

Furthermore, guidelines for accessibility to buildings need to be much stricter than they are at present and both local and state governments need to stoke up the courage to deal with this important area.

On transport, I believe that all transport  provided by local or state government should be accessible for people whether they are in a wheelchair, on crutches or have a slight physical impairment. No particular group in the community should have to organise for a particular form of transport to be made available to them because they happen to have been born with a condition impacting their ability to move around freely.

On transport infrastructure, where possible, I believe that all possible efforts should be made to transform all possible facilities related to public transport into disability friendly ones. I concede that there is a possibility that, because of the surrounds of some particular transport infrastructure, that because of topography, accessibility may be an almost complete hindrance to accessibility.

Also on social policy, I believe in some form of freedom of movement and therefore am against the fear that conservatives seem to have toward asylum seekers. This by no means indicates that I think people movements should be completely unfettered, they should not. We do need as a nation to discourage, wherever possible the unsafe journeys that people fleeing persecution continue to make.

So let the accusations of me being a “leftie” begin to fly as they inevitably will after this becomes public knowledge, I’m prepared for it. But the simple fact is that I am in wide, almost complete agreement and most of my thoughts completely consistent with the principles which underpin liberal philosophy and that of the Liberal Party which also embraces conservative political ideas. So bring it on.

Question Time Ahead of Time

Today marks the last sitting day of the parliamentary week and the last day of parliament before the budget is announced in Canberra on Tuesday May 8 by Treasurer Wayne Swan. Consequently economics will continue to be the focus of the day in Question Time and the energy of our politicians will be at an almost anxious high as they try to get attention on their programs for Australia and the Opposition throw everything at the Gillard Government in trying to hold them to account.

The focus of the Opposition will continue to be on the two or three key areas that the Coalition have pursued for some time now  in their Question Time and broader political strategy. The two main focal points of the Abbott-led Opposition questions today will continue to be both the carbon tax and the mining tax which have had varying degrees of focus since both have been announced. They have both now been passed by the government and the Coalition will continue to pursue them as they come into force and for any negative impacts they have.

The Coalition also may ask some questions of the ALP Government about Fair Work Australia and its investigation into Craig Thomson, a long-running affair which has provided much political and parliamentary material for the Liberal and National Party Coalition.

The Opposition is likely to also ask questions of the government about the deal announced today to keep Holden producing cars in Australia for the next 10 years at least.

The government, as has been its strategy all parliamentary year will be to focus on their big programs, at the moment the Minerals Resource Rent Tax (MRRT) and how the revenue from it is projected to benefit the community, including low income individuals and small and big business. Some Dorothy Dixer’s, as has been the case this week may be devoted to other topical or even less discussed policies, like the Murray-Darling Basin Plan which received questions in the House of Representatives yesterday.

The Gillard Government will certainly use some Dorothy Dixer’s to ask ministers associated with the car industry about the deal with Holden to keep car production in Australia for at least 10 years and to highlight the benefits of this for the local and national economy.

The usage of the motion to suspend Standing Orders is another eventuality that cannot be discounted, particularly as we head toward a grand total of 50 of them for this the 43rd parliament of Australia. The motion however is less likely to occur as the topics discussed have been the focus of the motion in the past.What may work in favour of a suspension of Standing Orders is another topical issue presenting itself before Question Time today, likely not the Holden issue, or the fact that it is the last session of Question Time until the parliamentary week beginning the 8th of May.

Look for fireworks and restless pollies slanging remarks across the chamber today in the Lower and Upper House. Expect to see a high number of ejections from both sides and even Ministers sat down by the Speaker for not being “directly relevant” to questions asked by the Coalition and even their own side as they attempt to use Dixer’s for having a go at Coalition policy rather than explaining their own. Get your last fix for over a month from 2pm AEDT today

Question Time Ahead of Time

The last day of Question Time for the week in the House of Representatives is upon us and promises no less than has been delivered over the last two sitting weeks in Canberra. Both sides have firmly dug themselves in to their respective attack and defense positions and have not let up except to vary their posturing within those areas. This does not look set to change at least for the day with positions so set in stone that if budged their positions may shatter into countless shards.

The Coalition has been heavy in its attack on three fronts, two of which fit into the broader narrative of economic management which both sides of politics seem intent to capture ground in this area, a traditional strength of the Liberal and National Party Coalition. Over the last two weeks the interrogation of economic matters has centered around the carbon tax, with the mining tax taking somewhat of a backseat for the moment. There is no doubt this line of questioning will continue today, being a central tenet of a future Abbott-led Coalition Government.

The Opposition has also been brutal in its pursuit of Craig Thomson and the Fair Work Australia (FWA) investigation that has been looking int0 allegations involving Thomson and the Health Services Union. In the recent sitting days questions on the matter have tended to focus on the length of the investigation rather than the MP who is a subject of the investigation. Estimates yesterday showed that the case may be drawing to an end but there is little doubt that the Coalition will want to continue its pursuit of the matter despite the angry and frustrated words of the Prime Minister in Question Time yesterday in relation to the saga.

There is also another possible line of enquiry in Question Time which the Coalition may take and that is to ask questions of the Government in relation to the passage of the Private Health Insurance Rebate means testing which passed the House of Representatives yesterday.

The Government will undoubtedly continue to try to paint themselves as the better economic managers, not for the budget position, but for the funds that they hope to raise through their new taxes to provide for Australians in different areas. As I have also repeatedly said, the Gillard Government will also focus on the economic position relative to other nations.

The Government will also surely direct some Dorothy Dixer’s toward the means testing of the Private Health Insurance Rebate which, as already noted has passed the House of Representatives.

The Speaker looks set to continue using Standing Order 94a for rowdy Opposition MPs without let-up, though we have seen Government MPs being booted from the House for one hour, particularly in recent days.

The real interest as far as the Speaker goes will be how much of a leash Mr Slipper will give the Treasurer who has tested the patience of Coalition MPs and supporters with repeated infractions this week particularly.

You know the drill, 2pm today on the TV and on the radio or in the wee hours of the morning for a replay on your TV. Enjoy the show!

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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