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Games and More Games, But Where to Now for the NDIS?

The latest Council of Australian Governments meeting has gone off with a bit of a hitch. The National Disability Insurance Scheme launch sites were front and centre of the COAG agenda today with the states and territories coming together to try and win a launch site, well in most cases at least.

At the meeting today in Canberra a total of three launch sites were announced by the Prime Minister Julia Gillard. South Australia, the Australian Capital Territory and Tasmania managed to reach agreement with the Gillard Government to co-fund trials in their respective states and territories.

But alas, a fourth and final trial location could not be found. The states and territories who will be hosting launch sites are all Labor administrations. Those loudest in their criticism of the government over the project, from a positive interest in at least trying to find an outcome, to in Queensland’s case, not having an interest at all in contributing funds until at least 2014-15 are all Liberal state Premiers.

Western Australia a Liberal state, under Premier Colin Barnett will at least be trying out their own version of the scheme, ‘My Way’ which the federal government will have a look at to see how their experiment at a state-based scheme goes. But really, all states should just get with the same program, but points for trying.

New South Wales and Victoria, on the face of it, seem part of the way there. NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell announced that his state had $570 million for the trial, a not insignificant amount, over half of the commonwealth allocation in the May budget which put aside $1 billion for the four initial locations for the disability scheme.

Together with Victoria, the two states with conservative Premiers put together a joint bid. Their proposal was to cater for 15,000 people with a disability with the New South Wales part of the two-state agreement to be put in place in the Hunter region.

But again money was the killer here. The Prime Minister wanted NSW Premier O’Farrell to contribute a further $70 million for the trial and the Victorian Premier, Ted Baillieu an extra $40 million for their states to be able to have one of the four initial NDIS service areas.

The first point is that the money that NSW were willing to bring to the table was an extremely generous sum for a scheme which the Productivity Commission recommended should be fully funded by the feds.

Second, surely each of the three parties in the negotiations for the joint bid had the ability to make up the $100 million funding shortfall between them, whether that be either of the two states or the Gillard Government, or all three sharing the extra burden.

As far as Queensland goes, with relatively new state Premier Campbell Newman at the helm, the whole situation is far from encouraging. The Queensland Premier, Mr Newman came to the meeting of Australian governments proposing to spend not a single cent on a proposal for a launch site. Interestingly though, Mr Newman brought a proposal to COAG today for a launch site to be held in the town of Gympie, north of Brisbane.

But that of course was never ever going to translate into the northern state being granted the right  by the commonwealth to enjoy the benefits of being one of the first four places in the country to see how the eventually national scheme will operate.

The overall point is that all Liberal states were playing politics. It (the funding job) could have been done. Surely too, the federal government, in the knowledge that in twelve months time they will likely not be in power and not having to stump up further funds for the essential disability policy. were also playing political games.

What was interesting today and in the lead-up to the crucial Council of Australian Governments meeting was that the Northern Territory Government, under Chief Minister Paul Henderson, a Labor administration appeared relatively absent from the debate and discussion. The motive likely the upcoming election in the Northern Territory.

So where to now for the National Disability Insurance Scheme?

While the federal government should have followed the Productivity Commission recommendation to fully fund the scheme it is clear that it will never happen that way.

But it is clear that the NDIS just has to happen. People with a disability have waited far too long for a serious attempt at a framework meeting their basic but diverse needs in a converted national approach.

Like it or lump it, the states have to alter their stance on the project to a standpoint where they are willing to contribute more whilst still pushing for the commonwealth to fund the vast majority of the costly policy.

With a likely Liberal Government at the federal level next year, it is important that their in principle support, which appears to be wavering quite strongly, is converted into real support for following the already embarked upon implementation process.

Lobby groups, the state and current federal government will need to continue to put the pressure on the current federal Opposition to make their uncertain bipartisan support a reality. Nobody wants to see an incoming Abbott Government in power suddenly baulk when faced with needing to implement a policy that the Liberal Premiers have all had varying degrees of difficulty acknowledging is important.

But again, at the same time, the current administration at the federal level must take their share of the blame for what is a very worrying juncture in the NDIS debate.

All states and the federal government need to work together more and be more willing to compromise. They all have the means to contribute something. People with a disability cannot afford to miss out with another failed policy.

The Will They Or Won’t They NDIS Game Rears Its Head

After a short period of time where discussion of the National Disability Insurance Scheme was almost completely non existent in the political discussion engaged in by the federal government we’ve seen in recent weeks a return to the discourse of the very important initiative. This is because the Council of Australian Governments, that’s COAG for the politically inclined, commences tomorrow.

Funding has been a key area of dispute between the states and the commonwealth and this has been telegraphed in the media ever since negotiations over the funding and implementation of the scheme began. This is set to continue in earnest at COAG as is competition over which states or territories have the privilege of hosting one of the four launch sites announced by the Gillard Government as part of the May budget. This announcement came with $1 billion over four years in federal funding for the scheme.

The states of course are crying poor, particularly Queensland, where the new Premier has inherited a budget deficit from the former Bligh Government of $2.8 billion and a debt of $64 billion for 2011/12.

The South Australian Premier, Jay Weatherill, whose state has agreed to put $20 million toward the policy but has said today “we don’t have the budget capacity to go further at this time”.

In Queensland’s case, the Premier will go to COAG asking for a launch site to be held in Gympie, north of Brisbane, but without a commitment from his state to put any money toward the launch site.

Premier Campbell Newman supports the scheme in principle but wants the commonwealth government to fund it and he is right with the latter part of the following comment where Mr Newman today said “we’re prepared to support the program, we’re prepared to support a trial site in Gympie, but they (federal government) must fund it and that’s what the Productivity Commission said”.

It is indeed true that the Productivity Commission in its advice to the government on the implementation of the important NDIS said that the commonwealth should fund the scheme.

But the commonwealth itself is limited to what it has available to allocate to the implementation of the policy. They’ve allocated that $1 billion over 4 years, that’s $250 million a year for the first four years.

That’s not to say they couldn’t have done much more, they could have. Instead of plunging more money into areas of spending that have had or will likely not have highly positive outcomes they could have contributed more of the billions of dollars they did allocate during the budget on a policy initiative that will help people with a disability engage in community activities.

Policy to help people with a disability has been chronically overlooked by successive governments of both political colours at the local state and federal level since de-institutionalisation. So the government must be praised for at least bringing this onto the agenda and trying to get outcomes in the area even though they’ve not exactly followed the policy prescription from the experts.

But back to the state governments and their response. They all want it, but some are much more willing than others, for differing reasons, to stump up funds for the Medicare-like project.

Regardless of what the Productivity Commission said about which level of government should fund the scheme and despite the wrong policy response from the ALP Government, all states do have the capacity to at least contribute some existing funds used for disability support were their respective states to win the right to host a launch site. The money would be going into providing the same services to the people in the areas chosen for crying out loud. Surely even Queensland could spare $20 million or at least something, a few million dollars perhaps.

It does appear increasingly like the federal government, aware that this time next year they may well be close to or have already lost government, are trying to look like they’re doing something on the issue while actually achieving much less than they’re capable of.

It’s also less and less likely a future Coalition government, who’ve announced strong support for the NDIS, but then had MPs unleash rhetoric which makes you question the sincerity of the bipartisanship will be willing to take up the political challenge and implement the National Disability Insurance Scheme. If not that, it is reasonable to at least question the cohesion and level of agreement within the party over such a big funding initiative. This would have the ability to collapse further once in government.

The important thing to note is that all levels of government do have the capacity to deal with the implementation of such a scheme. If governments didn’t waste so many millions and billions it could be done in a heartbeat. But the political games are now on and the political will of both the Labor Government and the Opposition are being and will be tested. So to the collective will of the states must be put under the spotlight. That first test has started and will accelerate tomorrow.

Why Amend Civil Unions At All?

Today the Queensland Government announced something that Queenslanders and those interested in politics and gay rights were probably not expecting. The Premier, Campbell Newman was widely expected and feared to be about to say that there would be a full repeal of the civil unions laws instituted by former Treasurer and Deputy Premier, Andrew Fraser. This didn’t happen, though pretty much everything but a full repeal of the laws, a step toward marriage equality that the state finally took just months ago was announced today by the Queensland Premier.

It was identified before the March election that an incoming LNP government would look at repealing the laws introduced to the Queensland parliament by the former MLA for the electorate of Mt Coot-tha and it was, as said, pretty much viewed as a fait accompli by advocates, indeed just about everyone in Queensland you would expect.

Then today, we got a bit of a shock, less than a half shock, but a shock nonetheless. A full repeal is not going to happen, but the announcement has been a hollow victory for supporters of same-sex marriage and equal rights for same-sex couples with the announcement pointing toward taking a pretty big step back from heading toward marriage equality, a step which the commonwealth will inevitably have to take with marriage being within the federal jurisdiction.

What will happen now is that the Civil Partnerships Act will be amended by the LNP Government to remove the provisions that “mimic” same-sex marriage. Couples will still be able to register their relationships by signing documentation papers which will provide acknowledgement that their relationship exists but they will not be able to have a state sanctioned ceremony that was allowed under the provisions brought into law by the Fraser legislation.

Unfortunately, the Christian lobby saw it as an affront to have a special ceremony legislated for by the state which they saw as being akin to gay marriage even though people in these relationships surely have not seen it as such. Further, the ceremony itself was a voluntary act and out of the 609 civil partnerships registered in Queensland since the legislative change, a massive 21 (sarcasm fully freaking intended) opted to have that voluntary ceremony.

Did churches have to involve themselves in these ceremonies at all? No. Were those celebrants out there who hold religious views compelled to preside over same-sex marriage ceremonies? No.

So why does the Christian lobby fear something that isn’t marriage and isn’t foisted upon them by the state? The answer is likely just that, fear. A type of fear of love between a man and another man or a woman and another woman, not a scary concept at all, though perhaps it is to an institution that has continued to struggle for relevancy with declining levels of adherence.

The reality too is that same-sex marriage, though a while away yet is inevitable and that too is likely to not call upon churches to hold actual marriage ceremonies within their hallowed halls.

The government really shouldn’t have bowed to the church lobby when they were not being impacted on at all, but the outcome isn’t altogether awful and is at least a half-relief for people in these equally special relationships where their love is no different to your love for your wife, husband, boyfriend or girlfriend.

Costello Gets a Gong That Will Make Him Feel at Home Even Though it’s in Queensland

In politics, not many come any bigger than Peter Costello, long-service Treasurer in the Howard Government and despite their personal relationship, one of his strongest political lieutenants. His political stature above all else is what he is known for. He and Howard were confronted with a budget in deficit in 1996 and $96 billion in government debt accrued by the Labor Government before them. He did that and did that well delivering surplus after surplus in the decade-plus of the Howard Government. He was a big-hitter with a big ego that was matched by big performances in his portfolio, in the parliament with his stinging attacks on the long-term Opposition, and also outside of it against the same team, his humour often dry and biting when in full flight.

But yes, aside from his personality it was his performance as Treasurer that won him and the government he represented the most support from the Australian people. Just recently against advice he was knocked back as the next chairperson of the Future Fund that he created in the later years of the Howard-Costello partnership to fund future costs of the public sector superannuation.

Costello missed that gong just a short period of time ago and with an incoming LNP Government under Premier Campbell Newman and Treasurer Tim Nicholls in Queensland, which was swept to power in such a dramatic fashion on Saturday night, has found himself in a position to do what he does best. The former Australian Treasurer will chair a Commission of Audit to recommend a path or paths forward for a new LNP Government looking to take the Queensland economy forward after 20 of the last 22 years under the Australian Labor Party.

At the end of the year it is projected that Queensland will find itself in $62 billion dollars of debt as reported by the new Queensland Treasurer, Tim Nicholls in his statement today while announcing the appointment of Mr Costello as commission chair. Looking at the state of the books and how to reduce this  debt so LNP promises can be delivered will be part of the task ahead for the audit committee where he will be joined by Dr Doug McTaggart of QIC and Professor Sandra Harding, former Under Treasurer of Queensland and now Vice Chancellor of James Cook University.

The former economic manager in the Howard Government will also, through charting possible ways of cutting down debt and inefficiencies in the government spending, hopefully plot a course back to a AAA credit rating with Queensland, despite its mineral resources and the wealth they create, being the only mainland state without the full credit rating.

The cuts look like being deep and hard, with some programs already being dismantled by the newly sworn Premier Newman and his Deputy Premier Jeff Seeney and Treasurer Tim Nicholls. Tomorrow the other ministers responsible for government departments will be named and will get to work after being sworn in by the Queensland Governor early next week, doing the same to already identified programs in their respective gambits of responsibility.

One thing is for certain, Mr Costello will be at home examining the Queensland economy and government spending and the budget priorities of the current and past governments and just where they fit in terms of efficiency and priority and helping to navigate Queensland to a better fiscal position along with the rest of his team and with the LNP Government who will make the final important decisions after being provided with the learned advice.

Queensland Votes: Some Final Predictions

Ahead of Queenslanders going to the polls to vote out a long-term ALP state government tomorrow, it’s time to make some final predictions about the numbers that will begin to unfold beyond the 6pm closure of voting in this government-changing election. The most important aspect of the count to watch tomorrow will be who wins Ashgrove, whether it is Premier Campbell Newman or soon to be ALP backbencher Kate Jones. The size of the swing to the LNP will also be an important piece of data, with the swing required for the Opposition to take government being 4.6%. The total number of seats has also been much talked about with polls predicting the ALP could be reduced to as few as 12 if swings across the state were uniform. The highest profile scalp that the LNP claims in this certain election win also deserves a major focus as does the likely downfall of other Bligh Government ministers. The final major point of interest will be how Katter’s Australian Party performs in their first election.

ASHGROVE AND THE RACE FOR PREMIER

From the moment when Campbell Newman decided that he would run for the Premiership  and the seat of Ashgrove from outside of the parliament the polls indicated that the would-be Premier was well ahead on a 2-party-preferred basis, cruising to a win at that point.

Then came smear and allegations against Mr Newman and his family over business dealings as the election campaign got closer, which intensified once the campaign proper began with a plethora of ads asking questions of the candidate for Ashgrove and the Premiership. This saw support crumble for the former army engineer and Lord Mayor of Brisbane into single digits and eventually, in recent weeks to a small lead for incumbent ALP MLA Kate Jones.

The Crime and Misconduct Committee (CMC), an anti-corruption body set up in the wake of the Bjelke-Petersen era investigated allegations on multiple occasions and on each it was found that there was no case to answer for Campbell Newman.

Not long after the final clearance by the CMC and once it became clear to all voters this week, that the LNP would certainly be heading to a sweeping victory, the polls bounced back, indicating this week, at the time with just days to go, that the Premier hopeful would likely win the seat and therefore become the Premier of an LNP Government.

The swing required to win the electorate of Ashgrove is 7.1% and this should be eclipsed with a swing around 8-9% seeming likely.

THE STATEWIDE SWING

Polls seem to indicate that the swing to the LNP in Queensland will be massive, up to around 10% statewide against the Australian Labor Party after such a lengthy term in office.

The LNP only requires a swing of 4.6% to take office and is certainly set to achieve that.

MY PICK: The LNP win will come with a swing of anywhere between 7%-10% and Labor will be decimated around Brisbane and the suburbs and will lose significant numbers from the regions.

NUMBER OF SEATS LABOR WILL BE LEFT WITH

There has been much commentary in recent days over how many seats the ALP will be left with after votes have been finalised by the Electoral Commission Queensland.

The results have been talked about in terms of sporting teams, whether it be a cricket team (11 plus a 12th man), a rugby league team (13 plus a bench of 4), a rugby union team (15 plus 7 reserves) or an AFL team (18 plus 4 reserves).

It is almost certain that the number of seats the ALP will be reduced to after the election will fall somewhere in this range.

MY PICK: Labor will be reduced to a rugby union team minus the bench players, that’s 15 MPs in a parliament of 89.

THE BIGGEST ELECTORAL SCALP

Other than the must watch seat of Ashgrove, which now looks certain to go to the LNP and incoming Premier Campbell Newman, the electorate of Mount Coot-tha will be a major focus as the current Bligh Government Treasurer, Andrew Fraser battles to hold onto his seat with a margin of 5.3%, just 0.7% above the swing needed for the LNP to take the reins of government.

On the polls it looks certain that the LNP will well and truly surpass the margin needed to form government in their own right, possibly more than doubling the swing of 4.6% required if the polls are near accurate. This means that the LNP candidate for the electorate, Saxon Rice will almost certainly beat the incumbent Mr Fraser.

This result would be absolutely disastrous for the ALP which look set to lose other ministers tomorrow and the last thing they need is to lose the Deputy Premier and Treasurer and youngest member of the Bligh Government and quite likely Bligh successor as Labor leader.

MY PICK: Saxon Rice but close, especially if the ALP vote does not collapse too much in the seat as the Greens traditionally poll very strongly in this seat and any preferences would flow to Mr Fraser.

THE FORTUNES OR MISFORTUNES OF KATTER’S AUSTRALIAN PARTY

As noted, this will be the first election for Katter’s Australian Party and its state leader and former LNP, Independent and Queensland Party MLA Aidan McLindon. This party was created by Bob Katter and included the Queensland Party which Mr McLindon started after leaving the LNP and giving up being an Independent member of parliament.

The party had high hopes for themselves, at first of taking government and then holding the balance of power, though we all knew that this was completely out of the question. Polls have continuously confirmed that the swing against the ALP was unlikely to convert into many, if any extra seats for the fledgling political party fielding candidates in 76 of the 89 seats (though they did hope to do so in all 89).

Dalrymple MLA and LNP defector Shane Knuth will probably hold onto his seat in the north of Queensland, becoming an electoral success story for Katter’s Australian Party. With a margin of 14.4% it would be a difficult gain for the LNP.

A member of the Katter family looks able to win the electorate of Mount Isa in the north west of the seat.That person is Robbie Katter, son of party founder Bob Katter who represents that electorate in the federal parliamentary seat of Kennedy.

The big battle for Katter’s Australian Party could be to hold onto the seat of Beaudesert with Aidan McLindon on a margin of 8.3% within the possible statewide swing range in a conservative seat (although the party that Aidan McLindon represents is heavily socially conservative).

The electorate of Nanango is a real possible gain for the new party with high-profile candidate Carl Rackemann in with a real chance upon the retirement of Independent MLA Dorothy Pratt. The margin at only 2.9% opens up the seat for a possible LNP gain for candidate Deb Frecklington.

MY PICKS: Aidan McClindon to lose Beaudesert. Robbie Katter to take the electorate of Mount Isa in a tough fight. Shane Knuth to hold Dalrymple. Deb Frecklington to beat Carl Rackemann in Nanango

THE WASH-UP

Queenslanders are a day away from knowing the make-up of the parliament for the next 3 years and just how large a majority the LNP will be granted by voters across the state. It will certainly be a sweeping majority, with the LNP likely holding more than a 2/3 majority in the unicameral Queensland Parliament, with big ministerial scalps claimed in the process. The electoral hopes of Katter’s Australian Party will prove to be another big fizzer.

The Campaign That’s Almost Over Before it Has Begun Has Now Begun

Ladies and gentlemen of voting age that time once every three years where we rock up to a school or a community centre hoping to get a park and wishing not to be stuck in a cue for half an hour is now here. That’s right, Queensland Votes 2012 has now officially been launched with the Premier paying the Governor of Queensland a visit today to ask that the parliament that copped an earful this week now be dissolved. From this begins the most promising official campaign period for the LNP in many years.

If the last week is anything to go by, the campaign will certainly top the list of dirtiest campaigns in the history of the state and perhaps up there with the dirtiest Australia has seen. This year the attack ads hit many weeks ago, a lot earlier than usual which is clearly an indication of the magnitude of the task for Labor though it seems it would take more than a handful of Olympic sized swimming pools of mud flung to get even close to a reaction that would warrant another 3 year term for Labor. Not only that it goes further to prove that the Bligh Labor Government is tired and has put character assassination above policy creation.

On the policy front it appears from the length of the campaign so far and from the state of the budget, that there may not be too many policies to be revealed during the campaign itself. Rather, there will likely be more detail added to recently launched policies from both sides and perhaps one or two big announcements likewise. This is where other parties, like Katter’s Australian Party and the Greens will find more of their policies being examined as has seemingly occurred, particularly those of Katter’s Australian Party.

This campaign also does have, along with the strong leadership and policy focus an “It’s Time” factor about it which it seemed was the case near the last election, but will almost certainly play out that way this time around.

The leaders will undoubtedly be targetting the marginal seats, including Ashgrove, which while at a margin of over 7% is by the nature of the contest involved a “marginal” seat a and must win for a Campbell Newman LNP Government. The LNP will need to focus on winning many inner and outer suburban Brisbane seats and taking back many of the regional city seats held by MPs of the Bligh Government.

Another focus for the LNP will surely be targetting those seats where defectors have either become Independent MPs  or Katter’s Australian Party MPs and candidates for the party at the March 24 election.

For the Bligh Government the election campaign will almost certainly be about loss limitation, particularly in the key seats around Brisbane and regional cities where even margins considered safe look able to be easily surpassed in many cases if the polls are near an accurate indication of statewide voting intentions.

Now to the party that is getting a lot of attention from the media but probably will not live up to the hype surrounding it and certainly not up to the expectations of its leaders. Yes, I am talking about Katter’s Australian Party.

Bob Katter and his new party are clearly suffering from delusions of grandeur as has been borne out by all polls in recent weeks and months showing the party lucky to achieve single digit poll results. As the campaign bubbles along this may hit closer to 10% but that would be the absolute plateau for voter numbers.

Katter’s Australian Party may cause an upset or two in regional seats, the only real area where they would possibly gain any seats, but the likelihood of a Katter’s Australian Party Government or even a major force are completely and utterly non-existent.

It is the Greens that are likely to end up in third place at the end of this 5 week election campaign with a vote hovering around double digits and it will be interesting to see how this translates into individual seats, but again, like the Katter’s Australian Party, is unlikely to convert into seats.

So the campaign has begun and over the next five weeks we be door-knocked, come across many street stalls and many and various party members waving signs hoping we honk to acknowledge our vote for their candidate. The campaign will be robust and it will be widely reported. The only question left is how exactly will it play out and for that, we have to wait with baited breath until March 24th, somewhere after 8pm one would think.

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