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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.

Bill of Rights, Yes We Can and Must, But Likely When We Become a Republic

In the Australian political discourse there are calls, from time to time, about whether or not Australia is in need of a Bill of Rights, whether it be enshrined in the Constitution of Australia or its own legislative instrument. We need a Bill of Rights, but it is likely that any move for such a protection of rights will not come on its own, but in conjunction with a future Australian republic and that is most certainly a great deal of time away from materialising.

Australia is in urgent need of a Bill of Rights, constitutional or otherwise to defend all the basic rights and freedoms which must be afforded to all human beings. Not only that, Australia needs such legal provisions to clearly express those rights which at the moment are implied or form part of the common law of the Commonwealth of Australia. Too often, because the rights we are supposed to enjoy are either implied or in common law, there is not a clear understanding of the extent to which they apply.
As I have already expressed, there are two forms that a rights bill may take, that is constitutional and legislative.
A constitutional Bill of Rights entails those basic rights and freedoms we should all experience in a liberal democracy being enshrined in the Australian Constitution. This would require a constitutional referendum where a majority of people in a majority of the states and territories vote in favour of putting rights and freedoms into our constitution.
A legislative Bill of Rights is exactly as it sounds, a piece of legislation that is passed by the parliament of the day, requiring a simple majority of parliamentarians to vote in favour of it becoming law.
The question then becomes: what form should a future Bill of Rights take? My answer, is that any future rights bill must be enshrined in our Constitution. Why is this the case? Because, like any form of law made by parliament, a legislative rights bill could indeed be rescinded for any reason, of which none are valid and therefore parliament could erode our collective rights at their whim if they chose to do so.
Now, a constitutional version of a rights bill is not without its downside either, though the downside is indeed both a positive and a negative. Because a constitutional referendum requires a majority of people in a majority of states to pass, it would be incredibly difficult to have a successful referendum (8/44 referenda have passed). However, as I said, that is also the positive, our politicians could not vote a constitutional Bill of Rights down and the people are unlikely to vote out something which they helped institute in the first place.
Now this is where it becomes tricky for the idea of a Bill of Rights to be enshrined in our Constitution any time soon. Because a constitutional rights bill is much more robust, the best chance of it passing at a referendum, would not be under its own steam as a stand-alone move. A human rights bill, forming part of our Constitution, would best be linked to a future Australian republican referendum where it would be almost certain that we would adopt an entirely new Australian Constitution.
Consequently, a new Australian Constitution, complete with human rights protections will most likely be some time away. With an ALP Government, usually strongly committed to a republic, no longer publicly talking about the idea and still two years from election and the would be next Liberal Party Prime Minister a monarchist, by my calculation, a republic and therefore Bill of Rights is inevitable but at least 10 years away.
I don’t think we can or should wait that long. The question is: can you wait? If not, get loud and get talking about it…
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