PromiseWatch 2013: Disability

2. Disability policy and the NDIS…

Published in partnership with Crikey, the PromiseWatch 2013 series captures snapshots of the major parties’ platforms in major policy areas

PromiseWatch 2013: Disability

With Australia in meltdown at the prospect of a $12 billion budget black hole (or not so much, if you believe the saner heads at the International Monetary Fund), the Gillard government is said to be mulling a “levy” to fund the bipartisan $15 billion National Disability Insurance Scheme, a key election promise that passed the House of Representatives and the Senate in March.

According to reports in News Limited papers today, a “Medi-Grab” is on the cards to raise cash for the popular program, via a 0.5-percentage-point increase in the Medicare Levy from 1.5% to 2% — equating to a “$300” impost on the average household. It’s necessary because the NDIS will involve a doubling in the current patchwork of disability funding that leads to tens of thousands of people falling through gaps and consigns loving carers to a life of stress and misery.

The NDIS, proposed by the Productivity Commission in its landmark August 2011 report, is designed to work in three main ways: by “providing [no fault] insurance against the risk of acquiring significant disability, promoting opportunities for people with a disability and creating awareness of the issues that affect people with a disability, providing information and referral services and funding individualised supports”.

Currently people with similar disabilities access starkly different support services, depending on their location, age and timing —what some call the “lottery” of access to services. Carers, often family members, devote their whole lives to looking after a sibling, son or daughter. The NDIS is eventually expected to cover 410,000 Australians and, beginning in July, “launch sites” across four states will draw in 26,000 people, with the trials moving to the ACT next year.

Although enjoying universal support, concrete funding for the scheme has remained in flux as state government pledges have failed to match federal government expectations.

The Commonwealth has guaranteed $1 billion in funding over the next four years for the first phase but expects state governments to make up the shortfall. Queensland Premier Campbell Newman has offered $900 million over five years but Prime Minister Julia Gillard claimed that offer fell shortby over $200 million and would result in the federal government shouldering over half the bill, as it already will in New South Wales. Last week, South Australia revealed it had yet to sort through the financials even though it too had committed to the scheme’s “full implementation”. Victoria is yet to lock in to the full rollout beyond the initial trial in the Barwon region, while WA Premier Colin Barnett wants more local control before he puts pen to paper.

The related flashpoint is timing — disability advocates have been scathing over the yawning five-year delay between the this year’s trial and the full rollout in July 2018 (in NSW), at least two elections away. They say governments could immediately fund the NDIS if there were enough political will to prise open the purse strings. Here are the parties’ main commitments, informed by exclusive research undertaken by the CPD.

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