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August 2011



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Julia Gillard visits a children’s support centre in Melbourne. Picture: Stuart McEvoy Source: The Australian


AUSTRALIA will have a National Disability Insurance Scheme after Julia Gillard yesterday declared her unequivocal support for the key social policy and the Productivity Commission said any hostile state could be bypassed.


The Prime Minister’s support for the historic reform came in response to the commission’s final report on disability care and support, which strongly endorses a commonwealth-run, no-fault NDIS.


“I certainly want to see a national disability insurance scheme. I share the vision of a national disability insurance scheme as the right way forward for our country,” Ms Gillard said.


But the Prime Minister said there was a lot of policy work still to do before the scheme, estimated to cost an additional $6.5 billion beyond current disability funding, could be rolled out. She said it could be seven years before the scheme was up and running.


Ms Gillard also warned that the new system must be “fiscally sustainable”, saying “We’ve got to get the money right and that will take time”.


Fierce resistance from some states to the mining tax, the carbon tax and aspects of health reform have dogged the federal government’s recent reform agenda, leading to concerns over its ability to deliver major policy.


But a disability insurance scheme, along with large-scale, aged-care reforms proposed earlier this week, could be the circuit-breakers the government is looking for. The NDIS has received bipartisan support, with the federal opposition and most states backing the measure. Assistant Treasurer Bill Shorten, a former parliamentary secretary for disabilities, said the NDIS was a key plank of social policy.


“There are four pillars which assure the quality of Australian life for all – the minimum wage, the age pension, compulsory superannuation and Medicare. The National Disability Insurance Scheme has the potential to be the missing fifth pillar,” he said.


The Productivity Commission’s final model released yesterday calls for a full federal takeover of disability care and support from the states with the creation of a single agency – the National Disability Insurance Agency.


It says the current system is “underfunded, unfair, fragmented and inefficient”.


Under its proposed reform, all Australians would be covered in the event of a significant disability and about 410,000 people with existing disabilities would receive funding support.


NDIS funding would cover such issues as physical and psychological therapies, domestic help with cooking and shopping, home and vehicle modifications and personal care needs such as help with showering and toileting.


It said an additional $6.5bn a year would be needed to fund the scheme, proposing that the money come from consolidated revenue, with the states agreeing to cut some of their more inefficient taxes such as stamp duty.


The commission also recommended the creation of a separate National Injury Insurance Scheme that provides no-fault insurance for anyone suffering a catastrophic injury such as the loss of a limb, an acquired brain injury or a spinal cord injury. The extent of a person’s coverage currently depends on which state they live in and how the injury was caused.


Ms Gillard said an NDIS not only had social benefits, but economic benefits to the nation as well, allowing both people with disabilities and their carers to play more active roles in the workforce.


“Our focus is on giving them the keys that they need to be full participants in the life of our nation, including in work, and of course if we can do better in services, that does make a difference for carers who now are out of the workforce entirely,” Ms Gillard said.


Federal opposition disabilities spokesman Mitch Fifield said the commission had come up with a “good model” that should be “funded from core government spending”.


NSW and Victoria broadly backed the idea of an NDIS and a move to a federal takeover, with Victorian Premier Ted Baillieu saying it was now up to governments to work together to make it a reality.


But West Australian Premier Colin Barnett attacked the plan, saying the federal government’s bungled reform efforts meant it shouldn’t expect the states to fall in line on this policy.


“Those days are finished because of the complete shambles of the commonwealth in key areas like the GST, the mining tax, the carbon tax and even the health package,” he said. “I am getting a little tired of schemes coming out of Canberra to take over areas of state administration only to find that they invariably fail.” However, the Productivity Commission report says the scheme could continue without the participation of one or more states.


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