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Disability insurance: a monumental day for all

Disability funding in this country is to be overhauled, with a new national disability insurance scheme to offer blanket coverage for all Australians living with a disability.

Just 10 days after the Productivity Commission’s latest report called for a Medicare-style national disability insurance program, Julia Gillard announced full bipartisan support for the policy. It’s a rare — and significant — win for the disabled citizens of Australian and their loved ones.

The scheme offers financial cover for services including for respite care, vehicle modification, accommodation support, therapies and prosthetics and is expected to cost the government an extra $6.5 billion a year. It will not be means tested

It’s a long road ahead for the National Disability Insurance Scheme, with the states also likely to be involved in funding the program. No specific timeframes have yet been set to implement the program, although the Productivity Commission recommended it roll out from 2014. “The government’s response fell short of that, not specifying implementation timeframes or endorsing a national model in preference to what the commission called an inferior ‘federated’ model where state governments could preserve control,” reports Katharine Murphy in The Age.

There may be some issues with the states. WA Premier Colin Barnett has already expressed doubt over a new federal plan that the states are expected to implement, when they already have disability programs that would be dismantled. ”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,” said Barnett.

It’s still a while away, but news of the scheme was warmly welcomed by disability groups. “As Yooralla chairman Bruce Bonyhady says of the National Disability Insurance Scheme, ‘we are all only a moment away from needing it ourselves’,” reports Michelle Griffin in The Age.

This is a big day for Labor, not just for the disabled. “It will stand with Medicare and the introduction for free university education in the part’s history as a huge policy initiative. Don’t be persuaded that the steps the government announced yesterday were not monumental,” writes Laura Tingle in The Australian Financial Review. “These reforms will have huge implications not just for the disabled and their carers but for the finance industry, the workforce and the health system.”

A disability insurance scheme is being embraced by all sides, writes Stephen Lunn in The Australian:

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.”

But is Gillard doing enough to implement the program? asks Sue Dunlevy in The Australian:

Committing herself to building the foundations for the new scheme yesterday, Julia Gillard made the smallest possible down payment: just $10 million to set up a new advisory committee that will begin work on the technical aspects of the scheme, such as a new process to assess the extent of a person’s disability and their needs.

She bought into the Productivity Commission’s vision for change and described existing disability services as a “cruel lottery” that depended on where you lived and how you acquired your disability. However, she did not sign up to the Productivity Commission’s timetable to have the scheme begin by 2014 or its funding model.”

Don’t look at this policy as just a big expensive new Labor initiative, pleads the Fin Review’s editorial:

… the Productivity Commission’s proposal for an overhaul of the way we look after disabled citizens should be seen in the much bigger context of improving workforce access for both some disabled people and, just as importantly, the family members and others who have the task of caring for them.”

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  • 1
    Jimmy
    Posted Thursday, 11 August 2011 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    I keep saying when the ALP govt of the last 4 years is judged by the history writers of the future and the “Juliar” rants have long been forgotten it will be remembered for reforms like this one, paid parental leave, putting a price on Carbon, the NBN, Helath funding reforms, increased spending in education and navigating Australia through the GFC and all of these achievements will stack up favourably against any previous govt and there positive effects will be felt for years to come.

  • 2
    Jimmy
    Posted Thursday, 11 August 2011 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    .

  • 3
    Go for it!
    Posted Thursday, 11 August 2011 at 11:15 am | Permalink

    Hey JIMMY even though I aghree 100% with you go tell that story to the feral Murdoch press and the pathetic whingeing shock jocks like “I didnt do anything wrong in the London toilet” Alan Jones and the other Sydney media Gillard haters.

    Could I suggest that the baying mob in Sydney hate the fact that one of there own is not running the country ala Keating and Howard meaning Sydney dosent get the advantages that it had under those two very Sydney centric people..

  • 4
    Peter Ormonde
    Posted Thursday, 11 August 2011 at 11:23 am | Permalink

    Bipartisan?????
    Can we send Abbott offshore (for processing perhaps) more often?
    An excellent thing.
    Now watch the states wriggle.

  • 5
    Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)
    Posted Thursday, 11 August 2011 at 11:31 am | Permalink

    Why is this an “insurance” scheme. Who pays the contributions?

    If it is just the government paying, why doesn’t the government just pay and make this like any other benefit?

    And Jimmy, whilst the carbon tax is a good step in the right direction, I very much doubt that Labor’s legacy on climate change will receive any praise from future generations.

  • 6
    Jimmy
    Posted Thursday, 11 August 2011 at 11:43 am | Permalink

    MWH - “Who pays the contributions?” The “Contributions” will come out of your tax so I suppose if it made you feel any better they could rejig the marginal rates and then add back a “Disablity Insurance Levy” but the result would be the same. I envisage it will be a seperate body that will manage the funds and make the decisions on payouts.

    As for the carbon tax we have had this discussion before but the 5% target that is in place now to me is irrelevant, they have set up a mechanism that can easily be ratcheted up as opposed to the “direct action” alternative. As they say a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step so you can complain about the distance left or applaud that the journey has been started, I choose the later.

  • 7
    Posted Thursday, 11 August 2011 at 11:46 am | Permalink

    Yes Amber, and agree with you Jimmy, and what a triumph for John Walsh,(Australian weekend mag.6/8), who did all the number crunching to make the policy proposal hard to resist for the political and critical mass.
    Apparently the Whitlam Government had also proposed something similar for disability service with Medicare………so it’s unfinished business.
    And it is good to recognise the ongoing commitment and clarity of Bill Shorten on this issue.

    My main concern is that even though the Governments want us to be fit enough to get into the workforce - the workforce is not ready for us. I have a chronic mental illness but is managed quite well, however for me to work it requires flexibility and tolerance by co-workers that is not in the culture. Bullying and negativism is something i have a a lower threshold for than most.

    However, progress is being made, a momentous time for Australia….evolving.

  • 8
    Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)
    Posted Thursday, 11 August 2011 at 11:56 am | Permalink

    Why all this talk about insurance and funds, etc.

    Things like supporting the disabled today should be paid by the taxpayers of today. No need for a fund.

    An insurance scheme only makes sense when lots of people pay into a fund so that the unfortunate few who make claims have the money. And a fund for such a scheme is only needed because insurance is a business that needs to have a reserve to pay future beneficiaries (otherwise it would be a scam).

    I can’t agree with your carbon first step because I’ve yet to see any evidence that Labor intends to make the cuts in emissions which are really needed.

  • 9
    galeg
    Posted Thursday, 11 August 2011 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

    Here we go, another tax, as obviously the Fed Gov does not have the estimated $6 billion surplus floating around in the coffers.
    As the scheme is needed, I suggest that they will probably have to double the Medicare tax to pay for the scheme.

  • 10
    Peter Ormonde
    Posted Thursday, 11 August 2011 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

    Here we go … I’ve been waiting for the sloganisers to wind up … another tax grab by Juliar and her illegitimate government.

    Galeg, this set up needs to be ongoing … not just a one-off payment out of any available accumulated surplus. And besides, the best thing you can do with a surplus is spend it when you need to, or use it to pay off government debt if you can.

    If you simply build a new system into the existing tax base you make it structural… it reduces a government’s capacity to respond to changing economic circumstances. What is being considered is a hypothecated levy that totally funds a major social reform that benefits people who really need help… that is significantly different to a tax or a discretionary budget allocation each year.

    There are solid sensible conservative economic reasons for setting something up that is essentially self funded like medicare (it wouldn’t need anything like a doubling by the way… neither would extending medicare to cover dental care which we should have done 20 years ago as well).

    Even the opposition supports the idea - but of course Abbott is away so they are “leaderless” and have clearly succumbed to socialist scheming. Let’s hope Tony stays offshore for a few months and we might actually get something done.

    I wonder how far beyond the pale of Australian society you pale carbon copy “tea-partyers” want to go.

  • 11
    Jimmy
    Posted Thursday, 11 August 2011 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

    MWH - “whilst the carbon tax is a good step in the right direction” or “I can’t agree with your carbon first step” which is it?

    So even thoguh trying to get a price on carbon even at a 5% target is massivley “unpopular” and the ALP is losing plenty of political skin you give them no credit for that step and want them to take the suicidal step of going straight for a 20-25% cut? As I said this isn’t about the target it’s about getting the mechanism in place.

    So what would you prefer for the disabled? No lump sum payout to make the necessary adjustments to living arrangements just increase the disability pension?

  • 12
    Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)
    Posted Thursday, 11 August 2011 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

    On the disabled I am all for society providing better services.

    I just don’t see any benefit in arranging this an “issuance” scheme. Overall I think that for a government ongoing payments should be covered by incoming taxes. We don’t need funds or insurance schemes for schools, welfare, hospitals, etc.

    @Jimmy - the carbon tax is a step in the right direction in that it does do a little and it does not lock in failure as the ETS would have. But as I don’t see any evidence that Labor now nor ever intended to take real action on climate change, it is clear to me that if Labor have their way nothing further of significance will be done.

    Of course things may have been very different if Rudd had actually believed in real action. He could have achieved much, and Labor would have been able to put up a much more convincing argument that action is needed if they were actually doing something and they actually believed in action. Gillard very much wants the carbon tax, but only because that is part of the price she must pay to be PM. I think we should take the climate change discussion elsewhere, but I’m reluctant to go anywhere read by Frank Campbell.

  • 13
    Jimmy
    Posted Thursday, 11 August 2011 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

    MWH - I think you are getting hung up on the name, just think of it as medicare crossed with workcover for the disabled.

    As for the carbon debate, I agree it is well off topic and I think we are covering ground we have covered previously but I will just say that while you think “nothing further of significance will be done” to me that is the beauty of having a price on carbon and having an independent body recommend the amount of permits issued, we don’t need to keep coming up with costly and ineffective scheme’s, this one scheme limit’s the amount of carbon dioxide emitted and provides revenue streams for clean technology investment and makes renewable energy cost competitive. Any subsequent doesn’t have to “do” anything besides accept the commission’s recommendations and spend the revenue wisely.

  • 14
    Peter Ormonde
    Posted Thursday, 11 August 2011 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

    Michael

    The good thing about a medicare “insurance” type of set up is the government cannot be tempted to trim it back as state governments routinely do with the health and similar funds they grudgingly provide.

    Income tax receipts and the GST for example by their nature go up and down in line with economic conditions. A medicare set-up is far more stable and predictable. Not totally stable but far less volatile and unpredictable. It enables better long term planning.

    Not really an insurance scheme in any normal sense of the word… it’s really a hypothecated tax - that is, a levy that is applied to only one specific purpose.
    I suspect they use the word “insurance” to convey the notion that you are covered. There’s also a cross subsidy element where the healthy and young subsidise the crook and decrepit like me.

    Would that more taxes were spent on something specific… like a levy where the lot went for education. People don’t seem to mind paying taxes when they can discern a specific result and benefit.

  • 15
    GocomSys
    Posted Thursday, 11 August 2011 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

    I am glad you are no longer quoting from the totally discredited NewsCorp tabloids Daily Telegraph and Sun Herald. We can also do without the “Australian” contributions. There is enough variety without them. Thanks.

  • 16
    animaldander
    Posted Thursday, 11 August 2011 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

    http://wsws.org/articles/2011/aug2011/disa-a11.shtml

  • 17
    Baz Smith
    Posted Thursday, 11 August 2011 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

    The productivity commision that is advising the goverment on the NDIS is also recommending making the Disabiliy Support Payment (DSP) a transitional support payment this to me as a sick disabled person is a worrying development that doesnt seem to be getting much media attention or comment.

  • 18
    JamesG
    Posted Thursday, 11 August 2011 at 7:27 pm | Permalink

    I can say from my time as a disabled person that having a disability is no guarantee of added intelligence or insight. A “national disability insurance scheme” sounds great ‘cause imagine if I had thought to take out disability insurance before I got sick. D’oh! Now it will be just like the govt remembered to do it for me, retrospectively. In reality it is increased funding (yay!) with a somewhat different method to divvy up the cash. But disabled people seem to live in perpetual hope that there is a scheme/cure/society which if things could just change would solve all their problems. In reality being disabled is pretty shit, most of the time. For some people it’s really shit, all of the time. If it’s not shit, most of the time, but just a bit shit, some of the time, then you’re not really disabled you probably just have dyslexia or mild depression. Working/not working, extra funding/services, access to untried cures/not being treated like a guinea pig, share homes/living alone, being treated like everyone else/being treated as special, the list is endless and you hear people arguing on both sides. One thing you can be sure is if, and hopefully when, a NDIS is instigated you won’t hear PWDs stop whingeing. Because in that we really are just like everyone else.

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