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Federal

Aug 11, 2011

Disability insurance: a monumental day for all

Crikey media wrap: 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.

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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.”

Amber Jamieson —

Amber Jamieson

Freelance journalist in New York

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