Crikey is collaborating with the Centre for Policy Development to track the major parties’ and The Greens’ election promises. Yesterday, we looked at education. Today, disability policy and the NDIS:

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.

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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 short by 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.

Labor

The ALP has been a strong advocate of the NDIS, now rebranded DisabilityCare Australia, ever since MP Bill Shorten took up the cudgels in his former gig as parliamentary secretary for disabilities. It has supported and incorporated the recommendations of the Productivity Commission into its 2011 party platform, committing to:

  • Providing $1 billion in the 2012-2013 budget for funding launch locations of the NDIS.
  • Ensuring the improvement of care for 10,000 disabled persons from July 2013, eventually expanding to 20,000 people from July 2014.
  • Setting out a 10-year National Disability Strategy incorporating six key priority areas for action for the disabled:
    • Building inclusive and accessible communities;
    • Ensuring the protection of rights, justice and legislation;
    • Economic security;
    • Personal and community support;
    • Learning and skills; and
    • Health and wellbeing.

Coalition

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has committed his party to ensuring that the NDIS provides access to treatment, rehabilitation and support for those with serious disabilities. To help with the design and construction of the scheme, Abbott has proposed a bipartisan parliamentary committee chaired by a combination of government and opposition members to offer advice on the roll-out. The Coalition broadly supports Labor’s plans, although both Abbott and opposition disabilities spokesman Mitch Fifield have raised concerns over securing sustainable funding. The opposition has urged Labor to “come clean” on the apparent “Medi-Grab” levy, but is yet to rule it out itself.

The Greens

The Greens support the full implementation of the NDIS, but have argued in submissions to the Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee Inquiry that it must “address lingering areas of concern we have with the legislation”. These include lifting the age restriction of 65, improving services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and improving the “capacity of the National Disability Insurance Agency to promote systemic change”. However, the Greens have endorsed the majority report of the committee and voted for the bill in the Senate.

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Australia has spoken. We want more from the people in power and deserve a media that keeps them on their toes. And thank you, because it’s been made abundantly clear that at Crikey we’re on the right track.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief
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