Disability Issue ‘Breaking our Nation’ Heart’

Parties split on disability insurance

State Labor and Liberal leaders take opposing stances on the Gillard Government’s planned disability insurance scheme.

The Prime Minister has launched a scathing attack on Liberal state governments for playing “cheap politics” in a media blitz this morning as federal Labor tries to break the standoff on disability reforms.

But Victorian Premier Ted Baillieu has hit back, claiming that the Gillard Government ambushed the states with late changes to a deal for a trial of the national disability insurance scheme and he wants more time consider its long-term implications.

Julia Gillard accused Mr Baillieu and NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell of letting “politics get in the way” and refusing to commit to “relatively small amounts of money” for the funding of the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

When asked whether the Liberal states were playing politics with the disabled, the Prime Minister told ABC Radio: “I don’t think anyone should play politics with this issue.

“I am concerned that politics has got in the way here. I am not going to let politics get in the way.”

Speaking on the ABC this morning, Mr Baillieu said he supported a national disability scheme and was not seeking a fight with the Prime Minister but last minute changes had been sprung on the states which they could not agree to.

Mr Baillieu said: ‘‘We had a proposition put to us by the Commonwealth that was unanticipated.

”The Commonwealth has accepted an arrangement with the other states. That’s fine, but their arrangements are not consistent with what was expected.’’

In contrast, Ms Gillard said repeatedly she had worked in good faith with the states and territories to negotiate the funding agreements.

The Prime Minister said the Liberal state premiers’ arguments that they had already contributed funds for “frontline” care instead of contributing to a bureaucratic model was “a cheap piece of politics and an attempt to distract from their failure to commit properly”.

“We all know there are people not getting the care they need,” Ms Gillard said. “And it is breaking our nation’s heart.”

If the states and territories did not commit to funding the trials for the scheme, Australia would have a situation where people with a disability would “stare across state lines” as they were denied access to equality in the sector.

With Ms Gillard planning to launch the trials in time for the next federal election, only the small Labor-run jurisdictions of South Australia, Tasmania and the ACT agreed to contribute extra money to secure a trial, while every Coalition-run state refused.

During the Council of Australian Governments meeting in Canberra, NSW refused to contribute an extra $70 million over four years, which would have secured its proposed trial helping 10,000 disabled people in the Hunter, and Victoria baulked at providing just $40 million extra over four years to help 5000 people in the Barwon region.

Negotiations between NSW, Victorian and federal ministers will continue today but Mr O’Farrell said NSW was already spending generously on disability services and would not contribute extra.

Assistant Treasurer David Bradbury said this morning that disabled Australians and their carers will be devastated by the failure to reach an agreement.

He accused the Liberal state premiers of paying lip service and mouthing platitudes while not being prepared to “shell up an additional dollar in order to make it happen”.

It was a case of putting politics ahead of people, he said.

“Well, if you vote for a Liberal government, you get a Liberal government. These are the sort of heartless approaches we see,” Mr Bradbury told Sky News.

He called on Opposition Leader Tony Abbott to explain exactly how the Coalition would fund the NDIS.

Liberal frontbencher Bruce Billson said Prime Minister Julia Gillard had moved away from the model recommended by the Productivity Commission.

“There was was a chance for bipartisanship,” he said.

“The Prime Minister mouthed the words but pretty much shirt-fronted people about a proposition that is very different from what the Productivity Commission proposed.”

The NDIS was designed by the Productivity Commission, which recommended a series of trials begin in 2014. But with an election due in spring next year, the government brought forward the timetable by a year. Without participation of any of the large states, the trials would be diminished, an observation made by the West Australian Premier, Colin Barnett, and disappointed disability support groups.

In the budget, the Gillard government allocated $1 billion over four years to fund the trials.

The Productivity Commission estimated the scheme would cost an extra $8 billion on top of the $7 billion the states and Commonwealth spend each year on disability.

The states have agreed in principle to forgo the $4.7 billion they receive from the Commonwealth for disability services but are not prepared to contribute anything extra.

The Disability Discrimination Commissioner, Graeme Innes, said: “It is unacceptable for people to be only having two showers a week, or leaving their house several times a year, because leaders cannot agree on funding arrangements for this scheme.”

Jessica Wright, Phillip Coorey, Thomas Arup
The Age
Thursday 26th July, 2012

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