THE Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, has accused NSW and Victoria of paying lip service to the disabled after one of her signature reforms, the National Disability Insurance Scheme, suffered a serious setback when not one large state signed up to host a trial.
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.
Disability groups were disappointed with what they saw as partisan politics while a furious Prime Minister accused the premiers of NSW and Victoria of talking passionately about the disabled while not being prepared to find minor budget savings to help them.
”Budgets are about choices and what you value,” she said.Advertisement
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.
”I am disappointed we haven’t been able to reach agreement over what are comparatively, for governments in this country, relatively small sums, against a federal government contribution of $1 billion,” Ms Gillard said.
Negotiations between NSW, Victorian and federal ministers will continue today but the Premier, Barry O’Farrell, said NSW was already spending generously on disability services and would not contribute extra.
He supported the NDIS but said the scheme, including the trials, should be fully funded by the Commonwealth.
He believes that if the states helped fund the trials, they would be roped in to providing extra funding for the fully blown scheme, forecast to cost $15 billion by 2018 – which is $8 billion more than the states and Commonwealth spend now.
Ms Gillard disputed this, saying funding arrangements for the trials would have no bearing on how the final scheme is funded.
The NDIS would provide lifelong support to permanently disabled people and has been touted by the federal government as a reform on the same scale as Medicare.
Ms Gillard cannot afford to take a loss on the NDIS and was again defending her leadership last night.
”I’ve got more to do,” she told the ABC’s 7.30. ”I chose to do this because I was fired up about making change. There are easier ways to live, there are alternative jobs to do.”
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.”
Shame Barry, Shame.