Hope beyond disability support flip-flopping


National Disability Insurance SchemeAmid last week's politicking on the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), Queensland Premier Campbell Newman revisited a previous proposal for funding the NDIS — a dedicated charge to the taxpayer, akin to the Medicare levy. While this strategy was a reasonable possibility when ongoing disability care and support first rose in public debate, the Productivity Commission recommended it as a second-best option for funding an NDIS.

There are good reasons why federal governments from both sides of politics avoid budget strategies which tie revenue to funding for almost all public policies in the long term.

Many forms of government revenue fund various expenses and public 'goods', and revenue received rarely matches the associated costs. Instead, revenue in the form of taxes and levies is based on citizens' and companies' obligations or market-driven willingness to pay. Likewise, expenditure is based on governments' responsibilities, political will and ability to pay.

Mechanisms for revenue-raising and budgeted expenditure reveal a government's policy priorities and values. Tying revenue to a particular expenditure purpose limits flexibility in delivering policy outcomes, and by implication, restricts the its ability to reflect community values in a timely manner. General purpose revenue and expenditure can have a redistributive effect.

In the Productivity Commission's Disability Care and Support Inquiry Report, in which it first proposed the NDIS, the Commission argued that the scheme should be funded from consolidated revenue on the basis that it was a core function of government akin to Medicare.

Currently, levels of disability funding wax and wane according to governments' budget resources, providing no certainty for those affected. A levy to fund disability support has similar potential to be viewed as discretionary, elective or temporary by successive governments or the community.

While it is heartening that there is general consensus between political parties on the NDIS, it is unfortunate that some state premiers' bickering over funding fuelled distress of affected people. In the last year, people with disabilities and caregivers have experienced many ups and downs.

After the report's release, the Liberal and National parties committed to supporting the NDIS at their respective Federal Council and National Conferences in the middle of last year. Labor announced its support and funding of $10 million to begin policy work on the scheme, along with a COAG Select Council to oversee the reform.

Then in December, shadow disabilities spokesman Mitch Fifield expressed reservations over funding. Various subsequent reports left readers to wonder whether the Coalition was as committed to the scheme as Labor.

Still, the prospect of reform raised hopes, which were partly realised by the Labor Government budgeting for scheme start-up costs in 2012–13 (though no extra funding for disability support was allocated in the short term). These hopes were again dashed when the Liberal Party equivocated on its support for the scheme in May.

Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey stated in a National Press Club address that he 'cannot make commitments to promises and I will not make commitments to promises that we cannot fund ... we're not going to raise false hope for people out there'. Tellingly, he was willing to commit to 'a surplus in our first year in office and ... for every year of the first term'.

Although these statements conflicted with Tony Abbott's stated support, a formal commitment to the scheme by the Coalition has yet to be made.

On a more positive note, both major parties at the federal level insist that disability reform should be funded from consolidated general revenue rather than from a hypothecated levy, contrary to Premier Newman's suggestion. This signals the priority they have placed on disability reform.

Disability policy is no longer a short-term issue for political point-scoring, nor is it a second-tier funding issue where budgets can be trimmed on a whim according to available resources. Rather, disability reform is placed in the middle of the public policy sphere. It deserves this space.

Like health, disability is unpredictable. Anyone can become disabled through accident, illness or birth. While disability support itself is described as a lottery, life too is a lottery, and there's a chance that, like illness or injury, disability can happen to anyone.

Federal politicians' determination to fund the NDIS from general revenue at least signals to the community that should anything go wrong, the government is committed to ensuring that citizens receive the necessary resources for their disability support.

Moira Byrne GartonMoira Byrne Garton is the parent of four children including a daughter with significant physical and intellectual disabilities. Moira works part-time as a policy analyst, and is also a writer, political science PhD candidate and disability advocate, and will be a panellist at the Xavier Social Justice Network's Daring to be Different seminar Disability — Breaking Down the Barriers on 16 August. 


Topic tags: Moira Byrne Garton, NDIS



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Existing comments

I'm a carer for an adult with a disability. I'm still in the dark as to what a NDIS will actually provide. I realise every disability is unique, but what will it provide that we don't get now?

David Gleeson | 03 August 2012  


Thanks for your comment. That's a big question. I am not sure if you are a paid carer or an unpaid caregiver or family member, but your question seems to indicate that you and the person you care for already receive the services that need. This is not the case for many people.

Even for people who receive some services, there may be rigidity or a lack of choice. The NDIS will provide people with disabilities and their caregivers and families with more autonomy and flexibility in making decisions on services.

I'll see what I can do regarding further detail (the space in comments is not long). Meanwhile, Patricia Mowbray wrote this article which sets out some of the benefits of the NDIS.




Moira Byrne Garton | 03 August 2012  

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