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NDS News Update – 23 August 2011

COAG agrees on the need for an NDIS

Another significant milestone on the long road to an NDIS has been reached, with the Council of Australian Governments agreeing "on the need for major reform of disability services in Australia through a National Disability Insurance Scheme." At its meeting last Friday in Canberra, COAG accepted the Prime Minister's proposal to establish a Select Council on Disability Reform consisting of Treasurers and Disability Ministers, chaired by the Commonwealth, to consider the recommendations of the Productivity Commission's Final Report into Disability Care and Support. By year's end, COAG will develop principles to guide its consideration of the Productivity Commission's recommendations.

While the commitment is cautious, importantly all States and Territories and the Commonwealth have signed up to a process towards the establishment of an NDIS - albeit with much negotiation still to come. Key issues to be negotiated include the structure and governance of the national scheme, funding and the timeline.

States (most vocally Western Australia) are wary of a centralised Commonwealth bureaucracy administering the NDIS. Getting the right balance between national policy setting and local decision-making will be important; but no one in the Federal Government, the Coalition or indeed the Productivity Commission with whom NDS has spoken wants to see a highly centralised bureaucratic system. The NDIS should be less about transferring power from one level of government to another than empowering individuals and families to exercise reasonable choice - and giving service providers the flexibility to respond to those choices.

Over the past week, as part of the National Disability and Carers Alliance, NDS has met with key Ministers Jenny Macklin, Bill Shorten and Jan McLucas; Shadow Ministers Kevin Andrews, Andrew Robb and Mitch Fifield and Independent Rob Oakeshott. We welcomed the Prime Minister's announcement on 10 August as an important first step towards establishing an NDIS and an NIIS; highlighted the valuable role that ongoing support by all major parties and the Independents is playing; and indicated that we would now focus on the next steps that government needs to take to ensure that the NDIS progresses.

The media reaction since the Prime Minister's announcement has been extensive and mostly positive (which is important for politicians to witness). The Australian newspaper stated, "Money can't buy happiness, but it can help buy a life for disabled people and the families who care for them. Which is why the National Disability Insurance Scheme outlined yesterday makes sense"; and the Australian Financial Review: "The disabled scheme...represents a sea change in the way it treats people as consumers of a choice of services rather than recipients of one-size-fits-all welfare. This should improve efficiency, but also quality of life."

The Sydney Morning Herald editorialised: "So great and so obvious is the need for such a system [the NDIS] that even the opposition finds it hard to oppose - to the point where it has not blanched, so far, at the suggestion taxes may have to rise to pay for it".

One concern that has been raised is the length of time (7 years) before the NDIS is fully implemented. With the amount of work required to prepare the sector - develop the assessment tools, agree nationally consistent service and quality standards, and develop a larger and appropriately skilled workforce - this timeline is hardly sluggish. And in fact, according to the PC, the scheme should begin with regional launch sites in just three years and then be implemented in stages. It is important, however, that the reform timetable not be allowed to slip (as it has with the National Disability Agreement) and the PC rightly recommends that increased funding is needed now to ensure that the system does not fall into further disrepair while we wait for reform.

For disability service providers the road ahead is steep. Implementing self-directed or personalised approaches to service planning, delivery and funding; managing substantial workforce capacity pressures; and responding to an increasingly competitive environment all pose significant challenges. NDS has raised these issues with the Federal Government and is preparing a paper on them.

Ultimately it is important for governments and oppositions to know that the NDIS has public support. In July, social and market survey company Essential Research asked 1,052 randomly selected adults the question: "Would you support or oppose a National Disability Insurance Scheme which would be funded by all taxpayers through general revenue similar to Medicare where the funding for essential care, support, services, therapy, aids, equipment and training could then be drawn from this consistent pool of funds?" A total of 63% people said they would support an NDIS; only 18% opposed the idea; and 19% were undecided.

Few policy ideas would command this level of support. (The latest annual Lowy Institute Poll, released in mid-2011, shows that only 41% of people say we should take steps now to address climate change, for example, if those steps involve significant costs; and only 40% think Australia should continue to be militarily involved in Afghanistan.)

In early August almost 40,000 people attended one of the 870 Disabilities held around Australia. NDIS supporters on the Every Australian Counts website now total more than 60,000 - and the number continues to grow.

Every step down the path to implementation of the NDIS is a positive step which should be welcomed. But, at the same time, the disability sector will need to ensure that the first steps are not the last steps. We need to continue building public support for the NDIS; provide the policy makers and the technical advisory group with expert advice; and help maintain multi-partisan political support.

Contact Information:
Ken Baker, Chief Executive, NDS National, Ph 02 6283 3200, ken.baker@nds.org.au

PO Box 88 Pacific Palms NSW 2428    Ph (612) 6552 9333  Fax (612) 6554 0684
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