What really matters – Election 2020

Leaders Debate [photo courtesy BBC]

Exactly the middle of the election campaign and what have we found? Three things. Let’s deal with them one by one over the next three days. First – and perhaps most relevant – the fate of the NDIS.

Unsurprisingly people with disabiliy have featured in both parties’ pitches to the electorate. Isn’t it nice to feel loved! Ever since Julia Gillard introduced this with joint support, the NDIS has become a motherhood policy for both sides, with neither Liberal nor Labor threatening it in any way.

Prior to the 2013 election I remember interviewing Liberal spokesperson Mitch Fifield. Back then I asked him how the then opposition would find the money to fund the scheme if it came into power. He assured me, “we just will. We’ll find the money”. I must have looked skeptical because he insisted. “Really. We will. Absolutely we will,” he stated emphatically.

And indeed, when the coalition came to power the scheme lo and behold, not merely did it continue the scheme untouched but expanded it across Australia as promised.

The first time I noticed some pushback in Canberra about the exploding cost of the scheme was a couple of years ago. It wasn’t overt – it was a change in the ‘tone’ of discussions. The implication was that a way needed to be found to “keep a lid” on the growing expense of the scheme.

Nobody (and certainly no politician) ever suggested that it wasn’t worthwhile and desirable but that’s not the way controversial change happens in any big bureaucracy. Discrete and uncontroversial ways are used to raise issues and place them firmly on the agenda.

And that’s how we suddenly came to hear about Taylor Fry’s Independent Report.

What this managed to do quite effectively was suggest the cost of the scheme was exploding unsustainably. Laura Tingle put it brilliantly in the Australian Financial Review on Saturday [requires subscription].

“Go to the website of Australia’s Productivity Commission and look for the link to the its 2017 report on the costs of the National Disability Insurance Scheme. The 533-page report’s overview alone takes up 48 pages.”

She goes on to make a different but similar point to one made by Tom Burton in the same paper on the same day:

“An oasis in the desert’: Why the NDIS is a mess

The NDIS was touted as a world-leading reform, but exploding costs and limited evidence it is achieving its goals is raising questions about its sustainability.

The one thing that advocates and critics of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) have in common is they agree it is a mess. A mess awaiting whichever major party wins government on May 21.”

Neither party has proposed a plausible method for funding the scheme into the future. What Labor is doing, however, is talking about the scheme in more than generalities. They’re putting up policies: The question of sustainability, however, remains hanging. And in the meantime thousands of people accessing the scheme have lost their funding.

It’s not good enough.






Nic Stuart

Nicholas Stuart is an author (Kevin Rudd, an unauthorised political biography; What Goes Up, behind the 2007 election; Kevin Rudd, 2007 - 2011) and columnist with the Canberra Times. He was the ABC's Indochina Correspondent when he suffered a significant head injury in a car crash in Bangkok.

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