Liberals rear up over disability scheme

BY EMMA MACDONALD, 07 Dec, 2011 04:00 AM

Opposition disabilities spokesman Mitch Fifield yesterday abandoned his "bipartisan" support of the Government's National Disability Insurance Scheme to warn that Labor rhetoric is far outweighing its financial commitment to the policy.

Disabilities Minister Jenny Macklin yesterday visited the Pegasus Farm - a horse riding school in Holt for children with disabilities - after Labor adopted the National Disability Insurance Scheme into its party platform at its national conference last weekend.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard used International Day of People with Disability on Saturday to announce the establishment of a new agency to lead the Commonwealth's design work for the scheme and $10 million for practical projects that look at how to support people with disability and their carers as disability service providers, including care workers, make the transition to an NDIS.

Ms Macklin told children and their parents, "We know that people in Canberra strongly support reform of disability care and support. They support our work to lay the foundations for a National Disability Insurance Scheme."

But on the other side of Canberra, Senator Fifield delivered an address to the National Disability Services CEO's Conference and condemned the lack of new funding to set the scheme up.

The scheme will radically reform disability services in Australia - ending piecemeal funding directly to services and replacing it with direct payments to people with disabilities who will be assigned a single case worker to help them deal with all their requirements - including equipment, schools, workplaces and government payments. Estimated to cost $6 billion a year, the scheme will not be up and running until 2018.

Senator Fifield told service providers ''The needs are great. The stakes are high. And to that end I have sought to bring an essentially non-partisan approach to this portfolio and to the cause for an NDIS. My reasoning has been that this is the best way to achieve a better outcome for people with disability.''

But he said it was time to view the announcements in context.

"Firstly, I'll be honest. I don't know what the announcement by Minister Macklin to lay the foundations a year early actually means, given there is no Government timeline for an NDIS as a whole and much of the preparatory work was essentially already happening," Senator Fifield said.

"Secondly, the remit of the agency announced at the weekend is not clear. It certainly isn't the National Disability Insurance Agency envisaged by the Productivity Commission. Its role looks to be to that of a grant-making body," he said.

"Thirdly, the $10 million to support the technical work announced with the release of the Productivity Commission work in August is not new money. It is coming from existing departmental spending."

Senator Fifield said last week's mid-year economic outlook also failed to contain funding for an NDIS - meaning the Government had not committed any money to the scheme.

Ms Macklin, who met with children with disabilities from Monash Primary School, said "the Commonwealth, states and territories are putting our shoulders to the wheel on this one. We've all agreed to deliver the foundations we need for a scheme by mid-2013."


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