It’s good to be here at Nadrasca Disability Service Organisation. I want to thank Gus Koedyk and Mick Poole and their team and all the staff here for making Mitch Fifield and Helen Kroger and I so welcome. This is an excellent service. It’s about giving people the opportunity to make an economic contribution as well as a social and cultural contribution to our society. It’s very important that services like this continue and are given every opportunity to expand. This is where the National Disability Insurance Scheme comes in. This is an important social and economic advance for our country. It’s an idea whose time has come. The great thing about a National Disability Insurance Scheme is that it ought to give people with disabilities and their carers more opportunity to be productive and more opportunity to participate in our economy. That’s why it’s not just a cost. Over time, it is an investment in a better society and in a stronger economy.
One of the very important ways of ensuring that the NDIS happens in a timely and responsible fashion is to have the bipartisan parliamentary committee that I’ve called for to ensure that the NDIS continues to go into operation over the three elections that the Productivity Commission’s timetable envisages. I’m very disappointed that so far, the Prime Minister hasn’t responded positively to this proposal of mine. I do think it’s important that the NDIS go forward as a great national project: as something that the Australian people can be proud of; as something that the whole parliament can think of as an achievement and that’s why this joint parliamentary committee to oversee its development and implementation is so important. I’m going to ask Mitch as the Shadow Minister for Disabilities to say a few words, then there’s a carbon tax issue that I’ll briefly comment on and then I’ll take some questions.
SENATOR MITCH FIFIELD:
Thanks, Tony. Well, I want to thank Gus Koedyk and the team at Nadrasca for having us here today. Nadrasca is a terrific organisation that provides opportunities for people with disability to have work. Work is important to ones sense of dignity and worth. The National Disability Insurance Scheme will certainly provide more of an opportunity for people to have the sorts of opportunity that Nadrasca provides and I should also mention that Nadrasca does a terrific job in printing, so for your printing needs, please do consider Nadrasca.
An NDIS is something that is desperately needed. I have been at pains in the portfolio to take a non-partisan approach as much as is possible, because families of people with disability and Australians with disability, they don’t want partisanship when it comes to an NDIS, they just want to see it delivered and I stand ready to work with the government to see an NDIS become a reality. It needs to become a reality, because proper support for people with disability should be core government business and an NDIS will make sure that people with disability and their families are in charge of their lives and that they are able to control their own futures.
Here at Nadrasca, Gus Koedyk is very concerned about the impact of the carbon tax on this operation. Now, one of the real difficulties that charities will have in the ten weeks before the introduction of the carbon tax is trying to adjust to its impact and what’s happening is that the carbon tax is going to very significantly put up the costs of operations like this by tens of thousands of dollars, they estimate. Yet there is no provision for any increase in their ongoing funding to accommodate the cost of the carbon tax. This is just another illustration of the way the carbon tax is going to impact on every aspect of Australian life. The carbon tax is designed to make power and transport more expensive. That means every price in our economy is going to be impacted by the carbon tax and that means that organisations like this which depend upon government grants that will not be adjusted for the carbon tax are going to be under more pressure than would otherwise be the case. Are there any questions?
What would an opposition government do differently in rolling out the NDIS?
Well, we think that it’s very important that this be a joint effort of both sides of the Parliament. The
Productivity Commission envisages that the next two years be spent getting the detail of the scheme right; that the year after that be spent on a series of regional rollouts and the four years after that is spent working up to a full national scheme that will provide very much better and greater support services to the 400,000 or so Australians with significant disabilities. So, it’s a very complex scheme. It’s going to take seven years to become fully operational under the Productivity Commission’s timetable. It’s important to get this right and that’s why a bipartisan committee of the Parliament jointly chaired by both sides’ disabilities frontbenchers is the way to go. If we are going to maintain the momentum for this very important social and economic reform across three elections, if we are going to ensure that people aren’t distracted by the ordinary business of politics, we need a mechanism like this to make it happen in the most timely and responsible way, and that’s why I’m so disappointed that the Prime Minister thus far at least has not positively responded to what is, I think, a very constructive proposal from the opposition.
So, you are committing the Coalition to that seven year rollout proposal?
Well, this is the Productivity Commission’s timetable. Now, the Productivity Commission has exhaustively studied this. The Productivity Commission is Australia’s premier policy formulating body. I think that, having commissioned the Productivity Commission to do this important work, we should now follow its timetable, its blueprint, as closely as we possibly can.
That would require funding, so it would be more than an aspirational goal, then?
Look, the Productivity Commission estimates that the full rollout will cost about $6.5 billion a year over and above existing disability spending. Now, that’s a lot of money. Make no mistake that is a very large amount of money. But we’re not going to need to spend the money of that order until 2018-19 and if you look at the government’s own financial projections, they have the budget in very strong surplus at about 1.5 percent of GDP by that time. So, I’m confident that with good economic management and no big external shocks, it should be more than possible to fund the NDIS in accordance with the Productivity Commission’s timetable by 2018-19.