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Wednesday, 18th December 2013 at 12:10 pm

NDIS Funding Uncertainty Causes Alarm

By Staff Reporter,

Advocacy and Disability Not for Profits have reacted strongly to suggestions that funding for the National Disability Insurance Scheme may be cut back or the roll-out slowed.

The Coalition Government indicated for the first time that the National Disability Insurance Scheme may be hit by funding cutbacks as part of so called “budget savings”.

Federal Treasurer Joe Hockey has told national media outlets that there was a "massive blowout" in the National Disability Insurance Scheme’s initial costs.

The comment came after Hockey announced the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook forecasts in which he said there was a $47 billion deficit in 2013-14, and $123 billion worth of cumulative deficits over the forward estimates.

As well further hints of cutbacks came from the Minister for Finance, Mathias Cormann.

“In relation to the NDIS, we are committed to deliver it, but we are also committed to deliver it in the most cost-effective and efficient way possible,” Cormann said.

“So there is some work being done now by the Assistant Minister responsible for this, Senator [Mitch] Fifield, and of course we are having conversations with the states and territories as well on how the efficiency and cost effectiveness of this very important commitment can be maximised.”

Senator Fifield, who is Assistant Minister for Social Services, revealed in November at a National Press Club address that NDIS costs had already gone over budget by 30 per cent.

“To summarise, completing plans is taking longer than anticipated. Demand, so far, is greater than expected and package costs are higher,” he said in his address.

Senator Fifield confirmed that the NDIS will, in full rollout, have a gross cost of $22 billion per annum and require, an additional contribution from the Federal Government of more than $8 billion each year from 2019-20.

Craig Wallace, the President of the national disability peak body, People With Disability (PWD) said the Government needed to send a very strong message of its ongoing support and guarantee that the NDIS will be sustainable.

“It’s too early to form a rational view of any alleged overruns in the NDIS budget when not all of the trial sites are up and running,” Wallace said.

“The Coalition promised it would be a Government of no surprises but this would be the biggest surprise in history if it pulled back on the NDIS.”

Wallace said the NDIS does need to be sustainable but there should be no cap to the scheme.

“Part of that sustainability involves the NDIS levy that both sides of Parliament agreed to,” he said.

State Ministers are expected to receive a report on the first three months of the NDIS on Thursday indicating costs are 30 per cent higher than first projected. The scheme was due to cost $22 billion a year by 2020.

The issue about future NDIS funding has seen the hashtag #NDIS trending nationally on Twitter.

“People living with disabilities should not be forced to pay for the government's austerity agenda,” Vinnies CEO John Falzon said on Twitter.

UnitingCare Australia tweeted: “There is much unmet need. #NDIS should be above politics.”

Disability Advocacy Group NDIS Now tweeted: “the #NDIS isn't a pilot program, it's a bandaid. We need it. And much, much more.”

Every Australian Counts Campaign Director John Della Bosca said: “You can change the name of the NDIS, you can rename the launch sites but you can’t walk away from the NDIS becoming a reality.

“Over the last three years we have built a group of almost 160,000 supporters who want nothing more than the NDIS to be fully implemented. They will accept no back tracking from the government on this.”

The COAG meeting in Canberra last week, the first one attended by Tony Abbott as  Prime Minister, said in its communique that “all jurisdictions reaffirmed their strong commitment to implementing the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) across Australia”.

“Important lessons are being learnt from the NDIS trial sites in the Hunter in NSW, the Barwon area in Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania, and they will inform full-scheme design,” the communique said.

“COAG agreed to ask disability Ministers to report in March 2014 on progress with trials, including options to improve the implementation of the scheme and ensure the scheme operates on insurance principles to deliver positive outcomes for people with disability in a fiscally sustainable way.”

Advocacy group Change.org has already begun an online petition  called “keep you hands off the NDIS’.

In a later statement Senator Mitch Fifield he said the Coalition has always supported the NDIS.

"We supported the work of the Productivity Commission, supported the legislation, supported the trial sites and supported the announced funding. Nothing has changed."

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