The NDIS Must Not Be a Trade-Off
16 January 2017 at 4:36 pm
The National Disability Insurance Scheme must not be funded from trade-offs the disability sector has argued, as tension mounts over federal government plans to transfer a $3.7 billion education fund into the initiative.
The government announced in the December mid-year economic review that $3.7 billion from the Education Investment Fund, used to fund university infrastructure, would be credited into the NDIS.
However it has now emerged the move will require the approval of a hostile Senate, leaving the $22 billion scheme facing a shortfall.
People with Disability Australia co-CEO Ngila Bevan told Pro Bono News the latest revelations underlined the need for the NDIS to be “off limits” to ad hoc funding decisions.
“PWDA and DPO Australia have been campaigning against the establishment of the NDIS Special Savings Fund since it was announced, and remain concerned about any link between funding cuts that impact on people with disability and the NDIS,” Bevan said.
“We believe that that NDIS must be funded as a core public infrastructure program, like Medicare, and be off limits to these kinds of ad hoc funding decisions.
“This sort of announcement creates an expectation that the NDIS will be funded from ongoing trade-offs against other equally important services, in this case, higher education.
“The NDIS will provide essential supports for 460,000 Australians with disability and enable them to be part of the community, just like everyone else. The provision of these supports must not be because other public services have been withdrawn.”
The decision to take money away from universities to fund gaps in the NDIS has been met with widespread opposition.
Peter Hoj, chairman of the Group of Eight universities, told Fairfax while the group agreed the NDIS should be funded adequately, using money from the EIF was “not appropriate”.
“Damage research and you damage not only the medical advances that come from research, but indeed the economy which sustains many of the services we wish to have available in the long term,” Hoj said.
It comes as Labor has declared it will oppose the move.
The opposition’s research spokesman, Kim Carr, said taking money from the EIF to fund the NDIS was a “false dichotomy”.
“So the government is doing a pea and thimble routine here,” Carr said.
“It has made an assertion that it doesn’t need legal support of a parliament, it doesn’t need a legislative instrument and it has gone on to say that it has got this other purpose which is a false dichotomy, given that they are putting $50 billion aside for tax cuts to the wealthiest companies in this country.
“And then they say that we are really using this to pay down debt and for budget purposes.
“This is a fund that was established in 2009 for the purposes of ensuring that we had modern, strategically vital research infrastructure for this country and government has an obligation to ensure that we are able to protect the future of the nation by investing in our science and research infrastructure.”
However, the federal government has said it would negotiate with “anyone who is willing to listen” to ensure the funds are transferred.
Speaking to the ABC, Social Services Minister Christian Porter said the measure would succeed through “advocacy” on the crossbench and that he was willing to sit down with One Nation, the Nick Xenophon Team, the crossbenchers and the Greens to sell the legislation.
“This is an absolute first and foremost priority,” Porter said.
“We have to make difficult choices but the priority in terms of finding savings should be that the first funding should go to the NDIS.
“I think that that is a very compelling argument because what we are doing is redirecting money to those Australians in the greatest need.
“This special account will give absolute certainty for funding and this is the mistake that Labor made when they set the NDIS up… they counted savings twice.
“You can’t spend the money twice so that is why we have set up this account, to give clear line of sight.”
Porter said Labor was “absolutely abysmal at actually quarantining, finding and protecting savings” that were designed to pay for this “transformative project”.
“By around 2023, that funding gap that Labor left will be about $7 billion each year,” he said.
“I think it is a pretty strong case to suggest that a fund that was set up by the Howard government in 2007 when we had massive surpluses should now at least in this respect be redirected to pay for those people in our community who represent the greatest need.”
Porter said about $2.3 billion worth of savings from other parts of the budget, including welfare cutbacks, had also been identified for the quarantined NDIS account with more to come.