As the media and opposition have been furiously searching for (and failing to find) evidence of some wrong doing by Prime Minister Gillard concerning a fraud that took place 20 years ago, a very important bill is being polished up for presentation to the parliament.
It’s one that will hopefully change the daily lives and future prospects of thousands of people in this country.
It’s the National Disability Insurance Scheme – better known as the NDIS – and now we know roughly what it will look like when five sites are launched for a trial run in mid 2013. Take a look here.
Roughly – because what goes before the parliament this week is likely to change. There are many unanswered questions.
As Disability Services Minister Jenny Macklin admits, there’s still work to do sorting out how to pay for the scheme.
What we do know is that the federal government is putting up $1 billion to set up the scheme. Thereafter, the NDIS will cost an estimated $15 billion a year. And with a price tag that big, there’s no doubt a lot of state and territory haggling over policy detail ahead. But the good news is that the opposition has figured there are no votes in playing politics with disability so the coalition is supporting the scheme.
In the trial period – 20,000 people with disability, along with their families and carers, in NSW, Victoria, South Australia, Tasmania and the ACT will benefit.
Every 30 minutes, an Australian is diagnosed with a disability.
It is extraordinary given that figure, that “we have a cruel lottery where the services and support people with disability, their families and carers receive depends on where they live, what disability they have, and how they attained that disability,” as the NDIS website says.
As anyone with a family member with disability would know, getting help is a tortuous, circuitous nightmare of form-filling and phone calls. Even if you stick with it, what you end up with can often be sub-standard or patchy assistance.
The NDIS has a very ambitious aim. It will look at disability as a lifelong issue. Care and support will be delivered on the same time frame.
“This means that assessment will look beyond the immediate need, and across the course of a person’s life. For example, home modifications might be expensive up front, but if they afford a person with significant disability the opportunity of greater independence, or if they mean that a parent carer can continue to care for their loved one, it’s a good investment” says the NDIS website.
The raison d’etre of the NDIS is to give people with disability flexibility and choose in the kind of care they need and want.
But amid this very noble and necessary policy shift, cracks have appeared. And unless they are ironed out or deleted from the draft legislation, they have the capacity to undermine the aims of the scheme.
The biggest crack by far is the legal power the head of the NDIS will have to compel people with disabilities to take action to recover compensation against a person or against an organisation that may be at fault.
More worrying is that this comes with the qualification that if the person doesn’t take such action, his or her care plans might be suspended. As the headlines bleated – there is concern that people with disability will be forced to sue in order to get the help they need.
Given the cost of litigation, it’s hard to see the logic, let alone the upside, in this requirement.
And there’s not much give from the government when a person with a disability needs to have an NDIS review of their case or any decision made by the agency in relation to them. There will be no legal assistance on offer. They might even have to represent themselves if they appeal to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.
Victoria, for starters is most upset.
“This is a very heavy obligation given the significant financial and personal costs that may be involved in litigation,” said that state’s Community Services Minister, Mary Wooldridge (pictured right, image via heraldsun.com.au).
Some states have already told the federal government that the draft legislation is too heavily prescriptive and lays the groundwork for a new Centrelink style bureaucracy.
If the aim of the NDIS is to give those with a disability the opportunity to choose and control the care they need and receive, another Centrelink styled monolith devoted to bureaucratic nit-picking can’t be a good thing.
Jenny Macklin says there will be more consultation as the draft legislation goes before a parliamentary committee for discussion. And she is clearly confident that any concerns can be addressed.
“Consultation on these detailed rules will occur with people with disability, their families, carers, service providers and advocates in the coming months”, she said.
The draft legislation sets out some important detail – who is eligible and what is reasonable and necessary support.
But if a person with disability has to sue to get any benefit, the government will no doubt be sent back to the drawing board before the full scheme is deemed anywhere near ready for roll out.
MORE ARTICLES BY MONICA ATTARD
*Monica Attard OAM, is a five-time Walkley award-winning Australian journalist – including the Gold Walkley Award for Excellence in Journalism 1991. She was the host of the ABC’s PM, the World Today and Media Watch.She spent 28 years at the ABC, leaving to start up The Global Mail where she was, until recently, the Managing Editor. In 1997, Monica published a book entitled Russia: Which Way Paradise? documenting her time there as a foreign correspondent.