Sky News with Helen Dalley: DisabilityCare Australia; national disability insurance scheme
Program: Sky News, Election 2013
HELEN DALLEY: The Disability Insurance Scheme seems to have come onto the agenda, been debated and achieved agreement in a relatively short space of time. Next week, the Prime Minister says she intends bringing the legislation into the Parliament, and it looks like getting cross-party support that it needs.
Joining me to discuss this is Amanda Rishworth, the Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities and Carers, who’s in our Adelaide studio, and also John Della Bosca, the national campaign director for Every Australian Counts, who worked very hard to get this on the agenda. Welcome to you both.
John Della Bosca, if I can start with you. I mean, the – it seems like an extraordinarily fast journey for a major social policy, a major social change, to get on the agenda, get debated, the community likes it, agrees, the politicians like it and seem to agree.
JOHN DELLA BOSCA: Well, I think the – it’s probably fair to say it’s fairly quick, but this campaign has been going in earnest, the Every Australian Counts campaign, explicit campaign to been going about two and a half years, and so we’ve been slogging away with lobby members…
HELEN DALLEY: But that’s still relatively short time…
JOHN DELLA BOSCA: Yes, yes, I’m conceding that if you regard that as a short space of time that’s – sure, but, look, there’s also been a lot of concern building up all around every state for many years now amongst the families of – family members, carers, people living with a disability, that the current system is very badly broken, and thoughts of a national scheme based on insurance principles rather than welfare principles has been something that has been aspired to for quite a while.
HELEN DALLEY: Yeah, and in fact – I mean, clearly from what you’re saying there was a need, but people with disabilities and their carers, often their voices are ignored in the political spectrum.
JOHN DELLA BOSCA: Well, I think that’s probably what the campaign, which doesn’t, obviously – I mean, I’m the campaign director but I’m not the only person in the campaign. It’s been the work of many hundreds, even thousands of people, but the explicit thing that we’ve been wanting to do is to give people with a disability their own voice on the political agenda. They’ve achieved that themselves, spoken very loudly and made the case very strongly to Members of Parliament, to the media, to the commentators, for a National Disability Insurance Scheme.
HELEN DALLEY: Amanda Rishworth, were you surprised, was the Government surprised, that Tony Abbott agreed so quickly to basically support this scheme?
AMANDA RISHWORTH: Well, look, we’ve been discussing the National Disability Insurance Scheme for some time. In fact, the Productivity Commission delivered its report in 2011, and we’ve actually been working hard. We’ve got launch sites actually launching with this scheme on 1 July, so it shouldn’t come as any great notice or surprise to politicians that this has been a scheme that has had grassroots support, that has got a lot of support in the wider community, and is really the time now to actually deliver such a scheme.
But we’ve been working very hard, and there has been legislation that has passed the Parliament already. That did have bipartisan support, so I certainly have welcomed the bipartisan support in the harder bits, which is how you fund this scheme…
HELEN DALLEY: Yes.
AMANDA RISHWORTH: …which is always the nitty gritty…
HELEN DALLEY: That’s…
AMANDA RISHWORTH: …which is the hard bit. Very pleased.
HELEN DALLEY: That’s right. I should add, of course, there has been bipartisan support pretty much all the way through for a disability insurance scheme, but it was how to fund it, and yet that’s what I’m asking you. Was the Government surprised that Tony Abbott agreed, in principle, to funding it with this increase in the Medicare levy?
AMANDA RISHWORTH: Well, look, I was surprised because I had heard Joe Hockey that morning really talk down any opportunity of bipartisan support on the levy, so that morning didn’t seem like the Opposition was going to support it. But over the next couple of days, I think, probably the message got loud and clear to Tony Abbott that there was wide support for this, and so certainly welcome his support for it.
HELEN DALLEY: Amanda Rishworth, some carer networks have expressed some concerns that the Government has released really no detail, that there’s not enough transparency about the policy and how it’s actually going to work. I mean, how will it work if and when the legislation gets through? You mentioned, and we know, there will be some initial trials?
AMANDA RISHWORTH: Yes. So there are now currently four locations in which there will be trial sites, and they include the Bowen area in Victoria. It will include the Hunter region in New South Wales. In South Australia it’s looking at young children, and in Tasmania it’s actually looking at young adults, 15-24. So in these areas we are working very hard with state and territory governments. We had DisabilityCare Australia officers on the ground actually working through that.
The reason why we need these launch sites, and the – I guess they’re not trials, they’re launches now, is because we actually want to make sure we get the rules very clear, we get the processes very clear, but the legislation that has already passed the Parliament has actually set up a lot of the criteria. It’s set up who will be eligible, and DisabilityCare Australia and the launch agency will work through that with people.
And then, really importantly, and this is where it changes the whole system, it is individual support. So the person with the disability, their carer and families, sit down with the DisabilityCare Australia and work out what they need. So no longer will they be in a queue for equipment, a queue in personal care, in all these queues that people talk about in agencies. This will put the focus on the individual and put them in the centre of the scheme. So they will sit down with someone from DisabilityCare Australia, an individual planner, to actually look at what they need and what is reasonable and necessary. That’s been the criteria that’s been set up in the legislation. So…
HELEN DALLEY: Alright, well…
AMANDA RISHWORTH: …there is actually a clear process.
HELEN DALLEY: A couple of things about that: some of the carer groups are saying they still don’t really know who will be eligible, what the criteria is for those eligible in the trial and who’s going to miss out, but also, Amanda Rishworth, I mean, the – they say that there’s not been enough transparency in the detail that’s going into the legislation.
AMANDA RISHWORTH: Well, there’s been a lot of consultation on the original piece of legislation that has passed the Parliament, and now we’re working through with states and territories about the trial sites. But I think one of the things that is probably a change to the system that people are getting used to is that we’re not actually talking about lists of disabilities. We’re not talking about, right, you’ve got to have a vision impairment, you’ve got to have – you know, be unable to walk and therefore you’re in or you’re out. What we’re actually looking at is functionality, and it’s a very individualised process.
So we will be looking at if you have a permanent disability that interferes, and significantly, with your ability to function, then you will be assessed and accepted into the scheme.
So I know that for some groups it is difficult because there isn’t a list of who’s in and who’s out, but that’s part of the importance of the scheme of actually looking at what people can do and where they want to go and what support they need to get there. So for each individual in every sort of disability category, these are going to be different, so that is why we are working through.
But if anyone does want to have their say or get information, there is a hotline as well as a website which people can directly ask questions of the agency. So if carers do have that concern, they can go onto the website or call the 1800 number.
HELEN DALLEY: Alright, John Della Bosca. You’re a political man, you get political decisions and that’s the level on which you generally deal, but are you concerned about the carers worries that perhaps Canberra bureaucrats are going to take over their decision making about what they need for their family care for the person who’s disabled?
JOHN DELLA BOSCA: I can appreciate that people might be concerned about that but I’d have to agree with Amanda that everything that’s happened so far or most of the developments that have happened so far would indicate that the exact opposite will be the case. That as Amanda said there’ll be a lot more emphasis on individual choice, on the individual person who live with disabilities, sometimes or generally especially if they’re children supported by their family, making decisions about what is best for them to be able to have a better life, to get into the workforce, to go to Tate, to go to university to feel an aspiration that they’d otherwise be prevented from doing because of their disability.
HELEN DALLEY: So how will the money actually be organised and doled out so to speak? I mean is it like the Medicare insurance scheme?
JOHN DELLA BOSCA: In many ways it’s very different to Medicare in respect to the way the money will be – well the resources will be dealt with. At the moment disability is almost entirely funded either by charities or by non-government organisations including charities working through government programs, state government programs. So funding is programmatic, no allowance for the individual, no allowance for one side at all and the new system will completely turn that on its head and basically the individual person with disability and their friends and family will be making many more of the decisions about what they need and how they can get it.
HELEN DALLEY: Why do you feel so confident? You’re almost saying it’s like a guarantee that carers of people who are severely disabled will like this system better. I mean certainly there’s more money going into it because that’s what the Medicare levy is for but will it be – can you give a guarantee it will be less unwieldy?
JOHN DELLA BOSCA: Guarantees in life are very hard to come by. There’s not many things you can guarantee, but I can guarantee you that the essentials of the new system if it even vaguely follows the Productivity Commission recommendations, but I’m sure it will quite closely follow most of them, will be radically different to the current system. For one thing it will be twice as big and that means as Amanda said, much less queuing. That early intervention becomes much more a reality in people living with their disability and individual choice becomes much more the way in which disability support is delivered rather than programs which assume everybody’s the same.
HELEN DALLEY: Alright, what about this idea that the Prime Minister says she wants the levy to stay full on into the future, the Opposition leader Tony Abbott says if he becomes prime minister, he would like when the budget allows it to remove the levy and take it out of budgetary revenue.
JOHN DELLA BOSCA: Well I have a very strong personal opinion about that but I suppose tonight at least representing the Every Australian Counts campaign, so we’ve taken the view that the actual way in which revenue is raised is a matter for the executive, the Parliament and political parties to decide, not for a group that’s presenting a program, presenting a policy.
HELEN DALLEY: Alright, so you’ll take it which ever way it comes?
JOHN DELLA BOSCA: It’s something that has to be worked out by the Parliament and the executive government.
HELEN DALLEY: Alright. Amanda Rishworth, back to the immediate future in the Parliament. Now Tony Abbott has said he wants to see the plan for the rest of the funding but he’s given his in principle support for the increase in the Medicare levy. Will you give him the plan for the rest of the funding?
AMANDA RISHWORTH: Well we’ve been working with states and territory governments and the legislation will be in front of the Parliament, so he’ll be able to see that. He can also see the work that’s been done in the trial sites. And we have been working – I think it’s important to note that we do have agreement with both Liberal, Coalition premiers as well as Labor premiers to actually roll out the full scheme.
So, we have been doing a lot of work and Tony Abbott, if he’s willing to come on board we’ll be happy to do that. We’d be happy to work with him on this. But the legislation will be before the Parliament and he will get to see the legislation…
HELEN DALLEY: And next week still? Next week?
AMANDA RISHWORTH: Look the Prime Minister’s indicated that she expects to be in a position to put the legislation into the Parliament next week. Obviously processes happen where there’s a debate that will occur. And I imagining a lot of people will want to have their say on that and it will progress through the Parliament.
But just on an earlier point that you did make, I just would think that it is important that this is a long term plan and when I talk to carers one of the issues they have is the anxiety about the future for their child when they may no longer be able to care. And the importance of this being long term for a lifetime is really critical to helping carers actually reduce some of that anxiety.
HELEN DALLEY: So you would say that’s why the levy, the increase in the levy has to stay to provide that continuity?
AMANDA RISHWORTH: Well ensuring that there is a permanent source of funding and ensuring that carers and families have peace of mind, that this won’t be cut at certain times is really important. That’s what carers have said to me, they want to know that this is permanent. We intend for it to be for a lifetime of support and that does need to be reassured for carers in that issue.
HELEN DALLEY: John Della Bosca, can you see any problem that could way-lay this now?
JOHN DELLA BOSCA: Well there’s probably always some problems but I think it looks like it’s very much a certainty. It feels very good. Look I think just one other point, picking up Amanda’s last point there, in my enthusiasm for bipartisanship and not wanting to enter the debate about the levy currently, I’d have to say that one of the priorities of the campaign and I think with a disability would be to support Amanda said that this needs to be a long term thing that is built in to the way Australia does business when it comes to disability and needs to be something that’s got a sustainable revenue base. I suppose it’s a debatable point exactly how you make that a sustainable revenue base but that’s really an important criteria and one thing that everybody should be looking to.
HELEN DALLEY: Alright, we’ll have to leave it there and see what happens next week and in future weeks.
John Della Bosca, thank you and Parliamentary Secretary Amanda Rishworth thank you.