Transcript by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

National Disability Insurance Scheme

Program: ABC Radio National Life Matters

E & OE – Proof only

WENDY HARMER: Well as I say, it has been touted as the most significant medical reform in Australia since the introduction of Medicare and a change that is desperately needed. As we know, any of us could be affected by disability at any time. At birth, by accident or with ageing and the reality is that we can’t afford the huge cost that comes with providing lifetime care and support to someone with a disability. Most families are going through this, I’m sure you know someone who is. A detailed report from the Productivity Commission given to the Government late last year just showed that the Australian system, the disability support system was in absolute crisis – fragmented, underfunded, unfair, inefficient – and so the National Disability Insurance Scheme was fast tracked. How will it work though? How is it different to what we have now and what still needs to be done?

Well joining us is Jenny Macklin; she’s the Federal Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs Minister. She’s in Melbourne and she’s going to tell us exactly where this scheme is at. Welcome to Life Matters Minister.

JENNY MACKLIN: Thank you Wendy

WENDY HARMER: How did this system get so broken? I know you were talking yesterday and you said, ‘the system we have now exploits the love of family carers, and leaves them exhausted and alone.’ What happened to bring us to this place?

JENNY MACKLIN: I think it really is because so much of disability care and support happens at home in a private space where people don’t see the enormous amount of work that happens from families, mothers and fathers and some helpers that of course come into the home to provide assistance. Even though you made the point in your introduction that it could happen to anybody, and that is so true, it doesn’t happen to a lot of people and people don’t think about it. I think that’s what is so important for us to get the message out. It can happen to anyone, it could happen to any one of us, it could happen as a result of an accident, it could happen as a result of a disease, or of course anyone of us could have a child or a grandchild born with a disability that will stay with them for all of their lives. So that’s why we have to think about this in terms of sharing the risk of that happening to any one of us which is why we talk about building an insurance scheme rather than the way it’s been done forever, which is state governments largely giving grants to organisations to provide as much care as that money will buy.

WENDY HARMER: So is it literally an insurance scheme? Because we all have car insurance, we have house insurance and obviously we pay those premiums. Is this the way it will work?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well, I think that’s a good way of putting it because we do understand insurance in that sense. We buy our home insurance to help share the risk between us and other home owners against a fire or a flood or someone breaking in to our home. That risk sharing is what the National Disability Insurance Scheme is about. The big difference is that we want everybody, all Australians to be in it. Because all of us could at any time need the support of a National Disability Insurance Scheme and I think to say again the point that you made in your introduction. It’s also the fact that if a child is born with a serious disability, an individual family is not going to be able to financially or emotionally or physically manage by themselves so they are going to need the support of the rest of us.

WENDY HARMER: So Minister, does it also cover ageing disability? Because that is one of course that is going to happen to the vast majority of us.

JENNY MACKLIN: That’s a big issue and one that we haven’t made a final decision about yet. The Productivity Commission recommended that we have a National Disability Insurance Scheme for people who acquire or are born with disabilities up to the age of sixty-five and after sixty-five basically people will then rely on the aged care system. Bu there are issues around that and we’re working through with our advisory committee who are going out and talking with people with disability and carers about what the implications of making such a decision would be. It’s a very big issue and of course at the same time that we’re having this discussion about a disability insurance scheme, the Government is also giving serious consideration to aged care reform.

WENDY HARMER: Yeah, well it is interesting of course, because we were talking about Parkinson’s yesterday for instance, and my dad has Parkinson’s. Now is that just part of ageing, well it isn’t, he actually has a disease, so does he come under the scheme or does he come under aged care?

JENNY MACKLIN: And of course you could get one of these types of diseases before you are sixty-five.

WENDY HARMER: So this is one that really does require the wisdom of Solomon, and I know you’re fast tracking it to get it ready before the next Federal election, and can I use a little bit of my privy here, being privy to having you at the People with a Disability and Carers Council meeting just recently. You said in that meeting that this was going to require a vast amount of consultation, and yet you are fast tracking it, so how are you, you know, weighing that up?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well as you know, we do have a National Disability and Carers Council and so I’ve certainly asked the Council to give us advice about the best way to involve as many people as possible and I know that the Council is doing exactly that and Rhonda Galbally can talk further about that. But we’ve also established an Advisory Group to do what we think is necessary which is to do formal consultations with not only the groups representing people with different types of disabilities and carers but also the service providers and those who represent the people who work in disability care and support. Because really what we’re going to be doing is turning this whole issue on its head, so instead of disability service providers getting a block grant of money from a state government for a year or maybe three years, what we’re going to do is have a major insurer really saying to people with disability, you’ll have a lot more control over what you choose to buy the sort of services you want to make your life more productive or happier. That’s going to mean major changes for a whole range of people so we certainly will be asking our advisory group to talk in detail with all of those different organisations.

WENDY HARMER: What’s it going to cost? That’s the thing that interests us, not only in our premium that we might be paying but also from the Government funding, how much is it going to cost the Government to build and maintain?

JENNY MACKLIN: The Productivity Commission of course did a lot of work on the costing and built up the cost which they estimate to be in the range of six and a half to eight billion dollars extra a year, so it’s a lot of money. The way they built that cost up was by looking at a range of different people with very different disabilities and all of the things that go to meeting their needs, whether its equipment, wheelchairs and other equipment, supported accommodation, of course attendant care, a whole range of different supports, they’ve built that cost up, made an assessment of the cost, and it’s in the range that I’ve just indicated. We’ve now got the Commonwealth Actuary checking those costs and working with the State Treasuries to make sure that we’re in the right order. These are very big decisions of course for governments to make and so that checking work is going on as we speak.

WENDY HARMER: So you couldn’t give us a ball park figure of what our premium would be as consumers?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well, we’re not at that point yet but what we certainly have been doing is working through the actual costs and checking and re-checking those figures given that the numbers are so huge. But that’s why I think it’s important, for people to think, well if it happened to me, if that’s the sort of cost, that if you break it down, I might have to bear my share of that, it’s why all of us are going to be better off if we share that across the whole population.

WENDY HARMER: Well there is a lot of talk about this, and I’ll let you be a politician here for a minute, about whether we can afford this if we’re in surplus or not in surplus and of course what will happen if you do not win the next election and the Liberal Party is elected and where they stand on bringing in this scheme, so you can do a bit of politicking here if you’d like.

JENNY MACKLIN: Well I don’t really want to do that too much, Wendy, because the thing that people with a disability, they are sick of many things, they are certainly sick of waiting, but I also think that they don’t want this to become a political football.

WENDY HARMER: But it is already though in some ways isn’t it? Because this is going to be one of the things that you’re going to put up for when you’re going to be re-elected, you are going to say- look at this, this is here, this is something that we’re going to do and the Liberal Party haven’t made the same commitment that we have. So in some ways it is already politicised.

JENNY MACKLIN: Well it will be up to the Liberal Party to be prepared to say whether or not they support the funding of this National Disability Insurance Scheme. It won’t be enough, as Mr Abbott has said that it’s just an aspiration for some time in the future. We intend to build this National Disability Insurance Scheme. We of course will demonstrate how we intend to fund it and so at that point we will be looking to get cross-party support for the funding of this scheme and that’s when the pressure will come on to the Liberal Party. I think it’s all very well to say you support it in the broad, but you’ve got to do the hard yards, you’ve got to be prepared to put your hand up and say that you’re going to pay for it and show how you’re going to pay for it. The Government will do that. But the state governments are going to have to do the same. This is an area of shared responsibility. The Commonwealth does make a contribution through the National Disability Agreement to the costs of disability care, but largely it’s a cost that at the moment is borne by the states. Now each of the states put in different levels of funding support, some more generous than others. I see some of them are trying to say that they are not going to put anything extra in. I don’t think that people with disability or their families are going to be very impressed by a state government that says we’re not going to put our hand up and put our share into this new scheme. I think people with disability expect every single state government, no matter their political colour to put their hand up and put in their fair share.

WENDY HARMER: Well I think COAG is on today isn’t it?

JENNY MACKLIN: Starting tonight and I’m sure there will be some discussions.

WENDY HARMER: There will indeed. Thank you very much. Minister Jenny Macklin there, talking about the National Disability Insurance Scheme. She of course is the Federal Minister for Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs.