Media Release by Senator the Hon Amanda Vanstone

Record Support for People with Disabilities

Changes in this Budget will see significantly more support and greater opportunities for people with disabilities to help them participate in work and in the community.

I have no doubt that many people with disabilities really want to work, and with this Budget’s new help, many will be able to do so. The whole community will be better for their contribution.

Funding available to the States and Territories for specialist disability services, delivered through a third Commonwealth State Territory Disability Agreement (CSTDA), rises from $1.9 billion to $2.7 billion for the next five year Agreement. This represents a $743 million increase over the previous five year Agreement.

This increase in funding depends upon the States and Territories making the same percentage increase themselves as the Commonwealth has made to all its CSTDA services, including employment services. Better accountability for the money they spend under the CSTDA will also be required. The increase would also be dependent upon Parliament passing our legislation on Disability Support Pension reforms.

The $743 million increase in CSTDA funding, and the provision of $258 million in new program places, demonstrates the biggest commitment ever by a federal government to services for people with disabilities. The total $1 billion increase, combined with our $250 million increased funding for disability assistance announced last year in the Australians Working Together package, confirms the Howard Government to be the strongest supporter of people with disabilities since Federation.

This Budget will focus on peoples’ abilities, rather than looking at their disabilities. To make it possible for people receiving income support to develop their work capacity, they will be able to access extra services and will participate in activities focussed on getting paid work.

Long-term dependence on the DSP is not the best option for people who have the ability to work for award wages. We want to provide everyone on disability income support who has the capacity to work every opportunity to find and keep a job.

In order for people claiming DSP to be more active and independent the government will be providing help through the provision of extra rehabilitation, training, education and employment services.

By reforming the DSP we will be able to provide increased participation by people with disabilities through access to over 73,000 new program places over three years at a cost of $258 million:

  • 17,200 in disability employment services under the CSTDA
  • 37,600 in the Job Network
  • 14,700 rehabilitation places
  • 3,200 places in the Personal Support Program
  • 600 places in the Language, Literacy and Numeracy Program
  • access to Centrelink Personal Advisers to provide guidance and help for people with disabilities to prepare for work and access appropriate support services
  • better assessment of whether re-skilling can improve a person’s work capacity
  • additional $33m to the States and Territories for mainstream vocational education and training places.

From 1 July 2003, people who seek to claim the Disability Support Pension who can work 15 or more hours a week at award wages will most likely receive Newstart Allowance instead. DSP payment rates will stay unchanged. People who are permanently blind will continue to be exempt from the work test and means test.

Existing DSP customers will be gradually reviewed over the following five years. People who have no work capacity because of their disability, people who are permanently blind and people who are within five years of Age Pension age will not be reviewed under the new rules.

Put simply, the changes mean that people with a significant capacity to work will be given the necessary support to find work.

These DSP changes will not only make significant additional funding available under the CSTDA for people with disabilities with high support needs, but will also provide many extra opportunities for people to find work and participate in the community.

Three things should be made crystal clear. First, the additional CSTDA money is contingent on the reforms being passed by Parliament. Second, the States and Territories will have to be true to their word and provide much greater accountability and transparency in relation to what they do with CSTDA funds. I have already made this point and the States and Territories, in principle, agree. Third, the States and Territories will also need to make the same percentage increase in their own funding contributions as the Commonwealth has made to all its CSTDA services, including employment services.

The days of the States simply taking the money and running are over. People with disabilities deserve much better accountability and transparency for all the funds spent under the CSTDA. They also deserve a better deal from the States and Territories. The Commonwealth has made disability issues a high priority for welfare reform. We have substantially increased outlays and commitments across all our areas of responsibility and renewed our commitment to States and Territories for a five year term for the third CSTDA.

We expect all States and Territories to match our efforts to create new opportunities for people with disabilities, their families and carers.

This Budget shows that the Commonwealth has been true to its word and is committed to providing a better deal for people with disabilities.

More information on FaCS Budget measures