- NDIS funding backflip: Coalition warned not to use people with disabilities 'as pawns'
- By Katharine Murphy
- Contributed by: Stix ( 2 articles in 2018 )
Disability discrimination commissioner reacts after government dumps proposal to fund NDIS through Medicare levy
Australia’s disability discrimination commissioner, Alastair McEwin, has warned politicians not to use people with disabilities “as pawns in funding allocations”, saying the community needs certainty.
McEwin told Guardian Australia it was up to the Turnbull government to determine how to fund the national disability insurance scheme, but “what is critical is that Australians with disability deserve peace of mind, not funding uncertainty”.
“They deserve reassurance that the NDIS is not only funded appropriately but also sustainably with secure government sources of funding,” the commissioner said.
“Over recent years, the disability community has endured uncertainty around the security and longevity of NDIS funding
“It’s time to give the disability community peace of mind. It’s time to treat people with disability as equal citizens, not as pawns in funding allocations”.
The disability discrimination commissioner’s comments follow a decision by the Turnbull government, quickly matched by the Labor opposition, to dump a proposal to fund the NDIS through a Medicare levy increase of 0.5%, a change that would have affected every Australian earning more than $21,655.
The Coalition proposed the levy hike in the last budget, arguing Labor had failed to fully fund the scheme it introduced during the tenure of the Gillard government, so the funding stream was required to deliver certainty.
Labor always rejected the funding gap argument, but indicated last year it would support the revenue raising measure, worth more than $8bn, but only for workers earning over $87,000.
The government now says the Medicare levy increase is no longer necessary, because a strengthening in the economy over the past 12 months has led to a recovery in tax revenues sufficient to allow the scheme to be funded from within the budget.
The treasurer, Scott Morrison, has confirmed the government will use the looming budget to dump the levy hike, but he has not outlined in detail how the government intends to fund the scheme in perpetuity, which has alarmed some disability advocates.
Morrison said fiscal details of the decision would be set out in the budget on 7 May.
On Thursday, Morrison suggested one of the reasons the government had dumped the planned levy increase was to ease pressure on households squeezed by wages stagnation, which has been part of the government’s rationale for offering personal income tax cuts in the looming economic statement.
The treasurer said the government had to “live within our means but also to recognise that people – even as the economy has improved – that isn’t being felt by everyone, and we want to ensure that those benefits do spread”.
Asked whether the government should have pursued the revenue measure despite the cyclical improvement in the economy, with the objective of paying down the deficit, Morrison said “well, what we also think is important, though, is ... where consumption in the economy has been weaker than we’d like it to be, we know that if we can relieve some of the pressure on households by ensuring that they keep more of their hard-earned cash, then we also think that’s good for the economy”.
He said he was not a fan of increasing taxes if there was a valid alternative to doing so.
But the government’s move cuts across the stated objectives of the Coalition’s current fiscal strategy, which says that the overall impact of any positive shifts in receipts and payments due to changes in the economy will be banked as an improvement to the budget bottom line.
The high-profile paralympian Kurt Fearnley joined the disability discrimination commissioner in expressing objection to the government’s change of heart on funding the NDIS from a defined allocation.
Fearnley told the ABC the insurance scheme “needs certainty”.
Paralympian and advocate @KurtFearnley says he doesn't care whether the funding comes from a levy, consolidated revenue or cuts, but the #NDIS needs certainty
“Whether they found [the funding] from an additional fee, whether they found it from general revenue, whether they found it from a reduction in other programs as has been hinted – we just need certainty of funding, not for two years, not for four years, not for 10 years – people with disabilities ... don’t live and die around an election, we are here for good, and if you want to make permanent gains, you’ve got to give permanent funding,” Fearnley told the ABC.