This week the media took flight with the news of the Productivity Commission's firm stand on the need for a revolution in the way disability support is funded, delivered and managed throughout Australia.
Outlined in the Commission's Draft Report of their years long inquiry are several major reforms that would see disability become a 'core responsibility 'of the Commonwealth Government. The reforms include a shift from welfare to a nation-wide two-tiered insurance structure with a focus on assessments, entitlements and self -directed funding.
Families carrying the burden of lifelong accommodation and care for over 93% of people with a dependent disability across our nation were given a glimmer of hope when they read the Commissioners emphatic opening statement that "the disability support system is inequitable, underfunded, fragmented and inefficient and gives people with a disability little choice."
We read about the plan to shift funding responsibility away from the states and territories and place it where it clearly belongs; in the hands of our national government. We read the recommendation that funding should come from general tax revenue and not from another add-on levy as is now widely mooted by many sectors, and we applauded the commission for hearing the calls we have uttered again and again now for decades.
Reading through this two volume report with its heady plans and firm commitment to national reform, we also have a feeling that the overwhelming reliance hitherto placed upon caring families will remain the mainstay of the bold new system. We read that family will be expected to continue to provide personal care and support albeit with a promise of a joint assessment with the person with a disability and the family carer.
The bold new funding system will inject some $6.3billion of new funding into the insurance scheme along with the current state, territory, federal budget spending of $6.2billion - bringing the total start-up coffers to around $12.5billion.
Before we get too excited about these budget figures, we should take a cold hard look at the oft repeated estimates of the contributions of unpaid family carers and note that their current worth is estimated at $42.5billion per annum.
Certainly these values on the worth of carers include the carers of the frail aged, but carers know that these stats are based upon a paid person working a 38 hour week. We chuckle at the notion of such luxury, as so many carers are on-duty 24 hours a day, 365 days a year often for decades simply because adequate support does not exist today.
Then, there is the plan to introduce the insurance scheme in 2012-13. With a roll-out not expected to cover the nation until 2018, we ask the fundamental question about how anyone plans to deal with the current crisis in service delivery - where people with disabilities are given support only when a crisis has occurred, the primary carer dies or refuses to care any longer due to ill health, stress, poverty and old age.
The wondering then turns to the political reality of such radical reform and the possibility of multi- party and multi-jurisdictional agreement, endeavor, support and action in bringing this long overdue plan to fruition.
Paul Kelly, Editor-at-large for 'The Australian' newspaper, claimed in his report (March 2) that Community Services Minister, Jenny Macklin backed a major rethink but warned that change "does not come easily or quickly", and that Prime Minister Gillard's recent comments in Parliament were highly cautious, recognising "there is more the nation needs to do". Kelly's response was "frankly Gillard should have been more supportive."
A press release from the Coalition states: "The Coalition has strongly supported the Productivity Commission's work. The Draft Report is an important step towards providing a better deal for Australians with disability and their carers. The current system of support for people with disability is broken. The status quo is not an option. " "The Coalition recognises that people with disability, theircarersand families deserve a better deal than they get and we need reform. Providing better support for people with disability should be core government business, and we note the Productivity Commission's view that these services should be funded from core government revenue. "And; "We are committed to working in good faith with the Government to deliver a better deal for the provision of disability services in Australia."
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