Just more than two weeks ago, the Australian government announced its commitment to introducing a National Disability Insurance Scheme.
The announcement was accompanied by the first tranche of money – $10 million – required to scope the project. It followed years of lobbying by people with disabilities, their families and carers for a system that is properly funded, equitable, integrated and efficient. Stakeholder groups welcomed the scheme and the opposition pledged bipartisan support.
But less than 24 hours later, the scheme had sunk from view. There were few mentions in the media and scant evidence of public engagement. The disability community also seemed doubtful, with much of their feedback full of bile and complaint. Indeed, judging by recent polls, which show Labor’s numbers down again, the government hasn’t gained an iota of credit for what is likely to be the most important social and economic reform since Medicare, not to mention its decision to do what is the right thing.
What is going on?
The government might be part of the problem. Threatened cuts to the carers bonus in the early years of the Rudd government soured relations with some in the disability community. When stakeholders contributed ideas to the Henry tax review only to have Labor sit on the report, the disillusionment got worse.
But the response to the NDIS might not be a problem entirely of Labor’s making. Disability services have been in the too-hard basket for too long. In that time, the parents of now-adult children with severe disabilities have grown old. This means many are angry and disillusioned by how long the scheme will take to be up and running. Not necessarily because this response is unreasonable – the Productivity Commission says the NDIS will require ‘'careful planning and a workable transition period’‘ – but because they haven’t got much time left.
One industry insider told me some of her constituents were worried the scheme would be ‘'all talk and no action … and pink batts all over again’‘. However, several analysts (including Crikey’s Bernard Keane and Inside Story’s Rodney Tiffen) have argued persuasively that although the home-insulation saga has been indelibly inscribed on voters’ minds as a fiasco that proves the government’s incompetence, this conclusion is unfair, the consequence of opposition spin and a media that ‘'pursues controversies with little curiosity’‘.
Readers will know I’m no fan of Labor. But I am partial to good governance. By this I mean concerted activity by governments in service of the public interest and for the benefit of the less powerful – people with disabilities included.
Federal Labor’s pursuit of this scheme is evidence of a government committed to the public interest, not to what focus groups, opinion polls or marginal-seat strategies say will deliver short-term political gain.
This is what we say we want from government. We say we are sick of poll-driven politics and the catalogue of incompetence and corruption that dominates the daily news cycle. We repeatedly call for political leadership and for more ‘'good news’‘ stories.
The NDIS was both. The real question is why we didn’t notice
Don't Let Disability Scheme be Yesterday's News Sunday Sun-Herald (Sydney)