An announcement by the Turnbull Government to scrap the Medicare levy increase used to fund the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) has caused concern within the disability sector.
Minister for Social Services, Mr Dan Tehan says the NDIS will be fully supported without having to increase the Medicare levy, due to an improved budget fiscal position.
“The Turnbull Government recognised the importance of the NDIS and had a plan to cover the $56 billion funding gap that had been left behind by Labor,” he says.
Mr Tehan says the Government has developed a Plan B that will fully fund the NDIS through a stronger economy and fiscal responsibility.
“We now have a bipartisan approach to funding the NDIS and my job, and the Government’s job now is to fully implement it and that is what we will be doing,” he says.
However, the Australian Federation of Disability Organisations (AFDO) and Australian Autism Alliance say disability advocates are feeling anxious and insecure, after a previous bipartisan approach was relinquished in favour of the Medicare levy.
"The announcement of a walk away from the Medicare levy increase, with no detailed outline from the Government of its ongoing commitment past the next budget, has again raised uncertainty which is creating real distress for people with disability and all who support them,” AFDO Chief Executive Officer, Mr Ross Joyce says.
Mr Joyce says the disability sector needs full transparency from the Government in showing how a fully funded scheme will be achieved and the commitment made in last year’s budget must be honoured.
Jon Martin, Secretariat for the Australian Autism Alliance says in Australia, autism is the most common diagnostic group of participants in the NDIS, representing 29 percent of people receiving support.
Mr Martin also notes the highest proportion of children in the NDIS up to 7 years old are autistic, embodying 50 percent of participants.
“We need to get this right in the funding model and we certainly need to get this right for autism,” he says.
Amongst the disruptions caused by the Medicare levy announcement, Mr Martin also identified current shortfalls of the NDIS, which currently supports 37,000 people living with autism (as of December 2017).
Mr Martin says there needs to be greater autism expertise across the NDIS and the National Disability Insurance Agency, so there is an understanding when planning, designing and funding services, of the unique strengths and challenges of autistic people.
According to Mr Martin, 100,000 autistic people won’t be eligible for NDIS support and because of this there needs to be a focus on how mainstream services will support them.
“To date, it is our experience that there has been a significant lack of engagement with the autism community through the development of the NDIS,” Mr Martin says.
However, despite this funding source hiccup, Mr Tehan insists the Turnbull Government will get the job done.
“All those in the disability sector can be reassured - it will be fully funded,” he says.
Mr Tehan says the Turnbull Government has been able to turn the economy around by bringing in extra revenue, creating 1,100 jobs a day and increasing company tax receipts.
He also insists the NDIS will be ring-fenced alongside pensions, Defence spending and Medicare funding.
At full operation the NDIS will provide life-changing support to more than 460,000 Australians living with disability.