NDIS funding trickery

by David Richardson

The National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) received attention in the budget speech with the Treasurer saying “we will spend a further $13.2 billion over four years to meet the needs of Australians with disability.” People with an interest in the NDIS might have turned to the budget papers to find further detail but would have been disappointed after inspecting Budget Paper No 2, Budget Measures. The new measures involving NDIS add to a fairly trivial $6.2 million over the forward estimates.

So, we might ask what accounts for the generous figures proudly announced by the Treasurer? As we read further in the budget papers, we find “These increases largely reflect a higher number of people with a disability entering the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).”

Imagine the outcry if the Treasurer claimed to increase the age pension and we then find out it was just that more people applied.

Australia Institute estimates can replicate the Treasurer’s $13.2 billion figure by taking the present estimates for NDIS spending from 2020-21 to 2023-24 and subtracting last year’s budget figures. Those are the years for which we have forward estimates in both budgets. If that is all the Treasury has done to claim spending increases of $13.2 billion it is rather outrageous.

From the beginning supporters of the NDIS have been concerned that the scheme would not be fully funded. We wrote about those concerns in some comments on the 2018-19 budget. Those concerns reflected the joint Commonwealth/State responsibilities, ambiguities in the Commonwealth’s commitments and the lack of a firm funding base. Australia tends to have a good system for those who can manage the waiting lists and other hurdles, but not so for those who find those impediments difficult to manage. Those problems came to a head recently when it was revealed that the government had a deliberate strategy of making it hard to apply and to slow down approvals in order to reduce costs.

No doubt that concern triggered the Treasurer to add that “Every Australian can be confident that the NDIS will always be fully funded under a Coalition Government”. That confidence might be tested with the attempt to pretend the government had decided to increase NDIS funding when it had not. That combined with deliberate but secret attempts to frustrate claimants might destroy that confidence.

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