National Disability Insurance Scheme becomes latest victim of partisan politics

Inaugural chair of the National Disability Insurance Agency Bruce Bonyhady. Photo: Andrew MearesA unity ticket which had placed the National Disability Insurance Scheme beyond politics has been shredded, with the Turnbull government accused of “holding the disabled to ransom” and Labor refusing to admit the $22 billion scheme lacks $4 billion in funding.
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The landmark social scheme became a political football this week after Treasurer Scott Morrison linked its funding to a range of controversial welfare cuts. A brawl then broke out on Wednesday over Coalition claims that Labor left a multi-billion dollar black hole in the NDIS budget.

The inaugural chair of the National Disability Insurance Agency, Bruce Bonyhady, told Fairfax Media the dispute was “deeply cruel”.

“I think this is very cruel treatment of people with disabilities and their family and carers – for the spectre of how the NDIS will be funded to be raised at this time,” he said.

“We are talking about the central support for one of the most disadvantaged groups in the community and I think for this sort of political game to occur now is deeply cruel. It is unfair.”

Mr Bonyhady said the government had raised questions about NDIS funding at a time when it was talking-up expensive defence projects, and company tax cuts worth $50 billion.

“All governments and all political parties have known since 2013 what the full costs of the NDIS are,” he said.

“They have known that the increase in the Medicare surcharge that they all agreed to would not meet the full costs and they all committed to it, and with that came a commitment to ensure that it would be funded sustainably. What I think the government needs to do is simply confirm that it will meet its obligations to fund the NDIS in full and not engage in the kind of scaremongering which is deeply worrying for people with disabilities at this time.”

Melbourne mother Tanya Humphrey, whose five-year-old son Lachlan was diagnosed with autism last year, said she felt politicians were point-scoring off people’s lives.

“It feels like they are holding the NDIS to ransom – that unless you are willing to take a budget cut, we won’t help fund therapy,” she said.

Social Services Minister Christian Porter has insisted the NDIS will be “completely funded” and the government was committed to it.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on Wednesday said the scheme was “vitally important”.

“Your commitment to the NDIS is not measured in words, it is measured in deeds, and what we are doing is taking the steps, making the decisions to ensure we’ve got the money to pay for it,” he said.

Jo Briskey, the executive director of lobby group The Parenthood, said she had not been concerned about the scheme’s future prior to this week.

“Now obviously it has come into question,” she said.

“I hope that the Turnbull government sees that they have made a mistake here, they have made a misjudgment, that the NDIS should be above party politics, should be above the petty politics that is happening at the moment and every politician in Canberra should be getting behind the future of the NDIS.”

The chair of Deaf Services Queensland, former LNP MP David Gibson, said fighting “put at risk” public support for the scheme.

“As a former conservative MP I understand the mantra of the need to balance the budget and I fully agree that for too long governments of all political persuasions have spent up big with very little to show for it, but the NDIS is different.”

Ms Humphrey, whose son’s future depends on the therapy he receives in the next few years, said both parties should put people above politics.

“I look at it as the future,” she said. “I know the NDIS covers the elderly as well, but for me, they need to stop playing with the futures of children and help them, not hinder them.”