Prime Minister Julia Gillard and NSW Premier Barry O'Farrell at the NDIS press conference in Canberra on Thursday, December 6. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
Chief Minister Katy Gallagher has signed up the ACT to the launch of a National Disability Insurance Scheme site that she says will reap benefits for up to 5000 local disabled people.
She has also agreed to electricity market reforms aimed at delivering substantial savings for consumers.
The NDIS trial will provide extra support, services and access to funds for disabled people, their families and carers. Respite capacity in the ACT is now at 3000 people but will be boosted by an extra 2000 over a three-year period.
Emerging from Friday's Council of Australian Governments meeting at Parliament House, Ms Gallagher said agreeing to the launch would place the ACT in the right position for when the full NDIS scheme is embraced. ''It will mean a lot of extra money going into disability, which I don't think anyone will argue with,'' she said.
''It puts us at the front of the scheme. It means that we can take what we learn from the scheme and take that into the full model when it gets established. That's been my view, that we should always be at the front and learning from it so that we can get the model we need in the end.''
The agreement commits the federal government to providing $10.6 million next year for enhanced respite services, as well as $12 million to be spent in the territory on sector development. In 2014-15 the federal government will contribute $18.7 million, which will rise to $59.1 million in 2015-16.
All states and territories signed up to a broad agreement over the NDIS, but with only some signing onto specific launch site operational and funding deals.
The NSW Liberal government had the day before struck a $6 billion deal with the federal government for a full implementation of the NDIS in the state by 2018. It is understood the agreement caused some tension inside the meeting, with other Liberal premiers annoyed at the pressure Premier Barry O'Farrell had placed on them by signing up to the full scheme. Queensland and Western Australia only signed the broader agreement.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard said the agreement meant even those not participating in trial sites would learn from the launch. ''So this will be shared work,'' she said. ''We can now work through with other states and territories and reach long-term agreements about the NDIS.''
The COAG meeting also reached consensus on a plan aimed at reducing household power bills by $250 a year.
Ms Gillard said the leaders had agreed to a package of energy market reform measures to help both families and business. The deal will address the ''gold-plating'' of the system and over-investment in poles and wires, while also giving a voice to consumers on design choices of the systems they use.
That would include options such as smart metering and improved airconditioner technology. Big energy users would be able to moderate the power loads they put on the system during peak times and a new regulator would deal with the changed rules.
''This is a big issue for Australian families and for Australian businesses,'' she said. ''People have seen a rapid escalation in their power prices, and that has put a lot of pressure on peoples' cost of living.''
Ms Gallagher said the ACT would have to work out how the new energy rules would be applied. ''Again, I don't think you'll find anyone who will disagree with the need to look at electricity costs and how they're impacting households,'' she said. ''We have a slightly different situation in that we have partial deregulation, but we have got essentially a monopoly provider.
''I think it's time we go back to the monopoly and say, 'So how are you going to make this work for everyone?' We're not at the point where we're going to sell off ACTEW … but I think that within the framework that we operate we need to work out how we're going to be in line with these reforms.''