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Howard backs disability boost

Former prime minister John Howard wants all sides of politics to work together on the planned new National Disability Insurance Scheme, saying it's something the country will look back on with pride.

Mr Howard issued the call at a post-budget business breakfast in Brisbane, during which the Liberal luminary also described the federal Labor government's promised surplus as being more about politics than economic need.

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Former Prime Minister John Howard tells a Brisbane business breakfast the budget lacked "any areas of major reform" and the surplus was "a political necessity".

Federal Treasurer Wayne Swan's budget, unveiled last night, flagged a slender surplus next financial year, while also earmarking $1 billion in funding over four years to kick-start the disability scheme.

The Gillard government will negotiate with state and territory governments to find four initial locations for the scheme, which is expected in the long-term to boost the level of support for people who have a disability.

Queensland Treasurer Tim Nicholls said while the Liberal National Party state government supported the landmark disability scheme, the sticking point was the need for a long-term funding plan.

During a speech at the PricewaterhouseCoopers event this morning, Mr Howard criticised the federal government on numerous fronts, including over “shameful” cuts to defence spending, but backed the disability push.


“On the social policy front, I do hope that a bipartisan consensus and a sensible understanding can be reached and achieved in relation to those in our community who have disabilities,” he told the 2100-strong audience at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre.

“It is a terrible misfortune to be struck through an accident or by the difficulties of birth with disability in your family and I think it is something that a decent, compassionate society should find the resources to provide more for.”

Mr Howard was later asked about the NDIS during the question-and-answer panel session, specifically the point that it had bipartisan support.

“Well in general terms it has [bipartisan support] and I just hope that can be preserved,” he said.

“If everybody can work together on it it'll be something the country in 10 years' time can feel good about.”

Cerebral Palsy League chief executive Angela Tillmanns said the scheme could herald a “revolutionary overhaul of our broken disability sector that has the potential to deliver massive social and economic benefits for our nation”.

Ms Tillmanns said Queensland Premier Campbell Newman should push to be included in the 2013 trials, otherwise the state could be financially and socially worse off than the rest of the nation.

“Queensland has the opportunity to take a leading role in trialling a launch site in a regional area such as Far North Queensland,” Ms Tillmanns said.

“Now the Federal Government has made a budgetary commitment to the NDIS, it is in the Premier’s hands to decide whether Queensland will be dictated to by the southern states or play a leading role in the most significant disability sector reforms in Australian history.”

State Opposition Leader Annastacia Palaszczuk said the Newman government should make support for the National Disability Insurance Scheme a priority.

“If Mr Newman doesn’t step up the trial scheme will proceed and benefit up to 10,000 Australians by 2013-14 and 20,000 Australians by 2014-15, but not one of them will be a Queenslander,” the former state disabilities minister said in a statement.

“He must be part of the negotiations that decide the share of the $1 billion [in federal funds] that should come to Queensland and what contribution his government can make.”

Mr Nicholls told reporters the issue had always been the need for the federal government to engage with the states over a funding proposal.

“Well we've always said we support the NDIS, we went into the last election giving our support for the National Disability Insurance Scheme,” he said.

“At the moment there is no funding proposal that engages the states, that puts in place a long-term funding package.

“Disability is for life, not for the next four years of this budget cycle and yet that's all we've seen so far. We want to be involved.”

The disability scheme is set to begin in July next year in four locations and deliver personalised care and supportfor up to 10,000 people. It is expected to grow to support up to 20,000 from 2014-15.

The experience in the four launch locations will determine when and how the government rolls out a national scheme.

Such a scheme is expected to cost $8 billion a year more than governments now spend on disability services.

The federal government will ask those that participate in the launch to collectively contribute $288 million over the first four years of the scheme.

The Commonwealth will pay all administration costs, but will ask states to share the costs of care and support.

Mr Nicholls said Queensland currently spent more than $800 million a year on disability funding.

“We need to talk to the federal government, they need to talk to us so we can put in place a long-term funding package otherwise what's been announced yesterday is simply a cruel trick,” he said.

Earlier, Mr Howard said budgets were always framed with an eye to both economic need and to politics.

However, he said Mr Swan's latest effort was “a very political budget”.

“It was a political necessity more than an economic necessity for the Treasurer to be able to announce a surplus," Mr Howard said.

“I favour surplus budgets. The best evidence of that is 10 out of the 12 of the budgets that we delivered in our time in government by Peter Costello were surplus budgets but the political necessity for a surplus last night was even greater than the economic necessity.”

- with Dan Harrison


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