Prime Minister Julia Gillard has choked back tears in Parliament while introducing legislation for the DisabilityCare levy.
In an emotional speech on Wednesday morning, Ms Gillard introduced the bill that will increase the Medicare levy from 1.5 to 2 per cent from July 1, 2014 to fund the new national disability insurance scheme.
''This is a united embrace of national responsibility and a great act of mutual care and solidarity,'' Ms Gillard told the House.
''Every week or fortnight, a sliver of the pay packet will go to DisabilityCare Australia: around a dollar a day for the average earner. But all that money added together from every corner of the nation will be a mighty force for good.''
A spokesman for Ms Gillard said that the Prime Minister was reduced to tears when thinking of a card she received last week.
It included a photo of Ms Gillard taken by Sophie, who is 12 and has Down syndrome. It was signed by a group of Queenslanders with a disability and their families to thank the Prime Minister for bringing DisabilityCare to their state.
This included 17-year-old Sandy, who has a disability similar to cerebral palsy and who gave Ms Gillard the card.
''DisabilityCare Australia starts in seven weeks – and there will be no turning back,'' Ms Gillard said.
After the speech, which was given to near-empty opposition benches, Ms Gillard was embraced by Disability Reform Minister Jenny Macklin. Ms Gillard said that ''every cent'' raised by the increase in the Medicare levy would be allocated to a special fund over the next decade. By law, the fund will only be spent on supporting people with disability.
Opposition Leader Tony Abbott was in a radio interview at the time and not present for the speech.
Earlier this month, when indicating his support for the levy increase, Mr Abbott called for the bill to be brought forward before the election.
''We do want to see this come into the parliament in this term,'' he said. ''There's five weeks of parliament remaining and I don’t see why we can’t get this dealt with so that this parliament does have a substantial monument.''
While the government benches were also not full, there was a significantly better attendance from Labor MPs and ministers.
Increasing the Medicare levy will raise about $20.4 billion between 2014-15 and 2018-19 – adding up to about 55 per cent of the total cost of funding DisabilityCare Australia over the period.
DisabilityCare enjoys bipartisan support and the bill is expected to pass the House. However, the Coalition have indicated that when the economy was ''back in strong order'' they would like to scrap the levy increase and fund the scheme through consolidated revenue.
NDIS to cover 460,000 Australians
In Tuesday's budget, the number of people expected to be covered by DisabilityCare was revised up by 50,000, because of population growth and a decision to allow those who enter the scheme before the age of 65 to remain in it after they turn 65.
In its blueprint, the Productivity Commission estimated the scheme would support 410,000 Australians but the government now expects it to cover 460,000.
In 2019-20, its first year of full operation, the scheme will cost $22.2 billion. The federal government will provide 53 per cent of this, a total of $11.7 billion, with the rest coming from the states and territories. Contributions from all governments will be reviewed in 2017.
All states and territories with the exception of Western Australia have now signed up to the scheme.
In Parliament on Wednesday, Ms Gillard said the West Australian allocation from the DisabilityCare fund will be ''quarantined until we reach agreement with the state''.
''We encourage the Western Australian government to join the cause,'' she said.
The scheme will be launched in July in the Hunter region of NSW, where about 10,000 people will benefit, and in the Barwon region of Victoria, where about 5000 will take part.
With Dan Harrison