On ABC666, I spoke with presenter Ross Solly and Liberal Senator Gary Humphries this morning about how DisabilityCare Australia will help change lives, and the importance of ensuring it has a stable funding base. Here's a podcast.
TRANSCRIPT – ABC666 WITH ROSS SOLLY
Andrew Leigh MP
Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister
Member for Fraser
2nd May 2013
TOPICS: DisabilityCare Australia, Medicare Levy
Ross Solly: Andrew Leigh, the Labor Member for Fraser, has joined me in the 666 Breakfast Studio, good morning Andrew.
Andrew Leigh: Good morning Ross.
Ross Solly: And joining us on the phone this morning is Liberal Senator Gary Humphries, good morning Gary.
Gary Humphries: Good morning Ross.
Ross Solly: Can I ask you first Andrew Leigh, is there danger that this whole issue, this important issue, is going to be politicised? And has it already?
Andrew Leigh: Well Ross, I think that’s a question best put to Tony Abbott. If he is willing to back a secure line of funding for the National Disability Insurance Scheme, then we can change forever the support that is provided for people with a disability in Australia. I spoke in Parliament about a local Canberra woman Denise Reid who’d written to me about her son Tim, who has Down Syndrome, and she spoke about the frustration about having to get Tim reassessed continually to prove that his chromosomes haven’t changed. She finds that it’s just a complete waste of her time, and it’s one of the many examples of this patchwork of support, and inadequate set of supports, that we provided for people with disabilities and their carers.
Ross Solly: You understand though, why the Liberal Party will want to see all the detail and would want some explanation of where the rest of the funding is going to come from before it agrees to sign up to something?
Andrew Leigh: Ross, what we’ve said here is that there is going to be a secure line of funding through an extra .5 per cent Medicare levy, that’ll cover about 60 per cent of the costs of DisabilityCare Australia. This is, as Craig said, quite a similar approach to Medicare, a levy that doesn’t fund everything but acts a bit like an insurance premium, because all of us know that if you fall of the roof of your house while cleaning your gutters and you become a paraplegic, you’re treated very differently than if you become a paraplegic as the result of a car accident, and this patchwork means that we need another pillar in the social insurance system. And the notion of paying 96 cents for that insurance is, I think, a pretty good insurance premium against something that could happen to any of us and any of our children.
Ross Solly: Gary Humphries, is the Liberal Party likely to support the NDIS as it stands at the moment?
Gary Humphries: Well I can’t answer that question because I don’t know where we are with these discussions. Obviously, we’ve had another new policy direction from the Labor Government. They’re policy making is a bit like a fly in a bottle at the moment, going every direction. We need to look carefully and what this represents and we need also to know where the rest of the money is coming from. On my calculations, when the NDIS is rolled out, the levy will only represent about 40 per cent of the cost of the whole scheme, so there is a very substantial amount of money yet to be identified as a source of funding for this. And we need to bear in mind that over the last five years, living standards in Australia have stagnated, in large part because government taxes have been rising across the board. This is the 29th or 30th new tax, or increased tax this government will have introduced, and we need to be clear that while it’s easy for us in the parliament to sort of wave a wand and say yes, we’ll have a new tax to pay for this new scheme , it’s ordinary Australians that have to pay for this and it will impact on living standards as these sorts of taxes keep mounting up.
Ross Solly: Do you think, Gary Humphries, that most Australians are happy – it certainly seems most Canberrans are happy – to pay a little bit extra for this important cause? Do you not think generally that most Australians do?
Gary Humphries: Look it may well be the case, I really don’t know what most Australians think about this, I think you know, most Australians will not look forward to the prospect of, on average, paying another 350 dollars or so a year on taxes to pay for another government scheme. Bearing in mind that we’re yet to find the money for the Gonski changes, there’s a dental scheme that the government is talking about, and you know, there’s a collapse in the government’s revenue which is presumably having to be paid from somewhere as well. I don’t know how we’re going to pay for all of this and at the end of the day there’s only one source, and that’s the tax payer. Look having said all that Ross, I absolutely agree that the NDIS is important. I was the chair of the parliamentary committee back in 2007 which called for a comprehensive funding increase for disability services in Australia. If my party chose to have a levy to pay for that, I would be comfortable with that and I would support that. But I acknowledge that to do this comes at a cost to the living standards of ordinary Australians as they put their hands deeper in their pockets to pay for these schemes.
Andrew Leigh: Ross I’m really pleased to hear Gary supporting, at least in a personal sense, that levy there. I do also just want to point out there that the strength of the economy over recent years; our economy is now 13 per cent bigger than it was in 2007. Over a time period where all of Europe has shrunk, Europe has twice our unemployment rate, and the US has grown by nothing like what Australia has grown by, and in that period too, the tax take has actually gone down, so Commonwealth taxes are now 22 per cent of GDP, they were 24 per cent in the mid-2000s under the Howard government. We’ve had inflation that’s actually been running well below the historical average, meaning that the cost of living hasn’t increased as rapidly according to that measure as in the past.
Ross Solly: Which is all good when you say it, and it looks good on paper, what Gary Humphries is saying that when people actually turn around and have to put their hand in their pocket, and when their 350 dollars worse off because there is a new tax that has been introduced, that is never going to come across all that well.
Andrew Leigh: Ross I would be delighted if regular consolidated revenue was so strong that we didn’t need to look to a levy. I mean that’s why the Prime Minister when asked about this last year said that she didn’t want to fund it using a levy.
Ross Solly: So what’s changed?
Andrew Leigh: What’s changed is the budget position, and clear statements from a number of states and territories – particularly Campbell Newman – that he wanted to make sure that the Commonwealth had a sustainable funding source before he would sign on to the national disability insurance scheme. So if this is going to be a way of making sure that a Queensland paraplegic doesn’t have to fundraise for their own wheelchair, then that seems to be a pretty powerful reason for me. The budgetary collapse in revenues is pretty substantial, $12bn revenue down since last October, $30b over the last few years –
Ross Solly: Which prompts the question Andrew Leigh, and I’ll go to you in a minute Gary Humphries, is this the time to be introducing big new spending measures?
Andrew Leigh: DisabilityCare Australia, Ross, is an idea whose time has come. You have listeners now who were up at 3 o’clock in the morning because they were taking care of their adult son go to the bathroom because he’s not able to go there himself. To say that somebody on 70, 000 dollars can’t afford 96 cents a day so that family gets better care to look after their son, so they don’t have to face that agonising question of who will look after my adult child when I’m no longer here… I think that is worth doing.
Ross Solly: Gary Humphries?
Gary Humphries: Look, I mean, the cause is fantastic, the idea of what we’re trying to do with this money is great. But let’s be clear, this is part of a pattern of o the government to rapidly and very significantly increase the amount that the government is spending in order to pay for a whole range of schemes, which – worthy though most of them are – does represent an imposition on the living standards of most Australians. The government's revenue since the last year of the Howard government has increased by 70 billion dollars, the government is raising 70 billion dollars a year more from Australians than they did since the last year of the Howard government, the problem is then that the government's spending has risen by 100 billion dollars a year. The result of that is that there is a huge gap that has to be bridged by yet another new tax. I acknowledge that the cause is good, I acknowledge that we have a great moral obligation to not let our citizens with disabilities to be second class citizens, to have a lower prospect of life than what other Australians have, that is an important imperative of public policy. But we’ve got to acknowledge that to do this will be a painful one for the Australian community and we still don’t know where the other 60% or whatever the figure is of this funding is going to come from, or for that matter what the other schemes the government thinks are important, where they are going to be paid from. That’s the important question.
Ross Solly: Do we need to know that Andrew Leigh? Do we need to be told where the rest of the money is coming from?
Andrew Leigh: I’m very happy to tell you that Ross, it will come from consolidated revenue, from the budget revenue that is raised from company tax, from the mining tax, from income taxes. That’s where the rest of that money will come from.
Ross Solly: But that money would already be pencilled in for other projects, so what would you cut?
Andrew Leigh: We’ve been making a set of savings, we made available 1 billion dollars for the initial work on DisabilityCare in the last budget. That wasn’t an easy save, it was done by doing things like means testing the private health insurance rebate, means testing the baby bonus, which Joe Hockey then compared to China’s one child policy. These aren’t easy savings that we’ve made, but we’re on track to cut real government expenditure which will be something that never happened under the Howard government. This drop in revenues, from 24 to 22 per cent of GDP means that tax revenue hasn’t kept pace with the economy. Gary’s talking about those nominal figures, but you’ve got to think about what’s the tax take compared to the economy because that tells you the demand for health services for the pensions, that’s the budget challenge we’re facing.
Ross Solly: Gary Humphries?
Gary Humphries: We’re still talking about having to find that money from pockets of Australians, and again I emphasise this is more policy on the run from a government which told us only a few months ago that they’d have a surplus budget that would help us pay for these sorts of things. Now the budget’s in deficit again, as have all the previous budgets under this government have been. We just don’t know where we’re heading and that worries me greatly. We’re asking for all Australians to take us on trusts, that we can somehow pay for this and all the other important things without actually knowing how it’s going to happen. It’s not responsible decision making and to answer that earlier question, Ross, there is a lot of politicking going on board with this, and Labor senators in the federal parliament keep talking about Labor’s NDIS, and this is Labor’s achievement, there’s a lot of positioning Julia Gillard in this for some issue that may carry her through the election, rather than necessarily a piece of national building.
Ross Solly: Alright, we’ll just go to Mike. Hi Mike.
Mike (caller): Hi, I’d just like to say that this is an opportunity, this is an issue that should be above politics –
Ross Solly: And you don’t think it is at the moment?
Mike (caller): It isn’t. And I’d like to compare it to the Apology. The first thing that Kevin Rudd did was reach across the corridor to Brendan Nelson and say this is an apology from all of us. The first thing that Julia Gillard did was to say I want to pick a fight with Tony Abbott on this, and I think it was completely the wrong way to go, and the politics that have started today in your studio, it is really sickening.
Ross Solly: Alright, well thanks for your thoughts on this Mike. Let’s go to Darren.
Darren (caller): Hi Ross, my concerns is that you’ve got two members of parliament there, one from the Senate and one from the other place, and it’s very frustrating from my perspective that you’ve asked a specific question about funding. The .5 per cent I think is a great idea but it doesn’t fund the total amount, and your question is where is the money coming from, and for Andrew Leigh to say that it’s coming from consolidated revenue, knowing the Treasury have got it wrong in the last 12 months, and the last two years, and the mining tax has not generated the revenue that’s expected, and I would suspect it’s not necessarily going to do that into the future, how can he say that its actually coming from consolidated revenue?
Ross Solly: Alright Darren, Andrew Leigh?
Andrew Leigh: Most taxes are not tied directly to particular items of expenditure, a hypothecated tax like the Medicare levy or this new disability care levy is unusual. Like Medicare this is going to be a small levy that doesn’t cover the cost of all of the scheme, but guarantees that half is there, the rest of those income company taxes, through the revenue that is raised by the government, we will build this, because this is something we are passionately committed to.
Ross Solly: Andrew Leigh, thank you for coming in this morning. Senator Humphries, thank you for joining us on the phone.
Andrew Leigh: Thanks Ross.
Gary Humphries: Thanks Ross.
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