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Disability scheme to bring long-awaited refor -

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Disability scheme to bring long-awaited reform at a cost

Broadcast: 10/08/2011

Reporter: Chris Uhlmann

The government has backed a Productivity Commission report recommending a disability insurance
scheme that will cost billions and bring much needed reform to the current system. But how will the
costs of the scheme be paid?


LEIGH SALES, PRESENTER: The disability support system is broken, but fixing it won't come cheap.
The Productivity Commission says the existing regime is unfair and underfunded, so it's proposing a
national disability insurance scheme at a cost $13.5 billion a year. It would probably be funded by
a Medicare-style levy, and the commission says its economic benefits outweigh the cost. But, as
political editor Chris Uhlmann explains, the Government stopped short of committing to the scheme,
saying instead that it shares the vision of disability insurance.

LAURELEI MOORE, MOTHER: He had the world at his feet. He was an Australian Open junior tennis
player. And then he got discovered in that tournament and offered a scholarship to college in
Florida. And he went there and just had completed his degree there and was playing tournaments in
Europe. And he just got back to Australia and was about to start a job. And actually the day before
he was about to start, he had a skateboarding accident. It was on the Sunday afternoon, I remember.

GRAYDEN MOORE: My world changed. It took a very long time for me to realise I had had the accident.
Because I was in a coma for over a year and a half.

RACHEL MERTON, NSW BRAIN INJURY ASSOCIATION: There's the initial trauma and then there's the
ongoing needs for the rest of that person's life.

CHRIS UHLMANN, REPORTER: Grayden Moore was 23 when his life was shattered by chance. Jackson West's
life was pre-ordained.

SALLY RICHARDS, MOTHER: And because the paediatrician just said, "I have no idea how your son will
develop, you have to wait and see," it just meant that I actually felt that the normal baby I'd
been expecting died a little bit every day, until Jackson got to about age three, when I realised
that he was gonna be profoundly affected by his chromosome abnormality.

CHRIS UHLMANN: What happened to Grayden and Jackson can't be changed, but the disability system
that supports them can and everyone agrees it's broken.

RACHEL MERTON: The Productivity Commission has actually used the words, "unfair", "underfunded",
"under-resourced", "inequitable".

CHRIS UHLMANN: The commission's report on disability care finds a system fractured between levels
of government. It doesn't have enough money and there are too many gaps. It's confusing, it changes
from state to state, and for those thrust into its arms, its capricious.

LAURELEI MOORE: I know in Victoria, in a car, you're looked after if it's a car accident, but
skateboarding or any of those other accidents, you're not, if it's catastrophic.

CHRIS UHLMANN: Even injuries from car accidents aren't covered in some states, unless you sue, so
the costs of care can be crippling.

SALLY RICHARDS: When you're trying to come to terms with the baby that you've got, not the baby
that you wanted, every day is a day of grief and of struggle and of confusion and you dunno where
to go for help, you don't know who can help you, you don't know what help there is.

LAURELEI MOORE: Because there was no funding for somebody with such a bad accident, they weren't
getting the care they shoulda been getting. And from then on, it was just such a battle to try and
get him, to get the basic and vital life-saving care he needed.

CHRIS UHLMANN: The pressure on carers can be intolerable.

SALLY RICHARDS: I'll give you one example. About 20 years ago, when my husband Mike had attempted
suicide the first time, and he was in the psychiatric ward with a fractured skull and I had four
children under the age of eight, and I went to the department looking for some help for Jackson, I
was told it wasn't policy and there wasn't any assistance that I could get.

RACHEL MERTON: And then, years later, we have - we hear from people in their 80s and 90s who are
terrified about what's gonna happen to their son or daughter after they die.

CHRIS UHLMANN: So the Productivity Commission has called for change. It recommends the Commonwealth
run a national insurance scheme to cover everyone with an existing disability, and it wants the
states to settle on a national injury insurance scheme.

RACHEL MERTON: The advantage of a national scheme is that regardless of where you live now and
regardless of where you might want to live in the future or actually do move to the future, you can
direct your own life, you can control your own life.

CHRIS UHLMANN: Fixing the system won't be cheap. Disability insurance would cost nearly $13.5
billion a year, and probably be funded by a levy on all taxpayers. Injury insurance adds another
$800 million to the bill, funded through modest rate rises, hikes in car insurance premiums and
public transport ticket prices. But the commission argues the economic benefits outweigh the costs.

GRAYDEN MOORE: If a national disability insurance scheme was in place while I had the accident,
then I wouldn't have been living in a nursing home and may have survived a lot quicker than I have.

CHRIS UHLMANN: Today the Government took a step towards the commission's plan, but did not commit
to it.

JULIA GILLARD, PRIME MINISTER: Today, I'm in a position to say the Government shares the vision of
the Productivity Commission. We share the vision that our nation needs a national disability
insurance scheme.

CHRIS UHLMANN: The commission cautioned against haste and the Government's happy to comply. It will
start negotiating with the states and territories through a select council and give an advisory
committee $10 million to start working through the technical details.

Assistant Treasurer Bill Shorten pushed disability insurance onto the Government's agenda. He
believes it's now unstoppable.

BILL SHORTEN, ASSISTANT TREASURER: It's been the Labor Government, the Gillard Government that's
recognised that the status quo is irretrievably broken and that the future has to be very different
to the past.

CHRIS UHLMANN: Yet there's no commitment even to trialling disability insurance on a small scale by
2014, something the commission recommended, and Sally Richards believes all the research and
talking has been done.

SALLY RICHARDS: Well, I would've liked a commitment. I would've - I think it's about time that -
you know, in Australia we have - we really do have a second-class disability system. And in a
country as rich as ours, there's no excuse for that at all. None, whatsoever.