It is a fitting time for Dylan Alcott to be Australian of the Year while the Australian Government invests record amounts in disability care.
Dylan Alcott was left a paraplegic in just the first weeks of his life after an operation to remove a tumour in his spinal cord. Dylan has gone on to win gold medals in wheelchair basketball and tennis. This week Dylan had the deserved honour of being just one of 10 "ordinary" Australians officially invited to the Queen's funeral.
Dylan is inspirational but so are almost all people with disabilities that you meet. Last week I attended the Beach Day Out at Emu Park. Originally established by the Livingstone Shire Council more than 10 years ago, the Beach Day Out is now organised by a local committee to bring together people with disabilities and service providers from across Central Queensland. People get to have a fun day by the beach while also connecting each other with available services.
I met so many inspirational people including Morgan Stevenson who gave an inspirational keynote speech about how she had overcome disability and anxiety over the past few years. Those who care for people with disabilities are equally inspirational giving much of their lives to help others.
So it has been right that over the past decade we have helped people with a disability and their carers through the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). The NDIS provides funding to disabled people to improve their quality of life including by helping them train for and find employment. The NDIS now supports over 500,000 Australians.
The Gillard Labor Government established the NDIS in 2013 and it was fully developed under the former Coalition Government. You do not hear much about the NDIS because all sides of politics support it, and the media tends to focus on issues where there is a contest.
That is not to say there are not challenges with the NDIS. Like any new government program it had teething issues with bureaucracy and delays. Much of that has been ironed out but there remains debate about the extent of the support that can be provided and eligibility.
The NDIS was the brainchild of the Productivity Commission in 2011. At the time, Australian governments (both state and federal) provided about $7 billion in disability funding. The Productivity Commission recommended the establishment of the NDIS and estimated that it should cost around $15 billion (including the existing support).
That has proven to be a massive underestimate. The last budget estimated that the NDIS would cost over $45 billion a year by 2025. By then, the NDIS will cost us more than Medicare.
We should adequately fund services for those of us that have to bear the enormous costs of living with a disability. Any of us could be afflicted with a disability at any time so it is right that we pool the risks of such an outcome across all.
But it is also true that we must spend public money wisely and there has been numerous reports of abuse of the NDIS system. Even the new Labor government has promised to crack down on "cowboys" that rip off the NDIS.
Now that the NDIS has been established we must ensure that it works efficiently or it will waste a lot of money and limit the services that go to the people that need it.
The inspiration of people with disabilities helped get the NDIS off the ground but we also now need the perspiration of diligent accountants to ensure it survives for the long term.