SENATOR MITCH FIFIELD SHADOW MINISTER FOR DISABILITIES, CARERS AND THE VOLUNTARY SECTOR MANAGER OF OPPOSITION BUSINESS IN THE SENATE SENATOR FOR VICTORIA TRANSCRIPT
ABC News Radio With Marius Benson 22 May 2012 8.45am
MARIUS BENSON: Mitch Fifield you’re accusing the Gillard Government of scoring political points, the Prime Minister in particular is scoring political points on the National Disability Insurance Scheme. The Government is saying much the same about you. Now, politicians accusing the other politicians of playing politics can bring a fairly jaundiced response from the public.
MITCH FIFIELD: The National Disability Insurance Scheme, I think, is far too important to be mired in day to day partisan politics, which is why Tony Abbott wrote to Julia Gillard offering to establish a joint parliamentary committee to oversight the implementation of an NDIS to be chaired by the front benchers in the disability portfolio of both sides of politics. This needs to be beyond politics and I think the mechanism that Tony Abbott has proposed would do just that.
MARIUS BENSON: But the Government’s point is that while Tony Abbott is giving verbal backing to an NDIS, Joe Hockey as the prospective treasurer, the shadow treasurer, is saying no commitment.
MITCH FIFIELD: Joe Hockey is a big supporter of the NDIS, as is Tony Abbott, as am I. But Joe Hockey has been making the pretty self-evident point that the Government has only allocated $1 billion towards an NDIS over the forward estimates. The Productivity Commission over that timeframe said that there should be $4 billion. So the Government haven’t fully committed to an NDIS and they haven’t indicated where the bulk of the funds will come from. And they need to.
MARIUS BENSON: The general expectation is that you’ll be the Government within 18 months or so, can you say if you have a pledge to back the NDIS if you’re in power, or is this simply an aspiration?
MITCH FIFIELD: Tony Abbott has made it clear that an NDIS is a necessary reform, and that the NDIS is an idea whose time has come. So the Coalition is committed to an NDIS. The difficulty that we have at the moment is that the Commonwealth, the current Labor Government, haven’t sat down with the states and territories to talk about funding sources and funding shares. Now the states at the moment have the prime responsibility for disability services so you can’t as a government be in the position to implement an NDIS unless you’ve actually sat down and had those discussions with the states.
MARIUS BENSON: So given that uncertainty does the commitment from Tony Abbott mean anything?
MITCH FIFIELD: It means a lot. We want to sit down with the states if this Government doesn’t, and work through the details, work through the funding shares. The states and territories have been asking the Commonwealth at successive COAG meetings and at successive ministerial council meetings, to sit down and have those discussions. To date, they haven’t. That needs to happen. No government can know what their funding share will be unless they actually sit down with the state jurisdictions and have those discussions.
MARIUS BENSON: Can you say how confident you are that an NDIS will happen?
MITCH FIFIELD: An NDIS will happen. It has to happen. People with disabilities and their families have had to wait far too long for proper support. If you were designing from scratch what it is that should be core government business, proper support for people with disabilities would be one of the first things you would start with.
MARIUS BENSON: Now we began by talking about the politics of this. It’s very partisan politics at the moment in Australia. ‘Hyper partisan’ is a sort of description of it. Is that intensity of political division affecting policy areas like the National Disability Insurance Scheme, in this case, and other policy areas more broadly?
MITCH FIFIELD: It shouldn’t. And that’s why Tony Abbott proposed this mechanism of the joint parliamentary committee chaired by front benchers from both sides of politics. The Prime Minister should accept Tony Abbott’s offer. He’s extended the hand of bipartisanship. She’s rejected it. She should think again.
MARIUS BENSON: Just staying with that point of the partisanship at the moment, is the ferocity of the political fight harming government in Australia do you think? Or is it just theatre?
MITCH FIFIELD: It’s not the ferocity of the fight that’s harming government in Australia. A robust political exchange is a good thing. What’s harming government in Australia are the decisions that the current government is taking. It’s the policies that they’re putting forward. That’s what harming government in Australia.
MARIUS BENSON: Mitch Fifield, thank you very much.
MITCH FIFIELD: Thanks Marius. ENDS
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