The politics of disability

by | Oct 30, 2023 | Ability News, Canberra, Politics

As John Howard was becoming PM he made one big call. “The times will suit me,” he said. And they did.

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International events left the country cleaving to the coalition for reassurance while increased immigration and export prices injected money into the economy allowing it to thrive. Howard became Australia’s second-longest serving Prime Minister. 

Anthony Albanese isn’t nearly so lucky. 

Turning the immigration spigot back on has increased concerns about homelessness and housing unavailability. There are renewed demands for boosted defence spending at the same time as programs like the NDIS are adding to a structural blow-out of the budget. And, as last Friday’s analysis noted, Labor will only have two brief possible windows to hold the next election: November next year or, more probably, a Saturday in early April 2025. 

These are the two key dates that are already framing Albanese’s every thought as he ponders how to implement the NDIS review. 

Politicians love the NDIS for what it promises – a secure way of caring for some of the country’s most vulnerable. What they’re terrified about is the continuing, and massive, cost blow-out. 

Bill Shorten’s critical role

That’s why, as NDIS Minister Bill Shorten announced the details of the NDIS review, he made two promises. Firstly, he reassured the community that as the person who originated the program, he remained committed to its implementation. His second message was, however, equally crucial. A way had to be found to stop the escalating price of the scheme.

Bill looking somber

As a former Labor leader Shorten understands Albanese’s problem intimately (photo courtesy AAP) 

He needs to find a way to square the circle, keeping the scheme going while finding a way to cap costs. 

It’s not just a difficult problem: it’s the stuff of which nightmares are made. 

There is only one solution. Shorten is being tasked with accomplishing three things. He needs to find a way to share the scheme’s cost so that the burden won’t continue to fall on the federal budget. He needs to reassure the voters that the NDIS isn’t an open wallet. But it’s his third requirement that adds a devilish level of complexity to his task: his own personal commitment to making the NDIS work. 

How this will play out . . . 

Shorten has two massive advantages as he attempts to balance this dangerous trifecta. Because he created the scheme he will be given the benefit of the doubt as he attempts to rein in costs. Secondly, he understands the shape of the NDIS in a way that few others do. Shorten will use this knowledge to find out where the bodies are buried and create a scheme that will be sustainable into the future. 

Navigating his way between calls to slash the scheme and demands for its continuation in times of increasing economic insecurity won’t be easy. Shorten needs to save money. Doing this will require cost-shifting back to the states, cutting entitlements (for some), and a continued focus on curbing expenditure growth. 

There’s no easy path forward. 

Achieving a positive outcome will test all of Shorten’s political skills. He’ll be desperately hoping he can bring the sector with him as he re-shapes our lives.