17 May 2012

Limited abilities

The Joe Hockey I knew twenty years ago would have looked for ways to make the NDIS work, rather than undermining it in the sneaky and gutless way that he did in his address to the NPC.

Hockey's first references to the NDIS makes it clear he regards it as a problem, not a solution:
The four year Budget died just seven days after its delivery as the Minister for Finance flagged new tax increases for the NDIS ...

Julia Gillard has ... allocat[ed] only minimal funding to expensive new programs like the NDIS ...
Of course the NDIS is one item in the Budget, and any criticism of the Budget from a macroeconomic or wider political perspective must include anything on which the Budget does or doesn't spend money. Even so, he might have chosen something else. More than two-thirds of the budget is spent on existing health, welfare and education measures; could he not have used another example of growing expenditure? Anything?

Matthew Franklin shows that modern journalism is all about getting the quotes right but the story wrong:
Mr Hockey yesterday accused Labor of executing "a cruel hoax" on disabled people and their families by announcing an accelerated launch for the scheme without having secured funding ...

And despite the Opposition Leader's enthusiasm for the scheme, Mr Hockey said: "I will not make a commitment to something I can't fund."

He said he supported the NDIS, but "you've got to live within your means and the government is engaged in a cruel hoax in saying that it's getting on with the job of the NDIS and then underfunding it".

"A number of state treasurers have said to me that they haven't got the money the government is claiming they may have for the NDIS."
Since when does a national initiative have to wait for state treasurers to agree? Would Howard or Costello have wrung their hands and delayed anything on the basis of what Kim Wells or Christian Porter might or might not do? Hockey is looking for excuses not to make the NDIS happen.

When he said "I will not make a commitment to something I can't fund", the worst interpretation is that he won't commit to anything initiated by the incumbents. He'd only commit to an NDIS if he or Abbott could cut the ribbons and have their names on the plaques. This is right out of the US Republican playbook and even if it is effective in creating the impression that people will have to vote Coalition to get anything done, it's still absurdly dishonest and unworthy of any politician with even the faintest commitment to public service that comes with their role. Given that people need better disability services now, it's incumbent upon Hockey and other politicians to make this happen, even if it means swallowing his pride and letting Gillard get short-term credit for this measure.

The best interpretation is that he's timid. You can't wait until all the ducks are lined up before you can make reform happen. You can't put it on the never-never, as Abbott initially tried to do with his initial reaction about doing it all in good time, when government could afford it and all the money hadn't been frittered away on anything else.

Playing politics with the NDIS would be understandable if it had come out of the depths of Labor branches, like Medibank/Medicare did. It came out of a recommendation from the Productivity Commission, for goodness sake. The whole idea of the NDIS is that it reduces disability costs going forward while improving outcomes for disabled people and their carers. It makes a nonsense of high-concept declarations from Hockey like this:
Well, enough is enough. The Coalition is going to keep them to their promises.
If that had a scrap of truth behind it, the Coalition would support the NDIS, and acknowledge that the government has reduced the initial outlay by more than a third and is being tentative, evidence-based and risk-averse in its initial steps down this road - as a responsible opposition would have them be in such uncertain times.

Matthew Franklin was being dopey and/or dishonest in adding $8b of future cost projections onto the $7b that government spends today on disability services:
[The NDIS] is expected to cost $8bn a year, on top of the $7bn now spent on disability services.
See what he's done there? Made the NDIS look like a fat slab of icing "on top of" an already rich cake. There's plenty of information available to journos on the NDIS, both at the general level and in detail on how carers, disabled people and government will get better outcomes for less money. Never mind all that, though - here we are all hostage to Matthew Franklin's inadequacy in reading and arithmetic.

The good news for Matthew is that he is capable of getting the story. The bad news is that he buries it and stumbles on as though nothing has happened:
Disability Reform Minister Jenny Macklin said Mr Hockey's comments showed the Liberal Party was divided on disability.

"We don't want to wait while they battle it out," she said. "We think people with disability have waited long enough. We've put $1bn on the table to get on with this work. Our funding is a sign of good faith to all the states and territories that we are serious."
Enough of Franklin: it's Hockey who is the real worry here.

The Coalition are starting to realise that they have trashed Abbott with his perception of negativity. What they think is the smack of firm leadership looks like bloody-mindedness. He just looks disingenuous with a stunt like this:
Mr Abbott, who completed a 1000-kilometre fund-raising bike-ride for Carers Australia last week, spoke about his admiration for carers and the many gaps in the support provided by the Disability Services Commission, in what he termed a "litigation lottery".

He pledged bipartisan support for the NDIS and said he would defy accusations that he always took a negative approach.

"I am sometimes accused of being Dr No ... When it comes to the NDIS, I am Dr Yes," he said.
That was three weeks ago, easily available from a Google search.

First of all, I'd be interested to see how much money Abbott actually raised for Carers Australia, how much they have actually received to date, and what they plan to do with it (compensating for some measure that Abbott plans to kybosh? Any Craig Thomson types running that outfit?).

It would appear that the Coalition are trying to switch Abbott's negative perception, and loading onto Joe Hockey the "Dr No" persona in the name of economic responsibility. The trouble with that is, by undermining the budget with talk about "cooked books", they cast doubt on whether they or anyone can set the budget to right.

A focus on numbers also undermines the idea of what a government budget is for. It's hard to imagine a better use for taxpayer's money than the provision of not only ad-hoc help but long-term security for the disabled and their carers, especially when government can save money by doing so.

Relying on the US Republicans for strategy overlooks the fact that the US government is in decline in terms of what it can deliver to a growing nation; this is not true for this country, our growth prospects and grounds for optimism, and our very different attitude toward government.

By sending mixed messages over the NDIS, and using it as just another political football rather than a real policy that people really need, they send the message that nothing is more important than a commitment to "economic responsibility", always shimmering out of reach, in a land where the budget is always balanced and politicians shake the hands of disabled people whose lives they will make harder rather than easier.
Greens Senator Rachel Siewert said people would be holding their breath on budget night next week to see what the government announced about the NDIS.

"An NDIS is essential. It's not a question of whether we can afford it, it's that we can't afford not to do it," she said.
I've been waiting for a member of the government - Gillard, Macklin, anyone really - to put the NDIS in such a pithy way. And people wonder why the government relies on the Greens.

The business case for the NDIS has been made, and it is strong. Because Hockey will not support it he can no longer bellyache about the NBN, the submarine program, or whatever other big-ticket item of government expenditure apparently lacks analysis. Not only is this an invidious position to be in, it's stupid that Hockey has allowed himself to be boxed into it.

So we have a situation where Hockey submits to being diminished by carrying a leader whose image is more negative and less flexible than that of the Prime Minister. He puts himself in a position where the Coalition depends utterly upon his economic credibility, and that such credibility as he has might make up for the opprobrium that comes from taking on Abbott's persona of no, no, no. On one hand, it's something I can't fund and won't support. On the other it's hard not to have sympathy for Hockey's position - until you realise what it means for other people with fewer options than he has, in which case there is no other hand.


  1. I think you'll find the pollies bike ride delivered $85,000 to 'charity' after the costs of equipping, housing and feeding pollies and the entourages are costed.

    Thoroughly agree that our current system of caring for disabled is a disgrace and welcome the introduction of NDIS

    1. You think? Any documented proof, or should I just take some random poster on trust? Why are charity donors funding 'entourages'?

    2. In charity events like this the costs are supposed to be bourn by the competitors / participants.

      For the Pollies events I am guessing that the taxpayer is picking up the tab for these costs though I do not have evidence one way or the other.

      It would be interesting to send a letter to idiot boy and ask who paid the bills

  2. Andrew, we are now indubitably living in interesting times.

    Thank you for your passionately dispassionate analyses over the past few days (your productivity leaves me breathless) - everything that any of us can do to hold pollies and msm to account is vital for our survival as a decent COMMONwealth.

  3. So, to sum up the Liberal Party promises (1) rock solid maternity leave commitment for women on $140 pa (2) less than "aspirational" support for people with disabilities.

    Just a question of priorities, rich bitches deserving, disabled not.

  4. What annoyed me most about Hockey's comments was the (apparently unchallenged) claim that we "can't" afford the NDIS.

    Clearly we can afford it if we want. The question is whether we regard it as a high enough priority.

    1. The foundation of their entire overblown economic narrative is that our miniscule debt levels have 'bankrupted Australia' and that we can't afford to do anything. If they conceded that we could afford to get serious about helping the disabled then god forbid he might have to concede that government can actually do things occasionally.

      They're going for the vile Republican tack of belittling everything government does in order to boost their own stocks as the 'anti-government' party.