AUSTRALIA POLITICS: Turnbull Disability Funding to Welfare Cuts Backfires Spectacularly
The Turnbull government’s bid to link disability funding to welfare cuts has backfired spectacularly, angering the Senate crossbenchers it was meant to win over and drawing fire from advocates and even a Paralympic champion.
The government had hoped to win support for its so-called omnibus savings bill by promising to direct $3 billion towards the National Disability Insurance Scheme. Another $1.6 billion would fund the Coalition’s childcare changes.
But crossbench kingmaker Nick Xenophon officially torpedoed the plan on Tuesday, saying the trade-off was simply “too harsh”.
“As a negotiating tactic, this is as subtle as a sledgehammer. Pitting battling Australians against Australians needing disability support services is dumb policy and even dumber politics,” Senator Xenophon said.
The government – which needs all three of Senator Xenophon’s upper house votes to pass legislation opposed by Labor and the Greens – would need to go “back to the drawing board”, he said.
Treasurer Scott Morrison and Social Services Minister Christian Porter are refusing to give up on the bill – which contains cuts to family tax benefits, paid parental leave and other payments – and are continuing to lobby the crossbench
Government sources said it had “positive” signals from One Nation but without Senator Xenophon’s support, the bill appears doomed.
Paralympic wheelchair-racing legend Kurt Fearnley was furious about the government’s move, accusing it of using the NDIS as a “political football”.
“It is mischief. It is political opportunism and it is just wrong,” the passionate disability advocate and former NDIS advisory council member told ABC television.
“To sit there and draw a direct line between funding for people with disabilities and the cuts to other vulnerable members of our community — to those on welfare, to those on pensions — you could draw that line across a thousand different parts of the budget.
“I wish the government would fight for it with as much vigour as fighting for its $50 billion business tax cut because they believe both are benefits for our community.”
Mr Porter rejected suggestions the government was putting the NDIS in doubt.
“The NDIS is completely committed to, it will be completely funded,” he said.
“But we need to find more savings to ensure that we close that funding gap. The only alternatives other than that, are taxation or more borrowings and they are not in the best interests of all Australians.”
Australian Council of Social Service head Cassandra Goldie strongly rejected the linking of social security cuts to disability funding.
“This measure is robbing Peter to pay Paul, pitting people on low incomes against each other in an unfair way. We need a properly funded NDIS, but that must not be at the expense of the poorest people in our country,” she said.
Disabled People’s Organisation Australia chief executive Therese Sands said she was “shocked and troubled” by the government’s move. Labor said it should be condemned for its “shameful” tactics.
– Canberra times