COMMONWEALTH-STATE DISABILITY AGREEMENT
The Hon. ANN SYMONDS: My question without notice is addressed to the Minister for Community Services. Will the Minister advise the House of the current status of negotiations with the Federal Government on a new Commonwealth-State disability agreement?
The Hon. R. D. DYER: I am very grateful to the Hon. Ann Symonds for her intelligent question. An article in the Sydney Morning Herald on Wednesday 12 November accurately reflected the current situation for people with disabilities Australiawide. These figures, stating that 14,000 people with disabilities are failing to get proper care, are of great concern to the New South Wales Government, particularly in the current climate of Federal Government funding cuts in the health and family services portfolios. The confidential draft report mentioned by Ms Adele Horin was commissioned by the heads of disability services in all jurisdictions to inform the renegotiation of the Commonwealth-State disability agreement.
The CSDA signed in 1992 by all heads of government was due to expire in June this year, but it has been extended to accommodate continuing negotiations. The delay in reaching agreement with the Commonwealth is because the Federal Government is refusing to concede that its current funding levels are inadequate. The population of Australia is ageing, and significant levels of unmet need for disability services Australiawide are recognised. There is now adequate evidence to suggest that inflation in the disability sector, due to shifts in wages and labour cost indices, is growing at an annual rate of 3 per cent. All States and Territory Ministers are insisting that any new agreement with the Commonwealth must accommodate adequate funding to address population growth, as well as the sector-specific inflationary factor.
State and Territory governments now have to deal with the effects of years of Commonwealth funding neglect in this sector. Honourable members will recall the last Federal budget when $54 million was promised nationally for disability services, but these funds were never forthcoming because they were never intended to be applied by the Commonwealth. In the previous budget, that is last year’s Commonwealth budget, the Federal Government announced cuts of 6 per cent over four years from 1997, including a so-called efficiency dividend of 3 per cent to be imposed in the first year. These cuts more than cancelled out the ghost enhancements, leaving a national deficit across Australia of approximately $3 million to be carried by State and Territory governments. The New South Wales Government was successful in negotiating an outcome whereby this State was not disadvantaged.
However, the Commonwealth Government continues to attempt to bargain away the significant advances made in recent years in meeting the needs of one of the most vulnerable groups in our society. The Government of New South Wales will distribute approximately $490 million in 1997-98 on services covered by the Commonwealth-State disability agreement alone. The Commonwealth contributes only one-quarter of these funds which, I am sure the House will agree, is scandalous. State and Territory disability Ministers will meet with the new Family Services Minister the Hon. Warwick Smith in Canberra tomorrow week. I can assure the House that I will continue to fight for a just and equitable deal for people with disabilities and their carers in New South Wales.