The Federal Treasurer Mr Josh Frydenberg handed down the 2019-20 Federal Budget at 7.30pm on 2 April 2019 and below are some highlights and commentary on the budget items that impact our sector.
Disability Royal Commission
The federal government will allocate $527.9m over five years for a royal commission into violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation of people with disability.
In February Scott Morrison had signalled an expansion to the commission, suggesting it could be of "a similar size and standing" to the royal commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse, which cost $373m and went for five years. Morrison had also previously said that states should share the cost.
The budget papers say the $527.9m figure includes $379.1 to run the inquiry and provide legal assistance to witnesses, and another $148.8m over three years for the provision of counselling and other support to people with disabilities who participate in the royal commission. The government has said it’s working to set up the commission before the election.
Mental Health and Suicide Prevention
The government announced an additional $461m investment in a youth mental health and suicide prevention strategy. It includes $111.3m for another 30 headspace services, bringing the total number to 145 by 2021, and $152m to reduce wait times across the network.
Another $5.5m over four years will provide extra mental health services for people in Tasmania, Victoria and Queensland who have been affected by natural disasters.
Funded separately from the department of prime minister and cabinet, a further $5m over four years has been promised to implement suicide prevention initiatives targeted at Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
The initiatives will be led by local youth indigenous leaders “to ensure that support is culturally appropriate and tailored to meet the specific needs of affected communities”, the budget said. The government has already funded community-driven suicide prevention action plans across the Kimberley region in response to a devastating coroner’s report on youth suicide. It was one of 12 trials, costing a total of $48m. At least 35 indigenous people took their own life in the first 12 weeks of this year.
Aged Care Funding
The Federal Government has allocated an additional 10,000 home care packages to help older people remain at home rather than enter aged care facilities, taking the number of packages to 40,000.
The measure adds $282.4m to the “record funding” for aged care of $21.6bn. The government says it has increased spending on services for older Australians by more than 50% since 2013-14, when it came to office, and is expected to use this as a strong theme in the federal election. It has already announced a $320m general subsidy boost in the 2018-19 budget for residential aged care, which would create 13,500 new residential places.
Additional Funding for NDIS
Although not part of the budget this increase is as a direct result of savings due to under-spending as part of the NDIS. Social Services Minister Paul Fletcher on Saturday announced a raft of NDIS price increases, including an $11 an hour rise for therapy supports, and a price rise of up to 15.4 per cent for attendant care providers.
These changes will see the NDIS market boosted by $850 million, with this money taken from an estimated $2.5 billion pool of unspent NDIS funds. Director of Every Australian Counts Kirsten Deane says the government needs to address chronic ‘under-spending’ on the National Disability Insurance Scheme.
Disability groups have criticised the government for not spending money it had previously allocated towards the NDIS, with speculation the ‘under-spend’ could amount to forecast $1.6 billion over the next four years. That means the unspent money over the next four years will be reduced by about $3.5 billion. Combined with the $1.6 billion under-spend that will be detailed in the budget, that means that until Saturday's announcement, the government was facing an under-spend of about $5 billion over four years.
Graeme Innes, from the National Disability Insurance Agency’s Pricing Reference Group, said the pricing changes were discussed by the group over a number of meetings and were supported by a strong body of evidence.
“We endorse the changes because we are satisfied that the increases are reflective of the adjustment that is needed to address sector concerns and ensure participants continue to be supported in achieving their goals,” Innes said.