Sunday, November 13, 2022

The NDIS is a vampire squid sucking from the country’s budgetary future

Tanveer Ahmed

The National Disability Insurance Scheme will go down as the biggest piece of public policy largesse in Australian history.

I work in a public mental health facility. I’m asked to approve their packages.

It’s difficult to say no to families wanting more services, but desires tend to be infinite and the uncapped NDIS is not well designed to set limits.

Once packages are approved, there is an incredible lack of transparency and unaccountability for the spending.

It’s striking that the NDIS has helped transform many of my bleeding-heart co-workers into anti-welfare ideologues.

The state health systems also don’t mind me shifting costs to the federal government.

Now costing thirty billion dollars a year, growing at over ten per cent and destined to overtake Medicare within a decade, the entire initiative is a vampire squid sucking from the country’s budgetary future.

It has completely failed one of its core aims, which was to enable more people with a disability to move into the workforce.

When Julia Gillard launched the program, disability advocates went so far as claiming it would pay for itself by promoting improved economic participation.

Such claims, in spite of their appropriate aspiration, have proven to be entirely bogus. Instead it skews incentives for people to be labelled as sick and remain sick.

Nor does the blame lie solely with the Labor party. Repeated terms of conservative governments did nothing to tame its excesses.

Former minister Linda Reynolds meekly caved in to the disability lobby after the then-government’s attempts to bring in independent assessments of claims.

The very concept of disability has evolved to one incorporating medical and human rights perspectives. Its current formulation as any functional, long-term disorder that limits participation in social roles casts a large tent.

The nature of the term disability is also shifting away from physical injuries and towards intellectual disability, behavioural disorder and chronic mental illness.

A third of the half a million clients receiving funds are diagnosed with autism, placing pressure on people like myself to rubber stamp the label.

The autism diagnosis has quadrupled in the past two decades.

Yet the face of disability and the NDIS is overwhelmingly linked to severe physical ailments. The Australian of the Year, Dylan Alcott, for example, suffers a spinal injury from a childhood tumour. This is an inaccurate representation of the trends.

And like in any market, if you pay people to be disabled, more people will be disabled.

In terms of monetary costs of identity politics, the NDIS ranks as one of the most expensive in the world.

Symbolic appointments such as Kurt Fearnley to the chair of the National Disability Insurance Agency are indicative of the program’s emphasis on emotion over pragmatism.

The huge dollars sucked up by the NDIS are shifting the rest of the economy to cater for those labelled as sick.

The latest census figures show disability and caring among the fastest-growing job segments; drivers, cleaners, cooks and even someone to walk with you to the grocery shop.

And why wouldn’t you when you can charge a premium for your service if it’s linked to the NDIS, knowing accountability and transparency are lacking.

Even sex workers are going out completing disability certificates recognising there is better-paid, secure work in the sector. They call it ‘support work’ on the necessary forms.

If I was more entrepeneurial, I would be pitching an NDIS-funded brothel offering such supportive work to the growing ranks of the disabled. Let’s see if that entices investors on the next series of Shark Tank.

On current trends of growth, a considerable chunk of the population will either be disabled or be employed by someone categorised as disabled.

When I make home visits I see the sheer scale of the worker outlay.

Modest housing commission homes are flooded with staff worthy of a palace, with three and four workers coming in a few times a week mowing the lawn, cooking meals and cleaning the bathroom.

The agencies offering such services have become sales-type organisations employing high-pressure tactics not out of place in a used-car lot. There is almost always another service that can be pitched, many of which are mundane day-to-day tasks that family and friends would traditionally provide.

This is another curious aspect of the scheme.

There is little expectation that family and friends have any obligation to their disabled relatives.

Granted, some people do not have supports. Likewise the vast majority of family do their utmost to help their disabled loved ones, but the NDIS renders such supports invisible in their measurements.

Many kids with autism receive weekly horse-riding and piano lessons in parallel with speech therapy. A portion of this is appropriate, but a great deal is excessive.

Beyond autism, another quarter of NDIS clients fall into the loose category of psycho-social disorders, which is a broad reference to mental illness.

The overmedicalisation of problems of living is combining with the loose nature of the term disability to send NDIS costs sky-high.

The label is catching all sorts of people who in past generations might be seen to have lost confidence, are failing to adapt to a changing economy or have made the choice to take drugs and play video games.

Now they can be called disabled and live on the public purse.

More importantly, they are stripped of agency to acquire dignity through being useful to others. For all the enormous waste of funds, this is the bigger crime.

Let me give the usual proviso there is a lot of good such disability services do provide. There are also many people with serious needs that struggle to attract the NDIS funding they deserve, often because they can’t find the right people to do the onerous paperwork. This is especially true in regional areas.

But history will rightly judge the NDIS and its last decade of irresponsible largesse harshly.

Shorten may have launched an investigation for potential cover to gain control of spiralling costs, but the task of budgetary repair is an urgent one for the Labor government. It is highly unlikely they will be up to it.


Some Green realism in the Labor government?

At last week’s Sydney (heavily guarded against climate protesters) International Mining and Resources Conference, the Albanese Labor government’s Resources Minister Madeleine King, who is ‘committed to working with industry to ensure the benefits of Australia’s traditional energy resources are realised’, swept aside local and international demands to end investment in, and infrastructure for, fossil fuels in Australia. She talked up the need for Australia to continue to rely on coal and gas into the foreseeable future, with new developments helping to ‘ensure long-term energy security for Australian households and industry as well as our core trading partners’.

‘If the environmental and economic credentials of new coal and gas developments stack up and projects receive all the necessary approvals, the government will support such new developments.’ That is more than Australia’s banks, superannuation funds and leading financial and investment houses whose boards of directors are prepared to do, cowed as they are by climate activists, and fearful of political policy uncertainty, continually evidenced by divisions within the Labor party – and the growing political power of the Greens.

While King’s welcome recognition of the need for fossil fuels adds a touch of reality to the climate debate, her comments were all within the context of the government’s clearly unattainable and unbelievably costly newly legislated emissions limits. These guaranteed Environment Minister Chris Bowen a much warmer welcome at Cop 27 than Scott Morrison received in Glasgow at Cop 26. (Albanese was too busy to go this year despite Australia’s push to host a future Cop in 2026). But King made no attempt to resolve the self-evident conflict between these new emissions targets and her support for the continued use of fossil fuels.

If she really was fair dinkum rather than just playing good cop to Chris Bowen’s bad cop, and so enabling Labor to walk both sides of the climate street, she must by now have become a major target for the obsessive green Left – particularly within her own government. Unlike Bowen, whose message from the current energy crisis (created not only by Putin’s Ukraine adventure, but worsened by the mass premature shutting of fossil fuel capacity long before renewables were capable of replacing them) is that there must be a massively expensive greater rush into renewables, King, on the contrary, says: ‘The crisis underlined a simple fact – that Australia needs reliable supplies of despatachable power’ that rely on coal and gas which also play a role in key industries that lack viable alternatives. ‘As we decarbonise, we are still going to need gas and coal to firm renewable generation and keep manufacturing going’, with gas being ‘an ally of renewable energy’ by supporting the addition of more intermittent energy sources.

King also acknowledged that the current crisis also highlights the critical role Australian gas and coal play in meeting global energy demand and in providing our neighbours with a secure and dependable energy source. In addition, ‘Australian liquefied natural gas will have a key role in supporting the decarbonisation ambitions of our trading partners, particularly those in north Asia, several of whom have invested in our gas fields to help them navigate towards their established emissions targets’.

The Bowen approach is of a different order, involving transitioning our energy system from one powered by hydrocarbons to one powered by wind turbines, solar panels and batteries and other renewables. As the Menzies Research Centre’s Nick Cater wrote recently, to reach the government’s 2030 target of a 43 per cent reduction in carbon emissions compared to 2005 that was locked into legislation last month, would require ‘installing forty 7-megawatt wind turbines every month or more than one a day from now until 2030 and more than 22,000 500-watt solar panels every day for the next eight years – 2.4 for every man, woman and child’. So King’s emphasis on reliable fossil fuel energy in a non-disruptive transition to net zero and Bowen’s on targets without knowing how to get there – or the cost – will ensure that, despite Albanese’s promise, the climate wars (particularly within the Left) are by no means over.

King will have few friends in academe or among the Extinction Revolution activists; their concern is that even Bowen is not doing enough to save a planet that is ‘undeniably in crisis’. The UN warns that there is still ‘no credible pathway’ to limiting global warming to the required 1.5 degrees Celsius so that, ‘frighteningly, we risk tipping the climate into a dangerous regime bringing even worse consequences;. And the Economist magazine headline agrees: ‘Say goodbye 1.5C’.

But Australia is under heavy pressure from Asian neighbours, like Japan, who rely on Australia as a secure reliable source of fossil fuels. Minister King revealed that in recent talks with PM Albanese, Japanese Prime Minister Kishida underlined the importance of Australian coal and gas to Japanese energy security, a message reinforced by top business leaders who expressed fears that although Australian coal and gas will remain vital for Japan’s energy needs for decades, the lack of new investment in fossil fuels threatens energy security, Flying in the face of the diktat by climate disaster Jeremiah, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterras that it would be ‘delusional’ for countries to invest in more gas and oil exploration, King reaffirmed that the current energy crisis ‘highlights why we need to continue to explore and develop our energy resources’ and that not only is Australia a long-term, reliable energy supplier, but ‘I assure you the Australian government is committed to being a stable and secure destination for energy investment’. Is this the ALP’s road to Damascus?


A targeted campaign is being run in Tasmania against plans to ban conversion therapy, including a Liberal MP hosting an upcoming event in Parliament House questioning the move.

The reforms are based on a Tasmanian Law Reform Institute report which outlined that parents and guardians "have the right to express views on sexuality or gender identity issues" to their children

Survivors of conversion therapies, and LGBTIQA+ groups, argue the campaign fundamentally misrepresents the proposed laws, which would see Tasmania join Victoria, Queensland and the ACT in banning the practices.

Liberal backbencher Lara Alexander will host a Free Speech Alliance event in Parliament House on November 23 titled, Conversion therapy laws – risks and harms?

An invitation email for the event sent to Tasmanian parliamentarians urges them to attend "in the interest of freedom of speech, open and fair debate".

The email, from campaigner Isla MacGregor, promotes it as a "forum on the contentious changes to Tasmanian law being proposed by the Tasmanian Law Reform Institute on the issue of so-called 'conversion therapy'."

"The forum will offer testimony from those who have been negatively impacted by similar laws along with experts who will show the great danger such laws pose to best practice care and freedom of speech. You will personally get to hear from people who have not had the opportunity to be heard in this very contentious and serious debate in Tasmania," it reads.

The event comes after the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) ran full-page advertisements in the state's major newspaper which says the laws would "criminalise parents who question their children's wish to change gender", but this claim has been widely questioned.

Like with the Victorian laws, criminal charges could only be brought if someone experiences serious injury beyond a reasonable doubt due to conversion practices. Medical practitioners are exempt provided they comply with their code of ethics.

The reforms are based on a Tasmanian Law Reform Institute report from earlier this year, which outlined that parents and guardians "have the right to express views on sexuality or gender identity issues" to their children, and to "guide their moral and spiritual development".

Nathan Despott, who co-founded Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Change Efforts (SOGICE) Survivors, said the opposition campaign in Tasmania had been vigorous and indicated to him that conversion practices were still occurring.

He said the laws would ensure LGBTQIA-plus people could no longer be considered "broken".

"The real purpose of conversion practices legislation is not just to ban a small bunch of formal practices or kooky, quacky sort of practices, it's actually designed to deal with this problem of this idea that LGBTQIA-plus are dysfunctional and broken and damaged and need to be fixed," he said.

"And making sure that that idea can't be prevalent, or inadvertently used as the base of treatment in health settings, in human service settings, in religious settings."

The government plans to introduce the legislation early next year.


Bosses demand better literacy, uni degree reforms

Employers have scolded schools for churning out semiliterate students, and demanded a new “degree apprenticeship” model to better train professional workers.

Traditional three-year university degrees are losing popularity, with early applications to start a degree in 2023 slumping as mature-age students learn on the job and more school leavers head straight to work.

The decline in domestic student enrolments has triggered a tertiary turf war, as regional universities accuse big-city sandstone institutions of “poaching’’.

The Australian Industry Group (Ai Group), representing 60,000 employers of 1 million workers, has warned that poor literacy and numeracy skills among workers is affecting three quarters of businesses.

It has told the Productivity Commission workers need to upskill through short courses known as “micro-credentials’’, which will qualify for student loans under federal government reforms.

Ai Group education and training director Megan Lilly said many school leavers – and even university graduates – have “inadequate skills’’ to work.

“There are definitely people who come from vocational and university education who lack the foundational skills they need to function properly in the workforce,’’ she said.

“We have a lot of very well-educated young people these days but we still have a considerable number who have literacy and numeracy deficits that impact … getting a job and maintaining a job. Apprentices often need to get literacy and numeracy support to enable them to complete their apprenticeship.’’

Ms Lilly said more businesses want a return to on-the-job training, combining work with short industry courses or part-time tertiary study.

She said “degree apprenticeships’’ were popular in Europe and would work well in Australia, for school leavers keen to “earn while they learn’’.

“There are such acute skills shortages that young people can pick up jobs and earn good money, so some companies are employing people directly and building a training program for employees,’’ she said.

“There should be more high-level apprenticeships and cadetships across the economy, like they do in Europe.

“We need a model of learning that is more relevant to the modern economy.’’

The Australian Information Industry Association, representing tech companies, also criticised the quality of some traditional university degrees.

“Graduates from IT (information technology) degrees are not job-ready,’’ AIIA chief executive Simon Bush said on Friday.

“It takes six to 12 months to train a graduate on the job to get productive and on the tools.’’

Mr Bush said IT employers were hiring Certificate III and Certificate IV vocational training graduates, who study for a year or two. “They’re not necessarily taking graduates with three- and four-year undergraduate degrees from university,’’ he said.

BAE Systems, a global engineering firm that specialises in defence, cyber security and virtual-reality technologies, will launch the first “degree apprenticeship’’ in systems engineering in 2024.

The Melbourne-based degree will involve Apprenticeships Victoria and Engineers Australia, although the partner university has yet to be revealed. Participating employers will include Dassault Systemes, Advanced Fibre Cluster, Air Radiators, Navantia Australia, Memo and Systra.

BAE Systems Australia has also partnered with the University of South Australia to kick off a degree apprenticeship in software engineering.

“It’s important that we look for new ways to work across industry and academia to collectively develop solutions that benefit the nation and provide alternatives for students who might not otherwise consider tertiary studies,’’ the company’s chief people officer, Danielle Mesa, said on Friday.

The push for work-based tertiary education comes as universities suffer a slump in enrolments for 2023. Applications to universities in NSW are the lowest in four years, with those lodged through the Tertiary Admissions Centre down 4.6 per cent from the same time last year. Victoria’s applications have dipped less than 1 per cent, but in Queensland mature-age applications have fallen 11.3 per cent and school-leaver applications are down 3.7 per cent.

Former Australian Catholic University vice-chancellor Greg Craven claimed prestigious universities are “plundering’’ disadvantaged students from regional and suburban universities to meet equity quotas for students.

“They are poaching socially marginal students from the regions and underprivileged suburbs, with scholarships and other sweeteners only rich institutions can afford,’’ Emeritus Professor Craven writes in Inquirer.

“They do not actually want these students, given their historic rationale for existence has been to invite only the elite. These newly privileged students will be academic cannon fodder. Sandstones have neither the interest nor the learning structures to cater for students beyond the north shore or the eastern suburbs.’’

Regional Universities Network executive director Alec Webb warned of a “hollowing out’’ of regional communities if city universities lure local students.

“While we respect student choice, regional universities are concerned about metro-centric solutions, and short-term incentives that could see a further hollowing out of regional communities,’’ he said.

“Taking the best and brightest from regional areas hollows out our regional workforces and obviously will have an impact on Australia’s economic prosperity.’’

The Group of Eight, representing the elite “sandstone” universities, said its academic success rate for disadvantaged students was “well above the national average’’.

“Allowing students to choose the university course that best suits their aspirations and skills is a core tenet of Australia’s approach to university study,’’ Go8 CEO Vicki Thomson said.

Federal Education Minister Jason Clare will require all universities to do more to help disadvantaged students as part of the University Accord, to be launched next week.

“I want more people from poor families, from regional and remote parts of Australia, more Indigenous Australians and more Australians with a disability going to all our universities,’’ he told The Weekend Australian.

The federal government allocated all 20,000 of its bonus university places in last month’s budget to disadvantaged students.




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