National Disability Insurance Scheme a ‘no-brainer’

By David Barbagallo

With the current balance of power in the Parliament and the never-say-yes antics of the opposition leader Tony Abbott, the prospect of Julia Gillard announcing yet another new levy is enough to make the Government go wobbly at the knees. However the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) will benefit the economy, our community and most importantly people with a disability.

A new levy is the likely mechanism to fund the estimated $10.5 billion NDIS, but economic modelling shows the financial return on that investment, quite apart from the momentous social outcomes, will be unprecedented.

This is a fact so many commentators appear to have missed.

When Medibank was introduced it was essentially about universal health insurance. There were obvious benefits from an efficiency viewpoint and providing access to primary health care for all Australians.  However there was little direct economic benefit.  This need not be the case with an NDIS and if the protagonists took time to look at the possibilities they might be delightfully surprised.

The much-anticipated release of the Productivity Commission’s draft report on Disability Care and Support is expected to trigger an abundance of impassioned debate about its costs and benefits —  social, political and of course financial.

Indeed, the debate is already underway with WA Premier Colin Barnett breaking step with most of the other State leaders and stating his opposition to a new levy to fund the Scheme, ironically seeming to accept the benefits of the Scheme itself.

The concept of an equitable national system to provide lifelong support to people with a disability, whether born or acquired, which enables them to more fully participate in the life of our community seems too self-evident to be debatable. Presumably it is always the size of the investment that makes people and successive governments baulk.

And we need to understand it will all get scarier as the population ages and people live longer. The current stomach-churning $10.5 billion annual cost will grow significantly as the number of people with disability rises from 1.4 million to 2.5 million over the next 30 years.

Even discounting the ABS’ broad definitions, around 1.4 million Australians have a disability and many more are affected by disability in a significant way.  Disability can and does happen to anyone at anytime, often resulting in a lifetime of disadvantage.

But the positive economic impact of a scheme such as the NDIS makes its implementation a no-brainer.

Australia already spends $6.5 billion annually on disability (not including disability and carers pensions).

This cost could be further reduced through efficiencies offered by shifting under one integrated policy the current eight state and territory systems are characterised by emergency and crisis care rather than comparatively cheaper and more effective preventative measures.

We know that people with a disability are significantly over-represented in the health, criminal justice and child protection systems.  These situations are not only inappropriate in themselves, but are very costly ways of providing support to people with a disability.

If people with a disability are given direct control of their own support then a more efficient market for services would emerge, as opposed to the current system where providers define available services around restricted government funding and a one-size-fits-all approach.

However, the compelling economic benefits are evident when you observe what targeted disability funding can achieve.  One major consequence is allowing people with a disability and their carers to return to or enter the workforce if they so wish. And many of them do.

Economic modelling undertaken in conjunction with the Queensland University of Technology by National Disability Services (NDS) found that if just 2% of people with a disability were enabled to return to the workforce the economic impact could be as high as $12 billion.

A further 740,000 Australians are unable to work or work limited hours due to having to care for someone with a disability.  NDS calculated that freeing up just 20% of these carers to return to the workforce would contribute an additional $32.5 billion to the economy. That’s even more than BHP’s profit.

These enormous economic impact numbers alone should render opponents of the NDIS mute.

But, ultimately, these economic arguments are irrelevant.

As CEO of the largest employer of people with a disability and the largest non-government provider of disability services in Australia I am morally obliged to seek change to the current grossly inadequate system.

That the current system is broken cannot be disputed.  It is expensive, inefficient, disparate, poorly directed, and stops well short of ensuring people with a disability have access to basic human rights -- to an education, to mobility and accessibility, to raise a family, to retire with dignity at an appropriate age, to not die young of preventable health issues.

Instead we have a system where people with a disability live in grinding poverty, have little or no choice where they live and continually suffer the indignity of having to beg for basic services.  And we subject their loved ones to a lifetime of worry and concern for their family members because of the uncertainty and perverse nature of the system.

A lucky country for some – best not acquire a disability.

David Barbagallo is CEO of Endeavour Foundation, Chairman of the Queensland NDIS Campaign Committee and founding member of the Federal National NDIS Campaign Committee.


Barbagallo, D 2011, 'Disability support system no brainer', The Australian Financial Review, 23 February 2011, <Subscribers only:>

Barbagallo, D 2011, "National Disability Insurance Scheme a ‘no-brainer’ ", Every Australian Counts, 23 February 2011, <>