The NSW 2019-20 Budget, released this week, continues NSW investment in the NDIS and establishes the NSW Ageing and Disability Commission.
As predicted, this Budget is strong on infrastructure spending, with over $93 billion earmarked for projects over the next four years. The headline disability-related items include confirmation that NSW’s contribution to support people with disability in the NDIS will be $3.3 billion in 2019-20, including a $2.9 billion cash contribution. The budget also sees $11.6 million to extend the Ability Links program for another 12 months. NDS considers this funding as necessary as Ability Links provides a pivotal role in connecting people with disability to mainstream and community services and supports. The budget also allocates $4.1 million ($13.9 million over four years) to establish the Ageing and Disability Commissioner. The Ageing and Disability Commissioner Bill 2019 is progressing through parliament and will see the Official Community Visitors Scheme transfer to the Commissioner. In terms of disability specific health spending, $4.4 million has been provided to continue the roll out of specialist intellectual disability health hubs, announced in last year’s budget, and $15 million (over five years) has been allocated to support research associated with spinal cord injuries. $19.7 million will support the implementation of key suicide prevention and response initiatives across NSW, and the roll out of the Mental Health Infrastructure Program continues with funding allocated to a number of major projects. Support for housing and homelessness initiatives sees $1 billion for homelessness and housing support and $83.4 million to community housing leasing for vulnerable individuals and families in the private rental market. NDS has been advocating for the development of a disability housing strategy that will see a strategic approach to meeting the housing needs of people with disability in NSW.At a time when some states and territories are considering changes to their transport subsidy schemes, we welcome the provision in the budget of $173 million over four years to continue Taxi Transport Subsidy Scheme and the Wheelchair Accessible Taxi Driver Incentive Scheme.Upgrades to 68 train stations to improve accessibility under the Transport Access Program are also planned. $2 million over four years has been allocated to Vision Australia through the State Library of New South Wales, to enable the provision of expanded services and a greater selection of audio and braille books. In April 2019, following their re-election, the NSW Government announced a suite of new cluster and agency arrangements with the aim of streamlining how clusters operate and collaborate to serve communities. Under these new arrangements, the Department of Family and Community Services will become the Department of Family and Community and Justice, sitting within the Stronger Communities Cluster. The Land and Housing Corporation will move out of FACS into the Planning, Industry and Environment Cluster. This will see the management of housing assets separated from contractual arrangements, and we are waiting to see how this impacts on the operation and leasing arrangements for properties owned by the NSW Government but operating by the NGO sector, in particular.