Opposition leader Peter Dutton has said the Coalition would be willing to support cuts to other critical federal schemes like the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) and Aged Care if the government requires more money to support Australia’s national security.
The comments from the opposition leader come as the federal government announced Australia would spend between $268 billion (US$179 billion) to $368 billion over the next 27 years to 2055 to purchase up to five U.S.-made nuclear-powered submarines over the next decade and build new AUKUS class submarines with UK and U.S. technologies in South Australia by 2042.
Speaking to ABC’s 7:30 Report programme, on March 13, Dutton said that if the federal government was finding it difficult to fund AUKUS’s national security transformation of the country, the Coalition would consider budgetary cost-cutting measures for other federal programs like the NDIS.
The NDIS was established in 2011 by the Labor government of Prime Minister Julia Gillard after an inquiry into disability services by the Productivity Commission recommended the development a scheme to support Australians who suffered permanent and significant disabilities.
“In my Budget-In-Reply speech last October, I said that we would work with the government if they had tough decisions to take, for example, keeping the NDIS sustainable—it’s an incredibly important program, but it needs to be sustainable—and if the cost trajectory on that is going to result in it falling over then, I think the government itself has pointed out that that’s not sustainable. So if there are different ways in which we can provide support to the government, we’re happy to do that,” Dutton said.
Following on from those comments Dutton on March 14 then declared the Coalition would also be open to providing support to cost cutting measures in the Aged Care budget if the government could not get support in the Senate.
“In Aged Care I think there are significant investment decisions that the government needs to make to make that policy sustainable and if there’s legislation required to give more dignity to people as they age as well, then we’re willing to support that through the Senate if the government can’t get the support of the Greens,” he said.
“So, there are sensible debates that we need to have, but there are only three options available to the government here. They can find savings in the budget, they can go into debt, or you know, I mean, what else is available?”
Labor Accuses Coalition of Backflipping on Bipartisan Initiatives
However, NDIS Minister Bill Shorten has pushed back on those comments telling the Guardian on March 15 that “defence spending comes out of the defence budget.”
“It’s disappointing the Liberals are backflipping on their bipartisan support for the NDIS that the opposition leader committed to in October,” he said.
“What Mr Dutton is making clear to the 575,000 NDIS participants is that the Liberals will always be looking for an excuse to slash their supports.
“We are committed to reforming the NDIS and making sure every dollar gets to the people who need it most.”
The minister also noted that while the NDIS costs have blown out in the past years, the government was moving to “get on top of things like provider fraud and waste.”
He added that an independent review of the NDIS “which includes an examination of sustainability and costs,” would be “reporting back by the end of the year.”
Greens Come Out Against AUKUS
Meanwhile, the Australian Greens party, which hold a majority on the crossbench in the senate, have come out against the AUKUS treaty arguing that it will make Australia less safe and force deep cuts in critical spending on health, education, housing and First Nations justice for decades to come.
Greens Defence spokesperson David Shoebridge in a media release on March 14 said that Labor was mortgaging Australia’s future.
“Unlike the Coalition, the Greens will not be cooperating with the government to force budget savings on critical public services to pay for these submarines,” he said.
Shoebridge also implied the Greens would actively work to stop AUKUS and accused the U.S. of forcing Australia into an arms race.
“Until it is reversed, today’s announcement will force Labor to deliver austerity budgets to funnel billions of dollars offshore to fund the U.S. and UK nuclear submarine industries,” Senator Shoebridge said.
“The Greens will remain the voice for the majority of Australians who want us to work inside and outside Parliament to unravel this dangerous and expensive nuclear gamble.
“This reckless alliance, cooked up by the Morrison government and backed by Labor, fundamentally compromises Australia’s sovereignty by aligning us with the military and nuclear strategies of the world’s biggest powers.”