The government and Labor are accusing each other of running a scare campaign over the national disability insurance scheme, as the deteriorating budget raises doubts about its scope and funding.
Treasurer Joe Hockey sparked the brawl over the NDIS when he warned of cost blowouts at trial sites, and that services would not be delivered “on the never-never”.
His comments, made in the context of poor mid-year budget and economic forecasts, have raised fears the government is contemplating changes to the scheme.
Opposition leader Bill Shorten said the government was guilty of a scare campaign straight out of a coalition playbook, “where before they want to go hard against an idea they start saying that there is a crisis in the idea”.
Mr Shorten said the purpose of the launch sites was to make sure the NDIS was working effectively, and he called on Prime Minister Tony Abbott to rule out making cuts to the scheme.
“The purpose of the launch sites was never to kill the idea,” he told reporters in Melbourne.
“The Abbott government should not be so cruel this Christmas as to leave any doubt, any weasel words, any uncertainty in the minds of thousands of people with disabilities and their families.”
But Mr Abbott said it was the opposition that was trying to scare people by suggesting his government will slash the NDIS.
“We will deliver the national disability insurance scheme,” he told reporters in Canberra.
“I think it’s a little disappointing that some people in this parliament have been running around the place today trying to scare vulnerable people.”
Initial data from the scheme’s first three months shows demand is higher than expected, and the cost is running 30 per cent over estimates.
More trial sites will be launched next year, with expectations the scheme will be fully rolled out by 2019.
Mr Abbott said the government needed to carefully study the trials before developing the final design of the NDIS.
“We’re at the very beginning of this process,” he said, adding the final scheme would be fair, generous, appropriately targeted and sustainable.
Assistant Treasurer Arthur Sinodinos insists the government will not “cut across” any election commitments, and that included rolling out the NDIS.
“We’re seeking to make sure that we deliver a scheme which is as cost effective as possible, while meeting the needs of the constituency that we’ve identified,” he said.
“But we won’t be able to look after them if we design a scheme that is not fiscally sustainable.”