FIVE thousand disabled Victorians are set to miss out on a proposed trial in the Barwon region for the national disability insurance scheme unless urgent talks can hammer out a compromise with the Gillard government.
At yesterday's meeting of Commonwealth and state leaders, Victorian Premier Ted Baillieu and his New South Wales counterpart, Barry O'Farrell, refused to contribute to the cost of trials in their states.
In a strictly political split, Labor premiers from South Australia and Tasmania and the ACT's Labor chief minister promised funds and won trials.
The four conservative states demanded the Commonwealth pay the full cost, saying this was what the Productivity Commission had recommended.
The trials, to run for three years from next year, will be the first stage of a multibillion-dollar landmark reform that aims to provide lifetime care and support to all Australians with significant and permanent disabilities - regardless of how the disabilities were acquired.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard said she was ''very disappointed'' she could not strike a deal at the COAG meeting, although she was pleased with the proposed three trials.
The federal government offered $100 million for Victoria and $300 million for NSW for the trials but ''unfortunately neither … was able to step forward with some relatively small amounts of additional financing to make these launches possible'', Ms Gillard said.
Mr Baillieu objected that the proposed arrangement, under which Victoria was asked to contribute $40 million, could set a precedent for later funding of the scheme, but was assured by the Commonwealth this was not the case.
Victorian Community Services Minister Mary Wooldridge is expected to hold talks with her federal counterpart Jenny Macklin today about a revised offer made by the Commonwealth later in the day. Mr O'Farrell tweeted last night that his state was also meeting Ms Macklin today.
The Gillard government is hoping Victoria and NSW will compromise under the weight of community opinion.
Mr Baillieu said later: ''We want to look through the details of this, and see if we can finalise a deal. But we don't want to be tied to any particular deadline.''
West Australian Liberal Premier Colin Barnett described yesterday's meeting as ''an opportunity squandered''.
Daryl Starkey, chief executive of disability services group Karingal, said there was strong support in the Geelong-Barwon region for the trial among key local groups. ''It is very disappointing for an agreement not to be reached,'' he said.
Chris Van Ingen - who runs a disability consultancy in Geelong and has cerebral palsy himself - told The Age it would be hugely disappointing if Victoria missed out on a trial because of a funding dispute.
''I would urge the state government to do what is right for all people with disability because it is not about money, it is about quality of life,'' Mr Van Ingen said.
The national disability insurance scheme campaign director for Every Australian Counts, John Della Bosca, said there were positive steps taken yesterday but the group wanted to see a presence on the eastern seaboard to ensure a successful launch of the scheme. ''It's not up to me to point the finger at the states or the Commonwealth,'' Mr Della Bosca said.
''But I'll make the general point that in the context of Australian public finances we are arguing about a very small amount of money which would make a huge difference to the lives of a very large number of Australians.''
With TIM COLEBATCH