6 Nov 2018

NZ family face hefty $70k fee for autistic 3yo to attend Aus preschool

10:11 am on 6 November 2018

A New Zealand family in Brisbane face paying $NZ70,000 a year to send their three-year-old daughter to preschool.

Three-year-old Stella with her mum Jeanette Walker.

Three-year-old Stella with her mum Jeanette Walker. Photo: Supplied

Stella, 3, was diagnosed this year with level two autism.

Her mother, Jeanette Walker said she thought it was all sorted with the specialist preschool down the road.

She said Stella was in the middle of being enrolled, and together with her surveyor husband, Grant Walker, they had worked out how they could afford the cost of $A65 a day for 20 hours a week of intensive therapy.

But a week ago, the pre-school called back to say that was a mistake and the bill would in fact be $A269 a day, because of changes being rolled out across Australia under the new National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).

These changes allow for continued big subsidies for citizens, resident or permanent visa holders but not for scores of thousands of New Zealanders on a non-protected special category visa.

"There's not very much we can do," Mrs Walker, an early childhood teacher herself, told RNZ.

"There actually isn't any other centres that have the same type of programme and if we want to do a similar therapy at home it's going to cost us just as much."

They had paid taxes for more than a decade, including the 2 percent Medicare levy that funds the NDIS.

"Everyone pays that, but of course, we're paying it but we can't access it. It's not fair. It feels to me like it's in violation of the rights of the child."

The government's own guidelines recommended 15-25 hours a week of early intervention for autism.

"We plan to stay here, so by the time she's 10 when she is eligible for citizenship, it's kind of too late. They're going to be forking out more money for her because they have denied her this funding when she was young."

Stella's autism meant they would need a medical waiver to get citizenship, which would involve paying $A15,000 for the three of them with no guarantee it would be granted, Mrs Walker said.

A new worry too emerged; that Stella might face barriers later at school, because of NDIS's impact there.

“Unlike Queensland and other states, New South Wales will carry on support payments for New Zealanders under NDIS due to a special deal with the Commonwealth.” 

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