The National Disability and Carers Alliance Congress held in Melbourne last week was the perfect platform to gather the disability sector together; a gathering to see what we agree on, what we already know, what we don’t know and what we need to do moving forward.
We all agree that transformation has to occur within the broken disability sector. The NDIS has created enormous debate and discussion, at times uniting our differences into a Draft Report produced by the Productivity Commission. And whilst this remains on the National Agenda, it is a watershed moment for us all.
We all know that the Productivity Commission has highlighted the numerous flaws in the Sector – under-resourced, underfunded and so on and so on. And congratulations go to Commissioner Patricia Scott and Assistant Commissioner Jon Walsh for their empathetic ears. When the Commission delivers its Final Report on 31st July of this year, we can expect some minor amendments to the Draft Report, but there will be no wholesale changes to its initial recommendations.
We also know that tri-partisan support exists for the NDIS, and yet with that said, there remains extreme scepticism from all four corners of the Disability sector - stakeholders, advocates, people with disabilities, carers.
The Honourable Bill Shorten opened the Congress and identified what we all know, that people with disabilities live a life in exile, essentially as second class citizens. We also all know that the desperation of carers provides a national economic goodwill to the tune of about one billion hours of unpaid work, and when measured approximates to a $30b bill to the taxpayer. We also all know that the ongoing antipathy persists between various disability groups. This burgeoning disunity blocks transformation and as Shorten puts it, gives us “asymmetrical bargaining power” in the political arena.
Bruce Bonahady, one of the Congress’s Convenors, continues to be a marvellous mouthpiece for the NDIS movement, now that Bill Shorten has vacated the national disability stage as the Parliamentary Secretary of Disabilities. His appointment as The Federal Assistant Treasurer is a welcome one, a new role that economically strikes a sweet political chord to the tune of our disability cause. Bonahady’s passionate knowledge as an economist, a philanthropist and carer was on full display for us all to see at the Congress. His direction was loud and clear, we need to unite and provide choices to us all. And so again we, as a political party have a responsibility to unite the warring factions and demonstrate to Australia that we are all in this together.
And it is in this moment, that we are faced with what we don’t know. The question that begs from the Congress is as follows - As the Federal Government ponders the recommendations by Productivity Commission, will it all amount to nothing?
It is uncertain whether the NDIS campaign driven by John Della Bosca will achieve a favourable outcome for the disability sector. They have over 17000 names registered pledging support to their campaign. Applause to those within that campaign for their ongoing commitment to raise its awareness under the “Every Australian Counts” banner. The message from Della Bosca was that we all understand the need for a NDIS and therefore what we need to do now is to speak to the unconverted. Speak to family members, friends and acquaintances outside of the disability sector and call your local MP to get on board to create further awareness. All agreed.
And then there is the Mad as Hell Campaign, an example of how the desperation of a minority group can move the sector. With over 20000 people pledging their support to their cause, Sue O’Reilly and Fiona Porter champion this campaign and are both carers of children with a disability. They have taken the Government, the Coalition and the Greens to task, questioning the validity of their tri-partisan support. A recent letter posted to the Prime Minister Julia Gillard as well as Wayne Swan, Tony Abbott, Julie Bishop, Joe Hockey and Bob Brown invites them to take a “walk in my shoes” before a response is given by the incumbent government to the Final Report from the Productivity Commission. And of course if the Canberra Pollies are too busy to accept an opportunity to spend, care for, entertain a person with a disability through the week, the weekend will do fine, because O’Reilly and Porter understand intimately that “supporting a person with severe dependent disabilities is a seven-day-a-week job for the many tens of thousands of parent/carers around our nation.” And it is possible, as it is with the well intentioned motives of the NDIS campaign, whether the desperate efforts from the members of the Mad as Hell campaign will deliver the necessary favourable outcome to the Disability Sector.
The cynic within me, suspects that the government will simply “cherry pick” and splash a minor percentage of the recommended $6.5b into the sector in their response to the Final Report. The result, the unmet need of people with disabilities will not be met and a crisis driven model will persist. And we can opt to choose, to veer from this way of cynical thinking. But for too long we have been disappointed by ailing systems, excessive bureaucratic processes and broken political promises - no wonder our scepticism permeates. Shorten clearly validated that in his opening address at the Congress, and I quote “the door to the NDIS is only slightly ajar.” And that says it all.
The Swan Federal Budget delivered some promising change into both the mental health sector and the educational sector for children with disabilities. The ongoing political rhetoric that continues now from Gillard and Swan has a strong emphasis on bringing the budget back to a surplus in 2012. Hampered by the excuses of the lingering effects of a GFC, a poor fiscal climate from the Queensland and Victorian floods, points us to a lack of interest to the Final Report from the Government. And Abbott could follow suit. And so it is up to us to keep the NDIS on the national radar.
And finally the ultimate question that begs is - What do we need to do to keep the NDIS on the national radar if the Government ignores the recommendations from the Productivity Commission? And the answer is a simple one – Remind ourselves that this is not the end, it is just the Beginning!
dignity for disability (d4d) President