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Is there greener grass across the “Ditch”?

David Matthews, CEO of CCS Disability Action, doesn’t think so, and explains why not.

A few weeks ago I was able to spend some time in Queensland attending the CRU (Community Resource Unit) Conference entitled “Claiming a Positive Future: The Power of Possibilities” The conference was timed to coincide with the launch of the NDIS (National Disability Insurance Scheme) in Queensland and naturally this significant event dominated the conference theme and agenda.

Much has been said about the NDIS and its potential to radically improve the plight of disabled people in Australia – at least those who have Australian citizenship. Most people agree that disabled people have not had a “good life” up to now with over 40 percent not receiving any form of support. The Australian disability sector has been dominated by providers of residential and day programme offerings and their needs, rather than the needs of disabled people, have very much dominated the landscape. Hopes are high that NDIS will change this around and provide disabled people with more choice and control. But will it?

The problems for NDIS starts with its name – “Insurance Scheme” – this implies that it is a scheme similar to our own ACC which takes an actuarial approach to ensuring needs can be met and funded for in the future. NDIS does have the potential to take an actuarial approach, but its funding actually comes from taxation, which threatens its long term sustainability. Already critics have identified that the current funding approach has not taken into account the ageing population of Australia and, therefore, it could already be $6 billion short. Being reliant on taxation means that it is subjected to annual Budget decisions as well as agreements between federal and state government decisions.

The process of determining individual needs is also not plain sailing. Whilst each disabled person will have a plan and funding allocation, the sheer weight of numbers will mean some streamlining will take place and this was already evident in the trial sites over the past two years. Already there is significant concern being raised about the “My First Plan” approach, which will be a bureaucratic process to ensure everybody in the old system has a “plan” before transitioning to the NDIS. But whose plan will it really be?

It also needs to be remembered that for many disabled people, this will be the first time anyone has asked them about what their needs are and, therefore, they will not have any experience of participating in this type of planning activity. This makes them as vulnerable under this process as they may have been when service providers were calling all the shots. In fact, some have suggested that it will be the next generation who will actually benefit from the full potential of the NDIS.

Even if things are better than the picture painted above, will it address the fundamental societal barriers that are faced in many, if not all, communities? These include issues of physical barriers to participation, access to information, accessible transport, employment and education opportunities as well as general access to communities. It is no good having a great plan and increased funding if society continues to put barriers in the way of turning that plan into action. Some have criticised the planning processes already for being silent on employment goals and the lack of employment knowledge held by government funded planners.

The parallels with New Zealand are obvious. I have constantly raised concerns about the fact that we do not have enough focus on the broader issues of education, employment, housing and transport barriers to participation. We, as a society, cannot enable a good life for all our citizens while these barriers continue, and in some cases, become more entrenched.

Government simply does not appear willing to take a strong lead. These barriers will not be solved by market forces – they require intervention.


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