Doing “something” about disability isn’t doing enough
Imagine this: A report finds without a shadow of doubt that the standard of schools in Australia are drastically below par. In fact, the first sentence of such a report suggests the nation’s schools are under-funded, under-resourced and under-valued.
The Government releases the report and says: “We know there is a problem, but we can’t do anything about it right now, because we can’t afford it. But don’t worry, we’ll do something in the next seven years, promise!” Every parent with school age children would be up in arms. Teachers would march on Parliament House in a riot. Principals would call it an outrage. It would make frontpage news. Certainly no one would welcome the Government’s “contribution” to the debate by finally recognising there was a problem.
Yet when the Productivity Commission released its report into Disability Support Services last month this was exactly what happened. Granted, not all were happy with the seven year timeline, but the great majority were satisfied that at least “something” was happening in the way of disability policy.
It did not matter that the contribution to the debate was inadequate, the policy suggestions were second rate and there was nothing in the actual report that could be implemented. “Something” was being done. But the question is: was it right thing and was it enough? Or would we be better off doing nothing?
I have been a vocal critic of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) for quite some time. I’ve perhaps been its loudest dissenter.
That was not always the case. Initially, I was supportive of the concept behind the scheme. It’s a fantastic idea.
As soon as I saw the detail I became aware of the many flaws of the NDIS as presented by Every Australian Counts (EAC) and the Productivity Commission (PC).
All they have to offer is a wonderful theory which is heavy on (necessary) economic forecasting but is light on policy targets.
For example, the PC report suggests that there should be three different criteria to determine who is eligible for assistance. But it does not answer some very basic and important questions: What determines eligibility? How will this process work? Who determines eligibility?
When I proposed these important questions to one of EAC’s chief spin doctors last week, my concerns were dismissed, almost as if I asked something completely irrelevant. I was told that such determinations were not part of the PC’s jurisdiction.
I disagree with that. But let’s suppose they’re correct. EAC has done everything in reverse order and botched its chance to influence real policy change in the process. EAC has formulated a theory, not a “policy” because there is no criteria to assess the results. They have suggested that the NDIS as proposed is the only way that disability services can be improved.
There were no suggestions of alternatives, no consultations about what people within the disability sector would want from such a policy, no actual trials of different methods to see what is viable. It’s ineffective policymaking.
If anybody disagreed with the NDIS, they must have been against disability sector reform, because it was the only choice they offered.
If policymaking was done with due diligence, perhaps the PC Report might have had some teeth. It would have had meaningful policy targets, a way people could actually measure the policy’s progress in an effective manner and set some concrete targets.
It is not the PC’s fault entirely. They were handed an absolute turkey. If the EAC were smart they might have done some legwork beforehand before trying to sell a pile of magic beans that will more than likely turn into a noxious weed rather than a tall beanstalk.
Without effective policy targets, of course the Government could delay the final NDIS rollout for two more elections, and even further if it wants to. It is conceivable that the Prime Minister at this time may not have yet taken their seat in Parliament as an MP. But both major parties can say in 2018: “At least we did ‘something’ in 2011. We told the sector that it was undervalued, under funded and under resourced”.
I don’t know about you, but I have been told that every year since I can remember. Excuse me while I starve to death.
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