The NDIS and our warped sense of priorities
Eds note: Next week news.com.au will be launching a campaign in support of the NDIS with the assistance of the families of children with disabilities. It is the website’s view that this a matter of national importance which can and should be resolved immediately.
Most of us think we have problems. In reality we don’t have any problems at all. If you think you have got problems there is a very special and largely unrepresented group of Australians you should talk to, after which you will skulk off with your tail between your legs, feeling somewhat shamefaced at the imagined hardships in your life.
Last Sunday I wrote a column about the National Disability Insurance Scheme. It was not something I had written about before. The impetus for the piece came about by chance. While getting a coffee on a city street, a boy aged about five wandered up to me and into the path of a car.
When I eventually found his parents, locking their other child into their car and packing their suitcases into the boot at a nearby hotel, his mum started to cry and told me quietly that her boy had autism. I relayed that incident to a friend who has a child with serious disabilities, and his email in response formed the basis of the column.
Because the piece was told in his words and not mine it was met with an overwhelming and humbling reaction from (at last count) more than 150 parents of disabled kids, who described my friend’s story as their story. The lives these people lead are beyond comprehension. The cost, the pressure, the time involved, the setbacks, the tension caused in marriages and with other siblings, the exhaustion and fear. One email was from a widow in her late 70s whose autistic son is in his 50s, who cries herself to a broken sleep each night worrying about what will happen when she is gone. I could go on for 10,000 words with other stories. Some of the saddest are from parents of two kids, three kids, all with the same disorders, as these things are obviously genetically linked.
While last week’s column was about personal stories this one looks at the politics surrounding the NDIS and the reasons why it has not yet gone ahead. Put simply it is because many politicians have been too busy talking about the reasons it cannot proceed, rather than finding ways to ensure that it does proceed.
At July’s meeting of the Council of Australian Governments, NSW and Victoria begrudgingly agreed to contribute a lesser amount than asked, and Queensland flat out refused to contribute any of the $200 million required. A number of trials are underway in different parts of the country, but the scatter-gun approach means that only about 5 per cent of what is envisaged through the NDIS is currently operational, creating heart-wrenching inequities for the parents of disabled kids. If you live in Geelong you can qualify for a trial but if you live a little out of town in the Barwon Shire you won’t qualify. If you live in Newcastle you’re in, Maitland, out. In SA there is a trial for the parents of kids aged zero to seven, which is pretty upsetting for the parents of a handicapped eight-year-old. The reverse is true in Tassie where the trial only applies to youths aged 17 to 21.
The push for an NDIS is being spearheaded by the Every Australian Counts campaign with former NSW Labor minister John Della Bosca and former Howard Government deputy PM and Nationals Leader Tim Fischer doing much of the advocacy work.
As Mr Della Bosca told me this week: “The critical thing about the NDIS is that it has got an “n” in it.”
Not at the moment it doesn’t. It is a real pity that the bipartisanship which guided the creation of Every Australian Counts is not shared by our governments. The case of Queensland, up to a point, is understandable. New premier Campbell Newman has a difficult job fixing the budgetary mess he inherited from the Bligh Government. Yet he seems determined for short-term political reasons to argue that because x has happened, y cannot, as if to make a political virtue out of his toughness. Detractors of the scheme who emailed me this week in Newman’s defence ranted and raved about everything from Labor’s bungled insulation scheme to the issuing of grants for performance artists as reasons why the NDIS should be shelved. The fact that the federal Labor government or now-defunct Labor governments may have stuffed up aspects of the economy is not of itself a reason to hold up a flat hand to the NDIS, and suggests some people are more interested in partisan politics than meaningful policy.
Beyond that though, and to return to my original point, the issue rests with the voters and what they regard as important, and what they regard as a problem.
As one example, right now in Australia we have a politically paranoid promise from the Federal Government that all schools, public and private, will receive the same level of funding or more funding under the Gonski report. There is absolutely no way such a promise can be made on the basis of need.
Another example: on Wednesday we saw a report calling for government intervention in the property market, saying that the price of housing means young couples are (apparently) being forced to choose between having a baby or having a home.. Some of them might be. Some of them should just buy a smaller house, or get rid of their second car and their 90-inch plasma.
Or my personal favourite, the on-again, off-again debate about whether Canberra should subsidise nannies to help time-poor middle class folks get little Imogen to violin practice and young Tarquin to his French class.
Problems? Yeah, right.
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