Disability reform: For some it’s already too late
This week’s Angry Cripple column is brought to you by the letter S. Simon McKeon is the 2011 Australian of the Year, part-time executive chairman of Macquarie Group, philanthropist, volunteer, father of four, internationally acclaimed competitive sailor, and has been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
The time has come for a National Disability Insurance Scheme.
The time has come for major reform in the way services to Australians with disabilities are funded and delivered; not only to enhance the basic human rights of people with disabilities but to greatly enhance the level of participation in the economy by people with disabilities, their families and carers.
Sadly, for many thousands of Australians with a disability, their families and carers, the NDIS – no matter how promising – will come too late. They have already endured more than their fair share of difficulty.
But for hundreds of thousands of vulnerable Australians, the NDIS represents a flicker of hope that they in their lifetimes, and they will finally get the support they need to live the relatively normal lives most Australians take for granted.
So with the recent release of the Productivity Commission’s draft report recommending the establishment of the NDIS, we are entering a phase in Australia where some big decisions and policy for the future will be shaped for people with a disability and their families in Australia
It is absolutely imperative that these decisions are made – one way or the other – rather than subjecting people with disabilities to another round of enquiry, consultation and review – or death by a thousand (paper) cuts.
Let’s not mince words – there is a national crisis confronting disability in Australia. It is nothing new – sadly, crisis is a permanent setting.
But this time the crisis has had a very powerful spotlight shone on it by the Productivity Commission, which up-front diagnosed the system as: “inequitable, underfunded, fragmented and inefficient and gives people with a disability little choice.”
This observation is of no surprise to people with disabilities, their families and carers, who have been trying to tell the nation of this situation for decades.
However, such a sombre assessment from the Productivity Commission must be a wakeup call to most who would naturally assume that in Australia - as a modern, prosperous, nation – some of our most vulnerable citizens, i.e. people with disabilities, get the support and care they need.
It is obvious that there must be root and branch reform to the way disability services are funded and delivered across Australia, and the NDIS is at the heart of this reform as its vehicle.
Over recent years, there have been persuasive arguments made from many quarters for comprehensive reform but for whatever reason, those calls have gone largely unheeded. Mainly, in my view, because disability has never been considered a mainstream political issue.
But now in 2011 after years of fighting, pleading, knocking on doors and telling stories, a convergence of factors means that the sector may actually be on the cusp of something significant.
Before I addressed the recent National Disability and Carers Congress in Melbourne, the organisers had asked me to choreograph a modest stunt for the benefit of the Every Australian Counts campaign – the simple act of conference attendees holding up a placard which read ‘I Count’.
It was a dignified, stoic silence – nothing of the din and bells and whistles that characterise political events. The overwhelming sense in the room was one of resignation – people know that if the NDIS doesn’t materialise in the near future it may pass by and it won’t be revisited any time soon.
Most present are well versed in the many economic, social and humanitarian arguments for reform, having practised them on politicians and policy makers over the years. They were heartened by the earlier reminder from Bill Shorten that the door remains ajar for reform.
The NDIS has the potential to deliver massive benefits – not only to individuals with a disability but to the nation - and represents a neat fusion of economic and social policy; a landmark, legacy-making reform on the scale of Medicare, enshrining the Treasurer’s call that ‘we don’t have an Australian to waste’.
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