Thursday, December 10, 2009


The South Australia government announced today that there will be a whole-of-government reform of disability.  According to the official media release, the Premier and the Minister for Disability have "asked the Social Inclusion Board to develop a blueprint for long-term reform - to join up services between Health Education, and the Department for Families and Communities".

Sounds jolly exciting.

I confess that I have become at least partially immune to announcements of 'reform'.  My experience, especially here in South Australia back in 2006, has been that 'reform' has not necessarily delivered added value to the people who need it most, but instead has been shorthand for other matters, such as organisational restructuring, imagined resource efficiencies, and greater bureaucratic control.  So why should this announcement be any different?  After all, past performance is a good predictor for future performance. 

Well, whilst not completely abandoning my capacity for skepticism, there are several promising signals.

First, the reform has been placed in the hands of the Social Inclusion Board (SIB) who, one can reasonably assume, need no convincing about the importance of social inclusion in the lives of people living with disability, a perspective that seemed strangely absent from the previous reform in 2006.

Second, the SIB Chair, Social Inclusion Commissioner Monsignor David Cappo, has signaled that the SIB will be listening to people living with disability, their families and supporters, and others who can assist the realisation of an agenda of inclusion where people living with disability are participating as citizens in the life of our community.  'Listening' must surely mean that the SIB will have careful regard for people's situations,and what can most help people to live a full and rich life. 

Third, the SIB will be looking at the work of several government departments in relation to disability,including Health, Education, and Families & Communities. This is encouraging because people living with disability should have the genuine choice to use their local mainstream health services and, critically, their local neighbourhood school.  I simply don't think it right that some kids have to be dispatched to a special school.  There is no reason why any local school cannot be welcoming of all local kids, regardless of their particular circumstances.

Fourth, as part of this work the SIB will be looking at consumer-directed funding (ie Individualised Funding).  This is important for reasons that regular visitors to this blog will hopefully be familiar with.

Fifth, Lorna Hallahan has been appointed to the SIB.  Lorna has had a very long association with disability issues, is a very clear thinker and is highly respected.  

So that's the encouraging stuff.  What is on the downside?  A couple of BIG things spring to mind.

First, one can imagine that running a process of building a blueprint will take time.  But how long?  At a national level, the idea of a Disability Strategy is a fabulous idea but it's taking an epoch for the strategy to emerge.  We don't really want the same thing to happen here; local people living with disability have been waiting long enough, don't you think?  A comprehensive process of listening, reflecting and designing doesn't have to take an age.

Second, there is no guarantee that the South Australia government will implement the SIB's recommended blueprint,either in its entirety or in part.  However, it would be a particular kind of government that would turn down a well-thought-out blueprint, built on consultation with the disability community, and anchored in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

So if you want to be heard on this, I suggest you make contact with the SIB to let them know you'd like to contribute your views.  And do your best (as I am doing) to fight any cynical thoughts that this government announcement has been timed to toss a fish to the disability community three months out from the state election.  Much of formal politics these days seems to be about getting in power and then staying in power, and it is getting harder to distinguish between the various mainstream perspectives.  Frankly, I'm less concerned about the extent of any government self-interest in this, so long as a decent blueprint is delivered and implemented.

You can find out more about the Social Inclusion Board by clicking here.
For more information about the UN Convention, click here

1 comment:

  1. I have been following your blog with interest Robbi. (In fact, it inspired me to put my own intention to start blogging into action! – see
    But back to yours and, in particular, this one on the plans to carry out yet another review, I share your scepticism. I also share your wish that we could move away from a 'charity' based model to a rights model.
    Most of all I hope that the process takes a family focus. Certainly the UN Convention has as one of its principles the importance of family -'the family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State, and that persons with disabilities and their family members should receive the necessary protection and assistance to enable families to contribute towards the full and equal enjoyment of the rights of persons with disabilities'. People with disabilities grow up in families and will likely have the longest relationship of all with their siblings. And yet very little consideration is given to the contribution of siblings to the wellbeing of the person with disability or their own needs. There is a lot of rhetoric out there about families. I hope Monsignor Cappo takes a 'whole family' approach and I hope this review makes some meaningful progress in ensuring people with disabilities and their families are able to participate fully in community life. All the best to all at JF for the festive season. 