Monday, March 5, 2012

Will the earth move?

image by  'Leagun'
As the disability community watches and waits for the design and implementation of a National Disability Insurance Scheme, opposition leader Tony Abbott did no one any favours when he opined last month that the proposed scheme was an aspirational goal that should only be realised when the Australian economy was in strong surplus.

This brought an understandable reaction from many people within the disability community, and also more recently from members of the Liberal Party’s Parliamentary caucus.

Notwithstanding such pushback, there appears to be increased fretting in political circles about the estimated funding shortfall for the scheme, which rose from $6 billion to over $8 billion as a result of the recent Fair Work Australia ruling on pay equity for staff in the social and community services sector.  

This means the national disability debate could become framed by the timing of the Australian economy achieving surplus, and how aggressive each party’s first budget will be to deliver this surplus should they win government in 2013. 

It is wrong to place increased disability support funding in the context of a surplus economy. Increased funding is intended to advance people's reasonable expectations of ordinary valued life chances. In other words, it is about people getting a fair go, based on every person's inherent value and potential as a human being.

This includes the value of a person having authorship of their own life, accessing opportunities on the same basis as other people, being able to participate in community life, and having authentic active membership of the club called Australia. 

Upholding and advancing these values should not be conditional on an economy in surplus.  And if a National Disability Insurance Scheme is designed to uphold these values, its introduction should be based not on the arrival of surplus but on the principle of doing the right thing.

For contrast, let us look to our neighbours New Zealand.  Despite having a deficit economy that will be around for at least the next several years, the New Zealand government, with bipartisan support, has committed over 8 billion dollars to help rebuild people's lives following the earthquakes in Christchurch.

Some people might argue this is not a helpful comparison because a response to the consequences of an earthquake in New Zealand is different to a response to the consequences of living with disability in Australia.  I disagree, because there are clear similarities.

Both situations involve hundreds of thousands of citizens living with an issue that has had a dramatic impact on their prospects for housing, employment, daily living, health, and participation in community life.

Both situations will cost billions of dollars in remedies, to build or rebuild the capacity of people and communities.

Both siutations involve remedies that will lead to a positive stimulus for the economy.

Both situations are taking place in countries that currently have a deficit economy.

Both situations demand action now, because it would be wrong to leave people in such desperate circumstances.

New Zealand has taken action.  Australia has not.

Be it the large jolt of a high magnitude earthquake or the relentless multi-generational rumble of exclusion and discrimination, the urgency of the imperative is similar.  We cannot wait for a surplus economy before we do the right thing by the Australian disability community.  

1 comment:

  1. The problem is that if the economy isn't in a strong position when the NDIS is implemented it will be implemented in a cost avoiding way, will not have sufficient funding, people will not get appropriate and properly funded support and we will have trouble getting that fixed for many years into the future. From previous experiences with government administered support programs (think work cover/medicare) it is likely that the absolute high point of support will be at the beginning. Benefits will only reduce after that so it is important that appropriate funding is obtained at the outset.

    The difference between disability support funding and the earthquake is that the earthquake is hopefully a once off situation - once the homes are re-built the problem is (hopefully) fixed. Disability funding will be required into the future - that's the whole idea; so it isn't a matter of go into debt now and pay it off later.