The politics of disability

by | Mar 8, 2024 | The Big Story, Wire

Bill Shorten is spending a lot of time travelling around the country and speaking to People with Disability. Why bother?

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In Canberra the journey to being cynical about politicians is as quick as a trip across the lake. A short walk through the corridors of parliament house quickly reveals not every politician is quite as altruistic as they may appear. That’s why, last year, I just nodded politely when Bill Shorten told me he was determined to engage with the disability community. 

“Of course,” I replied. “Let’s see”, I thought. 

A year later and I’m re-examining that scepticism. 

This week, for example, the NDIS Minister was off on a trip to South Australia and Victoria. It wasn’t a holiday. Travelling to cavernous government offices and echoing meeting rooms couldn’t be described as fun. He spoke at meetings, talked on radio, stood and answered questions, but, most of all, spent an enormous amount of time listening. By the end, according to one observer, he looked exhausted. 

Think about that for a moment. He’s a former Opposition Minister, a person who’s already spent the best part of a decade travelling around the country, being polite to tens of thousands of people, many with highly bigoted opinions. He doesn’t have to do this and could, like some others, just sit, get sozzled, and enjoy himself without lifting a finger. Yet here he was, getting his baggage off the carousel and listening – at length – to people who expected him to wave a wand and solve their problems. Why put yourself through it? 

The journos over at Sky News think they know. A recent report insisted that Shorten is ‘undermining’ the PM. That’s the insider ‘take’ – always look for the hidden motive. Some reporters think doing this makes you look smart, because it seems as if you know more than you really do. Unfortunately, it isn’t always right. Sometimes things really might be as they seem. 

Take Shorten’s itinerary this week. Attempting to draw a link between his appearance on a windswept street in Bendigo to announce eleven new Services Australia jobs and a cunning a plan to topple the PM requires drawing a very, very long bow. 

Similarly with his talk at Adelaide’s Town Hall. Although affirming, “the National Disability Insurance Scheme is here to stay,” Shorten didn’t back away from more controversially insisting on the need for change. These aren’t just platitudes, He expressed unhappiness with unregistered service providers and delays in responses to the Disability Royal Commission. He said he wants more people working in the NDIS and is happy about whistleblowers coming forward. 

Perhaps this explains why the department would be far happier if the Minister just remained in his office. 

A message as scattered as that isn’t the sort you give when you’re attempting to undermine the PM. It seems much more likely to be what it really is; an attempt to engage with people genuinely and answer their questions.