The Politics of Disability

by | Sep 27, 2023 | Ability News, Disability Sector, Politics

There’s still no lack of support for disability in Australia. What has changed is backing for the National Disability Insurance Scheme. Polling shows people think it costs too much and isn’t delivering the results. The system is ripe for change. What’s vital is ensuring the coming changes make the scheme better, not worse.

Autism Awareness Australia CEO Nicole Rogerson (photo courtesy HireUp)

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The term ‘restrictive practices’ sounds anodyne and uncontroversial. Watching a group of adults imposing them on a child is not. It looks like gratuitous bullying. 

And that’s why Monday night’s Four Corners program has had such a decisive effect on the disability debate in Australia. 

The ABC reports Autism Awareness Australia CEO Nicole Rogerson says what was filmed is “shocking” and “sickening”. So it was, but that’s not the point of this piece. This is an analysis of the politics surrounding disability. 

We in the sector saw, as Rogerson says, a “rogue operator out there doing the wrong thing”. 

She rightly added “we have to balance giving people with a disability the right and dignity to make their own choices [with] using best practice and not taking advantage of vulnerable people under the scheme.” 

Unfortunately that wasn’t just the message that people took from the program.

A person in a wheelchair smiles as they tightly grip the hand of a support worker<br />

A Person with Disability being supported by a Care Worker (image courtesy MyCareSpace, creator Batuhan Toker) 

The NDIS was all about giving people with disability the capacity to choose the supports that were right for them. It was intended to be an open-ended scheme that would be able to fund ‘reasonable and necessary’ supports. 

The problem is budgets are always constrained.  

Although neither the 4 Corners story, nor the report of the Disability Royal Commission (which is being handed to the government on the 28th of September) directly address the rapidly spiralling cost of the NDIS, this is the context in which they will be seen. 

Ordinary Australians will focus on the terrible stories and demand change. The politics is simple. As soon as disability care is costing more than healthcare, support for the scheme verges on collapsing. It’s inevitable that individual instances of rorts or inappropriate behaviour – no matter how isolated they are – will be used by opponents to cut the scheme’s finding. 

This is what’s happening now. 

The Disability Royal Commission was commissioned not just to find terrible examples of how things had gone wrong or could be done better. It was also about finding a new way of caring for people with disability. 

Next month we’ll have another NDIS review, this time by a specialist team that will be directly recommending how the scheme should be fixed. 

This week’s news stories have simply reinforced a broader view that change is needed and necessary.