The Guardian • Issue #1956

Government’s contempt for disabled people can no longer be ignored

It is hardly a shocker to hear of the Coalition government’s antipathy towards its nation’s most disadvantaged people. But with recent facts coming to light this month, the government’s attacks on disabled people have gone from predictable to egregious.

The ongoing battle against the destructive National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) reforms, including the introduction of mandatory Independent Assessments (see Issue #1932) – has been spurred by a series of shocking revelations, including leaked drafts of the reform legislation.

Leaked draft legislation for the reforms confirms fears that NDIS funding will be refused to anyone who does not consent to these highly invasive and inappropriate Independent Assessments. But this is far from the worst that this draft has to offer.

For instance, one of the proposed changes removes support from people in prisons and external territories such as Christmas Island. Notes accompanying the leaked draft also hinted at the exclusion of cognitive impairment from the definition of “psychosocial disability”, with concerns that such an exclusion could preclude young children with intellectual disabilities, fetal alcohol spectrum disorder and acquired brain injury.

If passed with its current sentiments intact, this legislation will also completely gut the NDIS of the core ideals it was based on. The NDIS was originally conceived as a “collaborative” scheme between the federal government and the states, but these reforms will downgrade the rights of the states in favour of giving the federal minister responsible for the NDIS very sweeping powers that will allow them to define what is or isn’t funded. The fundamental definition of “reasonable and necessary” supports in determining what can be funded has also been completely stricken from the legislation – likely to be replaced with the discretion of the federal minister, or the NDIA’s CEO. This is hugely concerning as it strips the legislation of all semblance of unbiased fairness and democratic processes.

This will also limit options for appealing NDIA decisions through independent bodies, such as the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.

The government has since defended itself with a counter-claim that “only” eight per cent of NDIS participants will no longer be eligible for the scheme – but this constitutes a staggering figure of approximately 40,000 people.

The NDIS as with insurance schemes such as superannuation and workers’ compensation are a capitalist, neoliberal solution to social problems, and as such can never be considered a serious model for social security. This is also why, at the provider level, the NDIS has created a poorly regulated sector that breeds insecure working conditions for disability workers. Some Australian Disability Enterprises also use the scheme as a means to hire NDIS participants as workers, taking a cut from their NDIS funds and paying them well below the minimum wage.

It is clear that the current government is exploring every possible avenue to divest as much funding from disability support services as it can. Instead of investing more support schemes that at present only cover a fraction of Australia’s disabled population, perhaps the government feels that some of this money may be more appropriate for delivering bragging rights of a budget surplus – an unfortunate but predictable side effect of a “handicapitalist” mentality. It is time for disabled people to be empowered in ways that aren’t based on their role as consumers.

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