Shorten’s disability shakeup – read between the lines

Anyone care to have a go at reading between the lines with this one?

Given Shorten’s form on lack of interest in people with invisible disabilities who aren’t fully dependent on a carer, I’m not as hopeful as I’d like to be.

Call to lift disabled out of ‘exile’

A national insurance scheme that would cover the costs of those with disabilities should be investigated, says the parliamentary secretary for disabilities and children’s services, Bill Shorten.

The scheme would provide someone born with a disability or who incurred one through accident or illness with consistent funds throughout their life. ‘‘Many Australians with disabilities remain in internal exile,’’ he said.

Mr Shorten will today make public a discussion paper calling for a national plan for those with disabilities. It argues that the existing system of providing services to those with disabilities is too flawed to be fixed and needs to be replaced.

Instead of a ‘‘welfare model’’ the paper calls for more individually tailored programs to help people participate fully in the community.

As well as improving care and support services, Mr Shorten wants a national system to focus on people being given enough help to to find and maintain work.

Better access to public buildings and transport was also essential, he said. ‘‘You go to some suburbs and the shops are inaccessible, not just to people with disabilities but young mums and older people. I don’t know how some buildings get approved.’’

Better accessibility would be great. He hasn’t bothered to address the abysmal lack of accessible parking spaces yet, choosing instead to address the discrepancy between need and supply by saying “piss off, no permit” to a bunch of people to need the spaces. So I’ve no idea what he means by accessibility. I’m guessing ramps, and not much else. It’s a start, but it isn’t everything, not by a long shot.

My first guess on employment is that he’ll take the approach he’s taking with parking permits: he’ll address the issue of non-employment by saying to a bunch of people on disability pensions, “piss off and get back to work” – continuing Howard’s legacy. This paragraph sets off all my “coded messages” alarms:

Instead of a ‘‘welfare model’’ the paper calls for more individually tailored programs to help people participate fully in the community.

Prove me wrong, Shorten.

Your guesses?

Categories: Politics, social justice

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12 replies

  1. It all sounds good, although I agree with you that focus on people being given enough help to to find and maintain work sounds a lot like “we’ll stick in a ramp and a lift and stop providing financial support”. The next step is crucial – if he involves advocacy groups, then he might actually be trying to do something positive. If he doesn’t, all cynicism is well-founded.
    I suppose the fact that he recognises that building codes and barriers to returning to work are relevant is a start. But I just can’t imagine them resourcing a system that produces individually tailored programs. Especially when they don’t even want to provide sufficient parking permits….

  2. Yes – given the recent history of trying to work with “disability service providers” instead of actual people with disabilities, I’m not too hopeful.
    Basically all I got back from the various politicians I contacted about the parking thing was “Go to an ‘information evening’ in person”. Hello, not helpful. Apparently unless you wander out and about freely, in the evening no less, your voice isn’t welcome.

  3. Eep, who the hell wrote this speech?
    Right to an Ordinary Life – National Press Club

    In my previous life I had stood up for workers who had been injured at work, but I didn’t yet understood the scale of the problem in Australia, or how hard it was for people so injured, so traumatised, so sidelined, so internally exiled to get the help they need.
    I shared the same “out of sight, out of mind” attitude of too many other people.
    I was, you might say, colour-blind. I didn’t see the intricate variety of life that I, as a union leader, and a Member of Parliament, was necessarily involved in as a functioning part of a democracy. [..].
    It is core to labor values of social inclusion and it has become my cause, that they should be liberated from the shackles of their genetics and their accidental circumstance, from those shafts of fate that strike down and impair the innocent and the good, so they may participate fully and without prohibition or prejudice in their own lives and this world we share, so they may – un-handcuffed, un-chained, un-forbidden – seek and enjoy the opportunities that we each regard as fundamental human rights.

  4. Workcover and the TAC aren’t fantastic, but once people manage to get approved, they do provide longterm, relatively consistent care. Centrelink starts from a position of suspicion, though, and tries to isolate, ignore, and push people away with excessive bureaucratic requirements. The “long-term” element of Shorten’s statement leads me to think of the TAC/Workcover model, but the “individually tailored program” section immediately recalls all the worst parts of Centrelink and attacks on “welfare bludgers”. Removing actual, physical barriers to workplace (and indeed public place!) participation would be a far more useful first step.

  5. Instead of a ‘‘welfare model’’ the paper calls for more individually tailored programs to help people participate fully in the community.
    Between these lines I’m hearing “well the Brits have had the guts to call youse all the lazy fakes that you are, move the benefit goalposts and make it clear there’s no excuse not to work unless you’re on life-support, so it’s about time we did too”.
    I don’t supposed it’s ever occurred to him that some of us don’t want to “participate fully” in a community that by and large doesn’t want us.

  6. Mmm, if this is the same scheme a friend and I were discussing a little while ago, it’s very very bad. The first bit of the article is the real problem: this ‘insurance scheme’ effectively involves the government saying, ‘We will dedicate $40,000 per person over their lifetime to deal with disability. Once you’re out of money, you’re out of money.’ (This is if it’s the same scheme, which I think it is; this person is part of an NGO disability advocacy group).
    To be honest, I’m getting more and more weary of the rhetoric surrounding the government’s response to a whole variety of minority groups: it’s *always* about ‘participation in the community’, by which is actually meant (and sometimes said) ‘participation in the workforce’. Now, I absolutely absolutely believe that both should be made as possible as possible for all those who wish to do these kinds of participation. But it *reeks* of the eugenicist line that classed people as productive or ‘sterile’ (yes, that’s what it originally meant): as contributing to the workforce and economy or not. Originally, deeming someone to be sterile meant they were then sterilised (and sometimes voluntarily, people being so convinced it was their role in life to contribute, and not wanting to give their genes any longevity if they couldn’t). But the really hideous bit is the assumption that people with disabilities (and single mothers, who have this rhetoric applied to them rather a lot as well, and indigenous people too, amongst others) *don’t* contribute to society; that all they are is a drain. It limits ‘contribution to society’ to that made by white men sitting in offices doing at least 37.5 hours a week, and refuses to acknowledge the extraordinary diversity of ways that different people, with different capabilities, contribute to society simply by being a part of it.
    That said, ‘tailoring’ always sounds good. But the whole thing has a cloud of suspicion hanging over it, IMO.

  7. I think it’s good to be cynical for all the reasons other have already stated. It isn’t the welfare model that is the problem with current services imo it is the scarcity model and the charity model that are demeaning and damaging to people who need services. The scarcity model results in the view that limited resources are under threat and must be protected from all of those trying to game the system. This leads to gatekeeping behaviour where people are routinely told “no” until they are at crisis point. Not surprisingly a lot of people now exist permanently hovering a hairsbreadth from a catastrophic crisis. The charity model makes people have to beg for dribs and drabs of resources instead of having full control over a predictable and stable level of support. It keeps us beholdened to service providers for whom we must feel and display gratitude, instead of being able to plan our lives, contract the kind of support that we actually need (rather than accepting the support that services are offering), and generally have sovereignty over our own lives.
    If an insurance scheme can deliver that sovereignty then I am in favour but $40,000 over a lifetime, sweet FSM, I have accessed a family package that provides up to $50, 000 for just one year! (It’s called the Extended Family Support Program for those living in NSW, and is a closely guarded secret of course – scarcity model at work)

  8. Not every disabled person can work. Even with support. That is OK. That should be OK. That’s the whole point of disability politics, is to accept variance, diversity of experience. If you don’t get this much, you Don’t Get disability.
    Now: many people COULD work, if we supported them well enough. And it’s damn cruel to withhold that support from them and then blame them for being unable to work.
    But when the language implies that we’re going to magically make every PWD suddenly able to work? It doesn’t make me think “by offering support” it makes me think “by force.”

  9. DEM, su, WP, amandaw, everyone – you’ve named what was lurking at the back of my mind, but didn’t want to know. As one of those people who just can’t work in any sort of job our society currently considers productive, I’d be in that wastebasket. I’d like to think that I’m still an important part of my family, friends groups, and society.
    And $40 000? About a year at average wage? How is that supposed to help people who can’t work for five years, ten years, the rest of their lives? Or people who need a powerchair and home and transport modifications? I need hardly anything in the way of equipment (and get nothing from government), but that amount would likely barely keep me in scooters for the rest of my life, let alone pay for anything else. It sounds right now like they just plan to entrench crisis and dependence, which puts paid to their rhetoric about caring for both PWD and for carers.

  10. I’m pretty sure it’s $40,000. I’ll double-check with this friend of mine.
    This is only relevant given the movement of the thread, but I wanted to share it with you all because I was so confronted and disgusted. Australia has 4 Research Priorities, which are more likely to Australian Research Council funding. Now, setting aside the selection of these four (which, for serious, are depressing as an imagining of how Australia’s future will unfold), I wanted to share one in particular: Research Priority 2, which you can find here: What I find particularly interesting is that although it’s the ‘social and economic fabric’ that is apparently to be ‘strengthened’, the following started my skin crawling, and it only gets worse as you go on: “Enabling individuals and families to make choices that lead to healthy, productive and fulfilling lives will yield economic and social benefits and add materially to national well being.” Yet the only real way that ‘adding materially to national well being’ is imagined seems to be ‘through participation in the labour market or through voluntary work.’ I mean, I know we’re living in the midst of capitalism, but gah! We don’t need to entrench these eugenicist ideas any more firmly.
    And of course, with research being envisaged this way, any challenge to this idea that those with disabilities (whether through aging or not) must work or not count at all won’t be given funding, or really heard by government. And of course, in turn, this means that plans like the above, which take workforce participation as the measure of success, will mostly hear corroboration, with NGOs attempting to sound resistance in ways that appear underexamined (because there’s not the bulk of research behind them). We always knew economic rationalism was a problem, but this really shows that in the context of those already marginalised, it’s a disaster. Sorry to go on. It’s thesis stuff, and I think I’ve been kicking around why it’s not an acceptable line of argument in the public sphere… and the vulnerability that that perpetuates.

  11. Link Updates:
    Report: “Shut Out: The Experience of People with Disabilities and their Families in Australia “, 5 August 2009
    National Disability Insurance Scheme
    There is a huge number of unanswered questions arising from all of this.

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