NDIS helps the common good

15 Comments

Wheelchair on a reflective disco floorLast week, Eureka Street editor Michael Mullins commented on the Prime Minister's Business Advisory Council chairman's address to the Committee for Economic Development of Australia, and cautioned the Government against listening to certain interests at the expense of the common good. 

Indeed, Dr Maurice Newman's criticism of the former Government for establishing and funding programs such as the National Disability Insurance Scheme reveals an upsetting indifference toward those who shoulder the true cost of disability in Australia. Newman described the decision to commit to the NDIS as 'reckless' and implied a preference to implement a scheme such as the NDIS during a more prosperous era. 

Paradoxically, those to whom Newman eventually gave his political support, the Coalition, had an opportunity during years of economic growth but chose instead to spend money elsewhere. Whatever its reasons and motivations, when the former Labor Government took on disability reform, people with disability and caregivers across the nation were relieved that their issues were finally acknowledged and addressed.

Waiting for a putative golden opportunity — which, in any case, may not have materialised — would not have addressed the problems, but would only have further entrenched the difficulties of those affected by disability. 

At the moment, a small number of Australians disproportionately bear the cost of disability support. Working opportunities and income is foregone when workplaces are not inclusive, accommodating or flexible, both for people with disability and those who care for them. Therapies and equipment are frequently paid for by those with a disability and their families, when they might have preferred to spend money on other goods and services many others take for granted.

There are health costs for people not receiving the right equipment or early intervention services which may prevent problems later, and for the mental and physical health of unsupported caregivers. There are economic costs in the significantly higher marriage breakdown rates for parents of children with disability. There is personal detriment when the rights of people with disability to participate in society are overlooked. Opportunity costs for individuals with disability and caregivers are manifold.

Australia is also paying, in foregone revenue from taxes of those currently prevented from working and subsequent increased social security support expenses, as well as lost participation and productivity in the workforce and the economy. In addition, Australia assumes a reputational loss and Australians bear personal and opportunity costs the longer it takes to become a more inclusive community.

One of the most compelling reasons for the bipartisan support of the NDIS was the argument that disability support would be prioritised and properly funded if our society's legislation and economy were being initiated today. Few would argue against providing a safety net for people whose disability may stymie or prevent efforts to participate fully in the workforce or in society. 

In A Theory of Justice, John Rawls explains the concept of 'original position': in a scenario where the rules of a society are a blank slate, those offered the opportunity to create rules for that society who do not know their own status in that society (the 'veil of ignorance') are likely to develop justice principles on which to base laws and the economy. This hypothetical situation requires the 'veil of ignorance' to operate, otherwise those who are more assertive or capable may choose laws which dominate and disadvantage those who may be incapacitated.

Instead of complaining about policies aimed at addressing disadvantage and building productivity in the long-term, Newman could have proposed other ideas which would have supported these objectives and had benefits for the wider community and the economy. Workplace plasticity, alternative education and training pathways, micro businesses, and micro finance are all initiatives which seek to improve disability and education, but which also have benefits for business and the economic growth.

Perhaps these could be considered for a future speech which recognises that addressing social disadvantage need not require policies which are burdensome to the economy, and does not infer that beneficiaries of such policies should have to continue to tolerate a broken policy environment.


 

Moira Byrne Garton headshotMoira Byrne is a policy analyst and disability advocate. She holds a PhD in political science from the ANU, and was recently named as a finalist in the 2013 Human Rights Awards. 

Wheelchair image from Shutterstock

Topic tags: Moira Byrne Garton, disability, NDIS, John Rawls

 

 

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Existing comments

The NDIS is not 'burdensome to the economy', rather it's a way of sharing an existing burden more equitably.
Ginger Meggs | 19 November 2013


I have a beautiful four year old granddaughter who has a disability. Chloe has taught our family about the deepest love. Her mother and father were happy to see the NDIS come into existence. They are active in their community in supporting Chloe and others with disabilities. It would be a very stunted government which did not recognise the immeasurable value to society of people who have disabilities.
Pam | 19 November 2013


A great article, Moira. I like your explanation of the 'original position' philosophy too. Thanks.
Donna McDonald | 20 November 2013


I am a bit concerned that the current government may water down the NDIS to something which will be woefully in adequate and won't be of much assistance to people with disabilities at all
Michael Gofton | 20 November 2013


Frightening that here, as well as in recent comments by John Della Bosca and others, the emphasis is on moving people living with disability off welfare and into paid employment. Is the real aim of NDIS then to reverse the cost blow out caused by the ever growing number of DSP recipients? Further, it is tragic that the NDIS does not provide funding for counselling and other therapeutic support for people who are mentally unwell, when such people cannot access that support elsewhere. The evidence is compelling that counselling provides the best opportunity for recovery from mental ill health. Look, for one, at the recent therapeutic guidelines for treating borderline personality disorder, put out by the NHMRC. Why does the NDIS maintain that odious distinction between people living with mental ill health and other forms of disability? Should I point out the paradox that most of the cost blow out associated with the DSP relates to people who are mentally unwell?
Stephen | 20 November 2013


Everyone has a right to question NDIS. Bill Shorten did a great thing by bringing it to our attention but there are short comings particularly for people over 65. Even little things like taxi transport to get to appointments is an issue with the Victorian Government recently rejecting a proposal for a taxi service just for people with disabilities run by people with disabilities. Now the TAC and WORKCOVER are changing peoples rights. These two organisations, which have thousands of people on their books with hundreds of different disabilities, are paying specialists little more than the medicare rebate and wonder why there are so few doctors and medical people willing to be service providers. So we all need to look at this program wisely because Shortens idea was terrific- now we need governments and agencies to make it work. Being handicapped or disabled all of a sudden usually leads to a form of depression which is not well recognised by the TAC or WORKCOVER who are NOT non profit making organisations
PHIL | 20 November 2013


'Disability' needs to be clearly defined, along with a correllation of that disability with age and circumstances: eg, a family with a number of other children including a baby with cerebral palsy will require greater assistance than an 83yr old widower in a nursing home who acquires cerebral palsy from a stroke.
john frawley | 20 November 2013


Thank you Moira for these words of wisdom. I agree that early intervention is an important issue with disabled children. I have a 2 year old grand-son who was born with a tumor that crushed his spinal cord. Chemo has got rid of the tumor but he is paralysed from the chest down. Early intervention locomotive therapy is important to his development and future health. He needs this now, not just in 2018 when the NDIS expands to all groups in NSW. Friends and relatives of his family are helping as best they can right now. His parents are doing all they can for their son. It is made more difficult because they have two older children , aged 4 and 6. The NDIS, when it comes, will be of great assistance.
Alan Hamilton | 20 November 2013


Stephen, I would like to offer my strongest support to your comments. I am very concerned at the lack of recognition for the plight of people who are are too sick to work, especially people with chronic, severe mental illnesses.
Sheelah Egan | 20 November 2013


Great article Moira - thank you for tackling the inaccurate and offensive description of the NDIS as reckless and a drain on the economy. You might like to reread a similar article from the Every Australian Counts Campaign http://bit.ly/1ctF5JS
Geraldine Mellet | 20 November 2013


Moira's is the ethical viewpoint in a country that prides itself on its delivery of a fair go. If Australia expects to stand alongside other first world countries and hold its head high then it will shoulder the responsibility of supporting its disabled citizens.
Harriet | 20 November 2013


Spot on Moira. I want to particularly confirm the truth of the following (the only thing that doesn't apply to my own family's circumstances is that we have a strong marriage which by the Grace of God has not broken down): "At the moment, a small number of Australians disproportionately bear the cost of disability support. Working opportunities and income is foregone when workplaces are not inclusive, accommodating or flexible, both for people with disability and those who care for them. Therapies and equipment are frequently paid for by those with a disability and their families, when they might have preferred to spend money on other goods and services many others take for granted. There are health costs for people not receiving the right equipment or early intervention services which may prevent problems later, and for the mental and physical health of unsupported caregivers. There are economic costs in the significantly higher marriage breakdown rates for parents of children with disability. There is personal detriment when the rights of people with disability to participate in society are overlooked. Opportunity costs for individuals with disability and caregivers are manifold." There was a study done not so long ago in USA, which concluded that conservatives are less capable of grasping and integrating the nuances and complexities of issues, in arriving at a balanced solution and here is an example of a man who has concluded that "the common good" has only one dimension: avoiding the government's immediate outlay for the NDIS. As the above quoted extract implies, there are many beneficial effects of outlaying funds for a NDIS that have the potential to return a financial dividend not just to the government/ taxpayer, but more broadly to Australian society in other ways: mental and physical health, social cohesion, crime levels, and a more compassionate society: God knows we need that.
Frank S | 20 November 2013


Newman should bother to read the Productivity Commission's report on the NDIS if he is so concerned about 'reckless spending'.
Ian | 21 November 2013


I myself have been having to rely on a rental wheelchair, (manual) as being on a Disability Support Pension, and not having much left over from paying bills and such, I am not sure as to where I can obtain a wheelchair for myself, that I can own, instead of paying dead money in renting, as with my back spasms, and the pressure in my lower back, (when I used to be able to walk around) getting worse, I am almost certain, that I will be in the wheelchair for the rest of my days. If anyone can help me, or knows of anywhere that might be able to help me out, I'd love to hear from you. Replies welcomed to KittyPryde.1978 at yahoo.com.
Kristy | 25 November 2013


Phil's comment about suddenly acquired disability reminds us that 'disability' is not a homogeneous category, as discussions of the NDIS sometimes imply. Disability can come suddenly, or have always been there. Some kinds can be recovered from or improve, others can't. My sister, who had a progressive congenital disability, was frustrated at having to undergo periodic assessments, in case she had 'got better' and didn't need support any more.
Jan Pinder | 03 December 2013


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