Best of 2013: NDIS helps the common good


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. This article was first published on 19 November 2013.

Wheelchair image from Shutterstock

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



submit a comment

Existing comments

The suggested scrapping of the NDIS is just not fair. I wonder if we still live in a Commonwealth ? I also wonder if we will hear about this from the pulpit? Perhaps its time to preach on subjects that emphasise justice that seems to be a major theme in the bible and are relevant to 2014.

David | 17 January 2014  

I, too, am gobsmacked when I hear that people who are supposed to be responsible, humane people are against such a thing as the National Disabilities scheme. ""It should be undertaken in more prosperous times". See how Dr. Newman might respond if a relative of his had to rely upon such a scheme!!!!!

LynneZ | 21 January 2014  

Lynne Z, you must be dreaming. No one is against the attempt to improve persons with disabilities lives. In NSW it is all about privatisation and poor outcomes except for the more functional persons. Having poorly qualified/experienced staff on an unliveable salary will not encourage a good outcome for the persons. The NSW Government is simply shafting these people and wanting to sell highly sort after real estate. 457 visas to encourage overseas employees to fill the shortfall is the next move.

James | 20 February 2014  

Similar Articles

Best of 2013: Coalition stirs the ghost of Jimmie Blacksmith

  • Tim Kroenert
  • 13 January 2014

More than a century after Federation, Australia has yet to resolve this tension between a romantic notion of what 'Australia' is, and the depravities that were undertaken to attain it. It may be couched in more polite terms, but it rears its head in ham-fisted and fundamentally disrespectful approaches to Indigenous policy, such as recent moves by the Coalition Government that threaten to undercut the spirit of Native Title legislation.


Best of 2013: Remote Australia's renal refugees

  • John Adams
  • 15 January 2014

Kiwirrkurra is 700km of bad roads west of Alice Springs. Renal failure forces many Indigenous community elders from important roles such as presiding over ceremonies and passing down knowledge to future generations. Many choose not to make the long journey into town for dialysis, seeing life away from country and family to be a fate worse than death.



Subscribe for more stories like this.

Free sign-up