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People with disabilities need royal commission

  • 06 March 2019


Last month, Parliament mandated a royal commission into the treatment of people with disabilities. Now, however, we are told that the government will not proceed before hearing from all the states and territories. It is disappointing, to say the least, that this opportunity is not being seized with both hands.

No Territorian buy-in was required for the federal government, rocked by the horrific images from the Don Dale Youth Detention Centre, to call a royal commission into conditions of detention there. Likewise, although much of the law governing trade unions and industrial relations more generally is made by states, rather than federally, the government did not wait for state approval here either before instituting a royal commission.

In many ways, people living with disabilities are the most in need of strong centralised protections. To some extent, this is already recognised by the fact that the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), which has been inspiring in scope but less so in execution, is itself a federal project. Indeed, the New South Wales government cited the NDIS's existence as a federal safety net as a reason to cut advocacy services to people with a disability — leaving up to 90 per cent of the affected population without access to advocacy services when the cuts bite in 2020.

The federal government itself, while giving with one hand has been busily taking with the other. Agencies across the board advocating for people with disabilities and accessible transport have all been recent targets of cost-cutting measures while the spectacle of farmers being pitted against NDIS funding recipients in a sort of Hunger Games Down Under late last year was distinctly unedifying.

It may be argued that the money simply is not there (although, of course, we rarely hear these arguments when there are new arms to be bought, new powers to be given to the intelligence services or a new war to be fought). If one were to take this on face value, though, one would expect money to be flowing into places which would increase the productivity of society.

Yet it is not as though people with disabilities are being assisted with resources to be productive members of our business oriented society. School funding from the federal government for people with disabilities was cut by up to 46 per cent in some states, just last year.

For those who are able to look for work, the situation is also less