Allan Takes Aim Blog

Archive for November 2009

Should Australia have a national disability insurance scheme is a question that needs answering quickly? Why? Because a National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) will be the means of bringing modest comfort to millions of Australians with a disability whose lives, and that of their families, can only be described as miserable.

Many people are under the impression that all children with a disability are cared for under Medicare. Not so. While Medicare covers the lifetime cost of treatment for a child born with a disability it does not cover children whose disability is discovered later. Nor does it cover people who, like me, become permanently disabled but, unlike me, were not covered by third party insurance or eligible for workers’ compensation.

I address this issue partly on personal experience of having two disabled sisters and a great nephew with Down Syndrome. And my experience of how families were affected was added to between 1981 to 1986 while commercial manager of Koomarri, the ACT’s largest disability organisation which trained people with intellectual disability (some caused by accident) and other disabling conditions, to work in Koomarri’s own businesses and the ACT’s private and public sector. Later I served Koomarri for 11 years as a board member.

However, it has to be said that, no matter how well organisations such as Koomarri care for their clients, the burden on family carers, particularly the less affluent, is enormous. Due to a lack of appropriate Government funding they become the slave carers of their children and often their grandchildren. Their lives are forfeit to care, but no one cares about them.

Unsurprisingly many carers often die early due to severe depression brought on by the pressures they face caring for disabled family members. In some cases I suspect, they see death as a welcome visitor.

While working in the field of disability can be eminently satisfying it becomes less so when, due to shortage of government support, one has to take to the streets like a beggar rattling a metaphorical tin can before the public seeking funds to help ensure training and other services can be maintained. Unfortunately, tin rattling has become a substitute for government assistance. Indeed, Governments encourage it.

 Today the most successful tin rattling is carried out when the beggars are either prominent sporting personalities or successful business people whose objective is to improve their image. Not that this applies to all beggars. Some personalities and business people become beggars because they have a genuine care and concern for the disabled.

Although such success can engender positive media and help keep the problem of disability before the public, unfortunately the effect soon wanes and the money dries up. Sadly, too, short-term success has the unintended consequence of helping hide the fact that if government did the right thing by its disabled, such tin rattling might not be necessary.

So let me remind all governments of what Mahatma Ghandi said: “A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.”

For more years than I care to remember, disability service funding in this country of boundless wealth and the alleged social inclusion that politicians of every persuasion love to talk about, has been inadequate. Worse this inadequacy not only leads to a lower quality of life for the disabled but often the loss of dignity.

I suspect few members of the public are aware of how widespread the problem of disability is in Australia. For example: do they know that nearly 1.1 million Australians have a disability that prevents them enjoying a life of quality in the same way as their fellow Australians? And do they know that 2.6 million unpaid carers look after the 1.1million? And do they realise that, as these unpaid carers grow older and their life situation gets worse because of their lifetime burden of care, that they too will become disabled and in need of care?

Not that the Government does not spend money on disabilities. It does. It provides disability support pensions and other disability functions and infrastructure at an annual cost of $15 billion. Unfortunately that is billions short of what is needed to give people with a disability and their carers a life of modest comfort. They ask for no more.

In all probability, the public is not aware that at Prime Minister Rudd’s 20/20 summit, one of the big ideas the Commonwealth Government’s Families Department thought worth considering was a NDIS. Where has the idea gone?

I am given to understand that The Hon Bill Shorten, the Minister responsible, is working behind the scenes to change matters but, according to some people in the disability field, he is so far behind the scenes that he cannot be sighted and that the Big Idea of an NDIS has been abandoned.

Cynically they say it is because investing in high profile infrastructure schemes that will boost the Government’s wellbeing at the ballot box is more important than investing in an NDIS that will increase the wellbeing of the disabled and their carers not just today but in the future. They say also that the ageing of the population also makes the scheme doubly necessary.

My final comment is also a question: what would Ghandi say?

 To all owners of beachfront pads: do you think global warming will raise sea levels to such an extent that you will need to move the pad inland before it sinks beneath the waves? I ask because, if the predictions of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and those of other global warming prophets, plus the recent news from Britain’s the Hadley’s Centre for Climate Prediction and Research are right, it’s almost certain you’ll need to.

Not that I have a beachfront pad or believe the predictions, and not that I’ll be around to see if the predictions are right or not but, in case they are, I hope ark building will be given priority in the government’s much publicised ‘education’ revolution because Arks will be in demand.

Indeed it seems to me the Government should already be establishing a Department of Arks (DOA), to ensure enough will be built to meet future demand and an Ark Mooring Directorate whose job will be to find enough suitable mooring sites around Australia’s coastline.

And with the housing of flora and fauna now as carefully ordered as the housing of humans, the Government might also need to create the Living Ark Department (LAD) with the responsibility of ensuring that flora and fauna found within three kilometres of present shorelines, will be stored aboard a fleet of environmental arks.

The LAD will have special regulations designating how much fauna and flora fauna each ark will be allowed to carry; no all exotic fauna and flora will be allowed. At the same time special arks for holding artefacts from sacred Aboriginal sites will also need to be built.

With this in mind, and rather than wait until disaster strikes, perhaps the Federal Government should also consider introducing legislation to ban any new building within three kilometres of the current shoreline. (Now wouldn’t that be a worthwhile idea to take to Copenhagen?)

 At the same time if the September report from the drilling ship Joides Resolution (Joint Oceanographic Institutions for Deep Earth Sampling) based on an analysis of 20 million years old ocean floor sediment is to be believed, and if CO2 continues to increase at the current rate, urgent action will clearly be necessary. According to the reports, by 2060 sea levels will rise not by 45-50 cms but 45- 50 metres (I think the last figures a misprint). Unfortunately, predictions being notoriously unreliable perhaps owners of beachfront pads would be wise to move earlier because it is possible the rise will occur earlier.

Unlike the prophets, however, I don’t want to frighten people. I’m from the same school of positive thought as John Heywood, circa 1546, who said: ‘it’s an ill wind that blows no one any good.’ So based on the various predictions it seems to me that rising sea levels will provide employment for displaced coal miners and oil workers as 2060 draws nearer. And though Canberra has no coal miners or oil workers to be displaced, Canberra could be a major beneficiary of rising sea levels.

Sitting approximately 575 metres above sea level, if the dread predictions of the global warming prophets come true, Canberra might well become a booming seaside resort and help create thousands of extra jobs in tourism. That said, and without wishing to raise false hopes, Canberra’s tourism industry is already buzzing with rumours that a developer plans to build a pier from Parliament House to the beach and line the beach with luxury hotels and apartments.

A second rumour: to ensure Canberra takes advantage of its new beachside, the tourism industry is preparing a campaign around the theme: “Come live in Canberra by the sea” with families being offered incentives such as free buckets and spades. But if the third rumour is right I think the campaign’s piece de resistance will be, that in the true spirit of bipartisanship, Federal Parliamentarians, led by Peter Garrett and Penny Wong, will join together to sing a chorus of: ‘I do like to be beside the seaside’ before every parliamentary session.

So with Arks in place, why worry about climate change? It seems to me also, that even with climate change, a future Canberra will be a place offering a wealth of new opportunities. 

First published “The Chronicle” Canberra, Tuesday 3 November 2009

Should Australia have a national disability insurance scheme is a question that needs answering? Quickly! The reason it needs answering is that while Medicare will cover the lifetime cost of treatment for a child born with a disability the same will not happen to people who later in life become disabled.

There are some exceptions to the latter: people like me who have been permanently disabled in car accidents are likely to be covered by third party insurance schemes and workers covered by workers’ compensation.

My addressing the issue of a national insurance scheme is not because of my personal disability but because of how disability can affect the life of family, a situation I have experienced first hand: two of my sisters were born with a physical disability while my nephew in Queensland has Down Syndrome.

For five years during the eighties while managing the commercial interests of Koomarri, the ACT’s largest disability organisation which helps train people with intellectual disability, many of whom had other disabling conditions, to work in Koomarri’s own businesses and in the ACT’s private and public sector.

I also experienced how disability affected families. This was a satisfying job that became less satisfying when, due to shortage of sufficeient government financial support, it became necessary to ask carers to take on the role of beggars rattling tin cans seeking donations from the public to ensure training and other services could be maintained.

Sometimes successful, unfortunately, and often, it wasn’t. Tin rattling was successful when the campaign was led either by prominent sporting personalities or successful business people with a disabled family member or a close friend of a family with a disabled member.

And while such success can engender positive media and feel good emotion in the wider community and keep the problem of disability in focus, unfortunately the emotion passes in a short period of time. Sadly, too, even short-term success also has the unintended consequence of helping hide the fact that if government did the right thing, such tin rattling might not be necessary.

For more years than I care to remember, funding of disability services in this country of the boundless wealth and social inclusion that politicians of every persuasion talk about, has been inadequate. Worse, this inadequacy leads to a lower quality of life for the disabled and often the loss of dignity.

But more than that, this inadequacy also makes the cost of life for carers even more difficult to the extent that they often find themselves in stressful situations that lead to depression that has dire consequences.

I suspect that few members of the general public are aware of how widespread disability is in Australia. For example: do they know that nearly 1.1 million Australians have a disability that prevents them enjoying a life of quality in the same way as their fellow Australians? I doubt it. And do they know that 2.6 million unpaid carers look after the 1.1million? And do they know also that as these carers grow older their life situation will get worse with some of them who have forfeited their life to care for a disabled person needing carers themselves?

The probability also, is that they are not aware of the fact that at the 20/20 summit one of the big ideas accepted by the Commonwealth Government’s Families Department as worth considering was the setting up of a National Disability Insurance Scheme.

This not to say that government does not spend money on disabilities and the disability support pension; it does at a combined cost of around $15 billion. However it seems the idea of a National Disability Insurance Scheme that could be developed in a way similar to Medicare, is having to play second fiddle to the $42 billion high speed broadband scheme, the education revolution and various other infrastructure schemes that seem designed the political wellbeing of the Government rather than people such as the disabled.

And so I say that not only is such a scheme needed to meet the needs of today’s disabled and their carers but, with an ageing population, it is also needed for the future.

“The Chronicle” every Tuesday for Canberra’s best community news

First published The Chronicle ,Canberra, 27 October 2009 

Clearly if aliens from other galaxies visit earth they are more advanced than us. I surmise also, that they visit for the purpose of finding out if they like earth as a possible tourism destination or even a place to settle, something they will decide after examining how we on earth work, play and entertain ourselves and how we treat people who are different, because if they thought they would not be welcome there would be little point in coming.

However, before going further I must make an apology. In my column of October 6, “Pragmatism beats environment in political religion race” I slipped up and in doing so could have misled not only local readers but any visitors from another galaxy who had been in Canberra at the time and had read The Chronicle, knowing from previous exploratory visits that they could rely on its editor, journalists and columnists to give them the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Unfortunately I made a mistake in the column and credited King Harold as trying to stem the tide. Within a few hours of the paper hitting the street, two alert Chronicle readers sent me an e-mail that it was King Canute not Harold who had tried to stem the tide. They were right. And while it is necessary to advise all readers of the mistake (even though most probably made a mental correction) it is necessary that any galactic visitors know of the mistake so that they could then could correct any historical record they might have compiled. 

Correcting this historical error is easy. However, I suspect and worry that it might be less easy to try and persuade our galactic visitors, as they try to develop the conversational skills they would find necessary if they came to live on earth, that only a small percentage of earthlings use the language constantly spoken by characters in televised crime series, social dramas or radio broadcasts.

Perhaps you think I worry unnecessarily? You may be right; but I worry just in case that, on the evening of October 6, as they watched The Wire and Teachers on ABC 2 they might have come to the conclusion that the highlighted pre programme warnings of violence, sex scenes and coarse language implied that these programmes were socially very important.

If on October 7, they then decided to reveal their presence and introduce themselves to the locals and did so using the language of these programmes as guides, they might have decided that a proper earthly greeting was “how the f…k are you, you old s…t or, you old b……d.” In the interests of building good will, they might also have deemed it necessary to inject as many of these profanities as possible into any continuing conversation. 

I accept that profanity is becoming common; however I don’t have to like it. Indeed in the mining area where I grew up, profanity was almost a male private language whose lexicon of more colourful words and phrases I became familiar with as a soldier, sailor and police officer, some of which, I confess, regretfully, that I have used occasionally. That said, however, when almost every second or third word in conversation is a profanity, I worry that profanity will soon be the only language people use to express emotion.

While welcoming changes in society, I do not welcome the increase in profanity. The once almost private male language is now public language and unfortunate as it is, some women seem determined to outdo men in its use. Sadly, too, they are also following men in publicly proclaiming details of their sexual exploits. 

Even more sadly, profanity is at pandemic levels among people once respected for their courtesy and politeness, particularly those who have been appointed, or elected, to run the country’s affairs. Indeed, it is alleged anecdotally that, at times, the profanity these people use would be enough to make a drill sergeant blush.

 But more to the point, as people of advanced intelligence I think our galactic visitors would soon recognise they had made a mistake and decided that at its current level of development, the earth was of little interest to them.



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