Allan Takes Aim Blog

National Disability Insurance

Posted on: 10 November 2009


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

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