State Liberal Governments abandon people with disabilities

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If you want an idea of how a Tony Abbott led Liberal Government will treat the most vulnerable people in our community, look no further than the derisory way that Ted Baillieu, Barry O’Farrell and Campbell Newman are treating people with disabilities.

[box border=”full”]Update: Sign this petition calling for Baillieu to fund the NDIS trial site in Victoria.[/box]

You can judge a society by how it treats its most vulnerable citizens; and you can judge a political party by its commitment to addressing disadvantage and empowering the vulnerable. Even a cursory glance at how the State Liberal governments have treated people with disabilities shows that they are mean-spirited and contemptuous towards them.

The publicly funded neo-liberal/conservative think-tank, the Productivity Commission, said of our current (predominantly state-run) disability system:

The current disability support system is underfunded, unfair, fragmented, and inefficient. It gives people with a disability little choice, no certainty of access to appropriate supports and little scope to participate in the community. People with disabilities, their carers, service providers, workers in the industry and governments all want change.

I currently work in the disability sector. People with intellectual disabilities in Australia experience substantially lower quality of life than someone without a disability. Unemployment for people with intellectual disability sits at over fifty percent, with the number of people with intellectual disabilities in full time employment less than twenty percent. People with intellectual disabilities are more likely to die at an earlier age, suffer long-term chronic illness, experience social isolation, mental illness, poverty and violent crime. There can be no doubt that people with intellectual disability are amongst the most disadvantaged people in Australia. The role of a good government is to alleviate this disadvantage and help people get to an even playing field.

To achieve this, the Productivity Commission recommended the creation of a National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), which would see an increase in funding for disability services of 90 percent over five years, representing a modest investment of around $6.5 billion. I say modest, because under the Howard Liberal Government, Australia committed to waste $16 billion to buy just 100 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft — which has so far amounted to a criminal waste of money.

The benefits for this relatively small increase in funding (amounting to around $3,800 additional per person with a disability) would be:

These benefits arise from many sources: wellbeing gains to people with disabilities and informal carers; efficiency gains in the disability sector; savings to other government services; increased labour force participation, and the resulting fiscal gains.

The Federal Labor Government, under minister Jenny Macklin, has committed to the full implementation of the NDIS. This is because Labor stands for lifting people up and giving them the best opportunity. Labor believes that supporting the most vulnerable people in our society is one of the primary roles of good government. In previous years, Labor has also substantially increased the aged pension.

Campbell Newman, Barry O’Farrell and Ted Baillieu have shown utter contempt for the most vulnerable in our society. They have refused to adequately fund their share of the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

In Victoria, the Baillieu Liberal Government has shown that it has abandoned people with disabilities by savagely cutting the disability budget. The Victorian disability budget of $1.4 billion represents a cut in real terms of around 5 percent. This is at a time when the needs and number of people with disabilities is growing! Baillieu and his incompetent disability Minister Mary Wooldridge have done nothing to prepare Victoria for the introduction of the NDIS.

In Queensland, Campbell Newman is blatantly lying to try to absolve his responsibility. Despite the Queensland Treasurer claiming that the state’s budget and economic outlook is stronger than other states in Australia, Newman is spinning the lie that Queensland is nearly “bankrupt”. This spurious and despicable lie is being used to avoid his obligations to fund the NDIS (not to mention wreck the lives of tens of thousands of public servants and their families).

This week, the Council of Australian Governments will be discussing as their first item of business the National Disability Insurance Scheme. The Federal Labor Government has put over $1 billion on the table for the implementation of trial sites for the NDIS.

It is time for the State Liberal Governments to do likewise. To do otherwise would demonstrate that the Liberal Party is a heartless, compassionless party dedicated to looking after only the big end of town and spurning the vulnerable.

For anyone thinking about Tony Abbott and the Liberal Party federally, look at the nasty, mean and cold-hearted way state Liberal governments are behaving.

Update: Joe Hockey personally intervened to stop a blind teenager from receiving the disability support pension

To understand just how much contempt Federal Liberal Party members of parliament hold for people with disabilities, look at their record when they were government last.

Joe Hockey, touted as a moderate or compassionate Liberal, personally intervened in 2006 to prevent a blind teenager with a cleft palate:

Despite his profound physical handicaps and his Australian citizenship, Rory Burnside, 19, was told he did not qualify for the pension because he had not lived in Australia for at least a decade.

Mr Burnside was born in the US while his mother was doing a doctorate, and his family returned to Australia when he was 10 years old.

He qualified for disabled child payments until he turned 16, but was then rejected for the disability pension.

At the time, Joe Hockey was Human Services Minister (and Minister for WorkChoices). More details about this case are here.