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Disability and the Levy

Monday, 6 May 2013  | Stuart Findlay

1. In his book Technopoly, Neil Postman argues that bureaucracy is basically tasked and devotes much of its energy not simply to providing services but saving the Government money. People with a disability living in Australia have had to continually fight bureaucracy to gain any meaningful progress in some of the basic life benefits that the rest of us procure for ourselves and take for granted.

2. The recent report of the Productivity Commission didn’t have to look far to draw the obvious conclusion that the disability support system is broken. You don’t have to scratch the surface of society very hard to uncover exhausted fearful parents who care for their a child with a disability 24 hours per day and have no energy left fighting the instruments of Government for basic benefits that they’ve been told are their right to receive. Go into any local government area and announce you’re bringing news about respite care services! You’ll get a crowd and hear desperate story after desperate story of the exhausting effects of parents loving their children in demanding and isolated circumstances. It’s not hard to walk away wondering how this can be going on in Australian society.

3. The NDIS is a paradigm change. It will no longer be a process dependent on a broken bureaucracy, but a system of direct payment under an insurance model. This has good elements and a LOT of undetermined elements right now. The extent to which it will be ‘the answer’ remains to be seen. There are a lot of unanswered questions and a lot of uncertainties surrounding the NDIS. Chief among them is the core question about the process for payment. Will people with a  disability have to undergo personal assessment again – something they’ve been subjected to year after year in life? Who will assess them and on what basis? What will the money they receive cover and what constraints will apply to it? The NDIS doesn’t cover housing so how will this vital aspect of life be catered for?

4. ‘People with a disability’ is not some simple, generic category. Those so labeled a wide-ranging population with support needs ranging from very low to very high.  There are people with only physical disability, some with intellectual disability, some with visual or auditory impairment, some on the Autism spectrum, and so on. There are people of many ages, disabilities and life circumstances.

5. The advent of an insurance model of funding will alter the disability sector irrevocably. Much will be lost. High quality services, dedicated professionals, knowledge and wisdom will all be swept away by a new financial operating system. What is now a carefully regulated sector will be replaced with a free market into which operators will come simply to reap profits from people with a disability who now have their own money. A recent advertisement for one of these operators proudly announced “We do aged care, pet care, disability care”. This will become the norm and it is worrying. It’s likely that housing options will become institutions – either hostel accommodation or people with high support needs living in nursing homes. In the 80’s in Australia, there was a movement to deinstitutionalize living arrangements for people with a disability. I believe “institutionalized living” will reoccur because people will only have a limited amount to spend and will be grouped together in large hostel or clustered living arrangements with little or no advocacy or access to the wider community.

6. At its heart, the idea of the community of Australia caring for its own by generous financing is a beautiful idea, but we have not come very far at all in accepting people with a disability. There might be some extent of misunderstanding between the idea and the reality: witness the comment recently by Bernie Brookes, CEO of Myer:

“Remember, a lot of our customers have equity portfolios, they’ve got superannuation and they’ve got bills each week, and suddenly the Medicare Levy costs them another $300 from July next year and that’s what they might have spent with us.”

This is an indication of levels of real misunderstanding about the real life and real conditions in which people with a disability live. Is society ready to knowingly pay for support to a population that is profoundly marginalized and deeply misunderstood?

7. The idea of the whole community contributing to a more just society is a strong one. We all seem happy enough to pay for a Medicare Levy that helps us with our health and medical needs. It doesn’t seem an inappropriate stretch to contribute to alleviate conditions of desperate human need in our midst.

8. Is the Medicare Levy very different in principle from the practices instituted by God in the Israel of the Old Testament? The radical nature of tithing crops and not harvesting to the edges of your field was a  form of social justice and common provision for a society living under the rule of God. The levy might well be seen in this light.

Only a few years ago when we were determined to “Make Poverty History”, we called on the Federal Government to give a small percentage of National GDP  to alleviate world poverty. Now the government is calling on us to increase our giving to alleviate the “Poverty of Disability”  that is an indictment on our prosperous society.

9. I feel that with every tax, the citizens of Australia should understand exactly the nature and purpose of the tax, and if it be justifiable, be committed to the rationale for paying it. Currently the only information easily available is in the form of short grabs of political speak. Tax payers, and particularly the church of God, must demand government accountability, and clarity not just about the Levy, but about all the unanswered issues that directly affect 1 in 5 Australians.

10. I think the church of God has an extra duty too. As the new community of the new creation, it is perhaps the one entity in this world that has the capacity to see the person and to evoke opportunity, instead of seeing the disability and avoiding responsibility! In some ways it’s intriguing that the church is much clearer about the needs of people in the developing world than the needs of their neighbours right in the next street, some of whose lives are as marginalized and desperate as people in the developing world.

11. This extra duty ought to include holding politicians accountable for the design and expenditure on the NDIS, while demanding inclusion, rights and opportunities for people with a disability commensurate with those enjoyed by everyone else.



Vickie Janson
May 7, 2013, 9:16AM
Many thanks for the insights. Yes, it's always hard to keep care personalised and humane when its commercialised and institutionalised and becomes open to abuse. I think we need culture change first and foremost. God gives us a heart.
Ross Tatam
May 7, 2013, 12:28PM
Thanks Vickie and Stuart

Whilst I acknowledge the dangers of 'corporatising' and 'institutionalising' care for the disabled in the community I also fear the danger of the creation of 'disabled' constituencies which remain 'disabled' and which are expected by the creators to be a consistent source of voting support. The ALP did this expertly with indigenous and ethnic groups. Significant beneficiaries are usually the network of bureaucrats and support professionals to the detriment of the disabled.

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