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Feb 14, 2012
James O'Brien

Making Sure Every Australian Counts

This opinion piece from the President of the Victorian Disability Services Board and disability campaigner, Tricia Malowney has just been published at Thanks Tricia, you make a very powerful case for change.

The NDIS will be a new support system for people with a disability, their families and carers. The Every Australian Counts Campaign says it will transform the way services are funded and delivered, ensuring people are better supported and enabling them to have greater choice and control.[i]

And according to Australian Federation of Disability Organisations, the National Insurance Scheme should mean that all people with a disability can access it regardless of how or when the disability has been acquired.

“This will ensure that support becomes an entitlement and that resource allocation is removed from the political process. The present system forces the prioritisation of some people over others with no accountability in how decisions are made. A National Insurance Scheme will also mean that the resources allocated to improving the lives of people with a disability will no longer depend on the whims of politicians responding to who has the greatest bargaining power.” [ii] (Australian Federation of Disability Organisations, Submission to the National Disability Strategy, 2009)

I hope this is exactly what the NDIS will look like.

It is estimated that around 20% Australians have some form of disability. Some have disability which is recognised at birth, others acquire a disability in childhood, others in adulthood. The disability is acquired in different ways – through illness – such as a cancer which necessitates amputation, or having a syndrome which may cause intellectual impairment, or through developing a muscle wasting illness such as motor neurone disease, or by contracting an infectious disease such as Polio or Aids.

Or you may have an accident – such as slipping in the bath, or falling while rock climbing or being hit by a car or when operating machinery at work.

Currently in Australia, your access to funding to ensure that you are able to participate and reach your full potential is dependent on how the disability was acquired.

I had Polio – I was diagnosed at 4 months, and have used Callipers and crutches for most of my life. I have restricted mobility, which means that without support, I am housebound – my home has been modified at my own expense to ensure that I am able to get in the front and back doors, that I am able to use the shower and toilet, and that I can cook in my kitchen – and not reliant on my husband for constant assistance.

We drew up our own plans for what we needed – and employed people to undertake the work. Because of the funding arrangements currently in place, I have to wait 9 months for the $2,400 allocated to purchase the callipers which are so essential to my independence and which cost me an extra $4500. And I consider myself lucky because I have the means to ensure that I can juggle my finances to enable me to purchase what I need, because I have been in paid work.

Many other Australians are not so lucky – I have had friends who have had to choose between finding the money to purchase a wheelchair and eating for 4 months because they are on a disability support pension and the funding does not meet the purchase cost of the wheelchair.

Others are living in substandard homes because they do not have access to the funding that will enable them to make necessary alterations to their homes.

I and my cohort would be considerably better off if our disability resulted from an accident at work or in a motor vehicle accident or we were able to sue someone.

The supports in place to assist those lucky enough to acquire their disability in this way make the rest of us green with envy.

Just to outline a few of the differences:

If you were working at the time of the accident, and your injuries prevent you from performing your normal job duties, the TAC may be able to pay you income support. (Not available for other Australians with disabilities.)

The TAC can pay for the hire or purchase of equipment that your health professional recommends for your accident injury; for example, crutches. While there may be limited funding – not all equipment is funded or fully funded for other Australians.

The TAC can reimburse you for the reasonable cost of travelling to and from your accident-related treatment…paying for public transport, the use of your personal car and, in very special cases, taxi costs. … travel costs for a short period if your injuries prevent you from getting to work in your car or by public transport. (Not available for other Australians – only in our dreams)

The TAC can pay for rehabilitation and disability services that you need due to your accident; for example, a return-to-work program. [iii] Access to rehabilitation and disability services are severely limits for most other Australians

If you can no longer do the household tasks you did before the accident because of your injuries, the TAC can pay for a person to support you to do some of these tasks. While support services are available, there are queues a mile long to even get on the waiting list – and then the supports are time allocated not based on needs

If the accident has affected your ability to care for your children, you may be able to claim child care support. Again – in our dreams

If you need major home modifications, the TAC may appoint a building consultant to provide project management services[iv] For Victorians with disabilities there is a limit of $4,400 for your lifetime, to do necessary modifications to you home, this included bathrooms, ramps, kitchen, safety flooring, light switches etc[v] – guess how far that goes – and it implies that we are going to stay at home with mum and dad forever.

If you are an WorkSafe claimant, an impairment benefit (a once-off lump sum payment) may be paid in addition to other WorkSafe entitlements such as weekly payments or medical services. You may be entitled to an impairment benefit even if you have returned to work[vi]. If only we had access to such benefits. Imagine – I have MS – I am just as incapacitated at a person who had an accident at work – through no fault of my own – and I – and my family – are forced to live below the poverty.

Our value as Australians should not be dependent on how our disability was acquired. Express your support for a National Disability Insurance Scheme – go to and look at what you can do to support Australians with Disabilities.

[ii] Australian Federation of Disability Organisations, Submission to the National Disability Strategy, 2009

1 Comment

  • You make a good arguement Tricia, but I can add to this: My husband who is a C5-6 quadriplegic was on the waiting list for an Attendant Care Package for 9 years. Yes, you read right, 9 years – and still failed to receive one. He was removed from the list on reaching 65 years of age. As a para myself, I was devasted – I needed the help, my husband needed the help. What went wrong? Friends of ours said we didn’t make a big enough fuss. Maybe that’s true. I admit I had (wrongly) placed my faith in a system that wasn’t going to support us. This system of priority has so any flaws – how well you present your case, the people accessing you, whether or not you have opted for intervention through your local MPs etc. I was naive. I thought they would look at my husband’s disability, our financial situation (neither my husband nor myself had compensation claims for our accidents and yet we know a number of ACP recepients who had compensations – go figure!!), and the degree of family support you might have. Well that’s all academic now. The NDIS is our last hope for a reasonable lifestyle before we shuffle off this planet. I’m looking forward to the successful implementation of the scheme and, as you said, to no longer having to look with envy at those few who are among the chosen ones.

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