Opinion | 25 October 2022

What can we expect from the new chair of the NDIA Kurt Fearnley?

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Screenshots of Kurt and George smiling at each other during the podcast interview.

Our friend Dr George Taleporos sat down with the new Chair of the National Disability Insurance Agency, Kurt Fearnley, for his latest episode of Reasonable and Necessary. He finds out why Kurt took on the job, and what we can expect from his leadership of the Agency.

I had never met Kurt Fearnley before this interview for my podcast series, Reasonable and Neccessary.

Like most of us, I had seen the charming sportsman countless times in the media over the last 15 years. The context was always the same, able-bodied people swooning over his athletic achievements. I have no interest or ability in sport and his appearance on the telly would prompt me to change the channel.

It’s not that I wasn’t impressed by his many accomplishments. But the media’s idolisation of sports people was an uncomfortable reminder of what it takes to be valued as a disabled person in our society. You have to be the fastest wheelchair racer on earth, haul paralysed legs through mud and leech-infested rivers to conquer the Kokoda Trail and win a truckload of gold medals to be of value. This may seem like an unfair conclusion to draw but I don’t see it as a coincidence that the awarded and recognised disabled people in our country right now are white athletes with ridiculously broad shoulders who are commonly mistaken as the same person.

My lack of interest in Kurt changed when I received an unexpected direct message from the man himself on Twitter over a year ago.

He said, and I quote “Hi George. Any time I can help amplify your message, please let me know. I’d be in the trenches with you anytime!!!! Proudly!!!!!”

Since then, true to his word, Kurt has reliably shared my latest podcast raising issues of importance about the NDIS. His support helped me to achieve a much wider audience for my advocacy to politicians to take action to keep disabled people safe through the pandemic.

So when Kurt was announced as the new chair of the National Disability Insurance Agency, I was confident that I could finally get the interview I had to have – with the first-ever disabled chairperson of the NDIA – and I could not have been more thrilled.

Of course, there were risks in recording the interview before he had even started in the role. I knew from the start that he would be limited in what he could say and that listeners would want straight answers to the problems that they were facing with the NDIS.

While my interview did not reveal his political manifesto it did reveal something just as important.

After years of being unsure as to whether the leadership at the Board level was really interested in what disabled people needed from the NDIS, we now have a leader whose number one priority is to listen to our community.

We have a leader in Kurt who is committed to ensuring that the voices of people with disabilities are heard at the highest level. While he is not an NDIS participant, he understands the limitations that poses, and how incredibly important the scheme is to those of us who depend on it. We have a leader who is on our side and who understands why the NDIS is essential to Australia being a country that upholds the human rights of disabled people.

In our hour-long, uncut conversation you get an inside view of what motivated Kurt to take on the role.

“A lot of the times over the last three years, we’ve only seen a conversation about the NDIS being this single line item in a budget. Where it is so much more than that. It is a facilitator of disability rights. Disability rights are human rights.”

Catch the full interview and the transcript below.



Coming soon!

Dr George Taleporos is a disability rights advocate. He has over 20 years of experience in the disability field, focussed predominantly on advocacy, human rights policy and practice, service development and governance. He has a PhD in psychology and Honours in sociology. Dr George is the man behind the Summer Foundation’s Reasonable & Necessary podcast. He is also a member of the NDIS Independent Advisory Council. You can follow him on Twitter @drgeorgethecrip.

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