Blessings, bigots and discrimination

May 2, 2022
Sydney Mardi Gras. Photo: National Disability Insurance Agency on People with Disability Australia/Facebook

It is what we have come to expect from Prime Minister Scott Morrison — comments that reflect age-old prejudice and which put him firmly in the bigot camp.

Morrison prefaced his response to a question about the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) on April 20 with a comment that he was “blessed” to have children without disability.

He was roundly slammed for his view of disability that reflects the tragedy trope. It’s an attitude long promoted by many religions — that people with disability are “suffering”, objects of pity and/or charity.

Having worked in the disability sector over a couple of decades, I’ve lost count of how many times I have heard the utterance “There but for the grace of god go I”.

Many cultures, historically, hid people with disability as it was thought to be a curse or punishment. For others, they were the subjects of exhibition and objects of ridicule. People with disability were routinely institutionalised or imprisoned and girls and women were sterilised.

While much has changed since the 1960s where the recent disability rights movement began, people with disability still face this discrimination of being “lesser” and a burden on family and society.

It has to be said Australia is not doing too well. According to 2020 figures, the unemployment rate for people with disability is more than twice that of those without disability, while underemployment sits at 10%.

This, in combination with an inadequate Disability Support Pension (DSP), means that a significant number of people with disability and their families are living in poverty.

Many people with disability no longer even qualify for the DSP as successive governments have dramatically tightened eligibility.

Other supports for people with disability are also being squeezed. The federal government has been claiming for some time that the NDIS has become financially “unsustainable”. This means that people with disability have had their funding slashed.

The latest NDIS quarterly report shows the average plan size for each participant fell 4% between 2020 and 2021. As a result, there has been a 400% rise in those going to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) to dispute their NDIS plan. This, in turn, generates a rise in legal costs: over 2020–21, NDIS spent $17.3 million on legal firms.

This was Catherine Yeoman’s question to the PM, that led to his “blessed” response. Yeoman explained that her four-year-old son with autism had just had his NDIS funds cut by 30%.

She later told the Brisbane Times that the reduction in her son’s funding had forced them to make decisions about which therapist to cut. She said: “We’re like, does he need to be toilet trained or does he need to speak?”

This is not an isolated story. The ABC recently reported on a young man with autism and profound intellectual disability whose NDIS package had been reduced by more than 50%. His mother had to quit work to provide the care he needed.

President of People with Disability Australia Samantha Connor told the ABC that they have been contacted by hundreds of people after their NDIS funding was cut. They included people with diagnoses of autism, intellectual and psychosocial disability.

Meanwhile, the Australia Institute reported that the total value of future fossil fuel subsidies already committed in federal, state and territory budgets is $55.3 billion.

Clearly, the fossil fuel sector is “blessed” to have the wholesale support of the federal government, despite the fact that it is destroying the only planet we call home.

Australia can afford to properly fund the NDIS and guarantee a dignified life for people with a disability. That means putting people and planet before profit, and to do that, we need to break the power of the billionaires over our lives.  Help us by becoming a Green Left supporter and making a donation to our Fighting Fund.

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