HSV Lecture 2014 – The National Disability Insurance Scheme so far

HSV Public Lecture by David Maxwell, social worker, and Vern Hughes, advocate for consumer control, at Balwyn Library on 27 February 2014

David Maxwell described the existing range of disability support organisations as diverse. He pointed out that the initiative to take the disability support out of welfare, with the aim of reducing paternalism, came from Bill Shorten, when he was a minister in the previous Labor government. The concept of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) was intended to be like Medicare, i.e. covering all who required support assistance and thereby increasing equality of opportunities for disabled persons. It was envisaged to be a one-stop shop to assess the disabled.

An obvious question which arises when discussing this issue is, ‘who decides what will count as a disability?’ The complexity is enormous. The Victorian Disability Services Act 2006 lists intellectually handicapped, cerebral palsy, injury, certain chronic medical conditions, yet blindness is not covered.

Over the past few years there has been a huge shift in social policy with increasing concern toward more client-centred approaches. The aging population is making care-support workers a growth industry. It was envisaged that training would guarantee the quality of care. Training needs to cover such skills as client/ patient transfer between bed and chair must respect the dignity of the patient.

Geelong is planned to have 2,000 staff at one of the head-quarters of the NDIS. However, likely cuts in the Abbott government’s budget, is casting doubts on the program.

Vern Hughes was speaking more from the users’ point of view. As a father with two autistic sons he has personal knowledge of available services and their effectiveness. He regards the NDIS as bureaucratic and designed for existing provider organisations like Scope (Yooralla).

Hughes claimed that an alternative approach that focused on the needs of the disabled individual rather than carers has proved successful. He cited the Mamre Association Inc., a Brisbane support group which has been operating for 30 years. The family selects a care worker, that they feel will show empathy for the disabled person. Rather than someone specifically trained as a care worker this person might be a neighbour or family member who has the right outlook. Block funds are given to the association which uses a lot of volunteers. His experience with his two autistic sons has been frustrating. New Zealand and UK have home and community care.

Maxwell said that in the end the community must decide between individual and organisation as provider. Support could be from close friends or a de facto family. It was very difficult to change perceptions. Problems of access were important particularly in rural areas. There was a need for consumers to get together to discuss service providers, compare notes and act as an advocacy organisation in the disability field.

Report by Howard Hodgens