Tuesday, November 24, 2009

NDIS Feasibility Study By Productivity Commission - An Indicator Of What's To Come?

The PM, Kevin Rudd has announced a feasibility study on a National Disability Insurance Scheme. A good thing surely?

The government's Shut Out reports found that many people with disabilities believe the service system is so broken that it needs a change in the nature of a paradigm shift. That includes a fundamental shift from disability service industry to 'being of service'. Not just ensuring a greater money supply to the same old system. NDIS is not a paradigm shift in itself. It is just a tool towards something. Unfortunately giving this feasibility study job to the Productivity Commission casts disability as a simple economic question, rather than one of meeting fundamental needs - a personal, often messy, but rich human process. You cannot effect a paradigm shift by adhering to the same values that are part of the problem in the first place. Whose interests come first? Disability industry, Treasuries, or people with disabilities? An NDIS, "yes", but one that facilitates qualitative change as well as quantitative. If it won't make that happen NDIS will just be another charity scheme.

The Daily Telegraph reported the PM as saying: "This inquiry is an opportunity to rethink how we support people with disabilities so they can engage with their community, get a job where possible, and live a happy and meaningful life," he said.

If that is the aim, and I largely concur, why not go for a wholesale inquiry on what quality in service means and work out a GENUINELY participative long-term process towards it? Not part of the Productivity Commission's brief as far as I can make out at this stage, and probably not the right body to do it anyway.

The economic orientation is not surprising given the Commission's economic orientation, the feasibility study's job having come its way from a similarly motivated Disability Investment Group. And... not surprising Parliamentary Secretary's Bill Shorten's stated belief in his disability portfolio as primarily an economic one, not social welfare. "Social welfare" now being dirty words for some reason, where a brief glance at any dictionary would convince you about its appropriateness in this area.

It will be interesting to see what powers the advisory panel will have, who is on it and how are they selected...

Where is the detail?

So what is the Productivity Commission you ask? Its website summarises its role as "As its name implies, the Commission’s focus is on ways of achieving a more productive and efficient economy—the key to higher living standards."


• improve the productivity and economic performance of the economy
• reduce unnecessary regulation
• encourage the development of efficient and internationally competitive Australian industries
• facilitate adjustment to structural change
• recognise the interest of the community generally and all those likely to be affected by its proposals
• promote regional employment and development
• have regard to Australia’s international commitments and the trade policies of other countries
• ensure Australian industry develops in
ecologically sustainable ways

Can we hope for socially sustainable advice too from a body whose core belief and expertise is about 'wellbeing' through economic activity? Good question.

But we can always go back to calling people with disability "consumers" cannot we. Because that is all any of us are aren't we? Are we?