Friday, March 5, 2010

Some History And Amending Current Terms Of Reference

Some no-fault disability insurance history

Do you feel that you are drowning in a sea of references and market/medical jargon with nothing you can hang your hat on?

For those who feel truth in saying that we must know our history, lest we are bound to repeat it, here are two interesting resources: 

Brian Howe, 2004. Empowering the disabled.
(If you get an error message, Google for the entire phrase as above. Trying to fix this) 
It would be an interesting study to look at the 1974 no-fault disability coverage scheme and compare it with the present NDIS/National Disability Long-term Care and Support Scheme. It would be too much for me to attempt that here, but just a few points that spring to attention when you read these pieces.


The then Whitlam government was genuinely motivated by the injustice of people with disabilities being left without much in the way of financial support and services in proposing a national no-fault compensation scheme. There were no economic reasons then for doing this, as now. A year into the appointment of that inquiry the terms of reference, which had been confined to injury caused by accidents (as the New Zealand Scheme still is), was extended with significant amendments to include inquiring “into whether and how the scheme should cover the rehabilitation and compensation of every person who suffers physical or mental incapacity or deformity by reason of sickness or congenital defect.” Very progressive at that time.

In 1986 too, under the Hawke government, the Commonwealth Disability Services Act (1986) focused on us. On ‘people with disabilities [who] should have the same rights as other members of Australian society to realise their individual capacities for physical, social emotional and intellectual development.’That came first in how services ought to be conducted. In other words "quality of service."

Compare that to the motivation for the current NDIS (the new name is too long for me). Much of the language has been that it is for people with disabilities. But quality of service is off its agenda. Revealed in its non-participatory way of framing the terms of reference for a feasibility study; leaving out inquiry into quality of services, needs, or vulnerability; and the dominant business-banking-bureaucracy-competition policy-medical-expert membership on its committees and panels for example, we can only conclude that the motivation this time is different. It is fear of government budget blow-outs and fear of a failing disability services industry that dominate as drivers for an NDIS. Of course disability interests are directly connected, but in 2010 they evidently come last. A needs-based scheme without exploring needs! Aiming for 'social and economic participation' without our participation in framing the inquiry based on business-medical values into our business!

Circumstances today are of course different to those in 1974. A disability service system like there is now, did not exist. A medical view of disability reigned strong, and obviously still does today. The economic model of disability, now practiced everywhere in our country had not yet been conceived. There was no disability movement to speak of so the small committee inquiring into Whitlam's plan did not include any disability representation. Today we do have a disability movement but the 'Independent' Panel advising the feasibility study includes one lone disability voice, close to government, which cannot account for the various disability perspectives out there and should not. So, we are still marginalised in 2010.

Risk in critiquing NDIS

Another point of interest is that the Whitlam plan was shelved, until re-surfacing in a current form in 2010, because of his loss of government. I have heard some people suggest that to offer critique on the present plan risks the same thing happening again to an entitlement represented by NDIS. I ask, what sort of an entitlement is it, if indeed we may be worse off with the current framework? Why could not the Australian disability movement turn this into the opportunity for a paradigm shift that the current proponents falsely claim, theirs will lead to?

Why cannot we, at this late hour, which is not of our own making, insist the terms of reference be amended? Doing this is in our interest, in that of carers and the disability industry, as for government. It is also possible.

What must go in:
  • strong disability participation in NDIS Panel and inquiry structure
  • disability definition
  • needs definition
  • vulnerability as important needs indicator
  • reasons for the 'dysfunctional' service system
  • examining quality of approaches to need
  • clarifying the interests of people with disabilities, carers/families, services, government
  • explicit underlying values of the inquiry itself
  • funding for strong safeguards including advocacy
  • strong independent evaluation provisions for NDIS
  • possibly more... you name it
Changing the terms of references now is necessary and possible

Changing the feasibility's terms of reference to give us meaningful, strong representation on the Independent Panel, will do more justice to the word 'independent' in its title. To add into the terms of reference vital issues, not appearing there now, for its inquiry, will lead to a more appropriate, resilient scheme, in everyone's interest. After all, NDIS is meant to be central to the entire National Disability Strategy and will shape our future for decades.

The current Opposition Leader has made it clear that his future government's view of people with disabilities will shoot us back to the dark ages. Atrocious. But his negative message about disability is actually reflected in the current NDIS process, underlying values and feasibility study's terms of reference: We're liabilities and we must be sent off to work for benefit of the economy.

An NDIS, reinforced with a revised terms of reference, with firm participative mechanisms, and containing those vital disability issues that must be considered if the scheme is to be strong and durable, including, perhaps especially, under alternative future governments, is imperative. Such an NDIS would have the broad grassroots support that would make it a great counterweight against any future attempts to undo it, or water it down.

This is the time to do it. Whitlam, with his strong personal interest in justice for people with disabilities,  extended his terms of reference in 1974. The government itself, only days ago made minor amendments – a name change. Obviously it can be done - easily.

Why not press for this, while we still can? And if there are powerful reasons against pressing for this, lets hear them now.

There is not much time with 'community consultations' starting in April.

Tomorrow will be too late, when these consultations under the present terms of reference have begun. A golden opportunity for an entitlement worth having, for decades to come, gone!

The only alternative is public protests, media exposure of an NDIS that excludes us, questions asked in Parliament, alternative actions of all sorts, dogging the consultations under this restrictive framework, at every step of the way. And this is quite possible too! By a constituency making up 20% of the population, plus their families and associates...

Is that what we want? Is that what the government wants?

What to do

You can tell the Minister yourself , The Hon Jenny Macklin here what you want to have changed in the terms of reference.

You can tell the Parliamentary Secretary for disability issues, The Hon Bill Shorten here.


  1. Hi Erik

    You'll smile - but I must confess, on reflection, and unless other views appear which cause me again to reflect, that you are correct and that we should pursue gaining a change in the terms of reference along the lines you suggest.

    I am particularly concerned about the possible no-retrospectivity issue.

    I think the terms of reference reflect the makeup of the advisory panel - i.e that service providers believe that service delivery models and quality are okay and need not be examined - whereas we know they are not, and should be.

    As I said on the email list, it would be great if you could find the time to craft a submission with recommendations that organisations like PDA and AFDO could endorse and take to government.

    Thanks for posting this.



  2. John,


    Action is needed now.



  3. Good afternoon Erik,

    I agree with everything you say, you knew I would, however:
    I believe that criticism is good and necessary if it is accompanied with positive alternatives that go beyond 'a good idea'. There must be detail that makes it possible to slide the amendments we think desirable/imperative into the ToR without major reworking. Will somebody with policy writing experience please undertake this and post it for refinement, before submitting it to the Minister and the Productivity Commission.
    We know the issues, we now need to shape the solutions.

    John Homan

  4. John,

    Thank you. I agree rigour is important. How is another matter. More on that later I hope.



  5. Thanks for putting some decent perspective out on the NDIS.

    I'm currently doing a series of essays and analysis for university, and my group and I have found that this whole issue of social and economic participation is just a guize for attempting to increase job participation for all australians. I'm not saying that this work is bad or such, just that it needs to be taken with a grain of salt. Each case needs to be looked at individually. Yes, its a step in the right direction, but only a baby step...

    (I hope you don't mind, but I'm using you as an opinion reference in one of my essays. Positively of course :))