Last federal election — in the ‘blissful’ pre-pandemic days of 2019 — society was severely out of touch with disability and disability rights. While we’ve still got an incredibly long way to go, as evidenced by a certain leader’s “blessed” comments recently, there’s no denying that health and disability have been injected a little more into the social narrative.
Bringing light to the conversation on disability has been a godsend for many disabled folk like me. I live with several chronic illnesses and invisible disabilities, and, before the pandemic, my existence, at times, felt like it had been swept under the rug of society and left to collect dust.
Now that we talk about health like we do the weather, I’ve noticed that navigating life is a little less tough — I’m not entirely left in the dark anymore. We have the vocabulary to talk about it now.
But the need to keep pushing that progress and having the conversations that lead to better support for disabled folks is vital. With the 2022 federal election well under way, there’s never been a better opportunity to do just that by diving a little deeper into which parties offer the best disability support policies.
Disability policy in Australia is notoriously complex, confusing and, to be frank, kind of stale. But in order to ensure Australia gets better care, support and accessibility, it’s important we take a step back to get some context on our nation’s subpar waltz with disability policy.
What’s the History?
After the Second World War, the number of people living with disability rose rapidly in Australia. In response to this, the Commonwealth established the Commonwealth Rehabilitation Service (CRS). This was a governmental body that provided rehabilitation and employment services to folk living with disability from 1941 all the way up to 2015 when it was finally replaced by the beloved National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) and Disability Employment Services (DES).
As the 80s and 90s rolled around, cornerstone acts that provided framework and safety nets for those living with disability were introduced, including the Disability Services Act 1986, the Social Security Act 1991 and finally, in 1992, the Disability Discrimination Act that aimed to ensure equality before the law.
While many more agreements, acts and policies were flung around, most folk living with disability agree that support was effectively dire until the very recent introduction of the NDIS. Until its introduction, we were dealing with a very poorly distributed system of support across way too many different government bodies.
But it’s difficult and privileged to talk about the NDIS changing the game — because, today, gaps in the support framework are still rife, especially when it comes to invisible disabilities, First Nations folk, and culturally and linguistically diverse Australians.
Between not recognising the struggles of some folk with uncommon or understudied disabilities, to problems with consistency, timeliness and transparency in approving plans and providing support, we have a long way to go when it comes to accessing better disability care.
This is the situation we need to improve by voting for disability rights this federal election.
What Are Disabled Folk Calling For?
Before we dive into the main political party’s policies and stances on disability, it’s important to listen to disabled folk to understand what our main concerns, needs and supports actually are. After all, we make up around 18% of Australia’s population. Our experiences make up a large part of the collective.
Life isn’t simple for those living with an invisible disability, which refers to symptoms or experiences that aren’t instantly apparent. Invisible disability can include pain, fatigue, dizziness, cognitive dysfunction, learning disorders and other mental health issues.
Between fighting stigmas and being gaslit, there’s a deep misunderstanding of invisible and often-unrecognised disabilities in Australia.
A recent study of over 800 people with lived experience of this found that:
- 85% said more accessible car parking is needed
- 74% had been verbally abused when using a disabled parking bay or toilet and;
- 57% often self-isolate because of the severe lack of accessible facilities and lack of understanding when they navigate the outside world.
Better funding for understudied yet prevalent conditions like ME/CFS is also desperately needed, as ‘invisible’ conditions like this are usually not covered under the current NDIS scheme, leaving thousands upon thousands of Australians in limbo land.
First Nations People
The NDIS isn’t the only area of Australian policy where First Nation rights are lacking, but it is a massive issue that gets little media coverage. 30,000 First Nations people currently registered on the NDIS, yet advocates believe the eligible number could be as high as double that. A wealth of barriers stop many from applying.
Neglect from service providers is also a common experience for First Nation people on the NDIS, and according to their own data, more than a third of Indigenous participants feel unsafe or unhappy at home.
The NDIS is now looking to bring in extra measures that give First Nation folk more agency in their care, including consultations with participants and their families.
Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Communities
While the NDIS provides translators to communicate with Australians who have culturally or linguistically diverse backgrounds, the effort largely falls flat for lack of many.
One of the core reasons this happens is because there is a lack of awareness or understanding of what constitutes a disability. CALD services are only provided once a participant is registered on the NDIS, leaving thousands of culturally-diverse Australians left to deal with their disability on their own.
CALD advocates are calling for more capacity-building workshops and initiatives to bridge this gap.
General Calls for Improvement to Disability Support
But there’s a lot more to disability support than the NDIS. Advocates like Dylan Alcott and Catherine McAlpine have shifted their focus to demand better inclusion in the media, politics and decision-making, as well as more government support when it comes to COVID safety,
Now that we’re armed with a better understanding of the general and urgent improvements that those living with disability are set to vote for in this election, let’s dive into the nitty-gritty of our major political party’s policies on the matter.
Starting with the party that wants to tax billionaires and phase out coal and gas, the Greens have made some pretty swish policy plans when it comes to empowering folk with disabilities.
Aiming to “remove the barriers, fix the systems, and eliminate the structural discrimination disabled people face,” the Greens plan includes:
- Fully resourcing the NDIS so it meets the needs of disabled people, their families and carers
- Making disabled people’s physical and digital worlds accessible including by establishing a new $3 billion Accessible Infrastructure Fund
- Champion inclusive education and employment by establishing a 20% quota for full disabled employee representation in the Australian Public Service by 2030
- Create more accessible housing and healthcare through co-designed planning, policies, and implementation of Liveable Housing Australia Silver Standard across the country
- Ensure disabled people are at the centre of decision-making, policy and planning through a $30 million increase in Commonwealth funding for disability advocacy organisations over four years.
While unfortunately their healthcare policies don’t actively reference working toward better care for those living with disability, they do have a wonderful plan to make mental health support more accessible – which of course, overlaps with disability rights and support.
Aiming to invest $4.8 billion to “ensure mental healthcare is fully covered under Medicare,” the Greens are ready to make up for the “chronic underinvestment” in mental health services. With the mental health crisis worsening every year, and being exacerbated by the ongoing pandemic, this is one policy we can’t afford to miss out on.
The Labor Party (ALP)
Where the Greens are looking to make the NDIS a whole lot more fruitful, Labor aims to stop further cuts to the scheme and put “people with disability at the heart of decision making about disability services and policies”.
Originally introduced by the Gillard Labor Government in 2013, the NDIS under an Albanese Labor Government would be set to look a lot different.
While the details are a little blurry, Labor would lift the cap on staffing levels at the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA), trigger an investigation into the tens of millions of dollars in legal fees incurred by the agency, and strengthen the safeguards surrounding both the NDIS and the NDIA so that the scheme “works properly to support people with disability who rely on the scheme, their families, carers, service providers and workers”.
A Labor government would also make sure that people with lived experience of disability had their say on the NDIA Board, as well as taking on leadership positions in the NDIA.
While this sounds like a great start, the lack of detail is a little concerning. How exactly would a Labor government empower more people with lived experience to make decisions for the NDIA and NDIS? If the tens of millions of dollars in legal fees were recovered or pinpointed, is there a plan for transferring these funds to an initiative that would help Australians living with disability?
Labor clearly has a track record that involves spearheading better disability rights in Australia – after all, they implemented the NDIS in 2013. But after two years in a pandemic world where the concerns and needs of those living with disability have been exacerbated, it’s worth asking a little more from the party that touts it’s ‘for the people’.
The Liberal Party (LNP)
We searched high and low on the Liberal Party’s website for a plan to tackle better disability rights, but the word ‘disability’ or ‘disabled’ wasn’t mentioned once.
While having policy plans in place for women, rural and regional areas, environment, families, health, youth, seniors and many other spaces in society that intersect with disability, it’s disappointing that the Liberal Party haven’t addressed the 4.4 million Australians who desperately need more support in navigating the world around them.
Perhaps though it’s hardly surprising when Scott Morrison believes not having children with disability is a “blessing” – the implications of such a statement echoing loud for all to hear.
How to Vote for Better Disability Support This Election
It’s not our place to tell you who you should vote for, but we think that the policies speak for themselves.
Of course, there are many issues at stake in the election, and very few of us are single-issue voters. That being said, if better disability care is something you would like to see in Australia in any way, shape or form, then voting for a party that has a plan to achieve this is a good idea.
Again, disability care is just one aspect of each of the major parties’ manifesto pledges, but it should be pretty clear who is actually going to do the work on this front and who isn’t. You get one vote; think of the millions of Australians who could benefit if you use it well.
Usually a little bit salty and sandy, Imogen Kars is a journalist based in tropical far north Queensland. She covers disability, politics, environment and everything else in between for publications like the Guardian, SBS and Refinery29. You can find Imogen Kars’ work here.