Hang In There, Disabled Australians


Dear Disabilitied People,

How are you? I am fine. I am writing to you because I am very concerned about what might be termed the current "kerfuffle", or "brouhaha", over the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

There has been a certain amount of hand-wringing, apparently, over the political jostling at COAG in regard to NDIS. Some of our more pessimistic commentators have bewailed the partisan bickering and fretted over the possibility that without goodwill on all sides, the NDIS may not come to pass at all.

I realise there are those who will say the NDIS is an urgent priority, that we’ve waited long enough for genuine reform in this area, that it shames us as a nation that we cannot provide a decent quality of life for those with disabilities in our community, that allowing fellow Australians to participate in society is not a welfare luxury but a question of basic human rights, that our failure to achieve an outcome up to now represents not only a gross failure of the democratic system but a history of institutionalised, government-approved cruelty towards its most vulnerable citizens, and that while infrastructure spending and economic competence are worthwhile, if an adequate system to care for and assist people with disabilities cannot be implemented it forces us all to question what point there is in even having a government.

We totally hear you on that. But maybe you could shut up for a minute and let us talk OK?

If there’s one thing we need a bit more of in this debate, it’s allowing the voices of the able-bodied and politically powerful to be heard.

It’s very easy to throw blame around in situations like this. For example: it’s all Julia Gillard’s fault — see how easy that was? But playing the blame game won’t do us any good, will it? What we need are solutions, and I understand it when you disablees express concern over the progress of the scheme. And you deserve a strong, prompt response to your concerns. And as a representative of the able-to-do-more-things-than-you community, I am here to give you that response. So here it is:

Sit tight.

Got that? Just sit tight. We are getting to it. As soon as we’ve cleared up some other things, and made sure everything is in order with the automotive industry and making sure Tiger Woods comes back, we’ll devote all our attention to this issue, which is genuinely important to us.

Because the thing is, there is a lot to be done around this country, disabled peeps. There are meetings to be had, and Senate Estimates hearings to hold, and Question Times to thrash blindly about during. The business of government is serious and cannot be rushed. Sure, doing things is important, but if you make doing things your only priority, there is always the possibility they’ll be done badly, or even worse, unpopularly.

We don’t want this to be any old makeshift jury-rigged plywood and finger-paint disability insurance scheme, we want it to be the Malvern Star of disability insurance schemes: sleek and shiny and moving silently across the footpath like a steel panther. (Apologies to those of you who have bike-disabilities, my analogy was not meant to cause offence.)

The point is, we are taking our time on the NDIS for YOUR sake, disable-os. We would LOVE to get it rolled out and functioning straight away, nothing would make us happier, but to please YOU guys, we are willing to go slow. Because we know these things take time, and we just haven’t had enough time to get this all organised, given that we only found out a few months ago what a disabilityish person even was.

All things considered I’d say we’re moving fast. Almost with indecent haste. To be honest we should be going even slower, really. You’re welcome.

And of course, there’s the elephant in the room — and I’m not talking about those of you with that elephant man disability, if that’s still a thing. No, I’m talking about money. And isn’t that what these things always come down to? Cold hard cash. In any matter of public policy, the question is where is the money going to come from? For it does not grow on trees, no matter what Julia "Everybody gets a pony for climate change" Gillard or Tony "Maternity Leave 4 Lyfe" Abbott or Christine "Capitalism can blow me" Milne might think.

Fact is, the NDIS will cost a lot. A lot of money is needed, and as much as we really are desperate to make this thing a reality, dear disabillies, it’s not easy to just click your fingers and come up with a few billion every time someone needs a lift to work or some basic human dignity. It ain’t that easy.

For the government has lots of calls on its funds, you see. I know you handicappillaries don’t get out much, so maybe you don’t realise, but federal and state governments have a LOT of stuff to pay for. There are steelworks to compensate. Grand Prix to pay for. Private schools to subsidise. High Court challenges to fund. Car companies to bail out. These are the stuff of strong, in-control governments, and they can’t simply be swept aside on a whim. Not that disability funding is a whim, exactly, of course, but you can’t deny we’ve been getting along fine without it until now. For, obviously, a given value of "we".

And frankly, disabiliteeters, you’re not doing yourself any favours here. You could show a bit more gratitude for all the hard work we’re putting in for you here, all the care and love and conversations we’re having about you. You could smile a bit more, for a start — do you have to look so depressing all the time? Sometimes, disabled dudes, you really bum us out.

And you act like we don’t do anything for you. Don’t we give you your own toilets at the shops? Don’t we tell you how inspirational you are all the time? Don’t we run stories about you on current affairs shows with stirring piano accompaniments? I mean God, how many times do we have to let Louise Sauvage on talk shows before you give us some goddamn credit? Sometimes, disababies, we wonder why we bother at all. It can be hell, being compassionate.

So there you are, my disabled friends and friends of friends. The NDIS: it’s a good reform, it’s a strong reform, but just as Rome wasn’t built in a day, disability reform can’t be achieved without a big soggy load of politicking and bitching about money. Hey, we don’t make the rules.

So my advice to you would be to just be patient, stay quiet, try not to take up too much space, and don’t make too much of a fuss — that’s always a turn-off for we able folk. After all, it’s worked pretty well up to now, right?

Just sit tight, guys, and before you know it we’ll have a working committee working on a draft of a plan to report on the trials leading to a preliminary feasibility study on the potential for a staged rollout of a blueprint for the NDIS. And then we can ALL enjoy the joys of disabilities, together.

Yours in functionality,

Ben Pobjie

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.