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New South Wales election serves up little for disabled people

Introduction by Croakey: Award-winning writer and disability rights advocate El Gibbs urges the major parties running for the NSW state election on 25 March to be more inclusive of people with disability.

A review by Gibbs of online election platforms found that most of the major parties, with the exception of the NSW Greens, do not mention people with disability. She highlights several areas that require urgent attention, including housing, justice, education and the NDIS.

“Disabled people are part of the community, and we vote, so these issues deserve the attention of those standing for election in NSW in the weeks to come,” Gibbs writes below.

See previous articles in this ongoing Croakey series, #NSWVotesHealth2023.


El Gibbs writes:

People with disability in NSW have clear ideas about what needs to change so we are fully included, but have received scant attention from all major parties during the election campaign so far.

Analysis of the various online election platforms has revealed that the state Labor Party’s Fresh Start Plan does not mention disabled people once, and neither does the NSW Liberals Plan for NSW.

Nationals 20 year vision doesn’t mention us, but the NSW Greens election platform does in their Equality and Inclusion section.

For this article, I contacted the main political parties and disability spokespeople, asking for any disability policy or platform, but received no response.

So what do disabled people and their organisations want on the agenda for the NSW Election in a few weeks time? Here are a few suggestions.

National Disability Insurance Scheme

Over the next two years, the funding arrangements for the NDIS will be renegotiated between states and territories and the Federal Government. NSW contributes billions of dollars a year to the NDIS, so what is on the table for these discussions?

For a start, NSW needs to fix some of their essential systems as they are pushing costs onto the NDIS, starting with education and housing.

In the latest NDIS Quarterly Report, 10 percent of boys aged five to seven years are getting NDIS support, compared with four percent of girls the same age. Is this an indicator of a lack of investment in disability support in the early years of schooling?

My analysis of NDIS costs in NSW found that the biggest costs (25%) are supporting people with disability to live in group homes, often as they have very limited other housing options, but also for transport and support for children with disability at school (5%).

Including disabled people in all public services was meant to be a key aim of the NDIS, but ten years after the Scheme began, there has been a big expansion of a separate disability system instead.

Separate homes, separate workplaces, separate recreation and separate education all are more expensive to run and provide no push for mainstream services to become more accessible to disabled people.

There are also few services for the 90 percent of disabled people who are outside the NDIS, particularly in NSW.

These services, that included access to mainstream services, were originally known as Tier 2 of the NDIS, but this hasn’t been developed or explored.

This leaves far too many disabled people falling through the cracks. There is no sign that NSW is going to take this seriously as the fight over NDIS funding ramps up.

Education

Fixing education for disabled kids is connected to the NDIS, and a myriad of other systems. If young people with disability go to a separate school, they are more likely to end up in separate housing, workplaces and recreation. This is what Inclusion Australia calls the “polished pathway“.

In 2020, forecasts showed a big increase in the number of disabled students in NSW schools, so the NDIS data about the number of children getting support can’t be a surprise to anyone. But this support can’t just be the responsibility of the NDIS – the NSW Government also needs to ensure that schools serve all students, not just non-disabled students.

Family Advocacy, a disability advocacy organisation, is calling on the next NSW Government to do exactly this, with their Same Classroom campaign. They want an Inclusive Education Roadmap to be developed, and a Work Transition pilot project so young disabled people can move into a job when they leave school.

But for many disabled students, particularly for First Nations young people, the “polished pathway” goes from out-of-home care, to school suspension and expulsion, to prison. First Peoples Disability Network states:

The inability to access an inclusive education is carried through to employment prospects, with this combination of unfulfilled educational and employment prospects placing young First Nations people with disabilities in a situation in which they are more likely to come in contact with the police and, in turn, enter the prison system.”

More than 40 percent of students who are suspended are disabled kids, and attempts to change this in NSW have been opposed by the NSW Teachers Federation and the Opposition.

The NSW Education Department’s own Student Behaviour policy states:

We know that suspension rates for vulnerable students in NSW are too high, and disproportionately so for students with disability, Aboriginal students, students in rural and remote areas, students in out of home care and students experiencing socioeconomic disadvantage. Most importantly, there is no evidence that suspension is an effective mechanism for improving or managing student behaviour.”

Ensuring that all disabled kids can get a great and equal education is a vital foundation for an included life.

Justice

Recent research from the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (BOCSAR) found that one in four young people in contact with the criminal justice system had a disability. One in four of adults also had a disability. Close to half those with ‘custodial contact’ were disabled people.

These rates were much higher for Aboriginal people with disability.

The Community Restorative Centre found that “the implementation of the NDIS has resulted in both an overall reduction of support services that are meaningful for people with disabilities in the justice system, and a reduction in the capacity of incarcerated populations to access the support that does exist”.

The Council for Intellectual Disability and the Intellectual Disability Rights Service campaigned hard to retain supports for people with an intellectual disability going through the court system, but there is little systemic work to ensure that disabled people don’t end up in prison.

Transport

Much of NSW’s public transport remains inaccessible to people with a variety of disabilities. The ABC recently reported that access is 20 years overdue, and NSW will again miss the agreed deadline for making sure everyone can use public transport.

The NSW Council of Intellectual Disability says that the next NSW Government needs to “work with people with intellectual disability to design transport solutions that work for everyone” particularly focusing on accessible information and training for staff.

Serena Ovens, CEO of the Physical Disability Council of NSW (PDCN), told Croakey that public transport access is vital for people with disability, and so is the availability of wheelchair accessible taxis (WATs), particularly in regional areas. Their election platform says:

There is a concern that drivers have ceased operating WATs and have moved back to standard taxis as a more lucrative business option, and this has left the fleet of available WATs getting smaller and smaller. With more incentives that encourage WAT use, we hope to see a larger uptake of WATs as this becomes an attractive option for drivers, ensuring this essential service is readily available again for those who need it.”

Housing

The cost of finding a home, and the different policy proposals to make it easier, have featured in the NSW election so far, but the needs of disabled people aren’t on the agenda.

NSW is one of the states that has refused to sign on to the mandatory accessibility standards for new homes, baking in structural inequality for disabled people.

According to PDCN, “the lack of accessible housing in NSW is a huge barrier for people with physical disability, with people having to make compromises in where they live and the functional accessibility of their homes.”

People with Disability Australia (PWDA) agrees, with Deputy CEO Carolyn Hodge telling Croakey that:

…housing continues to be a major issue for people with disability in NSW. This is both an issue of affordable and accessible housing stock, as well as an ongoing need for home modifications to existing social housing properties. Incidentally, housing is the number one issue that people contact PWDA’s individual advocacy services about in our state.”

More social and public housing is also being called for by a number of disability groups, along with the right for tenants to make modifications to their home.

PDCN’s CEO Serena Ovens told Croakey that “it is often difficult for people with disabilities to get home modifications on private rental properties, and our research has shown that most NSW rental properties either don’t meet accessibility requirements, or only partially meet them. This is an appalling finding, as close to one third of people with disability across Australia are renters.”

Preventing violence and abuse

As the Disability Royal Commission winds down, with their final report due later this year, the question of oversight is a real one. The recent Own Motion inquiry from the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission showed how widespread the violence and abuse of disabled people is, particularly those who live in group homes.

There are also many disabled people living in boarding houses in NSW, which also have a shocking record of abuse and violence against disabled people.

These kinds of group living arrangements are often closed to the community, and don’t have effective oversight. PWDA is calling for an expansion of the numbers of Official Community Visitors, with an investment of $600,000 which would “provide such an important safeguard, especially at a time when the prevalence of abuse and neglect of people with disability is the focus of the Disability Royal Commission.”

PDCN says that the Ageing and Disability Commissioner, which is meant to provide a response to complaints about abuse, is underfunded and thus unable to reach its potential.

We urge the NSW government to increase funding for this important safeguard for people with disability and ensure continued adequate funding in line with the increasing demand for its services,” says PDCN.

Disabled people are part of the community, and we vote, so these issues deserve the attention of those standing for election in NSW in the weeks to come.

** This article was corrected on 23 February to acknowledge that the NSW Greens have a platform that includes people with disability in their Equality and Inclusion section.


See Croakey’s archive of stories on disabilities and health.

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