Thursday, September 3, 2015

'Nothing about us without us': The Barnett Government and social policy making that excludes end users

photo of Samantha Connor courtesy of ABC

My colleague and friend Samantha Connor is a renowned and fearsome Western Australian disability activist, advocate, writer and campaigner. (You can read about Samantha here and here). Her writings on disability issues on The Stringer are here.)
Today she has a letter in the West Australian newspaper in response to a recent story and statement by the Disability Minister Helen Morton who claimed the WA had the best disability system in Australia and that WA's system of providing support and services to people living with disabilities called My Way, was far better than the Federal Government's pilot NDIS system currently being trialled in WA. 
Samantha writes:
'"It’s unfortunate that Minister Helen Morton and the WA Government has decided that it’s to be ‘My Way or the Highway’ (WA’s own services best for disabled, 2.9.15). Announcing that WA has the best scheme might be in the best interests of both government and providers, but what about people with disability themselves?
The evaluation for the two disability schemes, the Commonwealth National Disability Insurance Scheme, and the State based My Way scheme, will not be completed for many months. Preliminary feedback indicates that the jury is still out, with many end users critical of aspects of the State based scheme and others finding the Commonwealth scheme difficult to engage with.

 WA has a regrettable track record of declaring ourselves ‘the best’ when it comes to disability care and support. That flies in the face of the commentary of many people with disability and their families who have found our State system not only lacking, but appalling.'
As a disability advocate, a person with a disability and a parent of children with a disability, I ask our State Government to think carefully about making decisions for us and speaking upon our behalf. We understand that this is about your carefully built State systems and your individual interests – but for we people with disability of Western Australia, this is about our lives."
As Samantha rightly notes, politicians and State Governments are using the roll out of the NDIS for their own political purposes, as much as they aspire to assist people with disabilities.

The WA Government's is actively using the NDIS to serve its own political and policy agenda. 

The Barnett government presents an idealised picture of a disability system that they claim effectively serves the needs of people living with disabilities, despite evidence to the contrary and is using the opportunities presented by the NDIS to extend its agenda of privatisation and outsourcing of government funded and provided health, social and community services.
The Minister has come to rely on West Australian parochialism, spin, overinflated political rhetoric and dismissal of her critics as a way to conceal major policy failures across a number of her portfolio responsibilities, including disability, child protection and children's services, mental health and suicide prevention.
The Disability Services Commission, who is fighting to protect and maintain its position of power and influence over WA's disability sector, has also shown itself willing to engage in political manoeuvrings in its support for the Barnett Government's agenda. It released this statement yesterday
" Getting additional resources is important, but what the WA State Government is focussed on, is making sure WA gets the best NDIS in the nation - a system that will provide the best supports and services to people with disability, their families and carers. The supports that people with disability need to live good lives in their local communities. The individual packages costs in the Lower South West may be lower than the national average, but this may not be the case when the Cockburn-Kwinana area rolls in.

 The learnings from the two trials of the NDIS in WA will help inform how the NDIS will operate in WA into the future. But, the State Government can’t wait until the trials are over to start the conversation with the Commonwealth about rolling out an NDIS for all people with disability in WA. The Minister for Disability Services wants to start the conversation now. She has been told by many people that WA NDIS My Way works – they like the support provided by My Way Coordinators who know them, their family and their community.

 The Minister wants to make sure we have an NDIS in WA that is local, builds on the best of our current system and includes the additional State and Commonwealth funding required to meet the needs of all people with disability. This is what is most important."

As Samantha rightly points out the people whose lives are directly affected by all this political posturing- people living with disabilities, their families and carers- are actively excluded from these debates and decisions.

Similar comments were made today by Women With Disabilities WA Inc (WWDWA), an organisation run by and for people with disabilities, who released the following statement:

The organisation believes that it is counter to the original principle of self management to have able-bodied professionals and politicians who don’t personally use the services under trial speaking on behalf of people with disabilities.

There is little evidence in any of the articles that promote the WA My Way scheme that the real experts were interviewed - people with disabilities who are actually using the My Way scheme.

Chair of WWDWA Inc, Ms Zeliha Iscel, said: “One of the central tenets of the disability rights movement is “nothing about us without us”. The current WA My Way and National NDIS schemes both fail to embody this principle and therefore are at risk of failing people with disabilities and our families.”

Ms Iscel stressed that the reality of the My Way and NDIS trials is a lot more complex than the current media reports and government spokespeople have made it out to be. She further emphasised, “It is far too early to be making definite statements about which trial is the best for Western Australia.”

Coordinator of WWDWA Inc, Ms Rayna Lamb says there is a risk of people with disabilities being steamrolled into the NDIS My Way scheme because of the WA government's insistence on WA exceptionalism, regardless of what is actually best for people with disabilities.

Women With Disabilities WA Inc strongly urges the media and government spokespeople to go directly to the people with disabilities and those who support us to get real experience and knowledge on how both trials are running so far. Ms Iscel said: “To do anything less is to treat people with disabilities as perpetual children who are not permitted a voice in our own lives. In 2015, this is unacceptable”.

WWDWA Inc is run by women with disabilities and provides systemic advocacy and peer support for women with disabilities.

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