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National Disability Insurance: a big idea whose time has come

By Don Allan - posted Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Should Australia have a national disability insurance scheme is a question that needs answering quickly. Why? Because a National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) will be the means of bringing modest comfort to millions of Australians with a disability, whose lives, and that of their families, can only be described as miserable.

Many people are under the impression that all children with a disability are cared for under Medicare. Not so. While Medicare covers the lifetime cost of treatment for a child born with a disability it does not cover children whose disability is discovered later. Nor does it cover people who, like me, become permanently disabled but, unlike me, were not covered by third party insurance or eligible for workers’ compensation.

I address this issue partly on personal experience, having two disabled sisters and a great nephew with Down Syndrome. And my experience of how families were affected was added to between 1981 to 1986 while I was commercial manager of Koomarri, the ACT’s largest disability organisation which trained people with intellectual disability (some caused by accident) and other disabling conditions, to work in Koomarri’s own businesses and the ACT’s private and public sector. Later I served Koomarri for 11 years as a board member.


However, it has to be said that, no matter how well organisations such as Koomarri care for their clients, the burden on family carers, particularly the less affluent, is enormous. Due to a lack of appropriate government funding they become the slave carers of their children and often their grandchildren. Their lives are forfeit to care, but no one cares about them.

Unsurprisingly many carers often die early due to severe depression brought on by the pressures they face caring for disabled family members. In some cases I suspect, they see death as a welcome visitor.

While working in the field of disability can be eminently satisfying it becomes less so when, due to shortage of government support, one has to take to the streets like a beggar rattling a metaphorical tin can before the public seeking funds to help ensure training and other services can be maintained. Unfortunately, tin rattling has become a substitute for government assistance. Indeed, governments encourage it.

Today the most successful tin rattling is carried out when the beggars are either prominent sporting personalities or successful business people whose objective is to improve their image. Not that this applies to all beggars. Some personalities and business people become beggars because they have a genuine care and concern for the disabled.

Although such success can engender positive media and help keep the problem of disability before the public, unfortunately the effect soon wanes and the money dries up. Sadly, too, short-term success has the unintended consequence of helping hide the fact that if government did the right thing by its disabled, such tin rattling might not be necessary.

So let me remind all governments of what Mahatma Ghandi said: “A nation's greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members."


For more years than I care to remember, disability service funding in this country of boundless wealth and the alleged social inclusion that politicians of every persuasion love to talk about, has been inadequate. Worse, this inadequacy not only leads to a lower quality of life for the disabled but often the loss of dignity.

I suspect few members of the public are aware of how widespread the problem of disability is in Australia. For example: do they know that nearly 1.1 million Australians have a disability that prevents them enjoying a life of quality in the same way as their fellow Australians? And do they know that 2.6 million unpaid carers look after the 1.1 million?

And do they realise that, as these unpaid carers grow older and their life situation gets worse because of their lifetime burden of care, that they too will become disabled and in need of care?

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About the Author

Don Allan, politically unaligned, is a teenager in the youth of old age but young in spirit and mind. A disabled age pensioner, he writes a weekly column for The Chronicle, a free community newspaper in Canberra. Don blogs at:

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