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Universal access to disability services defines our progress

By Peter Gibilisco - posted Wednesday, 3 December 2008


A National No Fault Insurance Scheme for people who experience catastrophic injury was an idea endorsed by the Australian 2020 summit as a way to provide future funding for the disability services needed by this group of citizens in our community. This endorsement was made in the context of an overarching concern about funding for disability services at a national level.

A No Fault Catastrophic Injury Scheme proposes a strategy that would secure and develop new streams of funding for disability services. At present, the only forms of no fault coverage for catastrophic injury are for those injuries acquired at work through the various WorkCover arrangements maintained by the states; and through no fault transport accident schemes maintained by Victoria, New South Wales, Tasmania and the Northern Territory.

Outside these schemes, Australians suffering catastrophic injuries, for example, through transport accidents, domestic accidents, sporting injuries or assaults, are left high and dry. So too are those who acquire injuries due to degenerative disease or chronic illness or are born with a disability, and they have no recourse to lifetime care and support outside the minimal assistance provided by the already overburdened and crisis driven public disability assistance systems.

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These facts alone make it clear why a strong correlation exists between disability and poverty - the costs associated with disability are substantial and, either directly or indirectly, deliver costs that, in terms of "flow on effects", every member of the community has to bear.

To further explain the need to address the costs involving disability issues, let me quote from an article titled, Disability Reform from Crisis Welfare to a Planned Insurance Model:

The costs of caring for these marginalised Australians are shuffled between families, State Governments and the Commonwealth Government. We therefore need to plan ahead before the current unmet and under-met needs become overwhelming. As a nation we must address this crisis in care and support. This is an issue for every Australian.

In other words, the costs of disability are already placing far too great a demand upon today’s welfare system, and there is every probability that costs will continue to increase significantly. One of the major factors driving this increase is the substantial increase in the numbers of people with disabilities. According to the article Disability Reform from Crisis Welfare to a Planned Insurance Model, our Australian population is believed to grow by three million in the next 15 years and we should not under-estimate the problems that can cause birth defects even if many other types of disability occur. One estimate suggests that two in every five of the future population increase will involve people with some kind of disability,

There are aspects of our current economic vision which are global and global forces are also driving the current crisis in welfare provision. However, as proposed in the 2020 summit this could be alleviated by government action to reform the way disability is dealt with in this sector, as is proposed by such a No Fault Catastrophic Injury Scheme. This would be one way in assisting those engaged in the empowerment of the many Australians affected by disablement, and it would be good for our society as a whole.

Such a scheme, would allow all Australians to make good their aspirations for a way of life in which fair and just treatment is available to all. Such a scheme would clarify Australia's claim to be “a fair-go” culture. Is there not a solid chance that Kevin Rudd's Government could bring about such an effective social reform with insignificant costs to the public at large. Such a scheme would give added substance to the Labor Party’s current commitment to the social inclusion of all Australian’s.

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Relying on family networks to provide the principal carer is not a long-term solution. The system's reliance upon family members has to face the fact that family members are human too: they get old, become sick and die. And the socioeconomic agenda of today’s globally competitive environment has turned the ability of parents to be the primary carers of their disabled children upside down. Both parents need to work to pay the bills and this demand is not about to change in the situation formed by the recent financial turmoil.

There is likely to be an amplification of demand for support services within the disability sector combined with the evident limits of family carers to provide care for their disabled children and siblings. And this will lead to the magnification of costs within disability support services, and only put further strains on the bottom line of government budgets.

In the current economic climate the government needs to rethink the merits of such a National No Fault Insurance Scheme, before the current unmet and under-met needs become unbearable. In the 1980s there was a similar problem concerning the dependency of Australia’s ageeing population on the old age pension and the discovery that any continuation of the status quo in service provision was placing intolerable demands upon the tax payer. The development of superannuation thus became a needed and effective solution to this problem.

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Thanks for the assistance of Dr Bruce Wearne and Dr Bronwyn Morkham.



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About the Author

Peter Gibilisco was diagnosed with the progressive neurological condition called Friedreich's Ataxia, at age 14. The disability has made his life painful and challenging. He rocks the boat substantially in the formation of needed attributes to succeed in life. For example, he successfully completed a PhD at the University of Melbourne, this was achieved late into the disability's progression. However, he still performs research with the university, as an honorary fellow. Please read about his new book The Politics of Disability.

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