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The business of exclusion

By Naomi Anderson - posted Friday, 18 February 2011

Reported by the ABC this week, the president of the Business Council of Australia proposed that money for flood and cyclone reconstruction should come from disability pensions which 'may not be the best use of government money.'     Graham Bradley says 'it is one of the large budget items' and it is in people's best interests to get back to work.

This is not a unique perspective.  The outgoing head of FaHCSIA laid the ground for this last December, pointing to ballooning numbers.

While the internet lit up on Twitter, Facebook, and online comments, there was an underlying tone, perhaps best articulated by shayne:


there are a large number of people on disability pension that don't need to be - I know of a few myself. the disability pension is pref. to the dole, you don't need to seek work and you get paid more. ultimately, you have an income no-questions-asked for life

The BCA later retracted  the statement by a media release, which is now available in amended form.  The original wording is reflected in an email stating:

'The BCA has not suggested that the disability pension should be either cut or reduced. Our position has always been that people with disabilities who can and want to work should be supported in this endeavour, including through incentive structures.'

There are some important points to consider here.

Firstly, there is an underlying assumption that people on the DSP are bludging.  Not all of them, but enough for people to find it acceptable that the DSP is under attack.  Apparently everybody 'knows somebody' in this category.  Centrelink has a public process for reporting fraud. It is not clear why people are comfortable making angry accusations online, but do not support Centrelink in tracking welfare cheats down.  Likewise the number of people purporting to be GP's who claim they sign forms for people who really could work.  So why do they sign the form?

The vast majority of legitimate DSP recipients are then lumped in with the "cheats" and the rise in recipient numbers becomes a function of the level of rorting, rather than being subject to careful analysis.  The fact is, when people with a disability are employed, they generally do not receive the DSP.  When people with a disability are unable to secure employment, the number of people receiving the DSP increases. 


Is this because people with a disability don't want to work?  Public service employment of people with disability has almost halved in the past two decades. 

It is therefore of serious concern when Dr Harmer states that the DSP needs review, because it is his own policies which have contributed to this decline - policies which would include recruitment and selection.  When Dr Harmer is reported as favouring 'a tougher approach'  arguing for a need to make the gateway ... tougher, and (because) once they get on it they are virtually on it for life', there is an underlying message that people with a disability are lazy and prefer to passive recipients of benefits that contribute to society. 

The Human Rights Commissions, national and Victorian, consistently report that the highest numbers of complaints received are about disability and employment.  People with disability want to work, but experience discrimination every step of the way.

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This article first appeared on February 15, 2011 on the author's blog Naomi Anderson.

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About the Author

Naomi Anderson has worked in the human resources field for over fifteen years, and is the parent of a person with a disability. Passionate about creating positive change in areas of human rights and disability, she is the founder of

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