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NDIS: a new way or more of the same?

By David Heckendorf - posted Thursday, 18 April 2013

On 10 April 2013 the NSW Minister for Disability Services Andrew Constance announced that the St Vincent de Paul Society NSW named as the provider of Ability Links NSW, which is part of launch of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) in the Hunter.

The disability sector has been excited over the last year and an half with the prospect of a paradigm shift away from the old charity model of service delivery to a rights based model similar to that of a no fault insurance scheme. To date governments annually deciding how much to allot disability services and leaving it to them to ration the limited resources among those individuals with the greatest needs. Under the NDIS each individual’s disability related needs will be objectively assessed and formal service plans will be drawn up and support provided accordingly.

Recently people with disabilities have, however, had reason for concern. Two steps with in the launch’s implementation have signal that the NDIS may not be such a paradigm shift as once hoped.


The first of these disappointments was the Australian Government’s decision to re-brand the scheme as ‘DisabilityCare Australia’ to match the names of Medicare and ComCare. The Disability Sector’s opposition to this name centred on the word ‘care’. While the objectives of the NDIS includes empowering individuals to making decisions and to live their lives as they pleased, the word ‘care’ focuses on only one aspect of the range of support that a person may require. Many also felt that the word ‘care’ also infers a sense in which the person is having something done to them. They are the passive recipient of the care rather than the director of their support.

The second disappointment to the disability sector has been this appointment of a charity to provide services under the NDIS.

Per se, I have no problem with charities being involved in the support and empowerment of people with disability.

Indeed, creative businesses should team up with local charities to lower the business' tax bill while increasing the charity's capacity to assist people with disability. The involvement of businesses, through charitable foundations, in the lives of people with disability may identify deficiencies in our lives, educate those who are in business and positions of privilege, and generate new ideas and innovation. I think that we need to welcome such partnerships with the most innovative sector of our community and taxation relief through charitable entities is the quid pro quo.

The disability services sector costs Australia billions each year. And, even then not everyone who needs assistance is getting it. Whether the funding of these services comes from the taxpayer or from businesses, the majority of funding of disability support is going to come from someone else's pockets. I used to prefer to have my services paid for from government funding rather than from charitable fundraising because I felt it was less dependent the goodwill of donors. My support should be a human right and not left to the goodwill of donors.

The insurance industry and compensation systems are different to the charity model because insurance premiums are thought of as being part of the costs of engaging in whichever your chosen venture. For instance, motor vehicle owner are legally obliged to carry third party insurance and businesses are similarly obliged to carry workers’ compensation insurance. Such legal obligations have been accepted as part of the modern developed world’s culture and the people who are unfortunately injured due to someone else’s negligence (or in a no fault system) has a statutory and contractual right to compensation. By contrast, this compensation is not dependent upon the goodwill of charitable individuals or smart businesses looking to lower their tax burden.


It was my understanding that the NDIS would eventually be funded in a similar manner to the insurance model: hence the name. Like Medicare, the National Disability Insurance Scheme (recently re‑branded the ‘DisabilityCare Australian’) will be funded through tax-like levies on the taxpayer. People with significant disabilities will have a statutory entitlement to receive certain type of supports. (Unlike the true insurance schemes, the NDIS will not compensation the individual for the same range of lost – for instance, we will not be compensated for pain and suffering or for the loss of income.)

My objection to governments contracting certain charities to provide NDIS services is the ‘risk of association’ effect. Social theorists, such as Wolf Wolfensberger and his Social Role Valorization theory, argue that where an individual is associated with a devalued sector of the community, then s/he is likely to also be devalued. (The exception being that highly status professional or philanthropists who are often commanded for their work with the under privileged.) Those who work with the most vulnerable and disempowered in our community are often disempowered themselves. Frequently they are poorly remunerate and lack significant influence over the terms and conditions of their employment and working conditions.

I wish to state that Australia’s major charitable organisations, such as St Vincent de Paul, The Smith Family, The Brotherhood of St Lawrence and the Salvation Army, well deserve the community’s greatest respect for their long history of good works with the under-privileged.

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About the Author

David Heckendorf has profound Cerebral Palsy, which affects his physical ability to care for himself. Notwithstanding these limitations he holds a Masters of Laws Degree from the Australian National University and has in excess of a decade employment experience within the Australian and ACT Public Service. The opinions he expresses are his own.

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