Well, with less than a day to go until the election, time for a final wrap up of the disability policies which have been announced during the campaign.
In a heartening sign, disability issues have featured more prominently in this campaign than perhaps any other – not a lot, but more than usual.
Although the mainstream media have not given them much prominence, both Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott have personally announced disability policies, rather than just leaving them to their disability spokespersons as usually occurred previously. Both leaders have been questioned directly by carers and parents of children with disabilities at various public forums. On the ABC’s Q & A program, Julia Gillard was directly questioned by Jackie Beard, a parent of a young girl with Down syndrome (view here).
In the Senate, the Carers Alliance is running candidates in all states, and is doing a great job highlighting disability issues and pushing for disability policy to become mainstream.
Down Syndrome NSW had been working with other state Associations (collectively under the banner ‘Down Syndrome Australia’) in the lead up to the election to advocate on policy. Down Syndrome Victoria representatives met with Bill Shorten and Departmental staff earlier in the year, and Mr Shorten offered to host a National Down Syndrome ‘round table’ meeting. A national teleconference between state Down Syndrome Associations was held in the lead up to the election, at which we determined a number of priority issues for the federal government to take action on. The priorities we listed included a ‘Helping children with Down syndrome’ package based on the ‘autism’ package, action on ‘wellness’ and positive ageing, breaking barriers to employment, and expansion of accommodation options and support.
Below is a summary of major party policies which address, or partly address some of these priorities which Down Syndrome NSW and other states had identified before the campaign. You can click on the underlined words below to go to external sites providing much more detail on the various measures.
Early Intervention and School Support
Labor: Julia Gillard has announced its policy A Better Start for Children with Disabilities which is an extension of the comprehensive Helping Children with Autism Package introduced by the Labor Government in 2007, to ensure children with Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, fragile x, vision or hearing impairment receive similar assistance to those with autism.
‘A Better Start’ provides $30 million a year over 4 years:
• Each child with Down syndrome under 6 will be eligible for $12,000 worth of early intervention services (physio, occ. therapy, speech therapy, etc).
• Children with Down syndrome under 15 will be able to receive new medicare rebates for diagnostic and allied health services, based on each child’s ‘treatment and management plan’
The policy follows discussions between the Government and a number of disability groups and parents, including Down Syndrome Victoria. Down Syndrome Victoria representatives were invited to the policy launch by Julia Gillard in Melbourne.
Bill Shorten’s office and the Department have confirmed a national ‘Down syndrome round table’ will be held after the election involving Down Syndrome Australia representatives, which will allow for further input in to the detail of the policy.
Another important element of the ‘Helping Children with Autism’ package is funding for teacher training and parent education /support. Details on these elements are not provided yet in the ‘Better Start’ program, and Down Syndrome NSW will push for funds for school teacher training to be included.
Listen to a story on the disability policy launch here and another story featuring an interview with Down Syndrome Victoria CEO, Cath McAlpine on ABC ‘PM’ program here (click ‘play’ to listen)
Coalition: The Coalition has not announced an early intervention policy during the campaign, and has not commented on Labor’s policy at this stage, beyond saying they will “examine it”.
Regardless of the election result, Down Syndrome NSW will continue to push for the Coalition to support a package for children with Down syndrome, based on the ‘Helping Children with Autism’ package, which includes early intervention funding per child, medicare rebates for allied health treatments and funding for teacher training and family support.
The Coalition has announced an ‘Education Card’ policy which will provide a benefit of up to $20,000 for the 6000 most ‘severely’ disabled students.
Although it is likely most children with Down syndrome will not be eligible, there is potential for the program to be rolled out further to provide support for children with mild to moderate disabilities. The program has a number of positive elements, such as the fact that the funding is ‘portable’ and goes with the student if they move schools.
The Coalition has also committed to increase and expand the education tax rebate to include special education costs for children with disabilities.
Labor: has released a supported accommodation policy which provides $60 million to community organisations to provide an extra 150 places in supported accommodation. . The policy encourages flexible, innovative, local solutions to meet accommodation needs.
Labor states “ Community organisations are uniquely placed to develop accommodation and respite options that capitalise on local support and resources, and meet the needs of people with disability and their carers in an inventive way.
Projects could include a modern renovation of an existing home so it can be used for supported accommodation, pooled resources to build a contemporary facility close to local community and health services to provide overnight respite..”
Coalition: A Coalition Government will establish a Disability and Carer Ombudsman who will conduct a “comprehensive audit of Australia’s supported accommodation, identifying the gaps in both capital and recurrent funding.”
The Ombudsman’s findings will be considered by the Coalition Government, but no commitment to additional funding for accommodation has been made at this stage
National Disability Insurance Scheme
Labor: Following an idea proposed at the 2020 summit in 2008, Labor asked the Productivity Commission to conduct an inquiry into a national disability long-term care and support scheme, including consideration of a national disability insurance scheme (NDIS).
The Scheme has been described as being a bit like ‘medicare for disabilities’ providing comprehensive coverage (‘social insurance’) of treatment and care costs for people with disabilities regardless of how they were acquired - whether acquired at birth, from accident or misadventure.
Labor states “We need to consider the whole of a person’s life and adapt to their unique needs, no matter how they acquired their disability. People with disability and their family or carer should have choice, flexibility and control over the services and supports they require. We know this is what people with disability want, and it is in the nation’s long-term interest.
A national disability insurance scheme would be a complex and transformative reform that requires detailed consideration.
The Productivity Commission inquiry will assess whether a national disability insurance scheme would be appropriate, practical and economically responsible in the Australian context.”
Coalition: The Coalition has committed to “seriously examine the Productivity Commission recommendations in relation to a National Disability Insurance Scheme”.
“The Coalition acknowledges that better support for Australians with a disability is a high-priority issue and recognises that the disability sector and carers are united in their call for a solution to the unmet need for the long term care and support of Australians with a disability and those who care for them.
The current support system for Australians with a disability is a frayed patchwork that leaves many people without cover and adequate support. The Coalition recognises there is a great need for better assistance for people with disability who need long-term care and that many carers are no longer able to provide constant support.
The Coalition has undertaken to closely examine and consider the recommendations of the Productivity Commission inquiry into the long term care and support of Australians with disability.”
All parties’ full responses to a call for a National Disability Insurance Sceme can be viewed here.
A number of other policies and measures have been announced by the major parties during the campaign:
Labor has announced a draft 10 year National Disability Strategy which can be viewed here and the Coalition’s suite of measures which make up its Disabilities and Carers policy can be viewed here.
I have focused in this wrap on the major parties in recognition that either the Coalition or Labor will be forming a government after tomorrow’s election. I also draw your attention to the disability policy statement by the Greens (click here) and also, as mentioned above, to information on the Carers Alliance
Regardless of the result tomorrow, Down Syndrome NSW will continue to advocate for the needs and abilities of people with Down syndrome to be acknowledged and supported by Government, and continue to advocate for the priority issues identified by our members. As always, I welcome your views.
Chief Executive Officer
Down Syndrome NSW
Tel 02 9841 4408