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Shorten shocked by state of disability

14 Dec 2014

Shorten shocked by state of disability Image

More than 20 experts from the disability sector gathered at the Boyd Community Hub in Southbank last month, for a forum convened by federal Labor Opposition Leader Bill Shorten.

As former disability minister in the Rudd-Gillard government, Mr Shorten arranged the meeting to discuss issues with a range of representatives from across the disability sector.

National director of Young People in Nursing Homes, Dr Bronwyn Morkham, said Mr Shorten prompted the forum to gain an insight into the current state of the sector and was saddened to hear that the situation was becoming worse.

“He wanted a conversation, a bit of a temperature take for where things were up to with disability per se in the disability sector and so on,” she said.

“He was quite shocked to hear the desperation that was out there. He hadn’t thought it would be quite so intense because, under the previous federal government, there was such a commitment to disability issues.”

The National Disability Insurance Scheme, launched under Mr Shorten’s previous Labor government, is currently being piloted in a handful of designated trial sites across the country.

However, as Dr Morkham and other representatives proposed to Mr Shorten at the forum, for those living outside the trial sites, life is getting much worse.

Dr Morkham said the situation was due to a significant reduction in the system’s capacity to support disabled people outside of the trial sites.

“We’re seeing people asked to consider aged care more than ever,” she said. “I’ve never seen it as much as it is at the moment.”

“While people are very keen to see the NDIS come and value it, if you’re in a trial site – wonderful, but if you’re one of the 99 per cent who aren’t the situation is becoming more dire by the day.”

Among the areas represented by those attending the forum included housing, disability services, health, aged care as well as veteran and youth services.

The most vocal matters brought to Mr Shorten’s attention were a lack of social housing and disability funding, which all representatives said were issues prevalent right across the sector.

Dr Morkham said the emphasis on disability services had fallen away under the Federal Government and the previous state coalition government.

“The previous state government had cut services, reduced funding to direct money down to the trial sites. So we’re seeing fewer services now with the NDIS than ever before,” she said.

“I think while the NDIS is bipartisan and it’s continuing, there was clearly felt to be a lack of focus on disability as a vital area of policy.”

Mr Shorten told forum attendees that he was determined to see disability regain its prominence as a major policy issue, with Labor to formulate its policies next year ahead of the 2016 election.

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