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Govt Cuts Shutdown Disability Advocacy - Innes

5 August 2014 at 11:55 am
Staff Reporter
The Federal Government is effectively trying to shut down an advocacy voice in the disability sector through funding cuts, says former Disability Discrimination Commissioner Graeme Innes.

Staff Reporter | 5 August 2014 at 11:55 am


Govt Cuts Shutdown Disability Advocacy - Innes
5 August 2014 at 11:55 am

The Federal Government is effectively trying to shut down an advocacy voice in the disability sector through funding cuts, says former Disability Discrimination Commissioner Graeme Innes.

Former Disability Discrimination Commissioner Graeme Innes at the Strengthening Disability Advocacy Conference.

Innes, who made the opening keynote address at the Disability Advocacy Resource Unit’s (DARU) two-day Strengthening Disability Advocacy Conference on Monday in Melbourne, said recent decisions by the Federal Government, particularly the recent Budget, were driven by a philosophical agenda.

He also said that despite the Government knowing the efficiency of systemic advocacy, it had chosen to wind it back.

“[The Government] is effectively trying to shut down an advocacy voice against the Government in the disability sector in the way it is funding,” Innes said.

“Some of the contracts that some of the legal centres have had to sign which defund them for systemic advocacy – this is what it’s all about.

“The Government knows the effectiveness of systemic advocacy. The Productivity Commission, in fact, in a recent study determined that systemic advocacy was a very efficient way for advocacy to occur because it doesn’t only do things for one person but a whole group of people and addresses issues that people face.

“The Government very clearly wound that back.”

Innes said it was up to the sector to make some choices to continue the systemic advocacy role in the best way that it could without the Government’s funding.

“Also talk to members of Parliament about the impact of those funding cuts,” he said.

“Rachel Ball at the Human Rights Law Centre said something I have requoted because I think it is very powerful. She said: ‘It’s easy to stand atop a mountain of privilege and tell people the people at the bottom of the mountain that privilege is irrelevant’,” Innes said.

“And I really do think that that is what this is about. There is a philosophical agenda that is driving these decisions and people aren't really considering the impact on real people.”

The comments come as Treasurer Joe Hockey continues to stand by his Budget, releasing a statement that said: “Welfare changes announced in the Budget focus on supporting those most in need, while creating economic growth and jobs so people don’t need to live their lives on welfare.

“Labor left a welfare system that was unsustainable, particularly when the population is ageing.

“This Budget takes the decisions needed now to tackle Labor’s debt and deficit disaster.

“If Australia doesn’t take the hard decisions now, harder and more expensive decisions will be needed down the track.”

However, Innes said as a result of the recent Budget he believes that over the next 12 months to two years, more homelessness and the levels of poverty among people with disabilities will increase.

“I just think as a community we need to be talking and talking quite publicly about that,” he said.

“I really think that Government hasn’t realised the damage it has done with this current Budget.

“[The Government] is desperately saying that we have a budget emergency and we have to push to reduce the deficit. Australia has lived with a deficit wider than the one we’ve had for decades.

“It’s just not a problem, but the Government is building it up to be a problem as the thing that’s driving it. But they are really not taking into account the impact it is having…

“I think we have to be really vocal. I think the way we have to do it is by telling stories of the impact of some of these cuts on people.

“I do believe, I’d like to be wrong, but I do believe homelessness will increase, poverty will increase, there will be decreases in support that people in psychosocial disability will be receiving because of the fact that many will be pushed off the Disability Support Pension.

There’s no jobs plans from the Government for people with disabilities.

“They’ve got a welfare plan to move us off welfare but no plan to replace it. We need to be saying these things.”

Innes also said it was also important for the sector to speak up over the downgrading of the Disability Discrimination Commissioner role.

“The current Attorney General doesn’t seem to regard the role as important enough to warrant a full-time Commissioner with lived experience of disability with knowledge of the disability sector – so he’s given it to another one of the Commissioners as a second job,” he said.

“As I said, I admire Susan Ryan, she’s a very good operator but she just can’t do that job on top of her current job. As a continuing Commissioner she must work within the constraints of the current Attorney sets.

“I think that is a real problem for the sector because I was able to use that role to really advocate on broader issues and get publicity on broader issues and not having that capacity at the Commission is a real problem for people with disabilities.

“The Human Rights Commission can only do what it’s resourced to do and at the moment that resourcing has been taken away from them.

“Some people in the sector have been critical of the Commission, but this is not a Commission decision. It works within the constraints that the Government gives it.”

He said it was important for the sector to speak to their local MPs about the impact of the loss of the Disability Discrimination Commissioner.

“I have looked at some of the letters that people have sent to MPs and I have talked to some of the MPs that are quite concerned about this decision,” Innes said.

“There’s some momentum building around that. And that is the most likely way that decision will be changed.”

Since his departure from the Disability Discrimination Commissioner position, Innes said he had been building his board portfolio.

“I have been appointed to one Not for Profit board – an organisation called Life without Barriers,” he said.

“They are a really good organisation and their values really line up well with mine. So I am on their board and I am looking to find other boards with which to become involved.”

He said he was also chairing the startup called Attitude Foundation Australia, which was currently working on six-part series to change attitudes towards people with disabilities.

He said the series would air on the ABC in December.

“They are stories about people with disabilities told by us people with disabilities,” he said.

“We are using those to change attitudes. We have got the opportunity to run a lot longer series next year but we have to find the dollars to do that so that’s one of the challenges I am working on…

“I don’t want to slow down. I love what I do and the areas I work in. I just want to do it in a bit of a different way.”

The Champions of Change: Strengthening Disability Advocacy Conference concludes Tuesday, August 5.

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