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Disability Groups Split on New ‘Alliance’

10 February 2015 at 11:21 am
Lina Caneva
Not all peak disability bodies and advocates are happy with the Federal Government’s move to establish a combined disability "alliance" to provide Government advice, with those opposed to the move describing it as divisive and misleading.

Lina Caneva | 10 February 2015 at 11:21 am


Disability Groups Split on New ‘Alliance’
10 February 2015 at 11:21 am

Not all peak disability bodies and advocates are happy with the Federal Government’s move to establish a combined disability alliance to provide Government advice, with those opposed to the move describing it as divisive and misleading.

As many as 10 leading disability peak organisations, including the Australian Foundation of Disability Organisations, have condemned Assistant Minister for Social Services, Mitch Fifield’s Friday decision to replace current disability-led advocacy services with five new organisations as part of a Government advisory "alliance" group.

Last week the Federal Government announced the establishment the National Cross Disability Alliance that will provide advice to the Government with the aim of improving social and economic participation.

Assistant Minister for Social Services, Mitch Fifield, said the move would help create a clearer voice for people with disability.

“The National Cross Disability Alliance will provide the Government with practical advice to help improve policies and legislation impacting people with disability across Australia,” Fifield said.

The groups funded to form the National Cross Disability Alliance are:

  •      People with Disability Australia

  •      Children with Disability Australia

  •      First Peoples Disability Network Australia

  •      National Ethnic Disability Alliance

  •      Women with Disabilities Australia

Alliance members will each receive up to $300,000 per annum, to June 2017.

“Minister Fifield stated that the new alliance would represent 'all people with disability',” Deaf Australia President Todd Wright said.

“This statement is divisive and misleading. Whilst Deaf Australia welcomes funding to the five organisations for people with disability, none of these organisations is able to appropriately represent deaf and hard of hearing people.

“The Abbott Government’s ‘reforms’ to the disability advocacy sector will not only harm people with disability, but are also in direct contradiction to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (UNCRPD), to which Australia is a signatory.

“The UNCRPD makes it clear that people with disability should freely choose their own representatives – it is the not the role of any Government to dictate to people with disability who should represent them.”

“Many organisations that give a voice to people who are marginalised and/or disabled were completely de-funded late last year in favour of cross-disability groups.

“The Government's decision will lead to cuts to essential supports to 200,000 people with disability from March 2015, with $1.5 million stripped from ten organisations run by people with disability.

“Organisations who will be forced to shut their doors or significantly reduce services include; Deaf Australia, Blind Citizens Australia, Brain Injury Australia and National Council on Intellectual Disability,” he said.

A statement from a group of ten disability Not for Profits calling itself the Disability Australia Consortium said whilst they welcomed funding to the five organisations for people with disability, "they do not represent our 200,000 constituents."

"There is an important role to be played by both population based organisations as well as people with disability organisations who provide specialist information, advocacy and peer support to people who are newly diagnosed with disability, people who acquire a disability and families.

“The divisive decision by the Government to defund seven (people with disability) organisations and not grant funding to a further four (people with disability) organisations, including autism which is one of the fastest growing disabilities, announced before Christmas is an unprecedented attack on people with disability organisations in Australia."

Graeme Innes, the former Disability Commissioner, who co-authored the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, to which Australia is a signatory described the "alliance" as silencing the voice of people with intellectual disabilities.

"If you don't adequately resource the national peak organisations to represent the voices of these people you effectively stop that voice and therefore, can't monitor and implement the convention," he said.

"We have chosen the organisations who we want to speak for us. It's inappropriate for the Government to make a unilateral decision not to fund these disability groups."

Last week, one of the groups to be named as part of the "alliance", People With Disability Australia, said the new grouping provided a model for the future.

“The Cross Disability Alliance provides a modern, coherent and more comprehensive national voice for people with disability,” President Craig Wallace said.

“This means that people with any kind of disability can directly join, elect and hold accountable the peaks who represent them to Government.” 

Inclusion Australia is another peak body for intellectually disabled people which lost its funding before Christmas. President Kevin Stone agreed the cuts "silenced the collective voice of people with intellectual disability”.

”Inclusion Australia has been at the forefront of helping to define the need for the National Disability Strategy and the NDIS.

”The success of the NDIS for people with intellectual disability depends on us being there to shape the design and support the implementation. Without the strong representation of our national peak, the specific needs and interests of people with intellectual disability and their families will be overlooked, every time.’’

Disability policy research body, JFA Purple Orange said it was concerned the voice of the disability community would be diminished by Government cuts to peak advocacy organisations.

JFA Purple Orange Chief Executive Robbi Williams, said that some defunded peak bodies, which have decades of experience representing people with complex and specific needs, could fold within weeks.

“The defunded agencies provide leadership and voice for many people living with disability and their families, and it is hard to imagine how the views of these important demographics within the disability community will be fully heard and understood in the absence of grassroots agencies.

“Given the complexities in the rollout of the National Disability Strategy and the National Disability Insurance Scheme, it is paramount there is sufficient sustainable funding support to amplify the unique perspective of each of these disability demographics.

“Now is not the time to diminish the voice of the disability community,” he said.

Lina Caneva  |  Editor  |  @ProBonoNews

Lina Caneva has been a journalist for more than 35 years. She was the editor of Pro Bono Australia News from when it was founded in 2000 until 2018.

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