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Time for a Special Minister for Disability

6 October 2015 at 9:42 am
Ellie Cooper
Should a special ministerial portfolio be created for people with disability in Australia asks author and disability researcher Dr Peter Gibilisco.

Ellie Cooper | 6 October 2015 at 9:42 am


Time for a Special Minister for Disability
6 October 2015 at 9:42 am

Should a special ministerial portfolio be created for people with disability in Australia asks author and disability researcher Dr Peter Gibilisco.

Disability support and policy is currently undergoing much needed and crucial reform. There is a lot of taxpayer money being spent on seeking to get things right.

The National Disability Insurance Scheme is a wide sweeping reform that will try its utmost to significantly improve the lifestyles of people with disability however severe or profound they may be. And there is a need for significant government financial support for people with disability. Which leads me to ask: should a special ministerial portfolio be created for people with disability?

The people we are talking about, our fellow citizens, suffer from an infinite number of complex problems. A minister who can articulate and define disability in human and medical terms, while also being charged with commenting on cultural differences and impacts from legislation overseen in other portfolios. Therefore, such a minister for disability would have to take on a well thought out and innovative role, indeed a rather heavy work load, because of the structure of social issues being addressed as well as the demographic features of the people concerned across the country.

Let me put a probing question here: do people with disability play any fundamental role in the political life of our country? Australia has a diverse population, with approximately 20 per cent living with disability.            

There is also the shocking statistic that identifies that at least 45 per cent of these people are living in poverty. This is a deplorable state of affairs. Australia, along with other OECD countries, need to develop a perspective on economic and social problems that faces this fact front on.

This is only one of many areas of political neglect where Australia’s political system fails in comparison with other OECD nations.  

The government ministerial innovation that I am proposing will help to upgrade the professional and analytical skills of our public service to find a new path.

Could it be that the absence of such a specially designated minister already creates an unfortunate stigma when it comes to the funding of disability services? Of course, this is not just the fault of a self-serving political elite, but it is increasingly recognised that there is a community-wide failure to acknowledge the problems confronting services to those with disability. How is this ignorance to be addressed without a Federal Government minister there to give this the political clout that is needed?

Many have suggested that it looks increasingly likely that funding will be inadequate, if not reduced, from the National Disability Insurance Scheme because of the Government’s desire to reduce its deficit.

The appointment of a disability minister, as I am proposing, would have to be fundamentally guided by those in public life and parliamentarians who are genuinely concerned about life and its struggles. Further, there has to be steps taken to support a move beyond mere coping with life’s struggles to embrace a generosity that reckons with the pleasures of freedom.

Christian Porter, currently Minister for Social Services, in the newly formed Turnbull Government, recently stated, "So I think it's safe to say there will be a minister [for disability] I think people can be absolutely assured that disabilities is going to have front and centre care inside portfolios."

So, that is indeed an affirmation of good government and this should also encourage people with disability to fight on for better outcomes. Will this “disability minister”, take up the fight for us?

(Thanks to Bruce Wearne for his excellent assistance with my writings.)

About the author: Dr Peter Gibilisco is an Honorary Fellow at the University of Melbourne. He was diagnosed with the progressive neurological condition called Friedreich's Ataxia, at age 14. The disability has made his life painful and challenging. He rocks the boat substantially in the formation of needed attributes to succeed in life. For example, he successfully completed a PhD at the University of Melbourne, this was achieved late into the progression of the disability. However, he still performs research with the university, as an Honorary Fellow. His new book is called The Politics of Disability.

Ellie Cooper  |  Journalist  |  @ProBonoNews

Ellie Cooper is a journalist covering the social sector.

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