Australian government criticised for disability COVID-19 response
2 December 2020 at 6:12 pm
The disability royal commission says the government’s response came too late
The federal government failed to make any significant effort to consult with people with disability or their representative organisations during the early stages of the COVID-19 crisis, according to a disability royal commission report.
The inquiry heard during public hearings that people with disability were not only severely anxious and stressed during the pandemic, but also felt forgotten and ignored by government.
The report said it was “striking” that the disability community was not consulted when emergency plans responding to the pandemic were being prepared.
“The failure to consult during the critical early period contributed to the Australian government neglecting to develop policies specifically addressing the needs of people with disability and the challenges confronting them in an emergency unprecedented in modern times,” the report said.
The federal government did release a targeted plan to help manage and prevent the transmission of COVID-19 for people with disability in April, which set out how the disability workforce could best prepare for the pandemic.
But the royal commission criticised the federal government for not making any significant attempts to consult with the disability community before 2 April, when an Advisory Committee for the COVID-19 Response for People with Disability was formed.
The report said the government failed to properly consider what measures were needed to support and protect the safety, health and well-being of people with disability during the early stages of the crisis.
It makes 22 recommendations, including a call for a federal government commitment to ensure all agencies responsible for the response to COVID-19 and any future emergencies establish formal mechanisms for consulting with the disability community.
The National Disability Insurance Scheme Commission was also urged to review the NDIS Practice Standards and NDIS Quality Indicators to ensure they are appropriate for health emergencies such as the pandemic.
Greens disability rights spokesperson Senator Jordon Steele-John said he was appalled by the commission’s findings.
“The recommendations made by the chair are a vindication of the outrage and distress felt by disabled people, and our families, throughout the COVID-19 pandemic,” Steele-John said.
“It proves that we were shut out of emergency response planning at the beginning of the pandemic, or not even considered, and as a result our lives were put at risk.”
But the federal government has defended its response to the crisis.
It said Australia has had 43.4 COVID cases diagnosed per 100,000 NDIS participants, compared with 108 cases per 100,000 people in the general population.
NDIS Minister Stuart Robert said the government’s response to the pandemic for NDIS participants was swift and ongoing.
“The government commenced planning for issues of disability when COVID started striking in February,” Robert said.
“Disability ministers from around the country gathered on 18 March, and we’ve gathered four times throughout the pandemic to ensure the needs of people with disability are considered and responded to quickly.
“The NDIA also made over 81,000 proactive outreach calls to vulnerable participants across Australia and paid more than $666 million in advance payments to more than 5,000 NDIS providers, ensuring much needed financial supports and continuity of services.”
The federal government has vowed to respond to the report’s recommendations as a matter of priority.