Politics

The PM Wants Us To Choose Between Farmers And People With Disabilities. We Don’t Have To.

Instead of taking money from the NDIS, let's spend a few billion less on fighter jets.

Jordon Steele-John, NDIS

Earlier this week, the government announced that financial relief for drought-stricken farmers would be largely paid for by money that was earmarked for the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). Yep. You read that right. The government announced they wanted to take money from disabled Australians and give it to struggling farmers.

A lot of people have been caught up arguing about whether or not that money was really for the NDIS, or whether the NDIS really needed it given PM Morrison has promised to magically fund the scheme anyway, or whether it should in-fact have stayed in the nation building fund (whatever the hell that was) after all.

It’s not really the point.

We Don’t Have To Choose Between Farmers And People With Disabilities

What’s most alarming to me — and it’s not a new trend either — is that politics has stooped so low that it’s now commonplace for disadvantaged people and communities to be traded off and used like some kind of warped card game.

Our farming communities are doing it tough. I haven’t met a single person that disputes this nor have I met a single person who thinks we shouldn’t be doing whatever we can to help them out. The entire state of NSW has been declared to be in drought, and parts of Queensland, Victoria and even SA are in similar dire straits. It’s a national emergency that has its foundations in our ongoing inaction on climate change, in decades of mismanagement of precious water resources in the Murray-Darling basin and in a political culture of pork-barrelling through the election cycles instead of thinking long-term about the future.

But in a wealthy country like Australia, is the NDIS really the only place we can find some money to help out our farmers?

If the PM wants to “repurpose” taxpayer money, then scrap the already-defunct F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program. Or, not even the whole program. Just scrap 19 of the 58 jets we’re buying from the United States. At an estimated cost of $215 million EACH. The $4.085 billion this will save all of us is more than enough. Given the JSF program has failed to meet any of its deadlines or design requirements, its questionable what impact they will have on providing drought relief to our struggling farmers anyway…

Or maybe, instead of giving a tax cut to corporations the government could ensure that those big corporations currently paying zero tax — more than a third — actually contribute to the society that lets them do business here!

We Can’t Afford To Lose The NDIS

But, let’s imagine for a second that none of these options were possible — is it really true that the NDIS is so well funded and perfectly functioning that it can spare $4 billion?

The NDIS has the potential to transform the lives of disabled people, their families and carers. But to do this the scheme needs to work. It needs to deliver on its promises and meet the needs of people, not bureaucrats.

But the reality is that for so many people, this isn’t the case.

People are being knocked back time and again because staff don’t understand their disability. If training doesn’t cover the basics like ‘what is down syndrome’ and whether or not an amputation is permanent, then what on earth is the point of training at all?

People are waiting months for life changing assistive technology. People are literally dying, only to have their equipment turn up a week later.

It can take months to get a plan and if that initial plan isn’t quite right, which is often the case, it can take months again to have it reviewed. People are missing out on the services and supports they need because they have to wait. If you’re really unlucky, the NDIA might even take you to court to pillage the compensation you received for being burnt by a support worker…

And if you’re in a regional area, well you probably can’t access those services anyway. Even if you can navigate the clunky IT system that has failed participants and staff alike from the very beginning.

Meanwhile, half as many women are accepted onto the scheme as men despite the prevalence of disability amongst women in our society being higher.

I could go on, but the only possible outcome here is that the current scope and footprint of the NDIS has to be expanded. We need more staff, we need more training, we need a fit-for-purpose IT system. Far from being any money to spare, the scheme is desperate for more funding to ensure that it delivers for the people it is supposed to support.

I challenge the Prime Minister to prove that all of these factors have been accounted for before this government “repurposes” any funds earmarked for this life-changing scheme.

At the end of the day, this decision isn’t about farmers or disabled people, it’s about political cowardice; the cowardice of politicians who would rob from one disadvantaged group to “support” another, rather than make the big corporations who bankroll their campaigns pay a fair share of tax.


Senator Jordon Steele-John is the Australian Greens spokesperson for Disability Rights. He has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair for mobility.