Two weeks ago Australia elected Tony Abbott as Prime Minister. They elected him for no other reason than that internally the Labor Party was a rabble. No matter that the Labor Party had actually governed quite well. The economy was functioning well in difficult times. They put out policy and created social reform in a hung parliament that required negotiation skills of the highest calibre. Debt, despite the Liberals claims, was manageable and amongst the lowest in the world per head of population. These things did not matter because internally Labor was a rabble. And of course there was Kevin. And if there is one good thing about the Liberal’s coming to power, the demise of Kevin is it.
Yesterday Prime Minister Abbott announced his cabinet. To the surprise of no one it was male dominated. In fact in his cabinet there is only one woman, Foreign Affairs Minister, Julie Bishop. In the outer ministry there is a smattering of women. Condescendingly Prime Minister Abbott has stated that he has picked his cabinet on merit. In doing so he has basically said that there are no women within the Liberal Party that are capable. Said the Prime Minister, “You have to make very tough judgment calls as a Prime Minister as to who is in and who is out of Cabinet and at the end of the day we, as a Coalition, have always said that these positions should be based on merit rather than on quota. And if I might say, with respect, have a look at the Labor Party and you can see what quotas do.”
How insulting is this to all the women of Australia? Particularly given that Prime Minister Abbott has his own quotas. He has a quota of National Party members which he must select because they are a Coalition. How else can you explain the selection of people like Barnaby Joyce or Warren Truss? Mr Truss is actually the Deputy Prime Minister simply because he is leader of the Nationals not because he is capable. This is hypocrisy at its best. It is a terrible, terrible slight to all the women of Australia! It was particularly disgusting suggesting that the Labor Party ministers who were women were simply there to fill quotas. The latter point is the biggest insult of all
Women aside it is a real concern to me is that there is no Ministry that is specifically for people with a disability. It can be argued that disability affects nearly 100% of Australia’s population. Either a person has a disability or they are a family member, friend or support person of a person with a disability. Given that we are in the throes of launching the NDIS, which the Liberals have made a concrete promise to continue, and given the far reaching impact of disability one would think that a Minister for Disability was warranted. But No!
The closest that we have is Mitch Fifield. Mr Fifield is nice man. He is knowledgeable and very supportive of disability. He has been appointed as the Assistant Minister to Social Services. He is also the manager of Government Business in the Senate. Inside information tells me that he will be responsible for Disability and Aging. Of course Disability and Aging are one of the biggest populations in Australia. In between being the manager of Government Business in the Senate and assisting the Social Services Minister across a huge portfolio he will have a lot of time for disability wont he??
What is more telling is that Prime Minister Abbott has not even appointed a Parliamentary Secretary for Disability. Labor had three. They started with Bill Shorten who drove the early NDIS debate. They then had Senator Jan McLucas and when they lost Government they had Amanda Rishworth in the post. Note two very capable women there who are mere tokens according to Mr Abbott. (For the record I was not that impressed with Ms McLucas, but I know of a lot of people who were.)
So disability is absolutely demoted under a Liberal Government. There is no specific portfolio for one of the largest issues confronting Australia. Instead disability has been hidden away in Social Services. It appears to be the responsibility of Mr Fifield who already is heavily committed to two major roles. By hiding disability away in Social Services the Liberals have forever labelled disability as a welfare issue.
This is a real concern. It is certainly true that there are elements of disability that are a welfare issue. But anyone who is anyone knows that disability has far reaching implications across many areas. There are medical, social and economic impacts of disability. To my mind Australia has always been more focused on medical aspects of disability. Australia’s disability policy is heavily focused on fixing, managing and supporting the individual with a disability. Australia has yet to properly explore the social and economic impact of disability. With disability now hidden away in the Department of Social Services under the Liberals this does not look like it will change anytime soon.
This has always baffled me. I have always seen disability as its own thriving economy. There are jobs in innovation in the development of technology and infrastructure to ensure inclusion for people with a disability. There are jobs in education where people with a disability require specific education support. There are jobs in many specialist professions that focus on disability. There is business to be made and profits to be had from people with a disability simply by making business, events and entertainment inclusive. In short, people with a disability are an important economic cog for Australia.
Bill Forrester from Travability will tell you about the multiplier effect. When a person with a disability goes out into the community they rarely do so by themselves. They go with family, friends and sometimes support people. For example when a person with a disability goes to a restaurant they may have two or three others with them. If memory serves me correctly Forrester believes this multiplier effect is 2.5. What this means is that if a person with a disability visits a shop, a venue or a facility that is not accessible they take their business elsewhere. Believe me, this amounts to a lot of business and money!
And then you have the infrastructure issues. Labor launched the NDIS. It will be fully operational by 2019. All going well this will mean many more people with a disability will be getting out there into the community. Rather than going out once a month, it is foreseeable that people with a disability will now have the capacity to go out several times a week. This large influx of people with a disability to the community will require more accessible infrastructure. The impact of the NDIS in terms of infrastructure requirements has not been well thought out. It requires foresight, planning and mostly a significant investment.
Of course even Labor did not think about this. Even Labor was firmly entrenched in a medical view of disability. How else could they have come up with a condescending and medically focused name for the NDIS like DisabilityCare? BUT at least Labor gave disability a focus. They gave it a focus by having a Parliamentary Secretary for Disability. They gave it a focus by having a Prime Minister that actually took a keen interest and attended events and consultations concerning disability. They gave it a focus with a far reaching national consultation when developing the NDIS.
What do we have under the Liberals? Well we don’t know because it has been hidden away. It almost seems to be unmentionable, like Voldermort – “… Oh, we do not mention its name…”
So to the women who are missing and the people with a disability that have been hidden I end with the lines of the famous song…
And now I’m standing on the corner all the world’s gone home
Nobody’s changed, nobody’s been saved
And I’m feeling cold and alone
I guess I’m lucky, I smile a lot
But sometimes I wish for more than I’ve got
What about me, it isn’t fair
I’ve had enough now I want my share
Can’t you see I wanna live But you just take more than you give