Michael Bleasdale – Rights & Inclusion Australia

Which of the following statements best describes you?

  • I’m a disability advocate and/or work for a disability peak association or service provider

Question 1:
During the first stage of consultations we heard that the vision and the six outcome areas under the current Strategy are still the right ones. Do you have any comments on the vision and outcome areas being proposed for the new Strategy?

The Rights & Inclusions Australia (R&IA) focus is the Asia Pacific region and rural, Indigenous and remote Australian communities – through programs relating to information exchange, capacity building and effective transition from education to employment and social inclusion.

We are pushing for a stronger focus on housing, and in this question believe that housing is a key component of 1.Economic Security, and should be mentioned explicitly. As R&IA is a member of the Pacific Disability Forum, and works in and engages with the Asia Pacific region, we are struck by the importance of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in that region as a driving force for ensuring that people with disability, amongst others, are not left behind as the economy adapts to address climate change. We believe there should be incorporation of the SDGs within the vision of this Strategy.

Question 2:
What do you think about the guiding principles proposed here?

Our focus for a number of years has been the provision of suitable and accessible housing for people with disability, built on the principal of universal design such that housing is available throughout all markets at all price points, and to this end we have been active in the ACT driving the movement to support the push for accessibility in the National Construction Code (NCC). We believe that the issue of housing, its lack and its poor design and availability, is not adequately captured in the guiding principles, and should be framed as a key determinant of inclusion, as well as recognised as requiring bold political and legislative action in order for Australia to meet its obligations under CRPD.

There needs to be within the Strategy a recognition that the interests of people with disability, as expressed in the CRPD, are not been well served, not only by negative community attitude, but the planning and policies of successive governments, and that policy, regulation and practice need to be named and challenged if outcomes are to be achieved. This includes income security, employment and housing policies. The principles as expressed to not convey this – “design(ing) universally” will not solve the supply problem of housing, making builders build accessible houses.

Question 3:
What is your view on the proposal for the new Strategy to have a stronger emphasis on improving community attitudes across all outcome areas?

Article 8 of CRPD points to the obligations of Australia’s governments to combat discrimination and negative stereotyping of people with disability, and it would appear sensible to have a discreet emphasis within the Strategy to address this. R&IA is concerned, however, that this may lead to the delivery of publicity campaigns which paint a positive image of people with disability, but do little to highlight the causes and remedies of systemic disadvantage that continue to be the hallmark of living with disability in Australia, even since the ratification of the CRPD’s Optional Protocol. It would be a gross misallocation of scarce funds to run glossy government advertisements lauding the achievements of, say, the NDIS or the Disability Employment Service program, instead of targeting directly the sources of discrimination. This area in particular would need to be monitored and reported against in terms of outcomes and impact.

Question 4:
How do you think that clearly outlining what each government is responsible for could make it easier for people with disability to access the supports and services they need?

R&IA supports clear role delineation between and across governments, but this will not necessarily lead to easier access to required services for or greater inclusion of people with disability, as there are decades of experience of this simply leading to the creation of greater fissures within the various aspects of community that need to come together and welcome people with disability to participate. There is little to recommend this in practice to date, since the rationalisation of services to the Commonwealth via the NDIS, where daily there are significant jurisdictional (funding) disputes between for example, Health systems and the NDIS, mental health services and needed ongoing community supports, and even in Advocacy, which has required, and benefitted from, strong state/territory support over the years. Where this can be useful is the articulation of responsibility at the state/territory and local levels for the wellbeing of the population as a whole (inclusion) and the state of housing and the built environment – the infrastructure which can support the push for greater inclusion and participation of people with disability in the life of the community.

Question 5:
How do you think the Strategy should represent the role that the non-government sector plays in improving outcomes for people with disability?

The question assumes a role and responsibility of community organisations which is purely instrumental and, mostly, funded through government grants and contracts to deliver pre-determined outcomes. In that regard there needs to be some nuance applied to the roles that community organisations take, as the NDIS has created a market place where they need to compete with for-profit businesses, and to operate at a profit. Community organisations which are not competing by delivering designated specialist supports under the NDIS have a responsibility to ensure their services are as available to people with disability as to anyone else.

What is missing is a sense of civic society, of non-government organisations which focus on the wellbeing of the community. These need to be nurtured and have the inclusion of people with disability as a strong focus. In addition, many of the roles that the NDIA has taken into its own bureaucracy, those which aim to support participants to plan and manage their lives, need to operate much more within the community, which in turn should be resourced and tasked with making our society more accessible and inclusive.

Question 6:
What kind of information on the Strategy’s progress should governments make available to the public and how often should this information be made available?

The National Disability Strategy should be owned, managed and run by people with disability, and thus information collected should be made public annually at the direction of a governance body of people with disability. The type of data collected is important, with the Australian Government being open about the impact policies are having on reducing poverty and increasing employment. As part of any outcomes framework, it will be imperative to include a range of housing-related outcomes, reflecting the pivotal role played by safe, sustainable and accessible housing in achieving success in the continued focus on six policy areas. Along with meeting Australia’s commitments under the CPRD, including through adoption of Liveable Housing Design Guidelines ‘Gold Level’ to the National Construction Code, R&IA proposes that new, practical measures be investigated to assist people with disability to secure appropriate housing; for example, the development of an accessible housing database to better provide market access to people with disability – with sufficient geographical granularity this will assist people to find housing options. This will also provide a base measure through which the ongoing supply of accessible housing can be gauged as a proportion of all housing.

Question 7:
What do you think of the proposal to have Targeted Action Plans that focus on making improvements in specific areas within a defined period of time (for example within one, two or three years)?

We welcome the development and implementation of targeted action plans, which set targets and measure progress against those targets in key areas. Such mechanisms can hold governments to account, as well point out the need for greater involvement of civil society, and its need to ensure our communities are inclusive. Such a process needs to be co-designed and co-produced with people with disability, and their representative groups, and the articulation of the problem (baseline) needs to be honest and accurate, so that the nature of any problems is identified and realistic solutions provided.

Question 8:
How could the proposed Engagement Plan ensure people with disability, and the disability community, are involved in the delivery and monitoring of the next Strategy?

We share the concerns of others, particularly people with disability, who do not believe that the Strategy’s previous iterations were truly driven by people with disability, and lacked effectiveness and impact as a result. The notion of an “engagement plan” assumes the Strategy is driven by government and, where time and resources allow, there will be engagement with the constituency of people with disability to an extent. This needs to be reversed, with people with disability in charge of the planning, the governance, the management and the operation of the plan, and the extent to which government are engaged will be subject to time, resources and relevance. There is a viable sector that is representative of the heterogeneity of people with disability across Australia, which needs to be resourced to own and run the NDS.

Question 9:
Is there anything else you would like to share about the ideas and proposals in the position paper?

I think that the most important points have been captured throughout the questions, but to summarise:

Housing – this must be articulated as an area of focus, as it is fundamental to the success of inclusion of people with disability in all areas of life. The current housing situation is parlous, the NDIS SDA strategy is not robust and is not enough to drive the production of suitably accessible housing in the near or long-term. Without housing it will be extremely difficult to achieve any of the other goals.

Co-desgin and ownership – the NDS needs to be developed by people with disability, and owned and managed by people with disability, Unless the issues are articulated from that perspective we will continue to get an air-brushed view of the entrenched and systemic problems, and latch onto solutions which do not address these adequately or in a sustainable way.

Measurement – we need concrete targets, which are measurable, and to report openly and honestly about the progress made toward these, or lack thereof. This leads to some questioning of the 10-year timeframe for the Strategy, which takes us to 2030, and whether or not it may be better to frame it in 5 years, so we can revisit priority areas and strategies and adjust if we are not being successful.

SDGs – the UN’ Sustainable Development Goals are important globally, as they highlight the need for ongoing growth and development for all nations, while at the same time respecting and ideally remediating the environment and addressing climate change. In this scenario people at the lower end of the socio-economic scale are vulnerable to shifts in employment trends, shocks to the economy and potential reduction of income, and other social issues that may arise out of community unrest. Various groups are identified as vulnerable in these scenarios, including people with disability, and our immediate neighbours in the Asia Pacific work toward meeting these goals to ensure that none of their citizens are left behind when these changes occur. Australia appears to be much less engaged with the SDGs, but this will surely change when climate change once more takes centre stage in the nation’s conscience. The NDS must engage with the SDGs, which have been shown to be a useful adjunct tool for nations to meet their obligations to CRPD.