In the past week we have seen another backflip by the Premier, Gladys Berejiklian. The NSW Government had planned to cut all state funding to disability advocacy organisations from July 1 this year. These organisations provide crucial advice and individual advocacy services to people with a disability, as well as driving systemic change.
Facing a fatal funding cut, many of these groups banded together to campaign to keep their doors open. For months, this alliance put immense pressure on the Berejiklian government. Last Friday, the Premier relented. But the battle is not over. The funding announced was ‘transitional’, conditional on unknown terms, and only for another two years.
The announcement confirmed that the Premier and Minister for Disabilities still do not understand that the NDIS will not replace systemic and individualised advocacy services. More importantly, almost 90 per cent of people with disabilities in NSW will never participate in the NDIS.
The backflip occurred only because the Premier knew that hundreds of people with disability were going to descend on NSW Parliament House this week. And they did.
Over 200 people with disabilities, their supporters and advocates, packed into a room in Parliament House. They celebrated the partial success of the backflip, and impressed on the government the importance of funding disability advocacy services in perpetuity.
The importance of disability advocacy services in NSW was expressed clearly by those directly affected – people with disability. Michael Sullivan, from the NSW Council for Intellectual Disability told the packed room: “By not funding disability advocacy, the Premier was trying to silence us.”
Michael Rabbitt, from the Physical Disability Council of NSW, said that NSW was “a long way off being a fully inclusive society,” and urged the Premier to fund disability advocacy services beyond two years “to make equality and inclusion a reality.”
The Premier’s announcement has been welcomed by the sector, but they do not see it as a solution – they consider it a stay of execution; a politically expedient offering by a Premier trying to silence dissent 11 months out from an election. After this week, the Premier should realise that dissent will continue until people with disabilities are secure in the knowledge that advocacy services will remain in NSW.
In 2017 Opposition Leader Luke Foley committed a future Labor government to funding disability advocacy services. This week, he confirmed that a government formed by Labor would ensure disability advocacy services were funded in perpetuity.
And so the fight continues, to make the Premier and her Minister for Disability Services understand that there will always be a need for independent advice and advocacy for people with disabilities in NSW.
The NSW Disability Advocacy Alliance should be congratulated for ensuring that the voices of people with disability are heard. Serena Ovens, executive officer of the Physical Disability Council of NSW and chair of the Disability Advocacy Alliance, said in Parliament House this week, “Together, we can make NSW a place where everyone is valued and has an equal chance to contribute and create a society we can all be proud of.” Surely that’s far more important than stadiums in Sydney, and at a fraction of the cost.
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