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Rhetoric without responsibility: the NDIS public discourse

Todd explores the human cost of a public discourse that unfairly presents people with disability as drains on society.

By Todd Winther

Updated 15 Apr 202423 Nov 2022

Do you wake up in the morning and wonder how much it costs a taxpayer so you can get out of bed and ready for the morning?

I know I do.

The last few weeks have not been kind to those with disabilities because we are being turned into commodities, and our dignity is being left behind.

The coverage of the Federal Budget, in particular, reminded me of a time I thought was long gone. People with little knowledge of the practicalities of living with a disability spoke of us as resources that could be diverted as if we were a drain on society: as numbers and dollar signs, not people.

The Australian Financial Review labelled spending on the NDIS as 'counterproductive'. On a recent episode of ABC's Insiders, one journalist pondered whether the NDIS was a 'worthy' enough issue to merit extra money. Another claimed that if he knew ten years ago how much money it would cost, his '…coverage would have been different.'

To those journalists, it may not have seemed like much, but as a severely disabled man who uses the Scheme every day, they might as well have said, ‘You only get to live your life if we decide that you can.’

To me, it is hypocritical that those not on the Scheme make such proclamations while cloaking them in a language of fairness and egalitarianism. They may think that keeping the budget under control is fair to everyone. However, that is commodifying the human rights of those who are disabled. They are implicitly talking about limiting funding that allows people with disabilities access to food and their own bathrooms for the sake of economic responsibility, which is anything but fair. It is also deeply offensive.

These are not isolated incidents.

Somehow, despite the rhetoric of the NDIS as empowering ‘choice and control’, the discussion concerning people with disabilities reverted to the medical model. People with disabilities are framed as burdens, as an imposition on society that must be dealt with. We are seen but not heard.

When the Labor government was elected back in May, there was a perception that the political conversation regarding the NDIS would change. Perhaps we could have a kinder, gentler discussion concerning the Scheme that focused on outcomes for participants and those who support them.

NDIS Minister Bill Shorten seems to be using the correct language. In a recent ABC Radio National interview, he argued that the NDIS was an 'investment' rather an economic liability. But even then, he was forced to accept the premise of the conversation that the only way the nation can look at the NDIS is through a purely economic lens.

To be fair, the government is still in its early stages. However, it is easy to be sceptical about them when their leader sometimes forgets why the NDIS is essential.

Those with disabilities know that the Opposition is not blameless either. After all, they were the ones who started this conversation in the first place. But unfortunately, since the election, the current shadow minister, Michael Sukkar, has also been silent on the benefits of the Scheme.

The tenor of the current conversation has caused me to have panic attacks. I often lie in bed wondering what basic human need I might have to sacrifice so that people who don’t know me can be satisfied with the budget’s bottom line.

If the media, the government, and the opposition asked me to become involved in the debate, I would tell them that the support I received through the NDIS enabled me to pay more taxes last year.

If my NDIS funding were cut, I would have to return to the Disability Support Pension.

How is that fair for anyone?


Todd Winther

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