Plea for Premier to reverse disability funding cuts as pressure mounts

Source: Sydney Morning Herald
James Robertson
The state government is under increasing pressure to reverse a total funding cut to dozens of NSW organisations that advocate for people with a disability, as Queensland follows suit and the state opposition commits to maintaining the funding.

About 50 NSW groups advocating for people with disabilities receive $13 million a year from the state government, but Fairfax Media revealed at least half face imminent wipe out as the government transfers disability funding to the national disability insurance scheme next July.

Others forecast scaling back their services such as legal representation or advocating for greater accessibility at transport hubs.

Groups dependent on state government funding include the NSW Council for Intellectual Disability which has been advocating on behalf of people with intellectual disabilities in the state for six decades.

At the NSW parliament on Thursday a coalition of more than 20 such groups, Stand By Me, and people with a disability personally called on Premier Gladys Berejiklian to continue funding.

“I’m here to ask the Premier to reconsider her cuts to advocacy services,” said Leigh Creighton, who has Down syndrome. “Advocacy groups are like a telephone line that helps people with a disability to be heard clearly.

“If we really want an inclusive community we must have them. Please, Premier… we are all in this together”.

Advocates say the NDIS includes no permanent provision of funding for advocacy which could leave people with a disability without a voice.

The plea comes after Queensland’s Premier Anastasia Palaszczuk announced on Wednesday her government, if re-elected, would continue to provide at least $4 million in ongoing funding for advocates.

NSW Opposition Leader Luke Foley made a similar commitment at the forum.

“If elected in 2019 we will ensure funding,” he said. “We can’t allow Treasury bean counters … to get their hands on the [needy]”.

In a report into the national disability insurance scheme released last month the federal Productivity Commission said it would not replace support for advocacy currently provided by state governments.

“[State] governments should continue to fund disability advocacy organisations, acknowledging advocates play an important role […] that NDIS supports cannot,” the report states.

NSW’s Disability Services Minister, Ray Williams, said: “We recognise that transition to the NDIS is a period of change for people with disability and disability service providers. There will be more funding available for disability advocacy services than ever before.”

Mr Williams says the Commonwealth scheme includes $130 million for connecting people with a disability to services.

Advocates say that funding serves a different purpose to representing people with a disability in public debate.

Mr Williams said the state government would provide $10.6 million for advocacy transition.

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