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We Must Remain Vigilant

The National Disability Insurance Scheme, now renamed DisabilityCare is a step closer to becoming reality after the Queensland Premier Campbell Newman signed an agreement with Prime Minister Julia Gillard in Brisbane. The agreement confirms the funding commitment of both levels of government to the disability scheme.

The deal will see Queensland contribute $1.9 billion dollars over the next decade and see the disability reform starting to emerge in 2016, before it is fully operational in 2019-20. In signing up, Queensland now joins New South Wales, Tasmania, Victoria, South Australia and the Australian Capital Territory as signatories to the funding arrangements. That leaves Western Australia and the Northern Territory as the only governments still to put ink on the page.

Understandably, excitement is growing about the future of disability care in Australia and that has accelerated with each individual agreement reached between the state and territory governments and the commonwealth. People with a disability around Australia, their carers and families, are slowly rediscovering a long lost hope, that their needs might be sufficiently met by government. Of course there is going to be palpable excitement. Of course there will be some celebration.

But we need to be very careful about how we view recent events. As advocates and supporters of this much-needed reform we must not allow ourselves to get too swept up in the emotion of important days like yesterday. There is no doubt that commitments like that agreed to by Julia Gillard and Campbell Newman are a big step forward, but a lot can still go wrong between now and 2018-19. In fact, there is a need to continue to be cautious until well after the scheme is fully operational across the country. Things can still go a bit pear-shaped.

The first, but most surmountable roadblock is getting the recalcitrant state of Western Australia and the Northern Territory to agree to a funding commitment for the rollout with the commonwealth.

Western Australia wants to sign up but wants more decentralised control of the scheme in the state and that is fair enough, because service delivery should be based on a largely decentralised bureaucracy. Negotiations between WA and the federal government will continue and a resolution of some sort appears inevitable. But caution is still the order of the day here and both the state and the commonwealth must continue negotiations with an open mind and a desire for compromise on the specific issues WA has with the policy.

The Northern Territory will also need to get the pen out and sign a deal with Canberra for the full rollout of DisabilityCare. The NT Government just recently penned a deal to have their own launch site in the Barkly Region. In light of this, realisation of the funding for the full commitment surely cannot be too far away. But again, all possible eventualities must be taken into account, including the negative ones. even though 6 of the 8 states and territories have agreed to terms with the Gillard Government.

Bilateral agreements aside, there is still the issue of where the commonwealth, even the states, will get the rest of the money for the disability insurance scheme, despite the commitments to fund the scheme. At present the agreements are simply words between two parties and in the interest of making sure DisabilityCare happens, the positive developments must be viewed with the utmost wariness until the full policy has actually commenced.

The Opposition too, who will almost certainly be in government come September, will need to be pursued just as relentlessly over its commitment to the NDIS. There is bipartisan support but it means nothing until we actually see the policy up and running.

Finally, we must continue to run a critical eye over the policy even when it is operational. There may be shortfalls in standards of delivery and even funding and we should not be particularly surprised if either of these possibilities arises. In fact, it is completely within reason to expect that both problems may exist, though hopefully the  launch sites will allow enough time to remedy most, if not all potential issues.

With the agreements signed to date between commonwealth and state and territory governments, about 90% of Australians with severe and permanent disability and those that look after them can now have a little more hope.

We need to make sure over the coming years that the agreements are transformed from words on a page to deeds.

The Politics of Sweaty Palms and the Live Export Trade

Another day and another shocking video emerged overnight on Lateline, showing what is believed to be Australian cattle being mistreated in an overseas abattoir. This further shocking footage has led to Animals Australia and others, including some parliamentarians getting louder in their advocacy for the live export trade to cease altogether. This comes not a year after the live export trade was temporarily shut down by the Gillard Government, under Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig, until the government saw fit to reinstate it under assurances from the respective parties, a ban that caused the industry some woes, largely in the Northern Territory.

A new package of oversight was worked on over a period of time between the key stakeholders in government and industry with a focus on processes in an attempt to ensure that the horrific images would not be replicated anywhere else in the future.

Of course these dreadfully disturbing images have now been repeated in an Indonesian abattoir, in footage just as sickening, if not more than the previous recording.

Nobody ever said, after the legislation in response to the original video, that the same sorts of images would never ever see the light of day again, would never force us to think had we gone far enough. Indeed it was always that the legislation would have an eye to improving the welfare and livelihood of cattle that Australians send overseas, to a country which slaughters their animals in a particular manner for cultural and religious reasons. To attempt as best as practicable to cut out the practises which have led to such barbaric deaths.

The question is, do we need to get sweaty palms over this and engage in the kind of politics of panic that such an event seems to invoke? Or do we deal with it in a pragmatic fashion, realising that our cattlemen need that market and that the Indonesians would be assisted in having our cattle available to them, being in relative proximity in our region?

There is a cultural and religious freedom element in this argument, as has been said in the past, the methods of slaughter are part of long held ideas about the Islamic culture. Do we seek to deny any nation that right or do we engage with them in much better ways of performing their traditions which have animal welfare firmly in mind?

Yes, we could certainly look at better ways of monitoring the supply chains and the situation in individual slaughter houses and that is probably a fair argument. However, on this count we can also go too far, by having officials in another country too often in an oversight capacity we run the risk as a nation of offending the sensitivities of the Indonesian people and in a way their sovereignty.

What we must do is ensure that there is a stronger level of training provided to and observed by all abattoirs, not just in Indonesia, but in other similar nations. We could perhaps observe more times a year than at present, each abattoir slaughtering Australian cattle and provide the kind of ongoing training and updated equipment, with the help of Indonesia that would allow for the killing of our animals to be done much more humanely on a more regular basis

What we do not need is a sweaty palms, knee-jerk reaction in panic to an horrific, but as far as we know isolated incident which would see all live trade, not just to our Indonesian neighbours, but to other nations which practise Islam cease altogether. Both not acting further and banning the live export trade altogether are harmful in their own ways for both our reputation overseas and our economy. Nobody wants to see the kinds of nauseating images we have been exposed to in recent times, nor do many want to see our live cattle not being exported. Cool heads, not clammy palms must prevail.

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