Australians with disabilities continue to die while waiting for urgent assistance from the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). The deaths also expose the deception of claims, particularly by the Labor Party and trade unions, that the NDIS is ongoing social reform.
The basic prerequisite of the program, which was adopted by the last Labor government in 2012 and introduced at the national level by the current government of the Liberal-National Coalition in July 2016, is the removal of state responsibility for the care of people with disabilities.
Previous government services and institutions, while always poorly funded and inadequate, have been largely dismantled and all services have been outsourced to corporate and non-governmental organizations that submit bids for government contracts.
The youngest victim is 23-year-old Liam Danher from Cairns in northern Queensland. In July last year, Danher’s mother and father began to worry that he was having dangerous night-time seizures. An application was made to the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA), which oversees the deployment of the NDIS, to purchase a $ 2,500 mat that could detect seizures and raise an alarm.
The family could not afford the mat themselves and had to rely on government funding for the equipment. They waited more than six months but received nothing. On February 5, Danher died in his sleep. He had an overnight seizure that caused him to suffocate face down on his bed.
A week after his death, the Danher family received an email from their support coordinator informing them that an “urgent” offer had been made for the mat. Liam’s mother, Tracy Danher, told the Australian: “It was so depressing to receive this email that we had waited every day for this mat to be delivered.
“It would have saved Liam’s life, no question about it, would have alerted us within seconds if he had a seizure and we could have put him in the recovery position like we always did and he would be fine.”
Danher’s death came almost 18 months after a report was published whitewashing government responsibility for the deaths of more than 1,200 people with a disability between July 2016 and September 2019. All died while waiting for support from NDIS. The toll is roughly equivalent to one death per day.
Danher’s death was similar to that of 32-year-old Tasmanian Tim Rubenach, who died of pneumonia in May 2018. He had severe epilepsy, suffered from bleeding stomach ulcers and had been approved by the NDIS for a tilt bed that he urgently needed. It was delayed by months and did not arrive until the day he was due to be buried.
It’s also been a little over a year since the horrific death of 54-year-old Ann Marie Smith, who died in South Australia (SA) in April 2020. Smith, who suffered from cerebral palsy, died of septic shock, multiple organ failure, severe pressure sores, and malnutrition after being handcuffed to a cane chair for more than a year. She received funding from the NDIS for six hours of care per day. Their carers are currently being investigated for manslaughter, but the main causes of such tragedy are systemic in nature.
Smith’s death triggered the establishment of a Safeguarding Task Force to investigate gaps in disability care in SA. The final report released last July released the state and federal government from direct responsibility, but revealed significant gaps in oversight of the care of people with disabilities.
The report found that the NDIA did not have a system of external human health controls under the system and did not have adequate safeguards to verify the quality of services. In addition, the SA state government lacked adequate “mechanisms for access to regular health checks”, the ASU [Adult Safeguarding Unit] or community visitors and advocacy. “
In a rare, insightful characterization of the NDIS, the report concluded, “In short, the NDIS is an insurance-based arrangement where the NDIS is responsible for funding and general system parameters, but takes no responsibility if something is for the individual goes wrong . The risk and responsibility lies with the individual participant. “
As the WSWS warned in 2013, the abolition of government services would mean that care “would be left to the market and businesses would vie for a share of the lump sum granted to those eligible for disability insurance”. The inevitable result will be a race among businesses in the “disability market” to maximize profits by cutting costs at the expense of services. “
Additionally, thousands of people may be excluded from the program. The number of participants is limited to 475,000 and strict edibility criteria are set, especially for those with severe mental health problems or psychosocial disabilities.
A Sydney man, David Harris, was expelled from the program after failing his mandatory annual review. He suffered from acute schizophrenia and diabetes. Last July, two months after he was cut off from NDIS, he was found dead in his home by his sister Leanne Longfellow. “Nobody thought of checking,” she told the media. “My brother was very isolated and alone.”
The Labor Party claims that the NDIS was “poorly managed” by the current coalition government. At the recently concluded two-day Special Platform Conference, the speakers claimed that “only Labor” could deliver an NDIS that “Australians desperately need”.
Labor Minister Julia Gillard announces the NDIS 2011 (Screenshot: ABC News)
This is a delusion. The NDIS has always been geared towards further privatizing the disability and healthcare industries. The Green-backed Gillard Labor government received full bilateral support from the coalition when the program was launched in 2012. The NDIS was based on recommendations from the Productivity Commission, a business-friendly think tank that specializes in cutting government social spending.
Another Labor federal government would only deepen the outsourcing of health services. The National Labor Conference overwhelmingly opposed the commitment not to privatize or outsource any public health department, institution or service, as well as a proposal that opposed the subcontracting of public health services by Labor governments, to be because the employees were guaranteed equal or better pay.
Care for people with disabilities must not be in the hands of the financial elite and their political representatives. As the COVID-19 pandemic disaster continues to prove, the ruling class always puts gains before lives. Free and guaranteed access to high quality health care for all – a fundamental social right – requires the overthrow of the capitalist profit system.
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