NSW disability advocates collateral damage in NDIS roll-out

EMPTY SPACE: Removing disability advocates will deprive people who use the services of a core piece of infrastructure, Disability Advocacy NSW chief executive Mark Grierson said.
EMPTY SPACE: Removing disability advocates will deprive people who use the services of a core piece of infrastructure, Disability Advocacy NSW chief executive Mark Grierson said.

DISABILITY support networks could thin or disappear altogether under funding changes due to come into force in less than a year, one of the sector’s leading bosses has said.

Hunter-based Disability Advocacy NSW chief executive Mark Grierson travelled to Sydney on Wednesday to press the state government to stop the proposed funding cuts. 

Fairfax Media has reported the NSW deal with the federal government to introduce the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) means the state will hand its disability budget to the Commonwealth from next July. 

A narrower definition of disability support at the federal level excludes advocacy and health-related services. 

He said their work was a core piece of infrastructure for those with disabilities, helping them navigate a range of situations beyond the federal program’s remit. 

"The NDIS isn't the lock, stock and barrel of someone's life,” he said.

“We need to work together to make sure these citizens get a fair go in every day life. That's what advocates do. Who's going to do this if we don't?"

"We are asking the government to stop making excuses and passing the buck to Canberra."

The state government offers about $700,000 in annual funding into Disability Advocacy NSW each year. 

Questions to NSW Disability Services Minister Ray Williams were redirected to a Family and Community Services spokesman.

The FACS spokesman said a three-year agreement in place would carry on past June 30 next year. 

“From then on, all NSW overnment funding will be provided to the Commonwealth government for the operation of the NDIS and NSW will no longer fund or operate specialist disability services in NSW,” the spokesman said. 

“Under the NDIS, individuals will continue to benefit from the types of activities currently provided by advocacy services and many of these activities will be included in a participant’s plan.”

Advocacy and legal services would be funded outside the NDIS, the spokesman said. $1.7 million had also been allocated to help advocates meet extra demand during the NDIS rollout.

Supporters of disability advocates including Mark Grierson (third from right) and Liesl Tesch (fourth from right) in Sydney on Wednesday. Picture: Supplied

Independent Lake Macquarie MP Greg Piper, a psychiatric nurse who has worked in developmental disability, said he believed the changes went against the spirit of the national program.

“The NDIS is a fantastic initiative but it was never envisaged in any way that it would diminish advocacy for people in this state,” Mr Piper said. 

“People with disabilities in Lake Macquarie and Newcastle need a voice and they can only do that through local advocates.

“It just makes sense.”

Shadow Minister Sophie Cotsis joined with Mr Grierson, Paralympian and Labor MP Liesl Tesch and cross-benchers including Lake Macquarie’s Greg Piper to seek an extension of funding. 

Ms Cotsis said the total bill for NSW’s 50 disability advocacy, information and peak representational organisations was about $13 million. 

”“Disability advocacy groups need certainty so they can continue their important services,” she said.

“Labor’s committed to continuing their funding and so should the Berejiklian- Barilaro government.”

Supporters of disability advocates including Mark Grierson (third from right) and Liesl Tesch (fourth from right) in Sydney on Wednesday. Picture: Supplied

Supporters of disability advocates including Mark Grierson (third from right) and Liesl Tesch (fourth from right) in Sydney on Wednesday. Picture: Supplied