Newcastle disability advocacy rally on Friday morning

TICKING CLOCK: Disability Advocacy NSW chief executive Mark Grierson. He says his group and others will have to cut back services if they lose their state funding, as the government intends will be the case.
TICKING CLOCK: Disability Advocacy NSW chief executive Mark Grierson. He says his group and others will have to cut back services if they lose their state funding, as the government intends will be the case.

DISABILITY groups and Labor MPs will address a disability advocacy rally in Newcastle on Friday, part of a pitch to stop the state government cutting advocacy funding as part of the transition to the NDIS.

The government says disability is now a federal issue with the NDIS, but groups including the Newcastle-based Disability Advocacy NSW fear major cuts to services if their state funding is lost.

The rally is at 10.30am at 408 King Street, Newcastle, in the lane outside of the Star Hotel. Disability Advocacy NSW has its office in the Hunter Workers building opposite.

Disability Advocacy NSW’s chief executive, Mark Grierson, said on Thursday that about 50 disability advocacy services, information providers and peak bodies would lose their NSW government funding in July.

Labor has promised to reinstate the funding should it win the March 2019 election.

Mr Grierson said that despite government claims to the contrary, the funding alternatives being promoted under the NDIS expressly forbid funding for “individual and systemic advocacy”.

Mr Grierson said individual advocacy included representing people with disability in a range of situations including discrimination, health care and the justice system.

An example of systemic advocacy was the work the organisation did in getting the state government to upgrade the Newcastle side of the Stockton ferry to make it wheelchair accessible.

Mr Grierson said his service received one-third of its annual funding of about $3 million a year from the state, and would have to cut services if the funding stopped. He said some advocacy groups were entirely state funded.

Asked about advocacy funding, 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. 

Mr Williams said the NDIS was providing $130 million a year under its Information, Linkages and Capacity-building program, while the state had provided $10.6 million a year for advocacy and information services during the NDIS transition phase.

Mr Grierson said it was the NDIS information program that expressly barred the use of its funds for individual or systemic advocacy. He said the $10.6 million in state funding was the money due to run out at the end of the financial year.

He said he did not know why advocacy funding was being cut, especially as history showed that advocacy could save governments money by finding solutions for problems that might otherwise drag on and on.

Parliamentary secretary for the Hunter, Scot MacDonald, said front line services always had to be the funding priority.

“Advocacy is important but taxpayers want to know their taxes are being used to support people with disability as the primary objective,” Mr MacDonald said.

Newcastle MP Tim Crakanthorp said: “The Berejiklian government has viewed the NDIS as an excuse to wash its hands of all responsibility for people with disabilities.”

Port Stephens MP Kate Washington said: “It’s immoral to see the government spending $2.5 billion on stadiums in Sydney, while cutting funding to disability services.”

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