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Lean on me

“The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members” – Ghandi

When George Brandis, in one of his first actions after coming to power in 2013, sacked Disability Commissioner Graeme Innes and replaced him with the IPA’s Tim Wilson to be the Commissioner for bigots, we were given a frightening example of the blatant cronyism that has become a hallmark of the Abbott government.

Graeme Innes was Australia’s Disability Discrimination Commissioner from December 2005 to July 2014. During that time he has also served as Australia’s Human Rights Commissioner for three and a half years and as Race Discrimination Commissioner for two years.

Graeme is a Lawyer, Mediator and Company Director. He has been a Human Rights Practitioner for 30 years in NSW, WA and nationally.

As Commissioner, Graeme has led or contributed to the success of a number of initiatives. These have included the Same Sex: Same Entitlements inquiry, which resulted in removal of discrimination across federal law; the drafting of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and its ratification by Australia.

Graeme was also crucial to the development of the National Disability Strategy and the Disability (Access to Premises – buildings) Standards 2010; as well as the establishment of Livable Housing Australia.

He has also been an active high profile advocate for the implementation of cinema captioning and audio descriptions and, as Human Rights Commissioner, undertook three annual inspections of Australia’s Immigration Detention facilities.

Graeme has been a Member of the NSW Administrative Decisions Tribunal; the NSW Consumer, Trader and Tenancy Tribunal; and the Social Security Appeals Tribunal. He has also been a Hearing Commissioner with the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission.

He was Chair of the Disability Advisory Council of Australia, and the first Chair of Australia’s national blindness agency, Vision Australia.

In 1995 Graeme was made a Member of the Order of Australia (AM). In 2003, he was a finalist for Australian of the Year.

Tim Wilson, on the other hand, has no qualifications or experience to recommend him for the job. He worked at the Institute of Public Affairs for seven years, serving as Director of Climate Change Policy and the Intellectual Property and Free Trade. He was a vocal critic of the Human Rights Commission and during his time there the IPA called for the abolition of the commission. Apparently his criticism of the HRC faded away when he found out how much he would be paid.

Tim Wilson now has a total salary of $389,000 plus vehicle and telephone expenses after the Remuneration Tribunal approved a travel allowance of $40,000 and a “reunion allowance’’ of $16,800 in addition to his base salary of $332,000 — back dated to February 17 when he took up the job.

This becomes even more obscene in light of the subsequent treatment of the disabled by the Abbott government.

Just under half of Australians with disabilities live at or below the poverty line. For the 30% who can work, poverty wages are the norm. The quality of life of Australians with disabilities compares very badly with other developed countries; in fact, it ranks as one of the worst in the OECD.

Some employees with disabilities are paid as little as 9% of the minimum wage – or 99 cents/hour, $8/day, $40/week – including some who work for government-supported Australian disability enterprises.

Over the last five years, some 10,000 employees with intellectual disabilities have sought to be paid more by pursuing a class action lawsuit. According to the federal and high courts, these employees have been illegally underpaid in breach of the Disability Discrimination Act for more than a decade. They are entitled to be compensated by the federal government. Instead, the government has done everything it can to block that effort.

In November, the federal government brought a bill before the Senate, designed to thwart the employees’ class action to recover their back pay. It was unprecedented; under the proposed law employees could accept half of their back pay in exchange for giving up their right to recover the other half. If they didn’t accept the offer, the government made it clear that it would continue to resist and delay the back pay claim in the courts for years.

The government lied to the crossbenchers in the Senate, claiming the employees would only recover half of their back pay in court after deductions for legal fees (false: it’s a pro bono case) and income tax (false: mostly the employees come under the income tax threshold). Jacqui Lambie, then still a PUP senator, parted ways with her colleagues and together with John Madigan and Nick Xenophon voted against the bill, which was defeated by one vote.

Within hours of the vote, Mitch Fifield resumed his lobbying of the crossbench senators, advising them that he would reintroduce the government bill in February 2015.

A few days before Christmas, the federal government cut funding to disability advocacy groups hoping that no one would notice. It did so shortly after reneging on its commitment to reform multinational corporate tax avoidance, a multi-billion dollar industry.

Groups which lost funding include the Australian Federation of Disability Organisations, Autism Aspergers Advocacy Australia, Blind Citizens Australia, Brain Injury Australia, Deaf Australia, Deafness Forum of Australia, Down Syndrome Australia, the National Council on Intellectual Disability, Physical Disability Australia and Short Statured People of Australia.

All up, these funding cuts are said to have affected around 140 groups who deal with about 200,000 individuals.

The cuts also hit groups working with homeless people, including National Shelter, Homelessness Australia and the Community Housing Federation Australia.

This, too, will exacerbate existing problems. According to the most recent data, an estimated 105,000 Australians are homeless while some 254,000 used homeless services in the last year.

From the beginning of this year, those applying for the disability pension will have to be assessed by a government-contracted doctor instead of their own GP. Regular doctors will no longer be allowed to approve new DSP applications.

If the government doctor finds they’re not completely unable to work they could be put on the dole instead – which is about $160 a week less.

Instead of fixing a legitimate problem, ACOSS chief executive Cassandra Goldie says the end result will be a modest budget saving at the expense of greater poverty among those with disabilities who are already doing their best to find work in a “really tough” and discriminatory job market.

“We need a proper job strategy to open up job opportunities to reduce discrimination against people with disability and we would like to see the Commonwealth lead that charge,” Ms Goldie says.

Eligibility for the DSP had already been tightened under the previous Labor government, including tougher impairment tables and job search requirements. Over the past decade the proportion of working age people receiving the DSP had remained relatively constant.

Last financial year, the Department of Human Services investigated 411 people for dishonestly claiming DSP, which clawed back $9.5 million.

However social security fraud represents about 0.02 per cent of payments.

Meanwhile, Kevin Andrew’s $20 million marriage counselling voucher scheme is to be scrapped because, of the 100,000 vouchers on offer, only a few thousand were taken up.

The appointment of “tough guy” Scott Morrison to the Social Services portfolio does not auger well for the vulnerable in our society. Dubbing himself the “Minister for Economic Participation” the man who ‘stopped the boats’ declared he will now ‘stop the bludgers’.

As they ramp up the attack on the most vulnerable members of our society it is incumbent on all decent Australians to raise their voice in protest and help defend the rights of those who are unable to defend themselves.

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28 comments

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  1. Sir ScotchMistery

    Sadly, most folks don’t vote for others. They vote for themselves. It’s how we got to the current place.

    We can hope that this will change one day, but the nature of the conservative voter will always have to be fought against by the thinking voter. Likewise politicians from the parties. Both are most interested in their continuing forward, with o attention paid to those of the “Ghandians” who are kept out of site, out of mind.

    In the election in Queensland, over the past weekend, one candidate appeared to be disabled, but I only saw that on the Saturday night coverage of the results, and the guy seemed inordinately small. Turns out he was in a wheelchair, which I didn’t know from anything I had read previously.

    I’m sort of surprised that the current occupant of the seat normally used by the prime minister of Australia, since he is disabled, but I guess it isn’t a recognised disability, which may account for that.

    I am currently researching a cure for Peta Credlin, but for the moment she remains a prime ministerial disability.

  2. Roswell

    Damn it. I was starting to believe Larry Pickering’s claim that welfare fraud was costing us hundreds of millions a year.

  3. townsvilleblog

    Kaye, another brilliantly worded piece from you, as a disabled pensioner myself I relate very well to the points you have made here. I can assure you that life has gotten increasingly more difficult under this Abbott LNP government, and poverty is a “real” problem for us, my only outlet is online, if that goes I fear my relative stability will go with it. The LNP are anti-human and pro-profit I’m in the former bracket and feeling it, doing it very tough.

  4. Rosemary (@RosemaryJ36)

    This government’s attitude towards the disabled, those otherwise handicapped by economic circumstances and those needing legal aid for matters of public interest like environmental issues is appalling. All to help the big end of town.”To him that hath shall be given” is an out of context distortion of the actual saying attributed to Jesus Christ but zealously following by Abbott and his merry band of blood suckers. “Will no one rid me of this troublesome priest” springs to mind at the moment although in the modern age, the ballot box provides an alternative to murder however satisfying the latter might feel at times as a solution!

  5. CMMC

    At the Tom Uren valedictory, yesterday, it was said that during the Great Depression, young Tom witnessed his mother being ‘evaluated’ by a panel of worthies as to whether she deserved welfare.

  6. Lyle Upson.

    oh thank you, this has come to my attention at an appropriate time … United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

    i am seeking assistance to prevent two elderly people from being removed from their home. The solution is enforced financial management along with a few minor matters to fix up

    will be shortly on a train to a few platforms down the line to make a visit to the State Premier’s office so the staff there can put a face to my name

  7. kizhmet

    I have two friends with disabilities. One in a wheelchair, the other with a brain injury and associated psychological issues. Neither abuse the system and support themselves as best they are able. It is incumbent on those of able to provide support to do so, not just on an individual level, but as a society as a whole. This is antithetical to the liberal philosophy of entitlement. Makes my blood boil.

  8. diannaart

    Thank you Kaye Lee

    I concur with @townsvilleblog, the import of your article which, without the “vital link” of the internet we would miss and be further impoverished.

  9. Bridget Cameron

    The Prime Minister has the Mental illnesses, Narcissistic Personality Disorder and Antisocial Personality Disorder. Because of his mental illnesses, he should be put immediately through the hoops of getting onto the Disability Support Pension! Once he has been deemed unfit for his current position, he can retire uncomfortably on his disability support pension! The definition of Narscissist personality disorder is characterized by a long-standing pattern of grandiosity – either in fantasy or actual behavior-, an overwhelming need for admiration, and usually a complete lack of empathy toward others. People with this disorder often believe they are of primary importance in everybody’s life or to anyone they meet. The definition of Antisocial personality disorder refers to people who frequently lack empathy and tend to be callous, cynical, and contemptuous of the feelings, rights, and sufferings of others. They may have an inflated and arrogant self-appraisal.

  10. roscoe

    one of Tim Wilson’s tweets ‘Walked past Occupy Melbourne protest, all people who think freedom of speech = freedom 2 b heard, time wasters…send in the water canons’ yep he sure is caring sharing kind of guy

  11. Fred Martin

    Thank you Kaye Lee, another great article that I can relate to. I am a disability pensioner myself. Under the previous Labor Government my wife and I were just scraping bye but since Abbott and Hockey and co. came to power we have been going backwards financially. The difficulty for us is that most aged pensioners have been able to pay out their house mortgages before they need to cope on the pittance which is the pension, but for us this was not so. We have huge medical costs as well as mortgage payments to come out of our pension as well as living expenses.

  12. Alex White

    Look I on the disability support pension and those pictures disgust me and be looking for payed work. The assed wage is not worth the paper is written on and they should be given same wages as everyone else the cost of living and I went into supermarket is $31.50 and went to buy some new clothing the cost living is going up by the day and enough is enough this government doesn’t know what is the cost living is been payed $2.00 an hour is illegal that what it cost make cheap of pair shoes in sweat shop. So I doing lot of volunteer work and my goal is to get my car licence and do odds jobs to help people and driving people to from places they need to go. Give all ausies a fair go that was it Australia is

  13. DanDark

    The myth of the dole bludger..

  14. philgorman2014

    Damn the corpocrats that rule this country! Labor is merely the lesser toady to the ruling corpocracy. Greens or independents then?

  15. Bilal

    The self-satisfied smugness of this front bench rankles more than their nutty IPA-Murdoch policies. To see the Murdoch propaganda machine fall into step following the tyrannical dinosaur’s tweet and repeat their disappointed right-wing venom is most revealing. Hopefully some of the front bench is unnerved enough to do some thinking. All this time the News Corp puppets have maintained that Murdoch does not influence editorial policy. Now we see clearly how potentially dangerous to democracy it is to allow Murdoch to own 70% of our media.

    At least here in Victoria and in Queensland we saw that his lying sheets do not really determine how people vote. They have brains and use their reason. The Murdoch-IPA party was done over in both places. Perhaps the old dinosaur will go the way of Tyrannosaurus Rex.

  16. John lord

    The right governs for those who have have the left for those who have not.

  17. Kyran

    Thank you again, Ms Lee, and vale Stella Young. Having read the article and the posts, could, perhaps, Mr Innes, be invited to post articles on this site? I am certain Mr Wilson would be free to comment for fee, but who gives a shite. Had a conversation just last night with my mother, who, for obvious reasons, is older. She is largely reliant on MSM due to eyesight issues. Her contention was that Ms Young could cut through shite for the younger folk. I have a lot of faith in the younger folk, and maybe Mr Innes could help. As for Wilson, aw, feck, who? Take care

  18. diannaart

    @Alex White

    Damn straight. Disgusting that these so-called employment schemes for many people on DSP are little more than slave labour – like work for the dole – not helpful to anyone.

    These sweat-shop conditions and pay are illegal for so-called ‘normal’ employees – apparently acceptable for people even more vulnerable than PAYE workers. I am completely disgusted – for too long both sides of politics have done the very least they could do.

  19. Trevr

    Thank you once more Kaye Lee for a page full of Factual information on the reality of Tim Wilson ( The Commissioner for bigots) title suits eggzactly!

    AS for the new Minister for kicking dole bludgers, the very unchristian Scott Machevallian Morrison, in his other guise as the Minister for Terror and Menace, bringing his already gaudily credentialled page of self aggrandiosement to his new position, and from accounts already in, he wasted no time in giving those his inquisitors in the Dep’t surveyed, a very not happy christmas with $350 less per fortnight to survive on,

    Its just disgraceful how the political class voice as Leaners the underpriviledged, when in fact they one and all are the biggest bunch of leaning bastards ever to have the effrontery to claim they are working for their electors..

    Abbotts Liarberal Libtards got around 35% of the vote, Labor around 30% of the vote, Agrarian Socialists Nationals less than the Greens and apart from Palmer and the vote whisperer guiding the Independant Mag wheel party, and various other single issue shooters and Fishers incarnations, what this shows is that the main parties no longer get near 50% of the vote and are unlikely to in the future..

    In cold hard light of day what the voting figures show is that Liberals get more than 5o% voting not for them, the same with Labor..

    The extrapolation of this in a 2 Party (so called) System is that the System is in need of some change to better represent the New Paradigm of Voters. The Old Paradigm is based on the 2 Party System sharing the vote, to the exclusion of others except the COALition and the Greens with Labor in recent times.

    The only question is will Australia get the necessary change to better represent the Voters?

    The short answer is the Polititicians have the vote on the changes, not you and your vote, and there seems to be very little chance that the Major parties will vote to waterdown their right to rule bullshit game of the last 100 or so years.

    The Long answer is that only change can be bourne from a campaign of Voter discontent. In recent times the world has witnessed various “Springs” around the world, forced on their cosy Gov’t arrangements the changes that the discontented people of those countries believe is their right.

    Has Australia got the necessary ingredients(BALLS) to subvert the dominant Paradigm.

    May you Live in Interesting Times!

    Sack ABBOTT

  20. Jennifer Meyer-Smith

    Might I suggest, Kaye Lee,

    that you adapt this beautifully crafted explanation of how the vulnerable are being abused by the LNP Degenerates and send it in petition form to Labor Shadow Minister Macklin and the newly-appointed Minister Morrisscum for their responses.

    On the one hand, Morrisscum will know you know and we know, he will be held to account for any reprehensible measures he attempts to introduce.

    On the other hand, Macklin will be made to wake up from her happy slumber and prepare for her new office with vigour and intention to make good her earlier failures when representing the most vulnerable on Disability and Newstart etc Benefits.

  21. Glenn

    I came to Australia as a university graduate in 1986, fell in love with the place and stayed. Being an educated white male from a Commonwealth country (Canada) it was easy for me – but that’s another story for another article.
    I first noticed a change in the wrong direction with Howard’s “report anything unusual” anti-terrorism propaganda post 9/11. The line that ANYONE could be a terrorist. Here his government was telling the average Aussie to dob in your neighbor, to trust no-one but the government. (It amazed me how people missed the subliminal message contained in that campaign.) It started there and has gone downhill ever since, as we moved towards the flawed American model belief system of individualism.
    I don’t see an easy answer to cure the nation, but I do see hope with the recent results in Vic, Qld, and the implosion of the federal LNP. The average Aussie is beginning to reject the American style neo-con conservative philosophy without truly understanding that’s what they’re doing. We may yet move back towards the social democracy I loved when I moved here. When the concept of “mate-ship” meant something.Even the ugly influence of Murdoch is beginning to wane, as we are starting to see it happen.
    Since the beginning of the industrial age, the political pendulum between left and right has swung back and forth. I feel that finally, finally in Australia, the swing to the right has stopped – abruptly – and that we are on the cusp of swinging back towards a better social democracy. Finally. The average Aussie may not think knowledgably about politics, but they have not yet fully embraced “individualism” the way the Americans have, and they are sensing that they don’t like it. There is great hope for us.
    The downfall of Abbott and Hockey (as the two most evil protagonists) will be an historical marker in Australia’s history. It will be the clear definitive point in our history where we as a nation turned back towards a more inclusive and caring society. There will be stops and starts as the neo-cons twist violently in their slow death, but we will get there. I am hopeful. The events of the past few months give me great hope.
    We need the emergence of a visionary leader. One will arrive, or we may be surprised by someone who is already there. But it will happen and we will have a better future. I am hopeful.

  22. bkpyett

    What about Morrison dubbing himself minister for economic participation? He is evil!
    At least the press is demanding change and can’t be ignored anymore. Waiting with bated breath to see what will happen next.

  23. Jennifer Meyer-Smith

    Glenn,

    x 100.

    I’m very hopeful too.

  24. Kaye Lee

    While Scott Morrison defunds disability advocacy groups and demonises those on welfare and tells us that pensions are unsustainable, the Abbott government has spent more than $1.2 billion to run detention centres on Manus Island, Nauru and Christmas Island in one year, newly released Senate Estimate documents show.

    http://www.theage.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/government-spends-12-billion-on-offshore-processing-centres-in-one-year-20150205-13708n.html

  25. bobrafto

    Kaye

    I was pondering the 6 month cut to the dole and a train of though had me saying to myself that I should tell my daughter not to lose her job.

    Then it hit me of the possibility of the real ramifications of this policy.

    If workers are shit scared of losing their jobs, what if unscrupulous employers (and there’s a lot of them) take advantage of this fear?

    Could it possibly lead to the lowering of wages and conditions.

    Whatever the answers this toxic policy does not bode well for every day aussies and even for AnnieMac and her family..

  26. Kaye Lee

    In yet another example of the ineptitude of a government driven by ideology who truly don’t care about the impact of their “policies” (read privatise everything so my rich mates can make a buck)….

    “The federal Department of Health has admitted that it failed to conduct in-depth analysis or research on the social impact of Medicare co-payments before the government announced its policy.

    Representatives from Treasury and the departments of Health and Finance were pressed by a Senate committee on Thursday about what advice they had provided to the government on the implications of increasing costs for GP consultations.

    “You haven’t done any specific research on co-payments, is that correct?” Labor senator Doug Cameron asked the panel of eight senior public servants.

    “I’m unaware of any substantive work in Australia specifically about the impact of something like [the] Medicare co-payment and reduction in rebate,” the deputy secretary of the Health Department, Andrew Stuart, said.”

    http://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2015/feb/06/health-department-admits-lack-of-in-depth-analysis-of-medicare-co-payment?CMP=soc_568

  27. abbienoiraude

    Thank you Kaye for yet another clear expose of this nasty Government.

    Like several in the comments section my husband is on DSP and I am his carer. Every time there is a change of Govt, or change of leader, we hold our breaths to see what we have to ‘comply’ with now. During the Howard years with his catchcry of “mutual obligation” started the feeling in my husband that he was of no worth. Throughout that era Centrelink sent threatening letters. I eventually intercepted them as he became chronically depressed ( on top of all his myriad of complaints) with a sense of ‘dread and sucking of the teat of Govt and being a bludger’. He hid inside and found it hard to socialise for the first thing asked of a (at the time, relatively young) man is ‘…and what do you do’?
    His job? He was trying to survive, aka stay alive. He had the doctors baffled and swung from one disaster, to another life threatening disease.

    When Rudd was elected in 2007 we walked outside and felt palpably freer for the first time in 11 1/2 years. I could see my husband breathe out with relief and start to come out of his depressive funk.

    Now here we go again.
    If anyone, including politicians think being chronically ill living on DSP is a doddle please try it, but with the proviso that you have to meet the ‘gap’ specialists already put on top of Medicare (aka co payment) in the regional areas. To travel to and from appointments, meet with tests and results, as well as living frugally means just surviving is a ‘full time job’.

    Thank you @Glenn for showing Australia before and after through fresh eyes.

    If I am rather late on commenting on this article it is because on top of my duties as a carer we now have our daughter and grandson living with us as she fled an abusive relationship. This is a whole new learning curve once again. And if you think this is easy and she is joining the ‘bludger/leaner’ circle think again. Working through the law, the ‘rights of the father’ and trying to get a job whilst having a 2 1/2 year old as well as being in stress and a funk from the abuse visited upon her over four years is a mighty effort. She is my new hero. An amazingly moral and caring woman of integrity.

    There is not one way of being. There is not one story that is the same as any other. There is not one circumstance that matches another’s exactly. Any one of us could find ourselves in dire and distressing circumstances through no fault of our own. What we need is NOT to be condemned, damned, demeaned or denied support whilst we work through and find our new way of being after trauma, tragedy, terror and tension of the lessons of life.

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