Disability advocates are concerned people with disabilities will not be adequately represented under changes to the sector proposed by the Federal Government.
Under a Department of Social Services overhaul, peak bodies that represent people with disabilities have been told to re-apply for their Commonwealth funding.
The current amount of funding is modest in government terms – just $2.5 million each year for all peak bodies combined.
In the coming months it is expected the number of funded peak bodies will be reduced from the current 13 to seven, or fewer, with each one expected to receive around $300,000.
“I’m very concerned,” says disability advocate Luke Nelson, who lives with both a physical and a moderate intellectual disability.
“I’m worried about who will get the funding, and who won’t get the funding.”
Kevin Stone, who runs VALID, which depends on funding from the national peak body representing people with intellectual disabilities, Inclusion Australia, said he fears what will happen if a peak organisation representing people with intellectual disabilities loses funding.
“If we’re not there, they will not get it right,” he said.
That fear is shared by many of the disability peak organisations that have applied for government funding.
Mark Pattison, the executive director of Inclusion Australia, formerly known as the National Council on Intellectual Disability, said he is worried that under the changes, some disability peak voices will be lost from the national debate.
“We don’t think that the Commonwealth has given enough strategic thought to how they’re going to get all the views of people with disabilities represented,” he said.
Funding arrangement about helping sector ‘organise itself’
Social Services Assistant Minister Senator Mitch Fifield said the changes to grant funding are not about engaging fewer peak bodies.
“This is about enabling the disability sector to better organise itself,” he said.
To guarantee all voices in the disability sector will be funded, the Government has encouraged peak organisations to join together in “alliances” to ensure they have some access to Commonwealth funds.
It said representation will be provided across key areas, including women with disabilities, children and young people with disabilities, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with disabilities.
Most observers agree the Commonwealth peak disability funding system as it works now has significant flaws.
No-one was ever really clear about who was funded and why they were funded
Thirteen disability peak bodies receive funding. Those living with brain injuries are represented; so are the blind.
Two groups representing Australians who are deaf are funded. But one of the fastest growing disability groups in the country, autism, is not.
Advocates like Carolyn Frohmader know all about the inconsistency.
For nearly two decades, she has run Women With Disabilities Australia, representing her constituency all across Australia and even before the UN in Geneva.
But she runs the organisation out of her home on a minimal $165,000 annual budget from the Commonwealth. She is the only paid employee.
She agrees the funding system has to change.
“No-one was ever really clear about who was funded and why they were funded,” she said.
“There was no clear rationale about why government had decided to fund particular groups, and yet not others.”
Groups expect the funding decision to be made in the next few months.Read the full story... (off-site)