Arandhati Roy, one of my favourite authors wrote in one of her books ‘when did we lose sight of justice and instead settle for rights?’ It is a really good question and one I was reflecting on this week as I sat in a briefing session and listened to a large number of community-sector leaders reflect on the perils and dangers of moving towards a totally market based system that has no room for caring relationships, wider community development and the mission-centric services working with our most vulnerable in society. One CEO said: ‘services are becoming far more transactional and functional’. There is no energy left in our community for ensuring there is public debate about the impact of moving services into an economic rationalist model and away from providing services that ensure client satisfaction, choice and community enrichment alongside service provider survival.
As I listened, I found myself asking ‘why is everyone so surprised?’ We’ve outsourced much of our lives – we go to psychologists for counselling and support, we bring in experts for financial planning, for risk management and insurance, we look externally for childcare, for aged care, for housecleaning, for home maintenance, gardening, advertising (on clothing) for IT support, for nearly every aspect of our lives. One way or another we no longer ‘own’ our lives. Why are we surprised when Governments outsource yet one more service which this time happens to be for people with disabilities. The new service has been given a financial value, but it has not yet provided any value for the relationship that holds such services safely, with dignity, compassion, integrity and in partnership with the service recipient?
I now hear over and over again, many smaller community organisations questioning their survivability and they are beginning to look around for exit options. Economic rationalists argue if an organisation cannot adapt it doesn’t deserve to survive; I would argue if you have created the market with decisions that exclude organisations, they shouldn’t be blamed for not surviving. It’s not about ‘deserving’, it is about equity and justice being possible in the choices organisations and people are able to make.
Real choice does not exist just because Governments have declared it to be so. Desiring it, doesn’t make it real. We work with people who are not confident, not clear about what they want or how they want it. Vulnerability means people are often scared and don’t understand what is happening and are open to manipulation. Vulnerable people are often exhausted and want a quick fix and are susceptible to promises. I believe an economic solution to a human problem is not a sufficient answer. There comes a point when it is immoral to participate in a system being marketed as providing a solution to everyone when it is self-evident this is not the case. When people start to question the impact of such decisions on civil society and question its survival, the stakes become very high. The National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) and its Agency is just the case in question.
The establishment of the NDIS is a wonderful step forward by Australia, a truly brave decision to create such a Scheme which I applaud and support wholeheartedly. However, the growing gap between the Vision and the implementation is fraught with perils. I see little response to the concerns and feedback suggesting it is not reassuring either participants or providers nor building trust. On behalf of all our current and future clients and their families, I urge the Government to listen to what is being said and take action.
Rev’d Dr Lucy Morris, CEO