Disability groups granted temporary funding reprieve

The Sydney Morning Herald
Date: March 1, 2015
Julia May

Federal government delays a 40 per cent funding cut to the disability sector amid allegations it was in breach of United Nations convention.

The federal government has made a partial backflip on its cuts to disability groups, granting a temporary reprieve to eight bodies whose funding was due to run out on Saturday.

Last month the Department of Social Services announced it would cut funding to the disability sector by 40 per cent and support an alliance of just five representative bodies. It left eight bodies representing 200,000 people with disabilities under threat and sparked allegations that the government was in breach of the United Nations convention on the rights of disabled people.

But on Thursday the eight organisations – including the Australian Federation of Disability Organisations, Blind Citizens Australia, Brain Injury Australia and Inclusion Australia, representing people with an intellectual disability – were told they had secured “transition funding” of $450,000 until the end of June.

Assistant Social Services Minister Mitch Fifield said he decided to extend the groups’ funding and to “provide an additional payment to each of them to assist with a smooth transition”.
“I have also directed my department to explore other potential capacity-building projects and funding that may be suitable for organisations to apply for, such as NDIS preparedness activities,” he said. The minister did not explain what prompted the change of heart, what “capacity-building” meant or how much extra funding would be available.

Australian Federation of Disability Organisations chief executive Matthew Wright welcomed the reprieve, saying the government had listened to the voice of people with disability. He said he had noticed a new willingness from the department to engage with the sector.
“That’s definitely a positive and a very recent development,” he said. “We’re looking forward to further negotiations on our long-term future.”

Greens Senator Rachel Siewert, who is leading a Senate inquiry into how the Department of Social Services awards funding, also applauded the funding extension but questioned the government’s plans beyond June. She said the new alliance model did not reflect the grassroots needs or views of people with disabilities and accusing the government of being “top-down in its approach: this is what we want, now do it”.

The funding cuts had attracted the ire of Ron McCallum, the former chairman of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Disabled Persons, and former disability commissioner, Graeme Innes.