Academic journal article Australian Journal of Social Issues

Disability Policy in Australia: A Triumph of the Scriptio Inferior on Impotence and Neediness?

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Social Issues

Disability Policy in Australia: A Triumph of the Scriptio Inferior on Impotence and Neediness?

Article excerpt

A decent society is one whose institutions do not humiliate people. (Margalit 1996: 1)


Disability policy is currently at the forefront of Australian debates on social inclusion, and the site of considerable policy action. This is evident in two main policy initiatives: first, following nationwide consultations, the negotiation of the National Disability Strategy (2010-20) (NDS) by all Australian governments, aimed at an all-of-government, all-of-community focus on disability policy development, and based on an explicit goal of meeting the requirements of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2008) (UNCRPD); and second, the introduction of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) in 2013, marking a shift away from block funding of disability services to individualised funding for scheme participants. By full rollout in 2019, about 460,000 individuals are expected to be connected to the NDIS. Simply stated, the NDS sets a wider agenda focused around rights protection and social and economic inclusion, covering six key areas of reform: inclusive and accessible communities; rights protection, justice and legislation; economic security; personal and community support; learning and skills; and health and wellbeing. The NDIS provides mechanisms for meeting some of the aspirations contained in the NDS, specifically for more comprehensive and effective delivery of personal supports. Both initiatives are subject to ongoing monitoring and evaluation.

The reforms follow two national consultations on the general subject of living with disability in Australia, which propose remedies to poor service provision and wider social exclusion. Both consultations occurred within an atmosphere of complaint about services and experiences of exclusion, tied to optimism, a desire for and commitment to change by all stakeholders, and a reforming national Labor Government.

This paper uses Critical Discourse Analysis (Fairclough 2003; 2010) to interrogate reports on these two consultation exercises: The Shut Out Report: the Experiences of People with Disabilities in Australia (SO) (2009), the report of national consultations conducted by the national People with Disability and Carers Council; and Disability Care and Support (DCS), the report of national consultations carried out by the Australian Productivity Commission during 2010 and 2011 (Australian Productivity Commission 2011). Both reports give a picture of the ways in which voices of stakeholders in debates on disability are captured in policy discussions. The paper critically examines the formulation of the 'problem' of disability within a historical framework and asks whether what appears to become a dominant policy focus on service funding and provision offers the full liberatory potential that is forecast in the National Disability Strategy with its roots in the UNCRPD.

Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) provides a framework for the examination of a social problem formulation and its proposed solutions by looking at language and the interactions between the various parties. Here I use CDA to examine whether the current era of policy reform has recapitulated a historically evident notion of neediness and dependency. Neediness relates to an overriding understanding of disability as an unfortunate, dependent state requiring structured, paid-for services prescribed on assessment of impairment and incapacity. This understanding may paradoxically contribute to the cultural and social aspects of social exclusion, viewed here as 'a complex and multi-dimensional process' (Levitas & Pantazis 2007: 9). Millar, in her work on defining social exclusion looks at the debates in the UK from the 1990s. Her summary (below) refines that multi-dimensionality further:

However, the various definitions have in common an understanding that social exclusion is not only about material poverty and lack of material resources, but also about the processes by which some individuals and groups become marginalised in society. …

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