Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s recent naming as respondent in a complaint to Human Rights Commission over the cutoff age to access the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) seems to be just the tip of the iceberg of growing unrest over the matter of age eligibility and the NDIS.
In an Australian first, a formal complaint about discrimination against someone with a disability named Mr. Morrison, as a representative of the Commonwealth of Australia, and has been accepted for consideration by the Australian Human Rights Commission.
The complaint is made under the United National Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
The complainant, Dr. Peter Freckleton, lost the use of both legs when he was six years old, as a result of Infantile Paralysis during the Polio pandemic of the 1950s.
Dr. Freckleton is among the people with disability who are unable to access the NDIS because they were older than 65 years of age when the NDIS was implemented.
“Discrimination is unlawful in Australia and rightly so,” Dr. Freckleton said.
“Many Australians would be shocked to know that the NDIS was designed to discriminate against older Australians with disability and the Government changed the Age Discrimination Act to protect itself from complaints about this discrimination.
“This should not be the case and I applaud the Disability Doesn't Discriminate campaign for raising this topic as an important issue leading into the next federal election.”
And Dr. Freckleton is not the only person living with a disability who thinks this - with the wave of challenges and complaints from across the disability sector against the Federal Government’s stance getting louder and more insistent.
NDIS Minister Linda Reynolds has warned the NDIS faces serious sustainability issues, with expenditure forecast to grow to $40.7 billion in 2024-25, $8.8 billion above estimates.
Dr. Freckleton is seeking for his NDIS eligibility to be assessed solely by reference to his disability, without regard to his age, for the NDIS Act to be amended so that all polio survivors are eligible, and for age restrictions to be removed for all Australians accessing the NDIS.
The Sydney Morning Herald and the Age reported the Public Interest Advocacy Centre has agreed to represent Dr. Freckleton at the UN if his matter is not resolved through the Commission, which conciliates complaints and can make recommendations but does not make binding decisions.
Mr. Mark Townend, CEO of Spinal Life Australia, the organisers of the Disability Doesn’t Discriminate campaign, said there were many Australians who found themselves excluded from the NDIS entirely on the basis of age.
“There are many Australians who should be eligible to participate in the NDIS, but their age has been used as a reason to exclude them from the scheme, resulting in very poor outcomes for people with disability,” Mr. Townend said.
“We have been working hard to raise awareness of this discrimination through the Disability Doesn’t Discriminate campaign and have secured nearly 20,000 signatures.
“While we have approached both major parties, they have indicated that the NDIS was ‘not designed to replace existing programs of support such as the My Aged Care Scheme’.
“This is a clear cop-out, and all politicians need to seriously consider this issue and play their part in ending age discrimination now.”
Two former Paralympians have also challenged the NDIS age limit.
Ron Finneran and Chris Sparks have represented Australia at the highest level.
Both men are wheelchair users and both men have added their voices to the growing discontent surrounding the unfairness of the scheme being out of bounds to aging Australians.
Mr. Finneran has lived with the effects of post-polio for most of his life, but at 77 years old is lacking large portions of his disability care despite meeting the assessment criteria for the NDIS — all because he was over the age of 65 when the scheme came into effect in 2013.
He told ABC News the eligibility criteria meant he was only eligible for My Aged Care, a scheme with significantly less funding and more restrictions on what that funding can be used for.
Advocacy group People with Disability Australia said it left vulnerable Australians without the significant care they needed.
"Both are supposed to be around supporting people, but the key difference is the NDIS is supposed to [give] people what they need to be who they are … whereas aged care can be very much focussed on our medical needs and it can be far more limited," president Sam Connor told ABC News.
In comparison, the president of the NSW Physical Disability Council, Chris Sparks, was 53 at the time the NDIS was introduced. He lives with similar physical challenges to Mr. Finneran, but he receives the full support of the NDIS.
"I got injured young as a kid but plenty of people get injured over the age of 65", he said.
"Currently in Australia if you apply for the NDIS you must be under 65 years of age … so if you have that accident at the age of 64, tremendous, (but) if you're over 65 you're ruled ineligible and that means you have to get by on the aged care supports, which are absolutely inappropriate."
While Senator Reynolds sticks to her guns and uses the Productivity Commission’s recommendation that a person needs to have acquired their disability and requested access to the scheme before the age of 65, to become an NDIS participant to justify the cutoff, disabled, aging people like Mr. Finneran will continue to struggle to fund their specific, often high-maintenance, care needs.
If you disagree with the current NDIS cutoff age of 65, then sign the Disability Doesn't Discriminate petition urging the Federal Government to end age discrimination.