Written by: Trish Corry
Kevin Andrews has announced that anyone seeking to access the disability support pension, will now be required to see an independent doctor prescribed by the Government, and recommendations from family doctors will no longer be allowed to assess people for the disability pension.The LNP has effectively taken away the right of choice for people with a disability. All Australians expect a fair go, a right to choose. However, this is now no longer the case if you have a disability. Someone will make this choice for you. For those with a disability who do not need an advocate; who can make their own decisions. For those who need an advocate, this is taking away the right to choose, through denying the choices that the advocate can make on their behalf. This is a blatantly disabling people with a disability, rather than enabling them.
This also strikes me as so raw and so insensitive not even a week after the passing of Stella Young. Stella Young, if anything, taught us that we should treat all people with disabilities as human beings. Taking away someone’s right to choose does not treat a person as a full human being. Kevin Andrews (as all neo-liberals do) is purely focused on money and not the welfare of the person, nor is he focused on client outcomes for a person seeking the disability pension. Scott Morrison inheriting this portfolio, will contribute a ‘show no mercy’ approach to this situation.
In plain Australian English: The LNP does not give a stuff about people with a disability and how they should be treated.
One of the most concerning risks is that if the correct outcome for a person with a disability is not achieved, this will result in that person being moved to Newstart. This person will then receive less money and will further exclude a person with a disability from accessing social inclusion activities, transport and even better choice of housing to name a few. Once again, the underlying message of the Government for welfare recipients is “they are liars and cheats and we must stop them.”
Through this agenda of stigmatization and segregation of welfare recipients, the LNP Government aims to use this stigma and marginalization, so major cuts to welfare and even full closure of some services will result in little resistance from voters. Everything about the LNP is underpinned by cuts, cuts and more cuts, as demonstrated even more today with cuts to housing advocacy and homeless programs, programs for the blind, deaf and acquired brain injury also losing critical funding.
Lisa Gunder’s article, Immoral and un-Australian: the discursive exclusion of welfare recipients, discusses the narrative / agenda set by political leaders since Howard. The focus on the welfare agenda in the Howard era, when Abbott was Minister for Employment; set to recontextualise ‘have a go’ and ‘the protestant work ethic’ (as part of our national identity) within the welfare discourse. In an analysis of Australian identity, the ‘Australian way of life’ features strong connections with hard work the middle class and a protestant work ethic. From Howard to Abbott, they have used this ‘accepted view of our way of life’ strongly within speeches and narratives about welfare; to change how Australians see those who are truly disadvantaged.
The other most prominent issue that Gunder raises, is that in Howard and Abbott’s speeches, they highlight the success of the ‘in-group’ (non-welfare recipients) and mitigate the achievements of the out-group (welfare recipients). In simple terms, they purposely avoid highlighting achievements of welfare recipients and focus on the negative. This sets in place an agenda for stigmatization.
It is through this narrative, that has been used and built on since the Howard years, which sets the tone for stigmatization and paves the way for further cuts and punitive measures for welfare recipients. If you reflect on the timeline, the progression of this negative narrative has extended from the unemployed, to the single parent, aged pensioners and veterans and now the Government believes its narrative has been accepted sufficiently by the ‘in-group’, that harsh and punitive measures for those on a disability will be accepted by the ‘in-group’ or mainstream Australia. In simple terms, the Abbott Government sees punishing people with a disability as a ‘vote winner.’ As Australians, we should strongly see this as a failure to our national identity.
It is simply not good enough for the ALP and Greens and any other party who opposes these measures and this narrative to simply say ‘it is not OK.’ A narrative has been built since Howard’s arrival at the podium in 1996; that has gradually been listened to and accepted by Australians that “it is fine to punish the ‘out-group (aka welfare recipients).’”
As ‘punitive measures and harsh treatment’ are now the norm within welfare; the ALP and Greens need to create a very strong narrative and create a new discourse which places welfare recipients at the heart of the “A Fair Go” and speak loudly and strongly of not only achievements, but of compassion and humanity and how and why we should unequivocally provide assistance for those in need’.
It is essential for the progress of Australia to remain silent on any narrative punishing those on welfare and the disadvantaged and to reject and refuse to create a welfare out-group through stigmatization.
We must move forward and change the narrative completely to build up the strength of our people, through true mateship, kindness and a fair go. Only then, will we all have freedom of ability, freedom of choice, true inclusiveness and a greater participation in work and society by all.
Gunders, L 2012, ‘Immoral and un-Australian: the discursive exclusion of welfare recipients’, Critical Discourse Studies, vol. 9, no. 1, pp. 1-13