A parliamentary inquiry has heard that pushing ahead with contentious reforms to the National Disability Insurance Scheme would perpetuate systemic racism in Australia.
Advocates for First Nations people with disabilities gave evidence at a public hearing into independent assessments on Tuesday, saying the imposition of the “culturally inappropriate” assessment model on Indigenous people would cause them trauma and distress.
Disability advocates have slammed the assessments as a cost-cutting move that will make it harder for people to access the NDIS, leave existing participants worse off and force vulnerable people to be assessed by strangers who don’t know their nuanced medical history.
The assessments, as currently proposed, would see people outsourced to a government-approved health professional they don’t know.
Using standardized tools, the assessor would ask them direct personal questions and request they complete specific tasks before deciding their eligibility for the NDIS and the support they receive.
Kim McRae, disability team manager at the Alice Springs-headquartered Ngaanyatjarra Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Women’s Council, told the inquiry on Tuesday did not believe the model was proven or culturally appropriate in Indigenous contexts.
“[Indigenous] people will not respond to questions that they think are rude or inappropriate or make people feel ashamed or embarrassed, particularly not when it’s a stranger asking those questions,” she said.
“There are also areas, like sexuality or toileting, that a man cannot ask a lady about – that’s completely, entirely inappropriate and very, very rude and confronting – and vice versa.”
Greens Senator Jordon Steele-John then asked Ms. McRae: “Is it your view, also, that utilizing these tools in this way, through the structure proposed, could have the net result of perpetuating systemic racism?”
“Yes, it absolutely is my view,” Ms. McRae responded.
Emily Carter, CEO of Marninwarntikura Women’s Resource Centre, an Aboriginal community group in West Australia’s remote Fitzroy Valley, said the proposed model “very much so” risks preserving systemic racism.
She said the scheme was forcing Indigenous people to fit into a Western way of looking at disability. “It will fail our families,” she told the inquiry. “We are going to miss out, and that is the worry and concern for all of us.”
Dr. Lauren Rice, a research fellow at the University of Sydney currently working with the MWRC, has administered one of the assessment tools in both metropolitan and remote areas.
“I’ve administered [the Vineland 3 tool] with hundreds of families in Sydney, and now with over 70 families in Fitzroy Valley, and while this measure works well in Sydney, it’s completely culturally inappropriate for use in Aboriginal communities,” she told the inquiry.