Were we lied to or did was he ignorant to the facts?

This one is especially for my fellow QDN members. Those of you who were at the recent meeting at North Lakes with Federal Member for Petrie Luke Howarth and the Federal Assistant Minister for Social Services and Disability Services Jane Prentice may recall during question time, someone asked about the Cashless Debit Card.

The Cashless Debit Card (CDC) for those of you who haven’t heard about it yet, is the government’s latest scheme in Income Management of people who receive Centrelink payments. All payments aside from Aged Pension and Veteran’s pensions are triggers for a person to be placed on the card.

Once on the card, 80% of your payment is put onto it and the other 20% into your usual bank account. The 80% on the card is restricted to how you can spend it. The card cannot be used for cash withdrawals or transfers between accounts. It cannot be used for direct debit payments unless by agreement with Indue (the company managing the card scheme). It cannot be used to purchase alcohol or gambling items (except for lottery tickets). This means you can’t use it if you go to the club with friends for a drink. You have to rely on the cash you have in your regular bank.

Currently the card has been trialled in Ceduna South Australia and East Kimberley in Western Australia. The third trial site was announced this week as being the Goldfields region of Western Australia. The government and stakeholders in the scheme have expressed every intent to expand this nationally.

We raised our concerns about people on DSP and Carer payments being placed on the card with Mr Howarth who told us we had no reason to be concerned as it was not aimed at people like us. It was apparently aimed at people of working age on Newstart or Youth Allowance. However legislation and guidelines to the scheme specifically state as I mentioned above. ALL payments except for Aged and Veteran’s Pensions are trigger payments for a person to be placed on the card. When I found this information I then went and emailed Mr Howarth as he had invited me to do. His office told me he’d have to do some research and get back to me.

He still hasn’t gotten back to me. Now that the final evaluation of the scheme has been released and the government are blowing their own trumpets about how successful it was (that’s another story) and it’s very clear that they have every intention to continue to expand it, I wanted to make sure you are all armed with the information you need to know. This will be an election issue for us come the Federal election.

The review of the trial showed the numbers of people who responded to the surveys (you can read more about the evaluation and other articles I’ve written about this via the links below). I don’t know why Orima relied on people self reporting what payment they were on when they could have obtained that information from the Department of Human Services but if you do read my other articles you will see the entire review is flawed with inaccurate reporting and figures.

It is important though to note that there ARE IN FACT people on DSP and Carer payments who have been forced onto this card scheme.

Payment Type Ceduna East Kimberley TOTALS
Austudy 0 0 0
Abstudy 0 4 4
Youth Allowance 12 11 23
Parenting Payment Partnered 8 14 22
Parenting Payment Single 29 75 104
Newstart Allowance 102 146 248
Disability Support Pension 33 93 126
Aged Pension 2 0 2
Carer Payment / Allowance 10 14 24
Family Tax Benefit 30 78 108
TOTAL 226 435 661
6 People in total have volunteered to be part of the trial
Source: Orima – Cashless Debit Card Trial Evaluation – Final Evaluation Report

In fact almost half as many people as Newstart participants are DSP participants. There are 2141 participants all up but only 552 people were surveyed. Many have refused to state the payment they receive in the survey.

I have a whole range of concerns and issues about income management as a citizen but as a person with a disability it is even more significant. The difficulty I will have in changing my payment methods of my bills (I share expenses with other people) will be stressful. Not being able to transfer money to my kids or family or pay the small bills I pay by bank transfer will restrict me. Most of all, for myself as a user of mobility devices and a person with motor control issues, I struggle to insert my card into eftpos machines. The CDC has no tap and go feature which is the method I mostly use when using my card while shopping.

I am exploring if this means that the card discriminates against me on the basis of my disability. I also have a number of privacy concerns.

What we were mostly concerned about at the meeting though is why we should even have to be put onto such a demeaning scheme when on the flip side the government are telling us not to accept this kind of demeaning treatment and that NDIS will set us free. Why is it that we can be in control of thousands of dollars in NDIS funds but not our own income support?

If this card is supposed to be aimed at reducing crime, alcohol, drug and gambling problems then why are we being put on it? What are they trying to say?

If you want to find out more about it please feel free to read my other articles or get in touch with me to ask any questions. Most of all, we all need to ask our Federal representatives if they really understand what this is all about and what it will mean for us. And them come the election.

I’d like to believe Mr Howarth wasn’t lying to us and that he was just ignorant of the facts. That said if he was only ignorant and just going by the media releases the government have been putting out to make it sound good, then is he really doing his best to represent us?

Take care all.

Elisha “Friday” Wright

Further reading:

CDC Privacy concerns

Australia’s Biggest Welfare Scam – Income Management and Indue

Australia’s Biggest Welfare Scam – The Orima Evaluation of Indue

Australia’s Biggest Welfare Scam – The Orima Evaluation of Indue

Just when you thought it was as crazy as it could get discovering that Indue’s contracts alone for the famed Cashless Debit Card Income Management Project exceeds

$60 MILLION DOLLARS!

OF TAXPAYERS MONEY

Along comes the next contract joke… Orima.

Orima provide all kinds of research and evaluation services and do quite well out of government contracts (492 contracts, total value $58,680,064.16 between 2007 and now). Not a bad gig. Well just to do this evaluation it cost the tax payer

$160 000

You expect your money’s worth for that with data you can trust right?

Generally speaking after reading a number of the projects they’ve provided research for to various government departments, they’re very good at telling you what you want to hear. Reading the Final Evaluation of the Cashless Debit Card Trial you almost feel like they’re trying to woo Department of Human Services Minister Alan Tudge.

See, Alan and his acrimony for welfare goes way back to, well, probably since he was born he’s just that kind of guy. But before Income Management was an official government policy Alan was working away in the background on policies for welfare reform and as an adviser to ministers way back in the Howard Government…. well hasn’t he come a long way and how fortunate of him to get the Human Services portfolio to be minister of for his very first Ministership… or whatever they call it.

Talk about a ten year plan am I right?

So Orima were contracted to do the evaluation of the CDC trials in Ceduna and East Kimberley. It was a three part report and the final report which the LNP Government are now making their little memes about praising how successful Income Management is (it’s not really) is all because of the Final Evaluation.

To be quite blunt it is 303 pages of the most articulate waffle I’ve read since Tony Abbott’s last speech in parliament. They use all the buzz words and make it sound fabulous but lets be honest, it was nothing more than a market research survey.

I could go through all 303 pages and identify all the problems with the report but you’d get bored. I didn’t but I’m a statistics nerd who loves finding flaws in data. So I’ll give you the highlights. Bear in mind, I am only analysing the flaws in the evaluation not the trial/project itself… that’s for another story coming soon!

To give you insight, this is the objectives of the card that the evaluation is looking at (I just love how there’s NOTHING about employment oh, wait, next story)…

Starting on page 12 it outlines that it will evaluate the impact of the CDC on participants, families and the community. Did it reduce alcohol, drugs and gambling? Did anyone experience shame or social exclusion? Does the community feel safer? (yeah nothing about employment)

They even made all these pretty graphs to try and make their crappy statistics look more impressive.

The only graphs that caught my attention were these two… while the population of Aboriginal people in the trial zones is less than non Aboriginal people, the trial participants accounted for 75 – 80%.

To explain how they evaluate this they have pages and pages of waffle about Quantitative and Qualitative data and methods of collecting data.

There were two surveys done on participants. First in September 2016 about 6 months into the trial. That surveyed a whole 552 people (25%) (there are 2141 people triggered onto the card in the trial in both regions or about 21% of the population of both regions. 794 in Ceduna and 1347 in East Kimberly) the next was May 2017 with 479 people (22%). They’re pretty small sample sizes depending on which analytic method you subscribe to. For an issue as significant as one that could change the lives of millions of Australian’s it’s a rather nonchalant approach. In reality it’s nothing more than a generalised market research survey. You know, like the kind they stop you for in the supermarket when they just need ten minutes of your time and offer you a discount voucher for the product they want feedback on….

Cos that is exactly what they did to survey the community!!! No kidding. I’m serious.

What is even more outrageous is the extent the review goes to justifying it’s methods. There is more pages in wasted justification than there is on the actual results.

The report makes continuous claims that the target areas have had “significant reductions” however it provides very little “administrative” or factual data with all kinds of excuses like lack of availability (then perhaps it’s not long enough to do an evaluation on) and even that Police crime data is unreliable because it doesn’t reflect all the crime only the reported crime… what the? And Tudge and co. think this is reliable?

So lets have a look at the data and results.

Surveys/interviews

Focus Group Wave 1 Wave 2
CDC Trial Participants 552 479
Family of CDCTP 78 0
Community Not CDCTP or family 110 141
Stakeholders/Merchants/leaders 73 86

Drinking Less
The number of people who reported drinking less since being on CDC in wave 1 was 25% of the sample size. The sample size is much smaller than the total of the people interviewed. This is most likely because people were able to respond that they didn’t know or just refuse to respond to the relevant questions. So for this 25% the sample size was 345

25% of 354 is 86 people.

In wave 2 it “increased significantly” to 44%. The sample size was 231.

44% of 231 is 94 people.

I’m not a mathematician, but if my calculations are correct this significant increase of people reporting they drink less since being on CDC is 8 people. THIS IS THE CRAP THE GOVERNMENT IS FEEDING US ABOUT THE SIGNIFICANT REDUCTION IN DRINKING THANKS TO INCOME MANAGEMENT! They say a reduction of 44% in their memes and glossies and media releases because telling you the truth that 94 people self reported they’re drinking less just sounds fucking ridiculous. You know why? Cos it is. It’s ridiculous. Just like the card, this review and the stupid amount of money being spent on this so they can say an increase of 8 people are drinking less.

THIS IS GOING TO SAVE AUSTRALIA!

Mind you no one bothered to mention the report also states that since just before the beginning of the trial, tougher alcohol restrictions were introduced in BOTH trial areas. Ceduna in September 2015 restrictions on the sale of alcohol such as ID for takeaway alcohol, limits to purchase sizes and types of alcohol and banning on selling takeaway alcohol to people who resided in specific areas. In December in East Kimberly they started a trial of tracking the ID of people who were purchasing take away alcohol. These measures were very close to the start of the trial and therefore could also have contributed to some if not all of those 94 out of 2141 people who self reported that they are now drinking less than they did before the card. Oh happy day.

The number of people who reported they’re using illicit drugs less (by the way, it was NOT and anonymous survey. People had to provide ID… just saying):

Wave 1…. 24% n= 84 (n is the sample size). So 20 people
Wave 2…. 48% n=109. So 52 people

Yes a whopping increase of 32 people reduced their drug use during the trial. (According to a certain source cough Larry Anderson’s Say Yes to the Health Welfare Card crap page on facebook cough… this was enough to drive the local drug dealer out one of town. Yeah I’m calling bullshit on that too).

Then there was gambling less. Now Pokies as we know are the lion’s share in problem gambling even though other sources do contribute and much of the talk about the gambling problems in these trial areas was about pokies. Bear in mind in the last 5 years each year has seen a further reduction in pokie revenue (could we really be ready to blow up the pokies?) So that is obviously going to play a part in the reduction of the 12% loss of revenue in the last 12 months reported in the trial areas.

What you also need to know is that there are a whole 40 poker machines in Ceduna and 103 in the the areas outside the trial site that are used to aggregate the figures by the Government. Despite the reduction revenue is still pretty good at at $4.7 million before and $4.1 million now in Ceduna for a total population of around 4000 people (both trial areas – 4110 in Ceduna and 5139 in EK according to ABS Census 2016).  It’s about $1100 a year per person then compared to $997 now. Take into account that during peak holiday season the population of Ceduna almost and sometimes more than doubles, well, it is just so easy to see how the people who get less than $14k a year are the problem spenders on pokies.

It’s also worth noting that the Ceduna revenue equated to about 1.65% of the total state gaming revenue which works out to around $167 per person (figures are lazy and based on population rather than population aged over 18 but it’s generalised enough – still more factual than freaking ORIMA) You can see the spending on pokies in Ceduna is quite high… so lets see if it’s really the people on welfare making that 12% dent in revenue reduction.

People who self reported gambling less thanks to the magic CDC:

Wave 1 32% n= 140 so 45 people
Wave 2 48% n= 109 so 52 people

Yes still the report gloriously praises the “signficant increase” in the number of people gambling less thanks to the card increased from the early days to the later days by a whole 7 people.

So lets take the 794 people on CDC and the reduction of $549268 in gaming revenue. Assuming that the 48% bullshit statistic could be applied to the whole group reducing their gaming spending, that’s 413 people who haven’t. Tudge would have you believe that the 381 people gambling less have been solely responsible for the reduction which means they’d be saving $1329 a year each. Or $25 a week. Yeah, sounds like they have HUGE gambling problems.

If all of that isn’t enough of a farce the stats they’re touting as reductions in crime are actually based on the section of the review that came from the opinions of Stakeholders. Yes that’s right they surveyed the stakeholders and asked them if they FELT that there’d been a reduction in crime. Based on that they got this airy fairy statistic and THAT is the part the government has cherry picked out of the report to say hey look at the great job we’re doing.

If you actually look at the statistics of crime, you know real data, you’ll see that there’s been no significant change in anything over the past 12 months. However if you look at the periods before CDC you will see a different story.

In East Kimberley the increase in crime from the 12 months prior to CDC compared to now are incredibly alarming. Assaults have doubled, steal motor vehicle has more than tripled as has robbery while other crimes such as burglary have also had increases.

In Ceduna while over all crime statistics from Police in the Eyre West district show an over all reduction in crime compared to this time last year of around 10% there has been no continual reduction in the past 12 months. Assaults though are up as is fraud related offences and receiving or handling proceeds of crime. A very important note is that Alan Tudge is tooting his tuba about a reduction of non assaultive sexual offences being down 40% but what he didn’t mention was that other sexual assault offences are UP 40%. So there’s less slapping the barmaid on the bum in the pub but more raping her on her way to her car after work. Yeah sounds fucking awesome Alan.

For the most though there is an over all reduction in crime in Ceduna but police say it’s thanks to their better policing rather than any other so called government initiatives.

It is somewhat amusing that Orima were content to share the answers to their surveys to say it’s a Quantitative response yet didn’t provide any evidence of the apparent administrative data. Just the sources they claim to have examined.

There’s a whole lot more in the review I could flaw but really, isn’t this enough to tell you it’s crap? If Kimberley region has had income management since 2007 and nothing has improved since then, and crime has increased since CDC, surely they have to realise they’re pushing shit up hill? And surely the Australian tax payer has to realise how much of their money has been wasted on empty promises and the propaganda of rich people who would have you believe the poor are evil and will been the downfall of the country. Wake up Australia. Income Support Payments don’t cost you money. They save you money.

Related Articles
Australia’s Biggest Welfare Scam – Income Management and Indue

Privacy Concerns of Income Management by Indue

Australia’s Biggest Welfare Scam – Income Management and Indue

As the news spreads far and wide that the heroic LNP Government of the Abbott/Turnbull era is here to reform welfare and save us from ourselves, people are beginning to ask questions that no one wants to answer. The biggest question of all is just how the hell did we get ourselves into this mess in the first place?

We have one of the best Social Security systems in the world. Combined with other essential human services it ranks us 10th in the world in the Social progress index. We’re even 3rd in the Mercer Melbourne Global Pension Index 2016! So why is it under attack from our governments? Two words….. potential profit.

Welfare is a multi billion dollar industry globally. The REAL beneficiaries are the private entities who gain government funding to assist with or provide such supports. Often the same entities who demonise welfare recipients. Why would they do this? By demonising people who need support as people having their hand out they gain sympathetic support from the tax payers who for all good intentions believe THEIR taxes shouldn’t be GIVEN to people to spend on, well…. living. This support then allows private entities to offer “solutions” to reduce the need for welfare and bing bang boom someone is making more money than our budget allows and it’s not people on welfare.

So what happened for Australia to start believing we need this desperate reform? WHERE DO I START!? I won’t go right back to the beginning at colonisation cos we’d be here for years and you’d only end up confused and overwhelmed at learning everything you’ve ever been told is a lie….

It started when John Howard back many many moons ago in the 1990’s by invitation visited for the first time ever, an outback remote Aboriginal community. He had been invited because the Aboriginal people in these communities were battling to save their culture. The last of the lands where they were living in traditional ways were being destroyed by national and international mining conglomerates. With the mines came the mining towns established to house the mining workers who brought with them their culture. Just like colonisation, these things infiltrated Aboriginal communities. Alcohol, drugs, sexual abuse and poverty were just some of the issues they wanted to discuss amongst the big topics such as native land title, reconciliation and human rights of Aboriginal people. It did not go well for the privileged white boy from Sydney.

He didn’t hear the people on their issues. Instead he saw what he interpreted as deliberate neglect and abuse while at the same time felt insulted to be told he would still be considered a boy in Aboriginal culture during a talk from Elders who tried to explain their ways to the Prime Minister.

While there’d been plenty of reports written on Aboriginal life in Australia before 2007, none had really caught the attention of the then Prime Minister until the Little Children Are Sacred report. It was the outcome of the Board of Inquiry into the Protection of Aboriginal Children from Sexual Abuse commissioned by the Northern Territory Government. The key finding that most likely “inspired” Mr Howard to act was that both the state and federal governments were responsible for the problems happening and therefore they had to act to fix it and prevent further deterioration of Aboriginal communities.

Sadly NOTHING else stood out from that report that it seemed Mr Howard took in. There was NO consultation with the communities or the people. Instead, there was an intervention.

Naturally, rather than remove the dangers that were creating the social destruction of communities (everywhere in Australia but at higher rates in Aboriginal communities) instead the solution was to restrict Aboriginal people being able to access those things with cash. With an election looming and wanting to show the nation his strong stance in keeping Australia well controlled in a volatile era that saw the “War on Terror” play out, Howard believed he could win the conservative AND worker votes by showing the people he wouldn’t allow their taxes to be wasted by such primitive people who were clearly so vulnerable and lacking in knowledge they needed strong regulation. Thus, “income management” was born. Back then it was commonly known as “Quarantining Payments”.

Despite various leaders, departments and even the co writer of the report who also chaired the Inquiry, Pat Anderson asking how this intervention was addressing the issues highlighted in the report, the project carried on and still to this day there is no evidence that the intervention did any good. You could well say that the fact that we are still here dealing with the same issues some twenty years later, it did nothing but make things worse.

So in 2007 the first income management scheme was the Northern Territory Emergency Response. At this time it was also introduced as part of a trial in Cape York and a provision introduced for people to have their income managed voluntarily.

Howard however, lost the election of course not without creating a great deal of damage in relationships between the government and Aboriginal communities. This then left Kevin 07 Rudd with the huge PR task of reconciling without looking too soft.

The Labor Government then seem to have flown on past a number of red flags and handed out government contracts relating to income management projects like they were how to vote cards.

So 2008 was a little quiet on the Income Management front. Labor had some work to do. There were still legal concerns with Income Management being open to claims of racial discrimination so legal services were procured, policy was adjusted and legislation changed. Instead of just targeting Aboriginal people living in remote communities Income Management according to Labor should be a case by case method of assistance for people who fall into the definition of being “at risk”.

Policy Policy Policy definitions and all that jazz and in September 2008 the first BasicsCard was issued in Katherine in the Northern Territory. YES I AM NOT KIDDING YOU! Even after all the not being racist but…. talk, they still went ahead and targeted Aboriginal communities. However the BasicsCard was there on, used as a method of managing people at risk identified through various services.

The entire project was an epic fail. They had this great idea but when it came to implementation no one in the 185 roles within the Department of Human Services knew how to implement a practical solution that didn’t increase their work load by making it more difficult for people being put onto the card. Some genius just flaunted the idea of using a prepaid giftcard style system and then Minister for Human Services Joe Ludwig (ALP) signed off on it. ReD Prepaid Cards Australia were contracted almost $3.5M to supply the cards. It was plagued with problems, like most gift cards at the time, could only be accepted by certain retailers, many of which didn’t exist in remote communities, cards declined, cards expired, if you lost your card replacement was a pain in the proverbial so by March 2009 the Minister announced a tender would take place for a more permanent point of sale solution.

Now pay attention…. You’ll need to know this later…. The minister at the time was Joe Ludwig as previously mentioned. With a Bachelor of Arts and Law the economic background just wasn’t there. Of course we all remember the volatile time it was in Australian Politics then, cabinet shuffle, reshuffle, spill, reshuffle, more tea move down, election, reshuffle, spill and it all fell to pieces. Very very shortly after the tender announcement Ludwig was moved out and Chris Bowen was moved in. Now he’s the guy with the economics background but what was more important at the time was that his policy adviser was a guy named James Sorahan… remember this name you’ll need it later.

It was difficult to put out a tender when you don’t know what it is you’re asking for exactly. Despite a bunch of research contracts they were still none the wiser on how to manage Income Management. I know the irony isn’t lost on me either. So somewhere along the line… before a tender was finalised…..

Along comes Indue Ltd.

Now Indue has a number of subsidiaries and had grown from a card service to a credit union type financial service and has continued to grow from there with much success. Today, Indue wants to become a bank but to do so they need more capital cash. How do they get that? This ladies and gentlemen is how the biggest welfare scam of all time was birthed…..

Despite an audit declaring that while the project would probably never achieve it’s outcomes, it was found that the correct and ethical procedures were followed in the tender and procurement process of the Replacement Income Management Project. Of course we all know to get your foot in the door it helps to know a guy who knows a guy….

So remember that name I gave you before.. Mr policy advisor James Sorahan… here is another name. Larry Anthony. Larry at that time was the CEO of Indue. Larry is well known for being the son of Former Deputy Prime Minister and Leader of the National party, Doug Anthony. Were James and Larry mates? I don’t know but guess what James does now? He’s a mining lobbyist and Director of Taxation for the Minerals Council of Australia. Nice jump from policy adviser (he moved on from Human Services to the minister for resources and energy later before this gig). Guess who else is a mining lobbyist? You guessed it. Larry Anthony.

Now you may have seen heroic philanthropist (cough tax avoider cough) Andrew Twiggy Forrest pushing this whole healthy welfare concept of the Cashless Debit Card as it’s now become known. What is Twiggy’s main business? Freakin mining of course and in 2009 we were in the middle of the mining boom. But wait… it’s not quite fully connected yet.

So Minister at the time Chris Bowen whether he was aware or not, saw $23.3M worth of contracts granted to Indue Ltd for Income Management Project services within around six months.

Naturally when the tender was finally defined and put out the “primary contractor” was the favoured contractor and yep, they got the tender to continue. Between 2009 and now, Indue has benefited from our welfare system to the tune of $60.2M in contracts. That’s just the contracts!

Yes that’s right taxpayers… welfare has just cost you another $60.2M and that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Between the idea launch in 2007 and now more than ONE BILLION DOLLARS in contracts to external entities have been paid out in relation to the Income Management projects that so far…. have failed.

Now of course this is not unusual for a private entity to gain from government contracts and tenders. After all it’s a huge economy. The icky thing I find about Indue and the methods used to get what they’ve got is that they are profiting from WELFARE. From the care of our most vulnerable people.

Larry Anthony is no longer the CEO of Indue, he’s moved onto bigger and better things now. He’s the Federal President of the Nationals and Founding Director of the SAS Group. Guess who else has gained a storm load of government contracts through tender and procurement? Yeah, SAS. And guess when he founded his little company… 2009.

So Indue and the many connections within it have played a significant role in the design of what is to become our future. We aren’t just talking about young people on Newstart and Aboriginal communities here. This has been developed with the potential to expand across the entire nation to anyone and everyone who receives a benefit payment of any kind excluding (for the time) Aged Pensions and Department of Veteran’s Affairs payments. Yes tax payers… this means you too. Family Tax Benefit, Carer’s Allowance any payment you might get as an additional support to your income can and will be paid via Income Management some day soon.

Why is there a push to expand it so fast?

Okay so back to the mining boom and our mates James and Larry have moved on into areas that lobby for mining….. 2014 the mining boom busted. Poof. Like that the honeymoon was over. The government realised there was revenue to be had and they wanted their share. It then became less profitable for the mining industry to keep sucking the country’s resources dry and who should suffer greatly from that none other than Mr Twiggy himself. So in 2014 when those pesky Aboriginals had stood in his way long enough with all those annoy things like land rights and artefact protection he decided he would pick up where John Howard left off and save the Aboriginal communities from themselves.

Enter the Creating Parity report also known as The Forrest Review. Gee it must be good to have a hero status for donating to your own charities. If only you knew how many and how wide they spread. Not to mention how many of his mates and other people he wanted to persuade now have high paying jobs because of his “charities”. Creating Parity was a damning report that painted Aboriginal communities even worse than the 2007 Little Children are Sacred Inquiry. No admission at all that we created the problem, it’s all their fault. So the solution again was to control their money rather than remove the sources that cause the problems.

It’s much easier to control vulnerable people who have nothing than it is to control the continual supply of drugs, alcohol and gambling that they keep telling us are so bad that they are the downfalls of these areas of society who need their spending controlled. Regardless of whether you’re a tea-totalling strictly moral hardworking person who just happens to be out of a job at the time, you’re going to be branded a gambling alcoholic junkie and your spending will be controlled.f

And all the while Indue Ltd, it’s board members and shareholders will all be rubbing their greedy little hands together selling the drama to the taxpayers of Australia that welfare is going to be the downfall of our economy if we don’t let them get it under control. More people on the card means more money transfers to them which means larger cash capital. Once they have a big enough share of the welfare market to control…. they get to become a bank and all their wishes come true.

Does that help solve the actual anti social issues in society both welfare and non welfare related? Nope. If you stay tuned for the next episode of Australia’s Biggest Welfare Profiting Scam I will tear apart the next beneficiary, Orima and their very poor attempt to give the government their $160k worth in a 300 page report about nothing and how the PR people in government are selling the drama to our MPs.

 

The Pros and Cons of photos with politicians

When you decide to put yourself out there as an activist for almost any cause you need to prepare yourself for the fact that you will have an opposition. Even when the cause is one as diplomatic as equality for people with disabilities. You need to develop a thick skin and the ability to ignore being used as a political football.

Yes, sad as it is, the reality is people with disabilities are a political issue in today’s society. Yes, we still have to fight for the equality and basic human rights that many take for granted. If you’re going to be a successful activist you will have to talk to people you may not necessarily like. You have to put your personal feelings aside and assert yourself in circles that wouldn’t necessarily welcome you under normal circumstances. And you have to try to do it with dignity. It’s not an easy task.

You also may find yourself having your photo taken with the odd politician here and there. That’s what I do. I call it the penance I pay for being granted the wishes I ask for. Even if those wishes aren’t personally for me.

What I didn’t expect was that my having my photo as an activist and advocate for others with disabilities, would ever be used against me in a way that was admonishing of me and my character.

I haven’t been all that active online of late. Not compared to the past. So imagine my shock when I was sent screenshots of a particular political candidate and their members openly criticising my character because I’ve had my photo taken with another politician. Of course it’s pretty simple history behind it. The photo in question was with their opponent.

So just in the interest of fairness, honesty and transparency, I thought I’d share a gallery of all the photos I’ve had taken with other people who might be considered of a political nature. I mean after all, selfies are the new autograph right?

Just one more time cos hey, if you’re going to criticise me for being in a photo for a purpose, it really should be this one…..

Here’s a photo with me and holy crap is that??? No…. it isn’t… wait, yes! It’s Former LNP member Reg Gulley and Former Premier Campbell Newman!

I’m sure there are probably plenty of other photos out there. Considering these days I can barely remember what my original hair colour was I reckon this isn’t too bad a collection.

It’s probably not a great idea to rubbish a community activist even if you don’t think they’ll see it. Chances are someone will. As an activist it’s my job to hold politicians accountable for the promises they make and how they treat the people I have promised to defend and advocate for. If you can’t work with me when you’re a candidate it could make things rather difficult to work with my community if you become the person who is supposed to represent them.

Of course I can’t leave a good story untold. There is one photo missing. This one

This is the photo that was supposed to happen the same day I was photographed with Campbell Newman. I’d been advocating for the increase of fines in disability parking by Police (at the time it was a $44 fine and it was increased to $228 which now increases annually) and had support of my MP at the time Reg Gulley.

I asked Reg if we could get a photo with Scott Emerson so I could add it to my campaign page to thank them both for their support. Reg was of course agreeable as he always is and told me he’d go get Mr Emerson for a photo. There was a whole bunch of MPs and other types milling around. Reg spoke to Scott who was with a group of others. He returned to me to say we’d grab him when he was finished with the person he was talking to. Next thing I knew, Reg ‘had to quickly talk to someone’ and along came Tracy Davis. She grabbed my attention talking to me like I was a long lost friend putting her bag on a chair behind me so that I had to turn around to see her when she was talking to me. She then hugged me. I don’t think I’d ever been hugged by a politician before that day. It was most unusual. She kept me there talking to me like she was interested and shortly after Reg returned with great disappointment that unfortunately Scott Emerson couldn’t wait, he had to be somewhere else. Yeah, somewhere I wasn’t.

I played along but I wasn’t stupid. I knew exactly what happened. The classic distraction play. Scott Emerson didn’t want his photo taken with the likes of me. When you’re openly critical of government policy or member’s behaviour it doesn’t matter that you do give credit where it’s due. Which is a shame cos at the time it was Campbell Newman receiving my wrath not Emerson, yet at least Newman was able to do the decent thing and pose for a photo.

So the moral of the story…..

If I have my photo taken with someone that another person opposes I will be labelled the enemy regardless.

Also, if you won’t pose for a photo with me I’ll turn you into a stick figure.

How Accessible Is Your Train Station?

25 years since the Disability Discrimination Act 1992, 6 years since Access to Premises (Building) Standards 2011 were implemented, you’d be forgiven for believing we’ve no reason in Australia for not being able to access infrastructure as significant in our community as public transport.

If I asked you, do you think your local train station is disability accessible, without checking, would you say yes?

Many are of the belief that most stations are disability accessible despite what is in fact an incredibly poor compliance rate among he 154 stations on the Queensland Rail Brisbane network.

For a train station to be accessibly compliant it must be independently wheelchair accessible to all platforms, have tactile ground surface indicators on platform edges and electronic timetables.

If a station has car parking or toilets those must also be disability accessible.

All stations built SINCE 2012 meet compliance which is probably why the numbers are as high as they are being that the Redcliffe Peninsula Line and Springfield lines did not begin until after the standards were implemented. Which when I tell you the numbers, makes it quite astounding to learn such little has been done over the past 5 years to improve station accessibility.

So I want you to think about the stations you use. If you had a disability would you be able to use them independently?

How many of the 154 stations do you think are fully compliant?

27

Yes just to confirm for you that is not a typo, 27 stations or 17.5% of the network is compliant.

This means people with disabilities either need assistance to access or cannot access at all, one hundred and twenty seven stations.

51 stations have no tactile edges. This is one of the easiest compliance issues to rectify.

75 stations have no independent wheelchair access, with 26 having no wheelchair access at all.

So why does compliance take so long? My personal opinion is bad management but it comes down to money.

So that large corporations and organisations weren’t disadvantaged (I know, ironic right!?) there was an inclusion in the legislation for them to apply for an exemption due to unjustifiable hardship (again I know, the many is not lost on me either).

The Australasian Railways Association continues to apply for exemptions for all rail services in Australia, regardless of the individual business’s financial capacity. Queensland Rail have comfortably hidden behind this for years and as stations continue to deteriorate so does the service.

Just recently we’ve seen a number of reports of disabled people being stranded on platforms & trains and all of these incidents have been preventable.

Ramp access from platforms to trains where the platform is lower than the train still remains assisted and somewhat dangerous. The ramps are portable and have no fixable point relying on staff to hold them in place.

Just when you think it can’t get any worse, we’re about to see the release of NGR (New Generation Rollingstock) trains that pose a list of access issues that Queensland Rail are still trying to rectify. So even if we manage to get onto a station platform, well, chances are we won’t be getting on that train anyway.

Look at us. 2017, still fighting to get access to public transport, still fighting for that accessible parking space and yet all some people want to know is why we don’t just get jobs.

Maybe Qld Rail could hire me to find the solutions to the access issues. Heaven knows, I’ve tried giving them some of the solutions for free but no one really seems to want to listen.

For ongoing coverage of the NGR issues I recommend following @InclusionMoves on twitter.

As for platforms…. well, I’m going to recommend this reading to several members of parliament. If access to trains is something that affects you, or someone you know, feel free to send this to your state member.

A compliant train station with a train pulling out of the station

Stop expecting us to be nice about ableism

I always knew there’d come a day when I’d finally crack. Finally have enough of taking the high road when the view up here leaves a lot to be desired. It’s lonely on the high road sometimes.

Many of my fellow disability activists and advocates have written and spoken about ableism. We all cop it. We all see it happening around us. We all get frustrated by the inane conversation where we are told just get over it, it doesn’t mean anything. It does mean something to us.

When I established the No Permit No Park Campaign back in 2013 (wow time has flown), I had every intention of being the educator. I learned to change my passive aggressive language into something more engaging to try and open a conversation with the community about disability access and our rights to inclusion. For the most I was successful. I honestly expected to change the world. “If only they could see it from our perspective” I use to think.

I am damn proud of every success, every achievement we’ve had throughout the campaign and that I have had on a personal level through my various forms of engagement with the community. Whether it be on the radio, in social media, public speaking engagements, I always have someone, at least one person get in contact with me to say, I never realised… I didn’t understand it until…. I see things differently now. To me, to have a person realise their own ableism and that they want to change it is the most important reason I put myself out there.

From the start people warned me, you can’t please everyone. I’ve had my share of attacks. I’ve been stalked, confronted, abused, ridiculed, ostracised, assaulted and victimised. None of that, not one thing that has ever happened as a result of my activism when standing up for the rights of people with disabilities has ever been worse than the discrimination against me and against my friends with disabilities.

My friend Tracey and I were told to leave a store recently, because her wheelchair might damage the stock. It was one of those dodgy bargain stores that over fill the shelves with so much stock you can barely fit through to see anything let alone buy it. The owner verbally abused us even shoving the phone into Tracey’s face telling her to call the police when we pointed out what they had done was an offence under the disability discrimination act. Unfortunately the act doesn’t allow us the right to call the police. It’s an offence, but it’s not a crime. We just left. Angry and humiliated.

Sure we could have taken it to the anti discrimination tribunal but for all the stress and heartache of it what would the outcome be in the end? That owner would never treat us as customers even if they made physical changes to their store. Even though our money burns the same way. Besides, bargain stores around here, they’re a dime a dozen. Sometimes you even get it cheaper at KMart so it’s wasn’t a great loss. It was just the principle.

I’ve never been afraid to call out ableists who make vile attacks on social media toward people with disabilities. In the past I’ve tried to reason with people and explain if they looked at it from a different perspective they’d understand why we speak up about things like the abuse of disability accessible parking, but often I get nothing but abuse and self entitlement so I just cut and block. Generally they go away. They are usually so mindless that within a few minutes they’ve found someone else to annoy with their unrecognised privilege and misdirected vitriol. Once in a while though, the person doing the victimising insists that they’re the ones being victimised.

Making comments on social media, in public forums, is a dangerous thing. The thing about the internet – and I still don’t understand why people haven’t learned this yet – is that once you put it out there, it’s there forever. Cos even if you delete your abusive, hateful, discriminatory comments, I’ve already taken a screenshot of it. Not because I want to keep reminding myself of these people, but because they don’t have the right to just walk away and not apologise. So I make sure it stays there, somewhere, forever to remind them. So that if they ever find themselves in our position one day, they might eat their humble pie.

You don’t get to come into our forum, our space, try to muffle our voices, cause people hurt and humiliation and then just walk away like nothing happened. You don’t get to promote your self entitled attitude, your opinion of us, or your indispensible privilege in a platform we built to stand up to these things.

You don’t get to have a say in our lives. Our rights are not yours to give us. If seeing people with disabilities out in public makes you uncomfortable, then I suggest you stay home. We won’t be. We will be out there, seen and heard. There’s nothing you can do to stop us. Most of all whatever you do, don’t tell us not to be angry. We have every right to be.

Jessica Kiddle made this comment, didn’t like my response, blocked the page, deleted it, then reported my photo when I posted the screenshot on Facebook so Facebook removed it.
Some of the comments and posts below were reported by me and Facebook told me they don’t go against their community standards.

 

Below are some more examples I’ve collected over time of the kinds of things people say to me (and some to others in our disability forums) online. Click on the pictures to make them larger.

 

Do Your Thing

This post is dedicated to all my fellow disability advocates out there but mostly to my friend and mentor, Carly Findlay Morrow xo

It seems to resurface in a cycle. The critics, the condemnation and just general apathetic hatred for me as a person and for what I do.

I am an advocate. I am an activist. I fight for what I believe in. I make no apologies for that.

I won’t deny that at time, a brief flicker of frustration passes through my mind telling me to quit and become the hermit you always wanted to be. Or witness protection whichever pays better. Just stop giving people the opportunity to tell you what they think of you.

Honestly though those flickers are quickly extinguished. I don’t really understand what it is that smothers them as they fizzle into the void of lost thoughts that leave my mind. Integrity? Ego? Mental Illness? It could be a combination of those. I just don’t really care what people think of me. I stopped caring when I realised that if my own mother was not going to accept me as I am then no one would so trying was futile. Just get on with it.

Steve Irwin is quoted as saying Crocodiles are easy. They try to kill and eat you. People are harder. Sometimes they pretend to be your friend first.’ He was a wise man.

I don’t expect everyone to be my friend. I don’t expect everyone to like what I do either. I mean what in the world would a person without a disability have to value from my work in making sure we have equitable rights, access and inclusion of people with disabilities right? It’s not like they’ll ever be in my position… oh wait… yeah. Still I don’t expect everyone to jump on my bandwagon and come along for the ride. I’m happy to travel alone. I like my company.

What I do expect is common decency and respect for advocates who are working to make the world a better space to live in. That’s not a given though. There are still those who cannot fathom why you do what you do because they’ve got so much privilege they don’t know what to do with it. There are those who just seem to be envious of the attention you get even though it’s not necessarily attention you want but it’s the necessary evil of raising an issue that needs attention for something to be done about it. There are those who well, just don’t like me so they don’t want to even appear to like or support anything I do. Which is really the saddest of them all. I don’t like the government at times but I certainly appreciate the freedoms and benefits I’ve been afforded by our democratic country. If you want to cut off your nose to spite your face that’s fine for you. Just keep your nose in case you decide you need it again one day. No point giving it to me, I have no use for it and I really don’t regard it anyway.

I’ve seen it happen to a number of advocates. Watching others try to tear them down because they have different values. It’s hard sometimes to just sit back and mind my own business. Seeing people get harshly criticised for wanting to do the right thing, the hard thing, the better thing. Or just because they have a platform to express their view on an issue that affects them. They’re not doing any harm to anyone else, but still others want to take them down. Classic tall poppy syndrome. That poppy is getting more sun than me, it has to come down now and I will make it happen no matter what it costs me.

The cost might be as simple as me, a bystander looking at the person and saying wow, you just don’t get it do you precious? It could be the loss of a friendship. It could be the whole loss of a support network when they just can’t deal with your unwarranted behaviour. The loss of a job because your behaviour expanded into bullying and you’ve brought the organisation into disrepute. Or the death of the person you’ve relentlessly criticised because you couldn’t deal with them having an opinion different to yours or a lifestyle different to yours.

It’s been really hard to watch what some of my friends and fellow advocates deal with.

I won’t apologise for what I do though. I believe in what I’m doing. If I have to make a video or go to the media or post something on social media a thousand times for the issue to get addressed, for change to happen, then that’s what I’ll do. You don’t have to like it. You can always look away. Chances are I’m not doing it for your benefit anyway.

If it really makes you that uncomfortable that a person living with a disability can speak for themselves, stand up for themselves, or dare to demand equal access and treatment, the same opportunity that you take for granted, then the issue really isn’t mine is it? It’s yours.

If you can’t allow a person to express something from their perspective on an issue that affects them, then you have far more privilege than you deserve really don’t you?

To my fellow advocates out there, I want to share this quote with you that I love from a guy named Asher Roth.

Just do it. No apologies. Unless you feel you have something you need to apologise for. Otherwise, do what you believe in. I’ve got your back.

 

The disappearance of the tremor – When the treatment is working but you can’t enjoy it

Invisible disabilities are disabilities that are not immediately apparent. For instance, some people with visual or auditory disabilities who do not wear glasses or hearing aids, or discreet hearing aids, may not be obviously disabled. Some people who have vision loss may wear contact lenses. A sitting disability is another category of invisible impairments; sitting problems are usually caused by chronic back pain. Those with joint problems or chronic pain may not use mobility aids on some days, or at all. Most people with RSI move in a ‘normal’ and inconspicuous way, and are even encouraged by the medical community to be as active as possible, including playing sports; yet those patients can have dramatic limitations in how much they can type, write or how long they can hold a phone or other objects in their hands. Non-blind people with the circadian rhythm disorder “non-24” are as a rule unemployable and there are no visible signs of that.

Invisible disabilities are chronic illnesses and conditions that significantly impair normal activities of daily living. In the United States, 96% of people with chronic medical conditions show no outward signs of their illness, and 10% experience symptoms that are considered disabling.[1]

via Wikipedia

I really dislike the term “Invisible” when referring to disability or illness. As real as it is, it feels like a farce for me to call my disabilities and illnesses invisible just because other people cannot identify the symptoms. The very real and disabling symptoms.

Just because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean it isn’t visible. I can see it. I can feel it. I am the one having my life interrupted by it. Yet so many people like me are treated like hypochondriacs, scammers and weirdos because we have assistive technologies, disability parking permits and are placed on welfare payments because pushing us not just to find work, but to be employable is detrimental to our ongoing health.

Even when I’m doing “well” I still have symptoms, they’re just not as obvious as when I’m not doing well. The worst part is, that when I am doing well I feel like I should enjoy it, or take advantage and live life a little more on the wild side, you know, like going to a doctor’s appointment on the train in the city all by myself.

I recently had a visit to the wizard (neurologist – you know how the scarecrow went to the wizard to ask him for a brain… yeah, that), and he felt we’d found a successful combination of medications so, next experiment was to increase the dose.

It was only a few days before I went from needing to be rolled over and helped out of bed to leaping over tall buildings in a single bound. Okay so I’m not quite leaping but when these things are successful it does make you experience a kind of superhero phenomenon. Anyone who has been treated with steroids for a respiratory illness or infection will totally understand what I mean.

My hands haven’t been this steady for almost 10 years. I have no tremor. None. Well until the medication wears off but that has been drastically reduced as well by the new medication regime, however there are still times when I’m late with a dose or I miss it altogether and then boom you’re shaking all over and asking why you keep doing this to yourself. It just becomes tiring searching for water and popping pills every couple of hours. Seems so effortless to people who don’t have to do it but after 5 years of it 365 days a week it is one of the most prosaic activity in your life.

Yet here I am rejoicing in the miracle of modern medicine and I’m afraid to enjoy it. I’ve been through this before. When I went from waiting for diagnosis to successful treatment and my life and capability improved dramatically, and still to this day the accusations of faking it plague me. People who normally don’t give you the time of day, who just look at you as you scoot past on your mobility device as though you’re the most pathetic thing they’ve ever seen, see you without the mobility device and suddenly WHOA! See I knew she was faking it.

No, you’re not allowed to have a good day. You’re not allowed to have success with treatment. When you do, they expect that you can be like that all the time and when you’re not, well, you’re just not trying hard enough.

People see me and say this is the best they’ve seen me in years. Which feels great. For a moment. Then that moment fades because I know I’m on borrowed time. The treatment is not permanent. Parkinson’s Disease is a progressive and degenerative condition. I will get worse again. The dose will no longer be enough, the type of medication will no longer be effective and I will go back to the hour by hour battle to overcome the wretched disease long enough just to cook a meal, or do a load of washing.

I know what I have to look forward to. It’s not exciting. It’s flipping scary. So why do I not feel like I have the right to enjoy whatever the period of good time it is that I’ve been blessed with, without facing the accusations and assumptions? There’s no way of knowing how long this could last, but some people will expect that while I have this physical capacity I should be “earning my keep” and get a job. Make a “real” contribution to society. I did try that in my first early honeymoon period but the added stress caused me to deteriorate so quickly it was only a few months and I had to quit… and that was only working part time.

I haven’t improved on every level though. Physically I feel the improvement. Cognitively I still struggle. I still do random things like put the kettle in the fridge then wonder an hour later where my cup of tea is that I didn’t actually make. Probably the number one reason why I’m not allowed to drive.

It shouldn’t have to be like this. We shouldn’t have to feel obligated to have symptoms even when we don’t have them. Lets rebel against the expectations of society! Stop explaining ourselves and just respond by asking them how long they’ve been living with {Insert relevant disease/illness/disability here}. Oh, you don’t have it? Great then you can’t really tell me what I should expect to be doing under my circumstances…. Kindly fuck off and have a great day.

Live like someone left the gate open!
Live like someone left the gate open!

Why PWDs are fed up with asking for the inclusion you take for granted

In our modern world building so large around us, to many it may seem like all this disability inclusion and access requirements “stuff” is quite new. The slogan for this year’s Disability Action Week is about Inclusion (due to it being the year of the Paralympics the focus is on inclusion in sport mostly). For those, even as new to the game of advocacy as myself, promoting Inclusion of people with disabilities can seem as new as teaching grandma how to use a smartphone. Truth is, we should, as a whole society, be ashamed of the fact that we are still having to be reminded, educated or told, to be inclusive.

It’s 2016 and we are STILL asking for people with disabilities to be included in every day activities in the community that everyone else takes for granted. Things as simple as travelling the footpath to go to the local shop.

Inclusion won’t happen until it starts happening without us having to ask for it. It certainly won’t happen until attitudes change to stop thinking that inclusion is a burden.

The Disability Access to Premises Standards might only be 6 years old but it was a long time coming even back in 2010 and we still have a long way to go in getting it right. The Disability Discrimination Act 1992 is not 24 years old in Australia and STILL, we have cases every day of discrimination against people with disabilities in such common setting.

Just last week a large chain supermarket manager in Fern Tree Gully Victoria was approached by a member of the community about the blocking of the shared space beside a disability parking bay. The manager’s response was that they have always used that space for their fundraising stalls and if the shared space was an issue, he would have it removed.

Photo shows a marquee and tables in the shared space beside a disability parking bay. This space allows people to get their wheelchair or other devices beside the car. The shared space is marked with diagonal yellow lines. It is not a parking space. Under Australian Road Rule legislation it is classed as a painted island.
Photo shows a marquee and tables in the shared space beside a disability parking bay. This space allows people to get their wheelchair or other devices beside the car.
The shared space is marked with diagonal yellow lines. It is not a parking space. Under Australian Road Rule legislation it is classed as a painted island.

Not only will the car park no longer comply to the Access to Premises Standards 2010 but he has effectively just told every person with a disability that he doesn’t care if you want to shop at that store, he’s not going to make it possible for you. In fact, he’s intending on doing the opposite. There was no possible way he could have utilised any of the other 90 or so regular parking spaces, it had to be in the disability parking area so hence people with disabilities have to go.

All the great legal minds in the country will tell me (what I already know) that it’s a case of indirect discrimination. There is a legal process in which we can deal with this. It is also long, arduous and can be quite costly. Naturally as you’d expect, Head Office management of this large supermarket chain dealt with the complaint accordingly and the issue has been rectified (so we are told). When there isn’t a higher power at that level to deal with the complaint we’re left with nothing but the legal process and quite frankly I think that’s a bit shit.

We’re not asking for special treatment here. We’re asking for something quite simple. Inclusion.

To be included we sometimes require alteration, adjustment or addition to something that is existing. In this case, it is access to the building via parking.

For someone with out a mobility impairment, they will just drive on in, hop out of their car and go do their shopping. For the rest of us with disability parking permits who rely on those very well set out spaced marked for disability permit holders so that we may then hop out of the car into our wheeled devices or whatever assistive device we may use and THEN we go do our shopping. For many of use our adjustments don’t stop there but that’s the basic. We asked for an anti discrimination act and finally got it in 1992. We asked for minimum standards for access to premises and finally got it in 2010. Why are we still having to then ask for these things that have already been legislated?

Before my time as a person with a disability, there were many others like me. Some of them still advocating today, some, worn out from the years of repetition are happy to let people like me continue the campaign and I can assure you after only 4 years of this crap it does wear you out.

We get tired of asking you not to park your car on the footpath because gutters are not designed for wheelchairs to travel across. We’re tired of asking you to install eftpos facilities that can be used at wheelchair height. We’re tired of asking for ramps to be placed near the access. Most of all we’re tired of having to ask to be included.

I write this article today with great disappointment. I was promised so many things this year for Disability Action Week by various sectors, agencies and businesses. Nothing happened. It seems that unless I am still there driving it, constantly annoying the people in charge to make sure these things happen, it just doesn’t happen.

Just do a search for Disability Action Week events here in Queensland and I challenge you to find an event or promotion run by the private sector. Find me something that isn’t by people with disabilities, a government agency or non profit organisation so that I can thank them for being considerate enough to act on inclusion without having to be asked or have it driven by us.

If you ever find yourself wondering why someone with a disability is cranky it’s probably because they’re tired. Tired of having to ask to be included in what everyone else just takes for granted. Life.

Mobility Scooters – To Regulate is not to Restrict

I knew when I shared the news article with the No Permit No Park crowd it would stir them up. I did it because I wanted to see what solutions people suggested to the issues of safety. Not much was offered other than people need to watch where they’re walking. Which I totally agree with, but there’s a whole lot more to community safety than just personal responsibility.

The issue was raised by a NSW Senator when his wife was bowled over by a large mobility scooter as she stepped out of a shop doorway. She was injured, he was angry and rightly so. The person who hit the woman was travelling far too close to the doorways to be safe. However this wasn’t what the Senator seemed to have issue with. It was the speed. At most on a flat surface it would have been below 12kms per hour depending on the model of the scooter, it’s age and the weight of the person riding on it. The Senator posed the argument that 12kms per hour is too fast and they need to be restricted. He’s right. If we’re talking about scooters being in crowds of pedestrians. What the Senator doesn’t understand is that mobility scooters are designed with adjustable speeds for a number of reasons and should the Senator ever find himself in the situation where he does have a mobility impairment and decides to acquire himself the independence of a mobility scooter then I’m certain he will appreciate this design feature. Until he tries it though he can’t speak for us.

Mobility aides whether powered or not need to meet Australian Standards to be saleable in Australia. The regulation on use however varies from state to state and this is where the biggest problems lie.

Registered Mobility Scooter
Registered Mobility Scooter

In Queensland for example, just like getting a disability parking permit, to have your powered mobility device registered for outdoor use in public areas, you need proof of mobility impairment from your treating physician. If you have a genuine need then you have no issue with this. You only need it once only if your disability is permanent. To legally use a powered mobility device on footpaths or roads in Qld it must be registered. Why? Well, just as disability accessible parking and disability accessible toilets are inviting to people because they’re “convenient”, it was found that mobility scooters in particular were a convenient way to get around without needing a licence to drive. This seemed to be especially appealing to certain members of society who had issues with retaining a driver’s licence, in particular for drink driving. After all how many mobility scooter riders do you ever see pulled over for an RBT? To keep the numbers regulated to the percentage of population with real mobility disabilities it was decided to regulate the use of these devices. Oh, did I mention registration is free? And comes with free CTP insurance?

That’s not to say that the regulation is optimal. As well as mobility scooters, Queensland law also requires powered wheelchairs to be registered for use outdoors also. I’ve had conversations with a number of users over the years and while I personally thought since registration is free and comes with free CTP why the hell would you not register it? However after comparing the differences between the two I completely understand their reasons for not complying with the registration requirement of their powered wheelchair and I totally support them. When you compare mobility scooters and powered wheelchairs there is a significant difference between the two. One is to make life easier and the other is to make life possible. If you ride a mobility scooter but do not use a wheelchair, chances are you can still walk enough to open a door or take yourself to the non accessible toilet and for that you should consider yourself pretty damn well blessed and you should absolutely not group wheelchair users into the same category.

Mobility Scooters are designed generally for outdoor use and have handle bars on a pillar for steering. Powered wheelchairs are designed for both indoor and outdoor use and are steered with one hand using a joystick. Power chairs are very manoeuvrable and easy to use indoors. Mobility scooters are often faced with difficulty manoeuvring in small areas. While modern designs of mobility scooters see them getting smaller and more convenient to use indoors they’re still not the option for those who need continual use of a wheeled device both inside and out. They’re in lesser numbers on our footpaths and even lesser seen on the road, the method of control is significantly different to that of a mobility scooter and just for that reason alone, shouldn’t be included in the requirement to register.

A shop front showing different styles of mobility scooters
A shop front showing different styles of mobility scooters

Mobility scooters on the other hand need regulation and I doubt it will be long before we see other states following Queensland’s lead.

On the subject of restriction though, well, how much more restricted do you want them to be?

There are size restrictions for using them on public transport. This is why I chose a mobility scooter that is smaller than the size of an average wheelchair. Many shopping centres and other indoor public environments also restrict sizes to ensure the comfort of all patrons. I know when I’m walking (shuffling) around, being surrounded by groups of large mobility scooters makes walking around safely somewhat difficult. I avoid walking around in car parks, so I’m not about to rush into an enclosed space with a bunch of kamikaze scooter riders.

Restricting use to driver’s licence holders though is just outrageously ridiculous. Being unfit to drive because my legs don’t work well enough and my upper limb use is restricted does not mean I am incapable of managing a mobility scooter. Two levers, back and forth make it pretty simple. If you can walk or cycle around the neighbourhood then you can manage a mobility scooter. When you apply for registration of your scooter one of the requirements are that your doctor needs to be of the belief that you’re capable of controlling one. The downside to this is that there is no updating of this once you’ve registered like there is with your licence once your doctor has diagnosed you with any illness that may affect your ability to drive (if they’re a decent doctor). Once you’re registered you’re registered. You just keep renewing it. Although I’d like to believe that if I reach the stage when I don’t have the capacity to realise I’m no longer safe on a scooter my family will be the first to act on it.

Speed restrictions are another question. Should the speed be restricted further than it is already. While most are limited in Australia to a brisk stroll to a jog, or 8 to 10kph some are sold that go up to 12kph. The design of mobility scooters is different do that of a powered wheelchair in that a scooter will pick up speed in excess of what it is powered to do if going down hill (isn’t gravity amazing!), while powered chairs (for the most) do not. The average walking speed is around 5kph. All motorised mobility devices have adjustable speed controls however very few have a monitor that allows you to see how fast you are going. While my CTM scooter is restricted to 8kph I’ve used my mobile phone GPS to detect the speed and hit just over 9kms going downhill. I know right! Speed demon I am. Point is I couldn’t tell how fast I was going. Luckily for me (and the people around me) I’m able to judge what is a safe speed around other people. Although I am known to become frustrated in shopping centres and speed on around people who shop in herds and use up the entire corridor.

The problem with speed restriction on these devices is that the terrain we travel on isn’t always forgiving and the motors being electric have no regulator to adapt for more power required like gears or a turbo booster on motor vehicles. Steep hills, ramps and soft ground such as grass or dirt (there isn’t always a footpath) all affect the optimum power of the device.

There’s no accounting for weight and I am sure that there has to be a difference even if small, in the power used when a person of 110kgs is travelling on the same device as someone of 50kgs. Nonetheless that’s not the main reason these devices are designed with enough power to reach these speeds. Crossing roads is one of our biggest challenges. I am eternally grateful to those who stop on the highway off ramp at North Lakes when I’m trying to cross because cars rarely see me and they just as rarely do the 40km speed limit on that section having just left a 100km stretch of road. When crossing the road is like playing a game of Frogger (you Sega kids from the 80’s will remember that one) you want to know you have a little bit of power behind you.

A mobility scooter is lying on it's side under the front bumper of a car after being in a collision.
A mobility scooter is lying on it’s side under the front bumper of a car after being in a collision.

There’s nothing to be gained by the disability community by restricting our inclusion and access any further than it already is. Even though the non disabled might not care all that much about it now, well, there’s every chance they could end up joining us one day. Then they may regret those restrictions they put on their future lives.

Regulation however needs to be carefully managed so as not to over regulate something that doesn’t need to be, just creating more red tape and paperwork and of course, cost to the government. The most important thing about designing regulation is that it should be based on input and feedback from those who will be regulated; the disability community. It doesn’t need to be a 258 page document. Just basic commonsense and benefit for those under the regulation.

  • Free CTP with the Free registration is a great upside for mobility scooter users but as the incidences for powered wheelchairs are 1 to 100 for mobility scooters the inclusion of them in compulsory registration is just not feasible.
  • If speeds are going to be limited then all devices should be fitted with a speedometer. This needs to be included in the Australian Standards so that the devices aren’t sold without them or at least an after market accessory is available.
  • Better access to Occupational Therapists for those seeking to acquire the use of a powered mobility device, for professional advice not just sales advice.
  • Better access to learning support for those new to the device. It’s great to get a flyer with information but practical demonstration, tricks and tips from those with experience makes learning far easier and gives the user confidence.
  • Most of all… better damn footpaths. If paths were clear, wide and undamaged then perhaps riders wouldn’t be forced to ride so close to doorways.

If you think mobility scooter riders are a danger you’ve clearly never been to a Boxing Day Sale.

A row of mobility scooter riders one riding behind the other
A row of mobility scooter riders one riding behind the other

Epilogue:
Australian Road Rules
The Australian Road Rules state that a person using a mobility scooter is classed as a pedestrian if the maximum speed on level ground cannot exceed 10 km/h. As such the rider:
must observe the same road rules that apply to pedestrians
must not obstruct the path of any driver or other road user
must not travel along a road if there is a footpath or nature strip adjacent to the road, unless it is impracticable to travel on the footpath or nature strip
if travelling along a road must:
– keep as far to the side of the road as possible
– travel facing the approaching traffic unless it is not practicable to do so
can use shared paths, off-road bike paths and shopping malls
does not need to have a driver’s licence.