Government Provision of Equipment for People with Disabilities

The Hon. K.L. VINCENT: Today I will speak on state government provision of equipment for people with disabilities. Yesterday, the new Minister for Disabilities (Tony Piccolo) stood up in the lower house at question time to champion the cause of his government’s record on disability services. The minister said that South Australia had the lowest percentage of spending on administration and seemed to be proud to announce that we meet the national average on disability spending per capita. Very few people in this country receive adequate disability funding and so reaching the average is hardly a glorious achievement to crow about.

Instead, I would suggest that the minister needs to look at the needless waste in his department. I have a case which really typifies this and which has come to my attention in recent weeks. In January, I was contacted by a constituent who had been provided, through the Department for Communities and Social Inclusion, the Optimum electric wheelchair. He found that this wheelchair failed to meet basic safety and functionality requirements.

The constituent had been trialling this new wheelchair and had serious concerns about its height clearance. The footplates on the chair only provide a five centimetre clearance from the ground and they have been breaking so often that he now chooses to use the chair without them. Rather than responding to this problem by changing the wheelchair (that was, after all, being trialled), the Department for Communities and Social Inclusion in its wisdom chose to replace the footplates more than a dozen times. To me, it simply beggars belief that this inadequate solution has been repeated so many times.

Dignity for Disability believes that this is yet another example of this state government throwing good money after bad when someone is authorising the clearance of footplates that will only last a matter of days. It is clearly a false economy to keep replacing the footplates when what is required is a custom-built wheelchair for anyone over a certain height, a wheelchair that will last not days but perhaps years or even a lifetime.

The minister and his department need to appreciate that just getting a wheelchair serviced or attended to can be an extraordinary hassle, and when it has necessitated over a dozen repairs in as many weeks you can imagine the frustration. I find it an unconscionable waste of taxpayers’ money and it means that it is not just of course wheelchair users or only people with disabilities who cop this inconvenience and frustration: all taxpayers foot the bill for this. The situation would make a good script for a TV sitcom but the difference is that it is just not funny.

I have called on the new minister to examine the economics of this situation and to provide my constituent with a wheelchair that is fit for its purpose. I think he needs to ensure not only that that particular wheelchair is provided but that the situation does not occur again. It appears that the optimum wheelchair provided through the Adult Specialist Services Intervention Support Team (ASSIST) has been design for shorter people and, when a taller person uses it, any slight bump or irregularity on the ground will result in the metal footplates breaking. It is this sort of ridiculous bureaucratic system that does not provide for individual difference and wastes valuable disability dollars and sees many who urgently need respite and accommodation go without.