Is the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) a rights based system?

Stream: Panel 59 - Public Policy & Social Justice: Policymaking and Welfare Services 
Date: Wednesday, 28 September 2016
Time: 9.00 am – 10.30 am


It is rare to see human rights used as the basis for Government action. This is often because rights speak in absolutes and do not provide Governments with the room to construct flexible public policy. However, the introduction of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) in Australia represents a radical shift to recognising, and acting on, the rights of people with a disability. The NDIS sees the delivery of disability services move from a rationed system where limited resources were prioritised to those with the highest need, to an entitlement system where all of those with needs are entitlement to ‘reasonable and necessary’ support. Under the NDIS system this entitlement looks a lot like a traditional liberal claim right. This paper examines whether entitlement under the NDIS does equate to a claim right and then outlines the key challenges to the NDIS operating as a rights system – the tension between self-determination and paternalism; resource constraints; and the question of who the right is held against. This paper argues that it is because of these challenges that the NDIS represents an excellent example of the reality of turning rights from theory into practice.


Mhairi Cowden (Presenter), Government of Western Australia
Mhairi Cowden holds a PhD in Politics and International Relations from the Australian National University. Her book ‘Children’s Rights: From Philosophy to Public Policy' was published by Palgrave MacMillan in 2015. Dr Cowden currently works in the social policy unit of the Department of the Premier and Cabinet, Government of Western Australia.