Richard appeals to the Prime Minister, Bob Hawke, to give some tax relief to working Australians with extra unavoidable equipment, transport, travel and care costs.

8 April 1988 letter to The Hon RJ. Hawke, Prime Minister of Australia, The Lodge, Canberra, ACT 2600

Where are the equitable taxation benefits for disabled Australians?

Dear Prime Minister,
I write to appeal to your own concept of a ‘Fair Go’ for all Australians.

As a working severely disabled Australian I don’t believe I receive equitable taxation benefits in comparison to my able-bodied colleagues.

I believe some minor changes to our tax system could be a first essential step towards new concepts of disability. This change could herald greater financial independence and equity for people with severe disabilities. It may also lessen the costly general welfare expectation of ‘do everything for everyone’ if people are able ot have incentives to look after themselves. If some of these effects could be achieved I am sure I don’t have to spell out the benefits to individuals, the government and therefore Australia in general.

Lobbying for tax justice for unavoidable costs of disability

Your Prime Ministerial predecessor Malcolm Fraser had a widely held reputation in the disabled community for his personal intervention on behalf of people with disabilities. The introduction of the scheme Provision of Aids for Disabled People (PADP) and a Mobility Allowance were the results of this intervention.

I am asking you to intercede to have tax mechanisms established which would respond to the legitimate unavoidable costs of disability when incurred by people with disabilities to gain their income.

Richard Llewellyn gives his history of employment

Before I give some exampes of the problem people with disabilities face with our financial incentive and tax structuring, it may be helpful to know who I am and what else I have tried to do in regard to solving my problem.

My disability is the result of poliomyelitis in 1957. At the age of twenty I was left with 95% paralysis, the need now for overnight respiration assistance, and the use of an electric wheelchair for independent mobility. Following two years of hospitalisation I was self-employed for 15 years, while for the last 13 years I have been a Public Servant with the SA Government. Contrary to statistical evidence and general myth, I have been happily married for 15 years and have four of my own children.

Richard’s contributions to disability advocacy on the national stage

I also want you to know that I am not appealing lightly for your help. I have been working successfully to change the status of people with disabilities from within the system, but as far as the taxation issue is concerned without much headway. For eight years I have acted as a disability adviser to the Commonwealth Government commencing with the International Year of Disabled Persons, National Advisory Council, then to the National Advisory Council for the Handicapped (NACH) and finally the Disability Advisory Council of Australia (DACA). You may remember me at your exciting Tax Summit parked on the floor of the House in my electric wheelchair where I helped prepare the disability case given by DACA.

Discrimination at being denied fairness in super, insurance and necessary equipment

I am lucky of course to have a job paying well enough to be taxed at the top PAYE bracket (approx $40,000). Others are in more discouraging positions. However, in spite of paying taxes and a Medicare levy, I receive no financial assistance to purchase or maintain my independence equipment nor do I receive assistance with other necessary services and expenditures.

Not only are superannuation and life assurance policies denied but my own efforts to provide for my independent retirement are both taxed and subjected to capital gains tax. My colleagues’ retirement perks make this aspect even more of a bitter pill to accept.

Single-income as partner has no time to work

Although I realise it is not necessary to give a long bleeding-heart list of woes, I do want to illustrate some of the expenses working severely disabled people face. My wife is too busy caring for me and being responsible for the balanced upbringing of our children to have to also worry about adding to the family coffers through working. She basically has no time to work.

Costs of essential independence equipment non-deductible

My generous single salary therefore soon diminishes on the purchase and maintenance of the following essential items. NONE of these essential expenses are deductible or receive any assistance:

  • Electric Wheelchair $5,000 used 5 days of the week at work (the life of my last chair was 2 years)
  • A push chair for travelling – $600 (low quality)
  • Shower chair – $600 (cheap quality)
  • Lifting machine (home) – $700 (cheapest)
  • Lifting machine (fitted to vehicle $1,000)
  • Surgical corsets -$200 (4 needed per year)
  • Respirator pump only – $600
  • Batteries for wheelchair – $300 (life expectance 12 months used at work 5 days per week)
  • Cost of recharging batteries – $2.00/day + charger cost
  • Cost of overnight respiration – $4.00/ night estimate by hospital.

This list takes no account of the extra cost caused by disability which necessitate assistance for normal jobs such as mowing lawns, cleaning gutters and odd maintenance jobs. My wife also requires some assistance with household chores if we aren’t to wear her out totally.

Public transport inaccessible but paid for with general revenue

Sadly, the extra costs of disability don’t stop there. I am fortunate in having a van to pick me up and take me to and from work. This spares me from additional non-deductible travel and parking costs. Cheap public transport paid for with my taxes is not a transport option for most people with severe disabilities.

Family substitutes for paid personal care

When I travel on work away from home though, it is necessary to employ an attendant. My wife usually does this job as it is cheaper for us to hire someone to care for the family than to care for me. My personal care also involves some elementary training. In fact, to use professional labour for my personal care under their conditions, I would require four people in any 24-hour period.

ATO dispute re disability travel expenses

Although my wife does provide some secretarial assistance, when I am away on work, attendants’ pay, fares, other travelling costs and expenses are not recognised as legitimate deductions. The Taxation Department is currently disputing some $3,828 expenses incurred by us on a 13-day working overseas trip to Canada and the U.S.A. in 1986 for an international conference at which my wife and I gave a paper on disability and technology, an innovative topic at this global gathering.

It seems hard for the Taxation Law to understand that people with severe disabilities do not have the luxury of choice between convenient and cheap accommodation. We have to sleep, eat, work, and be entertained where access is provided. The Taxation Department is arguing that only half my double room costs are legitimate. Tax Law does not recognise my need to have someone in my room overnight or that it is virtually impossible to negotiate a lifting machine, store wheelchairs and manage a paralysed 184 cm person in most single motel/hotel rooms.

I am sure you would understand that although my wife and I find these activities personally rewarding, a thirteen day overseas trip is no rort for an able bodied person let alone someone severely disabled.

Call for legitimate disability expenses to become deductible

If severely disabled people are to work, they need to be able to deduct legitimate expenses related to their disability and their work. We have also quickly learned not to bring too many extra costs to employers. Even government is loath to use people who cost more to employ. Tax deductions are a simple and inexpensive way out of this dilemma.

I know that you are currently considering taxation questions. I hope my letter and my appeal is not too late and that it interests you. It is my belief that action now with tax concessions for severely disabled working Australians would bring credit to this country and also ultimately benefit all Australians.

Yours sincerely,

Richard Llewellyn