Disability Pension Reform and Regional Australia: The Indigenous Experience

Across the OECD, disability income support policy has become central to national economic policy. Australia has led and followed such trends with disability income support becoming a key platform of national socio-economic reform. This has occurred as regional centres have experienced rapid economic and social change. Drawing upon Indigenous and place-based methods, this study will examine how four regional centres navigate the socio-economic challenges they face with an increasing Indigenous disability population in a context of national reform. The study focuses on Indigenous Australians with disabilities. The findings will significantly inform regional and national disability policy in the coming years for Indigenous Australians.

Research Program

Disability Income Reform and Regional Australia: The lived experience for Indigenous Australians with disabilities is major three-year program of research funded by the Australian Research Council (DECRA Fellowship: ARC DE160100478). The project aimed to investigate the ways in which Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians living with disabilities and their families respond to, the challenges imposed by national disability income reform and rapid regional economic restructuring.

A painting of a green reptile leaning on a rock with a sun and orange sky behind it. This image is surrounded by a patterned border.Project Objectives

  • Build scholarly knowledge about Indigenous disabled people’s experiences of living ‘in between’ the interstice of national income support reform and regional economic growth, regeneration and/or decline;
  • Expand the theoretical boundaries of Indigenous identities through incorporating the category of disability as a regulatory regime, a redistributive mechanism and a social identity;
  • Enrich theoretical and applied understandings of the growing disability population of Indigenous Australians and their experience of disability in changing regional landscapes;
  • Elaborate Indigenous research methodologies to give ‘voice’ to Indigenous Australians with disabilities living in regional centres that can be scaled up to other contexts and settings; and
  • Develop a rigorous theoretical framework to inform government (national, state, local) policies and programs that aim to promote regional economic development so that it is responsive to, and inclusive of, local Indigenous disability populations and their communities.

Project Artist

Majinda May is a woman from the Birpai Clan and has been an artist now for about five years. Majinda is self-taught and usually works with images that express her thoughts and feelings. Majinda’s artistic work helps support and maintains her mental health and wellbeing. Majinda is active with her local women’s centre, supporting women who have experienced or are going through domestic violence.

Project Outcomes

Community Report

‘At what cost?’ Indigenous Australians’ experiences of applying for disability income support (Disability Support Pension), Karen Soldatic, ARC DECRA and Senior Research Fellow, and Michelle Fitts, Research Associate, Institute for Culture and Society, Western Sydney University.

Community Research Forum

'Social Suffering in the Neoliberal Age: Classificatory Logic and Systems of Governance', Western Sydney University, Parramatta City Campus, Sydney, Australia, July 18-19th, 2019.

Senate Community Affairs References Committee: Adequacy of Newstart and related payments and alternative mechanisms to determine the level of income support payments in Australia.

Submission (opens in a new window): Karen Soldatic, Michelle Fitts, Liam Magee and Gerard Thomas.

Public Hearing (opens in a new window): Karen Soldatic, Michelle Fitts and Gerard Thomas.

Answers to Questions on Notice (opens in a new window): Karen Soldatic, Michelle Fitts, Liam Magee and Gerard Thomas.


AFDO: Guiding Principles for a Sustainable Disability Support Pension (SDPS) (opens in a new window).

AFDO & NATSEM: Inequalities in Standards of Living: Evidence for improved income support for people with disability (opens in a new window).


Soldatic, K & Johnson J, 2020, Global perspectives on disability activism and advocacy (opens in a new window), 1st Edition, Routledge, London.

Soldatic, K 2019, Disability and neoliberal state formations (opens in a new window), 1st Edition, Routledge, London.

Soldatic, K & Johnson, K 2019, Disability and rurality: identity, gender and belonging (opens in a new window), 1st Edition, Routledge, London.


Soldatic, K, 2020, 'Disability–Indigeneity gendered relations in settler–colonial Australia: continuities, trajectories and enmeshments', in C Spivakovsky, L Steele, & P Weller (eds), The Legacies of Institutionalisation: Disability, law and policy in the 'deinstitutionalised' community (opens in a new window), Hart Publishing.

Soldatic, K 2020, ‘Social suffering in the neoliberal age: surplusisty and the partially disabled subject’, in N Watson & S Vehmas (eds), Routledge handbook of disability studies (opens in a new window), Routledge, pp. 237-239.

Soldatic, K 2019, 'Surplusisity: neoliberalism and disability and precarity', in B Watermeyer, J McKenzie & L Swartz (eds), The Palgrave handbook of disability and citizenship in the global south (opens in a new window), Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 13-26.

Soldatic, K 2018, 'Indigenous mothering and disabled children in regional Australia: a narrative study', in S Shah & C Bradbury-Jones (eds), Disability, Gender and violence over the life course: global perspectives and human rights approaches (opens in a new window), Routledge, London.

Soldatic, K 2018, 'Neoliberalising disability income reform: what does this mean for Indigenous Australians living in regional areas?' (opens in a new window), in D Howard-Wagner, M Bargh & I Altamirano-Jiménez (eds), The neoliberal state, recognition and Indigenous rights, ANU Press, Canberra, pp. 131-146.

Soldatic, K & Sykes, D 2017, 'Poverty and people with a disability', in K Serr (ed.), Thinking about poverty (4th edition) (opens in a new window), The Federation Press, Sydney.

Soldatic, K & Morgan, H 2017, '“The way you make me feel”: shame and the neoliberal governance of disability welfare subjectivities in Australia and the UK', in J Louth & M Potter (eds), Edges of identity: the production of neoliberal subjectivities (opens in a new window), Chester University Press, Chester, pp. 106-133.

Special Issues of Journals

Soldatic, K & Gilroy, J (Guest Editors) 2018, ‘Intersecting Indigeneity, colonialisation and disability’ (opens in a new window), Disability and the Global South, vol. 5, no. 2, pp. 1337-1552.

Uink, B & Soldatic, K (Guest Editors) 2018, 'Indigenous economic practices of contestation, resistance and wellbeing', Global Media Journal - Australian Edition (opens in a new window), vol. 12, no. 1.

Journal Articles

Soldatic, K & Fitts, M 2019, ‘Sorting yourself out of the system: everyday processes of elusive social sorting in Australia’s disability social security regime for Indigenous Australians’ (opens in a new window), Disability & Society, DOI: 10.1080/09687599.2019.1649128.

Soldatic, K 2018, 'Disability poverty and ageing in regional Australia: the impact of disability income reforms for Indigenous Australians' (opens in a new window), Australian Journal of Social Issues, pp. 223-238.

Soldatic, K & Gilroy, J 2018, ‘Intersecting Indigeneity, colonialisation and disability’ (opens in a new window), Disability and the Global South, vol. 5, no. 2, pp. 1337-1343.

Soldatic, K, Melboe, L, Kermit, P & Somers K 2018, ‘Challenges in global indigenous–disability comparative research, or, why nation-state political histories matter’ (opens in a new window), Disability and the Global South, vol. 5, no. 2, pp. 1450-1471.

Uink, B & Soldatic, K 2018, 'Editorial reflections on Indigenous economic practices of contestation, resistance and wellbeing' (opens in a new window), Global Media Journal - Australian Edition (opens in a new window), vol. 12, no. 1.

Fitts, M & Soldatic, K 2018, 'Disability income reform and service innovation: countering racial and regional discrimination' (opens in a new window), Global Media Journal - Australian Edition, vol. 12, no. 1.

Soldatic, K 2018, 'Policy mobilities of exclusion: implications of Australian disability pension retraction for Indigenous Australians' (opens in a new window), Social Policy and Society, vol. 17, no. 1, pp. 151-167.

Soldatic, K, Somers, K, Spurway, K & van Toorn, G 2017, 'Emplacing Indigeneity and rurality in neoliberal disability welfare reform: the lived experience of Aboriginal people with disabilities in the West Kimberley, Australia' (opens in a new window), Environment and Planning A, DOI: 10.1177/0308518X17718374.

Logos: First Peoples Disability Network Australia and Australian Federation of Disability Organisations