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  • Writer's pictureKate Bradshaw

What Next for NDIS

Newly re-elected Prime Minister Scott Morrison says fixing problems in the National Disability Insurance Scheme will be an immediate priority for the re-elected Coalition government.

The Prime Minister has publicly stated following the win that addressing failures in the NDIS was among his first priorities.

This pledge has been welcomed by disability groups who are keen to see immediate action taken by the new Cabinet to improve the way the scheme works.

During the election campaign, the Morrison government committed to introducing a new NDIS Participant Guarantee to make it quicker for people to enter the scheme or have their plans reviewed. The government also pledged to implement a 7 per cent disability employment target in the Australian Public Service, create a $45 million information gateway for people with disability, and invest an additional $20 million to extend the Community Connectors Program.

“We want to see the re-elected government roll up its sleeves and get on with the critical job of delivering the support Australians with disability and their families are depending on.” National Disability Services acting CEO David Moody said he welcomed the prime minister’s comments that sorting out problems with the NDIS was a government priority. He said disability service providers remained committed to making the scheme work. “Our priority is the same as Mr Morrison’s priority – to sort out the problems with the NDIS and ensure we provide quality services for people with disability and their families,” Moody said.

Dedicated NDIS Minister

In announcing his new Cabinet Mr Morrison has created a new role with a dedicated NDIS minister. Stuart Robert has assumed the role of minister for the NDIS and will be charged with delivering on this important agenda. Although there are obvious issues facing the scheme, it is also important to acknowledge what has gone well, such as; over 277,000 people have already accessed the scheme and is predicted to rise to 460,000 in 2020, we are hearing reports by participants of greater choice, access to new services and technologies, and generally strong satisfaction rates. Alongside these positives are a number of concerns about the scheme and areas that need improvement and here are four areas that Mr Robert will need to give his full attention to;

1. Waiting Times

Many of the problems with the scheme relate to the time people have to wait – either to receive a plan, to activate it, or to have it reviewed. In 2018, the Commonwealth Ombudsman investigated the NDIS’s handling of reviews on the basis that around one-third of all complaints it received about the scheme related to this issue. This system was judged unapproachable and lacking in fairness and transparency and leading to delays of up to nine months to receive an outcome.

The Coalition has committed to introducing an NDIS Participant Service Guarantee, this would set time-frames for participants to receive an access decision, and have their plan approved or reviewed. This, should reduce the time taken for people with disability to access the NDIS and have their plan approved and implemented. There is also a commitment to introduce a single point of contact for the NDIS and to allow those with a stable disability to opt into a three-year plan, rather than being reviewed every 12 months.

2. Workforce Shortages

The National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) is the independent statutory agency charged with implementing the NDIS. One of the challenges it has faced is limited staff to drive these changes. In 2014, a staffing cap was placed on the NDIA, restricting the numbers employed to 3,000. Although the government has committed to increasing the cap gradually to 3,400 in 2020-21, it will be a challenge to deliver on this bold agenda with a limited workforce.

3. Scheme take up and Eligibility

It was widely reported that the surplus seen in the last federal budget was boosted by a A$1.6 billion dollar under-spend on the NDIS. Some disability advocates argued this under-spend only occurred due to the delays in people getting on to the schemes and issues in relation to the supply of services in a rapidly developing market. Disability advocates have also noted some of these savings might have been the result of tightening criteria for accessing services. This might mean individuals who were once eligible for the NDIS find that they no longer are. This has been a particular issue in relation to autism spectrum disorders. Or, when plans are reviewed, they are reduced or gradually trimmed back, often with little clear rationale for why this has happened.

4. Accommodating Diversity

The NDIS continues to face challenges in accommodating diversity. While the rates of disability are higher in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations (almost 25%), just 5% of NDIS participants are of this heritage. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with disabilities are not well-engaged with the NDIS and we see similar challenges across culturally and linguistically diverse populations more broadly. The NDIA has recently introduced strategies to address these issues, although there is some distance to go until a cultural competency framework is well-embedded. The development of different entry paths into the NDIS is one way to assist this process, with community workers helping to explain and navigate the system for these audience

We support the Coalition's decision to have a dedicated NDIS Minister and we wish Minister Robert every success in this portfolio.

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