NDIS Planning ReportSpeech
I rise to speak on the NDIS planning report tabled on Tuesday by the parliamentary Joint Standing Committee on the National Disability Insurance Scheme. I am proud to sit on that committee and I'm proud of this report.
I would like to thank the chair, the deputy chair and the rest of the committee membership for their efforts and collegiality through this and other inquiries. I'd also like to thank the committee secretariat, who do a fantastic job keeping us all on track. Finally, I would like to recognise that ferocious advocate for the NDIS, the member for Maribyrnong, Bill Shorten. The shadow minister for NDIS and government services has made the health and wellbeing of Australians the focus of his considerable energy and formidable skill through his entire career. He was instrumental in the creation of the NDIS. It will come as little shock to anyone in this chamber that he worked closely and tirelessly with the committee members to best represent the interests of NDIS participants and stakeholders.
In this report the committee scrutinised the planning process of the NDIS. Planning is a defining process in the life of an NDIS participant. When someone is granted access to the scheme, a planner decides how much funding is needed for the participant to live a normal life as set out in their goals. The report accurately notes that planning, when it works well, changes lives for the better.
The report also confirms what my constituents tell me every day: the planning process is broken. The 319-page report finalises evidence gathered over the course of 18 months since the inquiry was established in July 2019. It makes 42 recommendations about the planning process, following the publication of 157 submissions to the inquiry from individuals and organisations. The evidence in this report supports the findings of the 2019 review of the NDIS Act and rules by David Tune AO. The findings of that review state:
Consultation feedback suggests the NDIA is not making consistent decisions during planning. Some participants with similar disability support needs reported they received very different types and values of supports in their plans, where the differences did not appear to be linked to their goals and aspirations or their informal supports. This was particularly evident in cases of young siblings with the same disability and similar levels of functional capacity.
Planning defines the support people need, and supports inform the quality of life people with disability receive. Nothing could be more central. As one submission stated:
Planning determines so many things about my life and the NDIS has absolute control. This can never not be terrifying for anybody who is severely disabled
Like cases should be treated alike. This is a fundamental principle of justice. There have been a number of public failures against this objective, like the Weir brothers, who suffer exactly the same genetic condition but receive drastically different levels of support. This is unacceptable.
The planning report details aggravating issues, including, in some cases, planners listing people's disabilities incorrectly or incorrectly recording their goals or what other supports were available to them. Planners were sometimes unaware of participants' disabilities and were relying on internet search engines for their information. Planners may be ignoring or changing expert recommendations provided by allied health practitioners about the support that is appropriate for a given participant. It is gut-wrenching to watch as the world-beating scheme established by the Gillard government earns a reputation for inconsistency and dysfunction.
Minister Roberts's response to this report has been predictably lacklustre. The reality is that the reforms the minister is now relying on to fix these issues are simply not up to the task. The most significant of these independent assessments sparked outrage among participants and the sector when they were blindsided by the surprise announcement in September. This report highlights the forthcoming inclusion of independent assessments within the general issues report which the committee hopes to table before the end of the year. On page 139, the report states:
The committee also holds concerns about the compulsory nature of independent assessments, especially where an expert who has worked with a participant over a longer period of time may be better placed to make recommendations to benefit a participant. The committee will address broader concerns related to the independent functional assessments further in its forthcoming report into general issues around the implementation and performance of the NDIS.
I hope the general issues report can succeed where the government has failed and properly engage with the disability community on independent assessments. The proposed independent functional assessments are causing great fear and anxiety. The government must pause the rollout of independent assessments and engage in real consultation with NDIS participants and the workforce.
Now, it is important that we recognise that there are challenges to delivering the scheme fairly and consistently. This is why this report on planning is so important. Inconsistency is a problem, and the Labor Party stands ready to work collaboratively with the government to find solutions. But ramming through independent assessments with little community consultation is not the answer. The issue is that the government's chosen path to solving this problem is more harmful than the problem. Even though there has been a voluntary pilot program, we don't know much about it. We don't know much about it because evaluation and evaluation reporting has been weak and deficient. This is unacceptable. Even though extensive consultations have been undertaken on other areas of policy change following the Tune review, consultation on independent assessments has been near to non-existent. Even though there have been serious concerns raised by very many, including the Australian Association of Psychologists, Every Australian Counts, People with Disability Australia, Women With Disabilities Australia, the Rights Information and Advocacy Centre, and Synapse, the government has chosen regulation over legislation on independent assessments in order to avoid scrutiny. It does not surprise me that organisations have expressed serious concern with the government's plan.
Every day in my electorate I speak with people who have been mistreated as a result of this government's fixation on cutting the cost of disability support across the country. Rachel, a disability advocate in Geelong, told me it is shameful the NDIA has not consulted people with disabilities. She said that, if they had, they would hear what Rachel was hearing: anxiety, fear, and distrust. She said, 'Participants turn to our organisation feeling traumatised after receiving a robotic letter stating they have 28 days to provide more evidence of their disability, or they will be removed from the scheme. Participants fear independent assessments will be even worse.' Rachel said the NDIS is supposed to be about choice and control, but this process is taking all the control away. This is not the person-centred NDIA that we all fought for. This is heartbreaking, and it is heartbreakingly familiar. In my electorate of Corangamite, I've formed an NDIS reference group to help me in my work on the NDIS joint parliamentary standing committee. The group includes advocates, carers, members of the workforce and participants. And their message is clear: they fiercely oppose independent assessments.
Now, the Morrison government needs to immediately pause the rollout of independent assessments and engage in genuine transparent consultation with the sector. We need to build a pathway to meeting the challenges of inconsistency that isn't more poison than antidote. Unsurprisingly, this government does not hold the trust of NDIS participants. Since 2013, the coalition has viewed the scheme primarily as an expenditure line. What the government appears to really be chasing with independent assessments is its bottom line, by controlling eligibility and plan size. This is a familiar tune with a government that last year ripped $4.6 billion out of the scheme. This government is failing to run the NDIS, because it very often puts cash before care.
Labor stands for choice and empowerment for NDIS participants in the workforce. The very first step in that commitment is an open conversation about how the system works, not ramming through a flawed process without compassion and care for those the scheme should serve. Let me make my position crystal clear: I do support the NDIS, Labor supports the NDIS, but, on this International Day of People with Disability, there is so much work to be done to ensure the scheme best serves its participants. And I do question if the Morrison government is up for this task. I urge the government to act on every one of these recommendations, and I hope they do. Thank you.Share Tweet