We applaud 6-point plan to reboot the NDIS. We're keen to hear more detail

By Achieve Australia CEO Jo-Anne Hewitt

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I was in Canberra on 18 April with some of our Executive team and members of the Alliance20 group to hear Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), Bill Shorten, address the National Press Club.

Minister Shorten told us the Scheme is here to stay and that he is acutely aware of the problems plaguing participants and service providers.

He proposed a reboot for the NDIS via a 6-point plan to realise systemic reform covering these key areas:

  1. The NDIA workforce

  2. Long-term planning

  3. Addressing spiralling expenses

  4. Better outcomes from Supported Independent Living (SIL)

  5. Eliminating unethical practices

  6. Increasing community and mainstream supports

Read more detail about each of the 6 points below.

1 - The NDIA workforce

The NDIA will have staffing caps lifted to meet the demands of ballooning participant numbers and their needs and to employ more people with lived experience of disability.

Some call centre functions will return in-house and the agency will also focus on reducing staff turnover and improving its systems and processes. Minister Shorten pledged to improve the NDIA culture as well and ensure participants are treated with understanding and humanity.

Filling service gaps in places like rural and First Nations communities, and regional and remote Australia is also proposed to deliver desperately needed solutions.

All this is good news, but we need to hear more detail about how these commitments will be achieved.

2 - Long-term planning

In acknowledging that short-term planning “just isn’t working” due to the stress and frustration it causes, Mr Shorten wants multi-year plans introduced to deliver more predictability and better outcomes.

Acknowledging the danger of a ‘set-and-forget’ approach to longer-term plans, the Minister has committed to plans being adaptable to changes in a participant’s condition and needs over time.

3 - Addressing spiralling expenses

Representing a $35 billion – and growing – slice of the Federal Budget, speculation the Treasurer wants to cut costs at the NDIS is causing concern and anxiety for participants and the sector.

Mr Shorten took multiple opportunities during his National Press Club address to assure all participants and service providers that a “slash and burn” approach would not happen. While the Scheme’s associated costs are expected to increase, Mr Shorten says the Government’s focus is on making the NDIS ‘sustainable’ rather than on pursuing cost cutting.

This means the Scheme will not reduce its eligibility but nor will it be expanded to include groups currently sitting outside, such as those who acquire their disability after age 65.

Instead, Mr Shorten says the sector must redouble its efforts to pursue fair new inclusions, through strategic approaches that demonstrate how the Government’s agenda can be fulfilled.

Mr Shorten committed to maintaining funding for all ‘reasonable and necessary supports’ for participants, but he wants to maximise the benefit of every dollar spent. The targeting of service providers who over-charge for goods will be a priority.

The Minister has also left room for reforms that will come from the NDIS Review, such as a trial of blended payments to improve incentives for service providers to achieve better outcomes for participants. Programs and policies that reduce the need for support over time while increasing independence in daily living will also be a key focus. We are keen to see more detail about this.

4 - Better outcomes from Supported Independent Living 

Mr Shorten addressed another topic that is very important to the people we support and their families – Supported Independent Living or SIL. He said the current SIL approach has not delivered appropriate safety, quality and good outcomes for participants.

While the ongoing NDIS Review is already investigating new approaches to deliver better home and living decisions for participants, Mr Shorten has pledged to review SIL with an eye to systemic reform.

Reforms to SIL will include solutions to housing supply and rental market accessibility, while considering how co-tenancy models, community housing and other accommodation models designed by people with disability and their families, can be adopted and put into practice. We will be watching this closely and contributing at every opportunity.

5- Eliminate unethical practices

Unvalidated claims in social media that NDIS funds paid for tarot reading may have attracted tabloid headlines recently but Mr Shorten stayed practical during his address. He promised a renewed focus on evidence and data to determine which therapies will be funded. He said therapies offering little to no value to participants will be targeted, along with unethical practices including:

  • pressuring participants to ask for unnecessary services or support ratios

  • spending that is contrary to a participant’s plan

  • asking for additional fees for a service

  • offering rewards for taking services not on a plan.

Pre-empting criticism from the service community who might fear being made a scapegoat for cost blowouts, Minister Shorten rallied around the “many great service providers”. He says the untrustworthy ones who prey upon participants “taint reputations” and need to be driven out of the industry.

The Minister promised more NDIA personnel with the skills to ensure providers can deliver the necessary services at an appropriate cost.

6- Increasing community and mainstream supports

By accident or design over the last decade, people living with a disability have had to rely almost completely on NDIS support if available, due to significant cuts in community and mainstream supports. 

While acknowledging the practice as more one of unintentional division than deliberate exclusion, Mr Shorten said that it was vital for NDIS participants to be supported by mainstream services delivering on inclusion and universal service provision, as has always been intended. 

“Existing mainstream services and facilities, like health, education, and transport need to be more accessible and supportive for people with a disability – to foster inclusion, not segregation,” Mr Shorten told the audience.

A worthy goal and admirable philosophy but we need more detail about how this will be realised.

Mr Shorten said State Governments “must step up” and cannot “retreat from supporting people with disability outside the scheme and on the other hand have a diminishing contribution to the NDIS.”

While, on the one hand Mr Shorten’s flex of his Ministerial muscle towards his state counterparts might resemble politics as we know it, his promise to work with the disability sector – while appointing advocates to positions of real authority and influence – does appear to be something new. And gives us all hope.

I would love to hear your thoughts. You can contact me via ceo@achieveaustralia.org.au