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Kept in the dark: Disability community says NDIS reforms are not transparent

The disability community objects to a perceived lack of transparency in the Federal Government’s proposed reforms to the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).

The NDIS was developed through co-design, Dougie Herd, chair of the ACT Disability Reference Group, explained: when it was designed and built a decade ago, the government consulted for two years with people with disabilities, agencies, and states and territory governments. But this time they say they have been left in the dark.

“All the evidence tells us that the government has kept these changes secret for as long as they possibly could, that they only started sharing information in a meaningful way once members of the community began to be angry and make a noise about this,” Mr Herd said.

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Bec Cody, CEO of the Mental Health Community Coalition ACT, said the Federal Government had not been open and consultative; she did not know what the pilot findings or the projected costings were; she was unsure about the assessment tools and categorisation process.In fact, she said, she had found out more through the media than from the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) or government.

Even politicians have not been informed, it seems. Emma Davidson, ACT Minister for Disability, said she had raised her significant concerns about independent assessments with her Commonwealth counterparts on several occasions, but neither the current nor previous Federal Ministers for the NDIA had resolved these issues.

Ms Davidson said the NDIA needed to provide Commonwealth and state and territory ministers with clear understanding of the outcomes achieved by independent assessments compared with other approaches.

Ms Davidson, Advocacy for Inclusion, and other stakeholders have called on Minister for the NDIS, Senator Linda Reynolds to return to co-design principles, to sit down and consult with them.Both Ms Cody and Mr Herd said they wanted to work with the NDIA and the Federal Government to make the NDIS the best it could be.

Are the NDIS reforms a cost-saving exercise?

Senator Reynolds told the parliamentary committee recently that the NDIS was unsustainable. It was growing by 12% each year, and plan payments have increased by 50% between 2017 and 2020.

Senator Reynolds denied the independent assessments were about cuts to the NDIA. The government, she said, has invested $17 billion more over the last two budgets across forward estimates, taking their share of investment in the NDIS to 61% by 2024–25, to add another 80,000 participants.

Mr Herd disagreed that the NDIA was unsustainable. “The Minister is entirely wrong, and the Minister is also changing the story,” he said.

At first, he explained, independent assessments were talked about solely in terms of better tailor-made results; now, the government was saying the principal driver of independent assessments was to reconfigure expenditure to prevent a future blowout of the scheme because it had grown above expectations. In fact, Mr Herd said, the NDIS was growing in line with expectation and in a cost-effective way.

“The NDIS is a triumph for Australia, a triumph,” he said. “If one wasn’t around 12 years ago, 15 years ago, and not aware of how terribly bad many of the support systems for people with disability were, it’s difficult to see how much of an improvement the NDIS is.

“The Commonwealth Government and the chief executive of the National Disability Insurance Agency are about to make what I believe would be a catastrophically big mistake. It is their proposals that endanger the National Disability Insurance Scheme, not how it is currently being organised and developed. And we want to help make this better. We do not want to go back to how things used to be.”

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