Madam Speaker, I rise today to speak to the motion moved in my name.

My motion notes that there are over 8000 ACT residents who have an National Disability Insurance Scheme Plan.

My motion notes the principles that the NDIS was founded on were to provide person-centred support with choice and control given to those living with disability.

It also notes that the recent shift in policy by the commonwealth, in particular regarding independent assessments, moves further away from these principles than the existing policies and administration constraints on the agency already have.

Fundamentally, my motion notes that it is important that the territory and other states push back on this, and calls on the minister and this place to do just that.

When the concept of the National Disability Insurance Scheme was introduced by a Productivity Commission report in 2011, many in the disability community were extremely optimistic about the future.

Indeed, with the actual introduction of the scheme in 2013 there were lots of reasons to be optimistic. The National Disability Insurance Scheme, administered by the National Disability Insurance Agency, was founded with the purpose of both: harmonising the system of government disability support across jurisdictions under the umbrella of a national insurance scheme which wouldn’t leave those in need behind; and providing person-centred support with choice and control around support provided to those living with disability.

Prior to the introduction of the scheme in 2013, disability care was distributed across state based schemes. This means that each scheme in each state or territory was different. There were different levels of funding for care, different models of delivering care and associated difficulties dealing with different systems for those moving interstate or interacting with different state governments or for border residents like those in Queanbeyan or  Albury/Wodonga for example, or seeking care in Broken Hill from South Australia. This system was described by the 2011 Productivity Commission Report, which preceded the introduction of the scheme in 2013, as “underfunded, unfair, fragmented and inefficient”.

This decentralised model clearly presented issues for those seeking support and for harmonisation of regulation and funding at a federal level.

The funding issues which were presented by the old decentralised model were to be centralised to provide more consistency and just generally more funding across the board support. This funding is provided by State, Territory and the Federal Government.

This money is then administered by the National Disability Insurance Agency, which forms part of the Federal Department of Social Services, on an individual basis.

When it comes to how this money is supposed to be administered on an individual basis, the model of the new NDIS was designed to provide more choice and control to those receiving support. This means choice of provider and control of the support received.

This is supposed to be done through the development of treatment plans which are mutually agreed and developed between the person receiving support,  or the participant to use the language of the Agency, and the NDIA staff responsible for each individual’s plan.

Part of this ability to provide more choice and control to those living with disability receiving support is through the funding model. Each participant’s needs are supposed to be assessed wholistically by relevant health professionals along with the participant. Then a pool of money is allocated to be used to receive the support needed by the participant.

This model was lauded by a large part of the community, who were really hopeful that the autonomy and collaborative approach would result in great outcomes.

Unfortunately, this has not been the story for many participants. There isn’t just one practical reason for this, but the attitude of the federal government and subsequent policy decisions have fundamentally underlined all these shortcomings.

Fed Govt Approach

At the last meeting of Ministers responsible for the National Disability Insurance Scheme, the commonwealth minister brought forward a proposal to introduce a system known as independent assessments.

Under the model proposed, independent assessments were essentially designed to review those plans that were developed in a collaborative, person centred way. These reviews were to be done in a way that was not collaborative nor in the spirit with which the NDIS was created. The independent assessment was to be conducted by an allied health professional who had never actually ever met the participant. The process was to involve working with a checklist to verify that the plans were appropriately funded over a period of up to three hours.

Madam speaker my office has had a front row seat to the devastating consequences of these sorts of cost cutting measures by the Federal Liberal Government. Any money saved by undertaking this kind of cost cutting policy has come at enormous cost to NDIS recipients mental, physical, and fiscal health. I can’t tell you how many times I have received calls from  deeply distressed ACT residents who have just been informed that their plan no longer covers a critical service. This being after a short meeting with an often unqualified and inexperienced assessor they’ve never met nor heard from before. Many times, the meeting would be a quick phone conversation with a subcontracted employee in a different state who did not even have access to all of the relevant information.

These occurrences clearly did not happen under the independent assessments scheme, as it never got off the ground. However policies of this ilk have already existed to a lesser extent within the NDIS for a long time.

The process of appealing dodgy decisions made by assessors becomes an even greater bureaucratic nightmare than navigating the scheme as it is, butchered by the Federal Liberal Government. People and often be made to wait months for notice of outcome. Support without out which, people cannot survive. Participants in the NDIS should not have to routinely approach their state or territory government, just to get a notice of receipt when they attempt to lodge an appeal. The unfortunate state of affairs Madam Speaker, is that one of the most vulnerable demographics in the nation are routinely being traumatised by their experience with the NDIS as a direct result of the commonwealth’s decision to penny pinch resources for the Australian disability community.

This penny pinching attitude also has significant impact on NDIA staff and those who are contracted via labour hire enterprises to do NDIA work administering NDIS plans.

The understaffing at the NDIA is at a critical level. The Agency’s staffing cap sits well below the actual need of the Agency. This is not conducive to the complex work that the agency does. Administering this kind of scheme should not be taken lightly and undercut by the federal governments wish to claim that they have reduced the number of public servants in the APS.

This is exceedingly evident, madam speaker, by the cohorts of labour hire employees do NDIA work. They’ve often been paid below their directly employed counterparts and have little to no job security nor anything like sick or annual leave.  

Due to both the insecure work and experience of overwork due to staff shortages, turnover of staff is very high. This is bad for the workers and subsequently bad for participants. There are too many inexperienced staff and staff often turn over too quickly to be properly trained. This does not lead to a well functioning administration. This is to the very large detriment of the principles outlined in my motion, and makes it even more difficult for the agency to actually operate with those principles front of mind.

What’s more, madam speaker, the manner by which these employees are engaged to do this work provides a nice profit margin for labour hire companies big and small, at the expense of employees and participants.

Indeed, before the plan for full blown independent assessments was opposed at the last ministers meeting, it is reported that the Federal Govt had already struck deals worth up to more than three hundred million dollars, before either the legislation had been introduced or the state and territory ministers had agreed.

This manner of getting work completed, via labour hire companies, is an administrative choice made by the federal government and the NDIA. The federal government could, in fact, save money by directly employing these workers. Outsourcing NDIA work will never lead to the institutional knowledge needed to administer the scheme properly, with a highly skilled and deeply experienced workforce.

Madam Speaker, the NDIS was founded to be a mechanism to provide a person centred support model which gave choice and control to those in need of support. There was and remains so much potential for this to really occur.

What needs to happen is for the commonwealth to stick to this principle and to stop trying to short change the people of the ACT and Australia when it comes to the support they’re entitled to when they need it. As such, the motion in my name calls on the ACT Government and the minister to continue to continue to champion an NDIS where person-centred support , that gives choice and control to people with disability, is a core principle.

Madam Speaker it is currently up to progressive state and territory governments and disability ministers to push back on the regressive changes moved by the federal government and federal minister. This is what minister Davidson did at the July 2021 meeting.

The final call to action in my motion is that this assembly call on the commonwealth to honour the commitment given at that July 2021 meeting to co-design any changes to the NDIS with people with disability and their supporters.

This is a core feature of what the NDIS was meant to do and the for the benefit of the 8,000 ACT NDIS support recipients, I commend this motion and the message it sends to both Minister Davidson as the Minister for Disability and the Commonwealth Minister.