Optimism and opportunity for NDIS

Congratulations on your appointment as Labor’s first-ever dedicated minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

The disability sector has recognised your genuine commitment to the NDIS and it seems your appointment has given rise to a sense of optimism in the disability ecosystem not seen for a long time.

As you know, the NDIS would have to be one of the most phenomenal pieces of bipartisan social and economic reform in our history: converting a complex social need into a huge social and economic opportunity by using the market to address individual disability.

In fact, the economic contribution of the NDIS in 2020-2021 is conservatively estimated to be around $52.4 billion.

So much promise but, as you know, things have not panned out as they should have.

So, minister, here is my wish list for the NDIS, so that it can do the thing it was always meant to do, and in the process create a more inclusive Australia.

Disability service providers are the cog in the NDIS wheel that makes it turn. Without them, the system fails. However, there is a real issue around sustainability for these providers. Part of the issue is that pricing is set by the National Disability Insurance Agency with a view to controlling expenditure.

This approach creates a conflict of interest, ignores the economic value generated by the NDIS and creates a real risk of market failure. Pricing for NDIS services should, like pricing for hospital services and (soon) aged care services, be determined by an independent body such as the Independent Hospital Pricing Authority.

There are still 3,500 young people with disability living in residential aged care (not to mention those who are stranded in hospitals).

A large part of the reason is the waiting times for NDIS decisions on funding for housing and support. A recent report by La Trobe University and Summer Foundation found that people with disability are waiting a median of 150 days for decisions on funding for housing and support (unlike for residential aged care where the waiting time is typically three days).

The NDIA must improve the efficiency and effectiveness of its decision making so it can provide timely funding decisions and enable people with disability to secure safe and appropriate accommodation.

During the past 12 months, the NDIA has been arbitrarily slashing funding packages, often without consultation or notice.

There has been a 400 per cent increase in appeals to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal and the NDIA has spent $30 million on external lawyers since July 2021.

I don’t normally talk about what I do in my day job, but one thing I am very proud of is our pro bono NDIS plan review practice, where we support people with disability to appeal plan decisions by the NDIA.

The fact that we have had a 100 per cent success rate so far simply underlines the tragedy that beneficiaries of a scheme are forced to fight for the support they are entitled to.

Sadly, our efforts barely scratch the surface in terms of need and our list has been closed to new clients for much of the year.

The Labor Party promised to introduce an expert review process that will guarantee plans are not being unfairly reduced. Mr Shorten, nothing would give me greater pleasure than to close our pro bono practice due to a lack of demand.

I look forward to seeing an expert review process that will deliver certainty and transparency for NDIS participants and their providers.

Finally, Mr Shorten, a few weeks ago, Activ closed its worksites in Western Australia, leaving more than 700 people with disability facing redundancy and an uncertain future.

Like many disability enterprises, Activ simply couldn’t transition its large-scale employment site model to the NDIS funding framework in a manner that was sustainable.

This model offers much in the way of community and belonging for those who would otherwise miss out on employment and helps many to build the skills and capacity they need before attempting employment in the mainstream.

There is, therefore, an urgent need for a managed transition for the disability employment sector to the NDIS to avoid further closures. 

Disclaimer – the information contained in this publication does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. You should seek legal advice in relation to any particular matter you may have before relying or acting on this information. The Lavan team are here to assist.