After months of campaigning by disability advocates, including the AEU, state and territory disability ministers rejected controversial reforms that would have forced all National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) participants and those wanting to access the scheme to undergo independent assessments.
The NDIS has been trialling the use of independent assessments in which the eligibility of individuals to access funding, as well as the rate of funding, is based on advice from government contractors rather than reports from their own medical specialists. Eight companies had already been awarded contracts worth approximately $339 million to conduct the assessments, and the federal government wanted to implement the process across the entire scheme under the guise of making NDIS funding more “sustainable”.
Trials of the assessment scheme resulted in widespread opposition from experts, including the scheme’s Independent Advisory Council, who expressed serious concerns about the lack of expertise within the private companies contracted to provide these services and warned that the changes would fundamentally alter the individualised and personalised nature of the NDIS.
As federal Shadow Minister for the NDIS Bill Shorten said in his Address to the National Press Club in April: ‘Sadly, it is not overstating things to say that in 2021 the NDIS has the front door padlocked to the genuinely needy and the backdoor wide open for crooks and profiteers.”
More broadly, many in the disability community believe the push for independent assessments are part of a broader government agenda to cut costs in a sector that is already woefully underfunded, with many missing out on the support they need, and workers receiving unacceptably low wages and conditions. Federal NDIS minister Linda Reynolds is maintaining the need for measures to address the continued growth in the uptake of NDIS support, with funding set to grow at around 12% every year.
In the initial rollout of the NDIS, significant delays left many without the critical care and support they needed. As a result, the unallocated funding led to a $4.6 billion underspend that was not reinvested in the scheme but reclaimed by the Morrison government to make its budget bottom line look better.
The NDIS was designed to give people with disability greater power to determine how they want to live, and to increase the options available to them and their carers. Instead of adding bureaucratic obstacles, the voices and experience of people with disabilities must be central to tackling any issues regarding access and provision. A sustainable funding model cannot be to the detriment of those living with disability or the disability workforce.
Ms Reynolds says disability ministers will work together on a new assessment model. In the meantime, the AEU will continue to maintain pressure on the federal government to increase funding levels and prevent changes that will further undermine the sector and the NDIS.