ACT News

NDIS rollout creates uncertain future

There are concerns over the uncertainty facing disability support services as a result of the rollout of the National Disability Insurances Scheme. 

Advocacy for Inclusion general manager Christina Ryan said there was ongoing uncertainty about the availability of independent advocacy as demand increased with the NDIS. She said it was unclear whether organisations such as hers would continue to receive funding. 

Heather Ponting of Greenway.
Heather Ponting of Greenway. Photo: Heather Ponting of Greenway

"It's more than just advocacy groups, that is a small part of it because advocacy groups support the voice of people with disabilities to be heard and it's a very small voice at the moment, so it's not really getting much support and we really don't know what the future of that support looks like," she said. 

"There's incredible uncertainty about that particular area right now and there is a real concern for, not just organisations like mine, but for a lot of the really tiny ones, like the down syndrome Association, the epilepsy association and all those sorts of groups, there's a real lack of certainty about what on earth is going on in the long term with those organisations and how they will continue to provide quality information to their constituents when their funding is so uncertain.

"There is definitely a lack of information coming from either the ACT government or the federal government about what is going to happen in that area." 

Tuesday's ACT budget included $5.03 million in funding over three years for the territory's trial of the NDIS. It included $2.8 million for new emergency response procedures, $1.6 million for therapy assistance and $555,000 for the 2014-15 NDIS trial.


There was also an additional $2.2 million to fund community sector organisations before the scheme comes into force.

"When it comes to the NDIS, there is probably going to be enough money – people are being assessed on need, they're not being given a flat sum of money," Ms Ryan said. 

"The real concern that we have is that that's about all that's happening in disability and that effectively means they're only focusing on those support services ... rather than thinking 'what are they doing in the broader community to actually support people with disabilities to be citizens of Canberra, to be participating across the board like everybody else does'. Where is the money to support the equal rights of people with disabilities?" 

Disability Minister Joy Burch announced on Wednesday older Canberrans, young children and school leavers will be among the first to change to the NDIS when it starts in the ACT from July 1.

The ACT trial will run for two years, with people gradually transitioning into the scheme according to their age or life stage.

“The ACT government and the NDIA [National Disability Insurance Agency] will work with people with disability, their families, carers, and service providers to ensure the transition plan is implemented effectively,” Ms Burch said. 

Greenway pensioner Heather Ponting is concerned the funding allocated for the NDIS in the ACT budget will not go far enough, saying it appeared to be "tokenism". 

The NDIS is an area close to the heart of Ms Ponting whose profoundly disabled son Brett died in 2000 after he was left alone by carers and drowned in his bath at a government-run group house for the disabled.

"I have grave concerns knowing the needs that are going to come forward for the NDIS, I don't think that's a lot of funding," Ms Ponting said. 

"If people are going to be looking at individual packages, they don't come cheap. It's not a lot of money when you look at the number of people with disabilities."

Ms Ponting was deeply concerned by the uncertainty facing disability support services, saying they played an "incredibly crucial" role.

"They provide support services, advocacy and, in some cases, housing to people with disabilities and also support to families of people with disabilities," she said. 

Ms Ryan agreed. "It's about the community groups which actually support people with disabilities with information, with leadership programs, with advocacy services ... and they provide a really valuable service to the community," she said. 

"It's really effective work. People with disabilities want that, there's been high demand, we can't roll out enough of it and yet we have no idea where that's going and what support there'll be for that kind of work beyond the next few months really. It's a real concern because it's about people with disabilities actually being people and not just being something that has to be supported.

"Unless government is prepared to fund us as it has in the past, we just simply don't know what is going to happen. People with disabilities increasingly expect this sort of support to be available and without it, their capacity to actually use the NDIS will be less robust."