The Morrison government has been accused of "tampering" with the independent report used to justify its controversial reforms to the National Disability Insurance Scheme, amid fresh calls for the changes to be dumped.
Documents released to Labor under freedom of information appear to show David Tune's 2019 review of the NDIS was amended by public servants to include the section advocating for the rollout of permanent independent assessments for participants.
A leading disability advocate said he was "astonished" by the revelations, while the ACT disabilities minister has described the news as "deeply concerning".
A spokesman for the new NDIS Minister Linda Reynolds said the government had respected Mr Tune's independence "at all stages".
In an apparent shift from the former minister Stuart Robert's approach, the spokesman said Senator Reynolds - who returned from leave on Tuesday - would receive comprehensive briefings and consult with state ministers and the disability community before publicly stating her position on the NDIS reforms.
Mr Robert had planned to unveil laws to implement the reforms in the coming weeks, with a view to having them in place by the middle of year.
But the statement from Senator Reynolds' office suggest that timeframe is not set in stone.
Mr Robert used the Tune review's recommendations to justify the introduction of independent assessments from later this year.
Under the new system, government-appointed health professionals will conduct assessments on participants to determine their eligibility for the scheme.
Currently, prospective participants choose their own doctors and health professionals to conduct the assessments.
The government argues the new system will be fairer and result in more consistent assessments.
But disability groups have fiercely criticised the decision to strip participants of the freedom to choose their own assessor, fearing it will lead to trauma and anxiety.
First reported by Nine newspapers, the Tune review revelations will heap pressure on Senator Reynolds, who is already facing calls from her state and territory counterparts - including the ACT's Emma Davidson - to put the plan on hold and restart consultation.
Ms Davison has said the changes threaten to undermine the principal that NDIS participants have "choice and control" over the support they receive.
She has also suggested the Morrison government is pursuing the changes to cut costs.
Labor's NDIS spokesman Bill Shorten has seized on the "tampered" Tune review, saying it confirmed his belief that independent assessments were a "camouflage to justify cost-cutting of people's packages".
"I've been fundamentally suspicious for a while that these changes are just cost-cutting," he told The Canberra Times.
"The government lacks empathy. I don't think the current government understands that at the core of the NDIS vision is a notion of individualised packages providing choice and control to people.
"The Tune review has been used as the fig leaf for these changes and now we know that the government were writing the rationale for the changes that they wanted - there is nothing independent at all."
The Canberra Times has obtained a copy of the secret documents, which reveal the changes made to draft versions before the final report was published in December 2019.
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In the version dated October 23, the review only recommended that the National Disability Insurance Agency trial independent assessments across the country.
That was removed from the final report, replaced with a recommendation to hand the NDIA discretionary powers to force a "prospective participant or participant [to] undergo an assessment ... using NDIA-approved providers and in the form set by the NDIA".
Mr Robert's model goes well beyond even that recommendation, proposing mandatory assessments for all participants by the end of 2021.
Veteran Canberra-based disability rights advocate Dougie Herd said revelations about the Tune review would further undermine trust in the government's approach to the NDIS.
Mr Herd, the executive director of NDIS provider Community Connections and chair of the ACT Disability Reference Group, said the planned introduction of independent assessments should be immediately halted.
"I am astonished to read that it's possible that the text of the Tune review was not actually all written by the Tune review," he said.
"I simply do not see how people with a disability, their families or the Australian community can have confidence that what they are being told about the NDIS is actually true or not."
Ms Davidson said the reports the Tune review was altered to justify the controversial reform was "deeply concerning".
"It undermines the integrity of the work the community does - and the public sector - to hold the NDIS true to its original intent of choice and control for people with disabilities, and continuity in who they work with in decision-making," she said.
In a statement to The Canberra Times, Senator Reynolds' spokesman said Mr Tune was provided with a small secretariat team to help him with the report.
But that "in no way undermined his independence", the spokesman said.
The revelations come just a fortnight after Mr Shorten published leaked draft legislation on the proposed NDIS reforms, which showed the government was eyeing major changes to the scheme beyond the introduction of independent assessments.
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