Canberra disability and community sector leaders have united in opposition to a major shake-up of the National Disability Insurance Scheme.
As NDIS Minister Linda Reynolds prepares to ask the states and territories to endorse her contentious plan at a crunch meeting on Friday, local peak bodies sounded the alarm about what the changes could mean for the more than 8300 Canberrans on the scheme and the wider community.
The groups fear the overhaul will undermine the principles at the heart of the world-leading program, leaving Canberrans with a disability, their families and support networks worse off.
The sweeping changes proposed by the Morrison government include the introduction of compulsory independent assessments, more "flexible" budgets for participants and new rules which would ban them from spending their NDIS funds on certain items.
Senator Reynolds argued change was needed to make the NDIS fairer and simpler for participants, and affordable for Australian taxpayers.
Her agency's latest projections show the scheme could run $22 billion over budget in the next four years, and rise to as much as $60 billion a year by 2030, on the back of a forecast surge in people joining the NDIS.
Disability groups, Labor and the Greens oppose the new assessment process, which would see government-contracted professionals used to test participants' functional capacity. The results of the independent assessment would be used to calculate their funding.
ACT Council of Social Service head of policy and disability advocate Craig Wallace said state and territory ministers needed to tell Senator Reynolds at Friday's meeting she needed to go back to the drawing board on the proposed overhaul.
"As a launch jurisdiction for the NDIS in 2013, the ACT has a specific stewardship in ensuring that this scheme retains the principles of individualised funding, goal-centred planning and reasonable and necessary support within an entitlements system," he said.
"These are all under threat from the legislation and the raft of changes that have been proposed."
Mr Wallace said the major problem with independent assessments was that it was "impossible" for someone without prior knowledge of a participant's condition to properly assess them in a few hours.
Senator Reynolds has officially ruled out introducing the exact model of independent assessments used in the trial, but remains committed to the reform.
The agency in charge of the scheme has flagged a raft of possible changes, including options for participants to have greater freedom over who conducts their assessment, in response to damming findings from its own expert advisory panel.
Ahead of Friday' meeting, Senator Reynolds told The Canberra Times she was "optimistic" a consensus could be reached, despite Labor states - including the ACT - publicly declaring their opposition to independent assessments.
Mental Health Community Coalition ACT chief executive Bec Cody said participants, in particular people with psychosocial disabilities, were "petrified" about independent assessments.
"They [participants] won't have a say. They feel like their choice and control is being removed," she said.
Women with Disabilities ACT chief executive Kat Reed feared the introduction of independent assessments could exacerbate the gender inequality that existed in the scheme.
"Women make up only 34 per cent of NDIS participants in the ACT and less than 37 per cent nationally," they said.
"Women with disabilities are already more likely to experience poverty, inadequate health care, and mental illness compared to men with disability. We are concerned that a three-hour assessment will not adequately capture the diverse, complex and intersectional needs of women that arise from structural inequality."
Advocacy for Inclusion chief executive Nicolas Lawler called on the federal government to halt the reforms and "truly engage" with the disability sector.
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