A conversation with a person on the NDIS often follows a familiar course.
After they tell you about the life-changing improvements, and how glad they are that Australia is leading the way on disability support, they'll likely talk you through the scheme's rough edges.
You're on a self-managed plan, but wish the NDIS could pay your service provider directly? Sorry, can't do that. You'll need to pay upfront, get an invoice to claim a reimbursement and manage the paperwork.
Need a minor change to your plan? OK, but we'll need to review your whole plan.
Want to pool your resources with other participants to make a service more accessible? You can try, but the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) isn't allowed to help.
This isn't the NDIA being difficult. It's the result of the design flaws of the 2013 act that are legally binding.
This world-first scheme was designed and legislated before there was lived experience. People in the NDIS face enough barriers without being weighed down by legislative baggage.
These rough edges of the participant experience have led to the bill to amend the NDIS which is currently before the Parliament.
Now, I'm a realist, and this is politics, and I welcome the scrutiny and debate. We all understand that some politicians may want to differentiate themselves by framing the amendments in a way that doesn't reveal the full picture. And this needs to be called out, because the NDIS was founded on multipartisanship, and it relies on this ethos for further improvement.
One claim is that this gives the CEO of the NDIA the power to change your plan without consent. The full picture is that the CEO and the agency have always been able to change plans since the act was first passed in 2013. There isn't an Australian government insurance scheme in existence where decision-making powers do not rest with the agency that is accountable for taxpayers' contributions. These features were in the original bill introduced by the Gillard government that received bipartisan support.
Another claim is that the changes to plan variation powers are a threat to individual plans. Again, the agency's ability to change plans already exists. However, any change, no matter how small, currently triggers a full plan review. It currently isn't possible to just consider an individual support, an emergency circumstance or a participant's request to change their goals. Instead a full plan review has to be done. These changes reduce disruption and prevent participants having to go through time-consuming processes unnecessarily.
Of course, there will be some who will oppose granting any new decision-making powers to the agency and CEO. The full picture is that the power will be limited in scope by legislative rules, and consulted on with states and territories, and can also be disallowed in the Senate. Without change, there can't be progress, and there's a lot in this bill which remedies flaws in the original design.
Decision timeframes will be made law, with the introduction of a Participant Service Guarantee. Policy co-design with people with disability will be enshrined in the principles of the act. Appointments to the agency board will require consideration of people with disability and lived experience of disability.
And, if changes are made to a plan while a person is going through the review process, they will no longer have to go through the burden and time delay of starting a new process to have the changed plan considered by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.
It's been an extensive policy development journey to this point. The consultation period on the bill's exposure draft saw more than 800 people participate in the process, with more than 300 written submissions. This follows the Tune review's consultation process, with 200 written submissions, as well as community workshops and targeted consultation.
The evidence and the track record is clear. The NDIS is here to stay and will continue to grow.
In fact, disability funding across all governments is approaching a fourfold increase over 10 years. From $7.1 billion just before the NDIS, to $26.5 billion in NDIS funding in 2021-22. The Coalition government always has, and always will, fully fund a demand-driven NDIS - underpinned by a strong economy.
Today, the Senate's Community Affairs Committee is holding public hearings into the bill in its next stage of consultation.
When it comes to disability policy, people deserve to be presented with the full picture by their elected and community leaders, and for the NDIS to be above politics.
The 500,000 fellow Australians in the NDIS with permanent and significant disabilities, and their loved ones, expect and deserve nothing less.
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