The Tune Review into the National Disability Insurance Scheme was an important moment for people with disabilities in this country.
The original aim of the NDIS was to enhance the lives of people with disabilities, to give them choice and control over what they need to live their lives to the fullest.
It has not always lived up to this aim.
To give one, devastating example: In January, it was revealed that since 2016, more than 1200 Australians died waiting for their NDIS package.
This is not acceptable.
The Tune review was an opportunity for people who access, supply or encounter the NDIS to voice their views on how to improve this system which so substantially impacts their lives.
This is important to me because it is important to so many of my constituents.
The NDIS is one of the issues people speak to me about most often. My office currently receives on average 8 calls per week.
Many people contact my office to express frustration at issues they have been dealing with for months and sometimes years. These systemic problems require urgent remedy.
There are around 2,100 NDIS participants in the Ovens Murray NDIS district, which covers almost all of my electorate of Indi. This represents 1.6% of the population of Indi, which is higher than the national average of 1.1%.
It is also important to me because I believe it should be important to all Australians. We all have a stake in a properly functioning NDIS, not only because we all may need it one day, but because a society should be judged by how it treats its most vulnerable. And I believe we are a big society.
I was proud to make a submission to the Tune Review, the only MP who did, on behalf of the hundreds of stories I have heard in my time as the Member for Indi.
And the things I heard from people, which became the 8 recommendations I made to the Tune Review, made a lot of sense.
It was things like requiring all plans to be approved by the participant before being agreed.
Because currently, it is the NDIA planners, and not the participants themselves, who are ultimately responsible for determining which supports are ‘reasonable and necessary’ for an individual NDIS participant. The participant can put their requests forward, but has no say over the final decision about required supports.
Many participants feel that enabling the NDIA to make an exclusive determination of the supports they need, denies them the self-determination to make choices about how they can function to the best possible level. One constituent told me:
‘My son is in a second-hand wheelchair that was suitable when he was 13. He is now 21 and the chair is having quite serious detrimental effect on his body. His request for a new chair was refused and he was offered a service instead. His request for a motorised chair was also refused. He cannot walk.’
I also recommended improved training for NDIA planners.
The level of staffing and staff qualifications is regularly raised with my office as an ongoing problem. Concerns have been raised about the ability of staff to deal with the complex and emotional nature of cases in a respectful, sensitive and compassionate way.
One mother of a child with Down syndrome, was asked if her son would grow out of his condition. I’m sure the NDIA planners are hard-working people, no-doubt stretched because of the staffing cap at the NDIA. But we need a better standard from staff that are making huge decisions about other people’s lives.
We must lift that cap, to get enough people to do the job, and we must give those people the right training, to make sure they do it properly.
I am pleased that the Tune Review picked up on many of my recommendations. The Participant Service Guarantee, set to be legislated by July, will empower participants to sign off their own plans. This is a good step.
But the Government must act on all the recommendations of the Tune Review, and not stop there. It must lift the NDIA staffing cap, and ensure those staff are properly trained to do the job.
The NDIS is something that all Australians should be proud of. Not just a symbol, but a functioning, real-life commitment to the type of nation that we want to be.
The Tune Review lays out a path towards this better Australia that I know we all want to become. The Government must move swiftly to take us there.
[March 2, 2020]