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NDIS Interim Review gives cause for concern

25 July 2023

MS Australia President Des Graham

By Associate Professor Des Graham, President MS Australia

This opinion piece originally appeared in The Canberra Times on Monday, 24 July, “Des Graham | The NDIS Review must provide actionable recommendations, not a list of problems”

I’m a champion of the concept of the National Disability Insurance Scheme and a person living with disability. As such, I was looking forward to the NDIS Review’s, What we have heard.

But, having digested the 25-page report, I have been left with some lingering concerns about the Reviews progress to date.

When the NDIS Minister, Bill Shorten, announced the Review, he referred to it as the ‘review of reviews’ that ‘would take into account all the existing evidence about the schemes problems and potential solutions’.

I gave him thunderous applause for that.

Now, with a little over three months until the NDIS Review hands down the final report to the nation’s disability ministers, the interim report reveals nothing in the way of solutions to strengthen the National Disability Insurance Scheme or address its failings. Rather, after an exhaustive, open and accessible period of consultation, the NDIS Review has identified a literal “best of’’ list of problems besetting the NDIS; five key challenges together with 10 priority areas for improvement.

In the NDIS Review’s defence, the report’s subheading – Moving from defining problems to designing solutions to build a better NDIS; hints, if not openly acknowledges, that the Review hasn’t yet identified/found a ‘solution’ or ‘solutions’.

But with the final report due to land in October, the question is –after the years of reviews, submissions, testimony and engagement why are we no closer to finding solutions?

Before I suggest an answer, let’s look at those challenges.

All five go to the question of the role and scope of the NDIS.

But many of the solutions for four of these challenges lie outside and far beyond the remit and responsibility of the NDIS.

Key challenge 1 asks why is the NDIS an oasis in the desert? The interim report notes how deeply unfair that is to those on the outside who miss out on much needed disability support as a result.

Key challenge 2 acknowledges that while the NDIS funds reasonable and necessary support, it doesn’t accurately set out a definition of reasonable and necessary.

Key challenge 3 asks why are there more children in the NDIS than expected? This, we are told, is a direct result of the lack of resources and supports outside the NDIS. The report goes on to state that the impact of children accessing the NDIS in such great numbers is ‘’undermining the sustainability of the NDIS’’.

Key challenge 4 asks why NDIS markets aren’t working? We know, for example that there are Australians living with MS in rural and remote settings with a NDIS package, facing not just a lack of choice of services or suppliers but with no services at all. This challenge is the aforementioned outlier – the only challenge where the responsibility hasn’t been, or can’t easily be, entirely shifted from the NDIA.

And lastly, Key challenge 5 – the big one – the issue of sustainability. It’s obvious and true that a sustainable NDIS is better than no NDIS at all. But whether euphemistically named as a ‘growth target’ or a ‘ceiling on spending’ – a focus on sustainability will impact the scope and scale of the NDIS.

Confusingly, the ten priority areas for improvement are a mix of the five key challenges, together with a collection of issues more practically connected to, and the responsibility of the NDIS. Applying and getting a plan, help accessing supports, supported living and housing and participant safeguards.

Having drawn up its top ten lists, the NDIS Review assures us it still has its ear to the ground. “This is what we’ve heard, we’re still listening and would love to hear your solutions.”

Full marks for open and best practice consultation.

Yet I remain nervous as a participant, an advocate and as a sector leader that called for calm when the Captain of the NDIS called for the review.

Nervous that the foreshadowing we are witnessing from the NDIS Review and the Government about belt-tightening, about sustainability and the reality of the systemic changes needed outside of the NDIS, are softening us up for disappointment.

We are witness to very careful, strategic and deliberate communications here. It’s no mistake that the interim report dropped on the ten-year anniversary of the NDIS.

But if we are truly to build on the strengths of the scheme to date, I look to the NDIS Review to do more than crowd-source solutions, but to also show fearless leadership.

MS Australia understands that the NDIS is just one, albeit very significant part in a larger and more complex system Whole of Government response encompassing not just the disability sector but health, education, employment, transport and housing.

Indeed, our own campaign A better NDIS for people living with MS recognises that inclusive and equitable disability care beyond the NDIS is crucial if all Australians with disability are to receive the supports and services they are entitled to and require to live a full and independent life.

But our campaign also puts forth solutions that require further investment and improvement in the NDIS itself. Solutions that result in a stronger and more capable NDIS, and not simply an insurance scheme providing less support to fewer Australians.

Chief among our solutions; the establishment of a neurological advisory panel within the advisory and consultative structure of the NDIA that would ensure expert advice fairer representation and outcomes for the nearly 1.6 million Australians living with progressive neurological or neuromuscular conditions.

Notwithstanding the political and economic imperatives to ensure the NDIS is sustainable, and that the Government reduce waste and prevent fraud, the NDIS must fulfil its promise to provide fair and equitable disability support to those most in need. MS Australia’s offer to work alongside the Government, the Minister, the NDIS and the Review Team remains on the table.

Come October, the NDIS Review must not abrogate its responsibility to deliver actionable recommendations that will ensure the NDIS does just that.

Associate Professor Des Graham
President
MS Australia

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NDIS Interim Review gives cause for concern