The National Disability Insurance Scheme head office in Canberra
A review of the National Disability Insurance Scheme is due to be released on Thursday. Image by Mick Tsikas/AAP PHOTOS
  • politics

‘Unbalanced’ disability system needs rapid change

December 7, 2023

Australians with disabilities have limited choice or control over services because of an over-reliance on the government’s disability scheme, a landmark report says.

The National Disability Insurance Scheme supports about 631,000 Australians.

Though it was once world-leading, its effectiveness has been questioned its cost continues to surge at an unsustainable pace of 14 per cent each year.

To prevent the NDIS from eating into other parts of the federal budget, the Labor government wants to contain its growth to eight per cent, while improving support by implementing structural changes.

Bill Shorten on Thursday
Australia is “never going back to the bad old days” of poor disability support, Bill Shorten says.

NDIS Minister Bill Shorten acknowledges anxieties about the future of the scheme but said Australians should be reassured ahead of changes being made.

“No one wants to go back to the days of the misery Olympics when Australians were at the mercy of a broken system,” he told the National Press Club on Thursday.

“Australia is never going back to the bad old days.”

On Thursday, the government released an independent review of the scheme by one of the NDIS architects, Professor Bruce Bonyhady, and former senior public servant Lisa Paul.

The report contains 26 recommendations and 139 supporting actions on how Australia can revamp the system.

It found the government had come to rely on the NDIS as the “oasis in the desert” for people living with disability.

“This has resulted in an unbalanced disability support system that relies too heavily on the NDIS at the expense of an inclusive, accessible and thriving broader disability support ecosystem.”

It found many scheme applicants were forced to put forward the worst versions of themselves if they wanted to receive support.

“Poor availability of services, complexity of navigating what is available and difficulty in moving between providers means, in practice, there is little to no choice and control,” the report said.

Although the review acknowledged there was no quick or easy solution to creating structural change, it made a series of recommendations with a strong emphasis on implementing “foundational supports”.

These will be aimed at the 2.5 million Australians with a disability who are under the age of 65, with a specific focus on those not eligible for the NDIS whose needs cannot be met through mainstream services. 

Report co-author Professor Bruce Bonyhady
The report, co-authored by Bruce Bonyhady, described the NDIS as “the oasis in the desert”.

There are two types of foundational supports: general measures like assistance to navigate the disability system or peer advocacy, and targeted support like personal assistance.

People who need more individual support can then access NDIS-funded measures like home modification and assistive technology.

This will help ensure the NDIS is not the sole source of support, shifting the scheme towards the one in 50 Australians living with significant disability rather than the one in five who live with any disability.

“Our reforms are designed to ensure that every dollar of NDIS support gets through to those for whom the scheme was created,” Mr Shorten said.

The review also suggests developing a five-year implementation roadmap and assessing support needs according to the impact on daily life, rather than a specific diagnosis.

The panel received nearly 4000 submissions and recorded 2000 personal stories.

A coalition of disability advocacy groups welcomed the review and called for its recommendations to be implemented immediately, by a new body including people with a disability.

“We are also clear that continued access to support for people with disability is necessary and non-negotiable,” they said in a statement.

“Any changes to how support is provided, either inside or outside the scheme, must not lead to any gaps in the support we receive.”

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese
Anthony Albanese says the NDIS needs reform so it can provide support to people with a disability.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese struck an initial deal with state and territory leaders at a national cabinet meeting on Wednesday to respond to the review.

They agreed to work on new laws to improve the experience of participants and restore the original intent of the scheme.

The government’s full response to the NDIS review will be released in 2024.

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