Act Justly Political Reform Series – Disability Support

by Dr. Robbie Lloyd

The National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) was designed to support people with a permanent and significant disability, affecting their ability to take part in everyday activities. People With Disability (PWD) are meant to be helped by the NDIS individual planning process to identify what supports they need to help them achieve their goals in life. And then receive funding to support those goals being realised. But in far too many cases this has not happened, and the scheme has been crippled with ineffective management.

The Federal Election broke open debate about management of the public estate, and Australian citizens now want to see the policy and program changes to social supports that have been loudly called for in sundry reports and commissions.

NDIS was launched in June 2013 in a three year trial, but it quickly became a political football, before morphing into a bureaucratic nightmare. Knockbacks and challenges to people’s NDIS plans have denied all common sense, and seem only designed to save money.

Meanwhile ‘the disability industry’ has continued to produce horror stories of neglect, underpayment of staff, and disasters for individuals and families. Hence the Disability Royal Commission was called in 2018, to enquire into violence, abuse, neglect and the exploitation of people with disability. This was separate to the NDIS Quality & Safeguards Commission set up from 1 July 2018, which first began operating in NSW & SA, and then from 1 July 2019 rolled out across ACT, NT, Queensland, Tasmania & Victoria. 

The Quality & Safeguards Commission was meant to help NDIS participants, their families and carers, to resolve concerns or complaints about NDIS supports and services. But very little progress occurred. Which led  to the 561 page Interim Report of the Disability Royal Commission, which was released in Oct 2020. This documented multiple injustices suffered at the hands of “professionals” charged with the care and support of those with disability, including support staff, doctors, service providers and the NDIS system itself.

The Disability Royal Commission’s Interim Report outlined seven common themes identified as critical to ensuring the safety, inclusion & support of individuals with disability. These are:

  • Choice and control
  • Attitudes towards disability, segregation and exclusion
  • Restrictive Practices
  • Access to services and supports
  • Oversight and complaints
  • Advocacy and representation
  • Funding

The NDIS Quality & Safeguards Commission was set up as an independent agency to ensure improvements in the quality & safety of NDIS supports & services. It was meant to regulate NDIS providers, provide national consistency, promote safety & quality services, resolve problems and identify areas for improvement. But the results of four years of its operation indicate a failure to achieve systemic changes.

The whole sorry story of Disability Support Services has led to national calls for real systemic change, and the incoming Labor Government has committed to making the necessary changes.

The ALP’s Policy Platform clearly lays out its position, and it thoroughly answers all the points raised in our Vote For the Common Good campaign points, especially to valuing each person and the common good. It says that “Labor will ensure mainstream community services and facilities will be inclusive and accessible to people with disability and their families. Accessibility improvements to the transport system, such as fully accessible toilet and change facilities along key road and rail routes will further enhance the mobility and social participation of people with disabilities.” 

“Labor believes Australians with disability should be assured quality care and support, free of abuse and violence. Labor will stand up for victims of abuse in care, and believes that collaboration between people with disability, their families, advocacy groups, the workforce, unions and service providers is essential to the provision of high quality support services, enabling people with disability to achieve their goals to participate fully in our society.”

We aim to work with the ALP Government to ensure these things come about in practice and don’t get drowned in bureaucratise. Labor sees the NDIS as an important economic as well as social reform, which will create jobs and unlock the productive potential of thousands of people with disability and their carers, and provide many with a path to independence. We will be watching this policy roll out, and advocating for practical examples of empowerment for and by people with disability.

ALP Policy states that, “In consultation with people with disability, their advocates, and the disability sector, Labor will ensure that assessment processes required to access the NDIS and calculate allocated funds are fair, transparent, and genuinely accessible to people with disability.” We will also be watching this process carefully, as it is exactly where the problems have arisen since the program’s inception – bad planning and ineffective appeal & review processes.

Finally, in four areas covering the staffing and rewards for disability staff, we support the ALP’s position and look forward to seeing all these policies rolled out with bi-partisan political support, as stated in the incoming government’s pre-election platform, as listed here below:

“Labor will ensure the NDIS delivers on its promise to people with disability and will roll out the NDIS in full. As a core business of government, we will ensure the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) is appropriately resourced and supported to deliver choice and controls for participants. We know that the effectiveness of the NDIS also requires ensuring strong links between the NDIS and the full range of government and community services. We will therefore work with the states and territories to ensure the NDIS works effectively with other systems, like health, mental health, education and carer support. 

“Labor will create new types of user-led services to ensure people with disability have choice and control over the services they receive. 

“Labor will work to ensure the NDIS delivers fair remuneration, job security and career development opportunities for the disability sector workforce. Retaining and attracting a qualified and experienced disability sector workforce ensures genuine choice and control for people with disability. Labor believes that decent pay and conditions and access to accredited training and continuing professional development are critical to growing and maintaining the NDIS workforce. 

“Labor believes that NDIS pricing should support fair wages, conditions and job security. Labor will invest in research, evidence, and information to support service innovation, planning and quality, as well as informed choice by NDIS participants. We will ensure that specific services accessible through the NDIS will be decided according to the needs of NDIS participants, as fairly determined by people with disability, their advocates, and the disability sector.”