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Disability Sector Warns of NDIS Staffing Turmoil

17 May 2017 at 4:58 pm
Lina Caneva
The disability sector has warned that a high turnover of senior executives managing the National Disability Insurance Scheme could have serious consequences for the scheme’s viability.

Lina Caneva | 17 May 2017 at 4:58 pm


Disability Sector Warns of NDIS Staffing Turmoil
17 May 2017 at 4:58 pm

The disability sector has warned that a high turnover of senior executives managing the National Disability Insurance Scheme could have serious consequences for the scheme’s viability.

A string of senior executives from the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) have resigned  less than one year after the official roll out of the NDIS –  which was marred by an initial IT fiasco and is now the subject of budget debate over the scheme’s future funding.

According to the disability sector, the high turnover of top jobs in the NDIA can be attributed to “pressure and stress”. In the last 10 months all of the three original deputy CEOs of the NDIA have left the organisation.

The post budget debate about the full funding of the NDIS via an increase to the Medicare levy has fuelled further sector concern about the internal operations of the scheme.

NDIA CEO David Bowen was appointed in May 2013 for a term of two years and his appointment was extended by the NDIA board to May 2017. It’s understood that in the wake of the meltdown of the NDIS online portal in the July 2016 rollout, his position was extend for just six months. However, Bowen officially announced in March that he would be retiring in November 2017.

NDIS deputy CEO, Louise Glanville is the most recent departure from a top NDIA role. She was the last of the three deputy CEOs to leave, including Carolyn Smith, the deputy CEO of markets and supports, followed by deputy CEO Ian Maynard.

Glanville was recently announced as the new CEO of a Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation. She is expected to take up the new role on 30 May 2017.

Liz Cairns resigned late in 2016 as general manager of operations and has gone to work for the Transport Accident Commission (TAC). She moved to Geelong in 2012 to join the NDIS trial site and in 2014 took on the executive role in the NDIA.

The NDIA general manager of markets and providers, Esther Kerr-Smith left in January 2017.

Other departures include Anne Skordis, the general manager of full scheme design and transition. 

According to South Australian Dignity Party MP, Kelly Vincent the high incidence of staff turnover and staff changes at the executive level of the NDIA is cause for serious concern.

“My office has noted significant staff turnover at both executive level in the Geelong head office, and at planner-level across all NDIA offices in South Australia in the past 10 months,” Vincent told Pro Bono News.

“These staff departures have been particularly evident since the introduction of the disastrous My Place portal on July 1 last year, and the pressure of rolling hundreds of participants onto their first NDIS plan each day, has built over recent months.  

“Given the NDIS is a once-in-a-generation reform of disability services in Australia, strong leadership is necessary at the executive level. Additionally, adequate training and support for frontline staff is essential given this is a rapidly evolving scheme with daily policy and operational changes.

“The federal government and responsible ministers must be acutely aware of the pressure staff at all levels within the [NDIA] are under and provide significant human resources support so the NDIS can be all it was envisioned to be.”

The NDIS is currently advertising 44 positions for senior level executives as well as local planners.

Vincent has called on Labor leader Bill Shorten to support the federal budget increase in the Medicare levy to fund the NDIS.

“If the opposition votes down this key federal budget measure, they will risk the future of the NDIS,” she said.

The details around the internal staffing pressures come as Australia’s peak body for disability service providers, National Disability Services (NDS) earlier this month called for urgent action saying the NDIS was “showing signs of struggling”.

The report by the NDS called How to Get the NDIS on Track, warned people were being rushed into the NDIS to the detriment of providing quality service.

The report said: “The scale and complexity of implementation is placing enormous pressure on all stakeholders. Some of this pressure is an inevitable consequence of large-scale change, but some is avoidable. The road to the NDIS is rougher and riskier than it needs to be.”

NDS chief executive Ken Baker told Pro Bono News that he was aware that there was a high turnover of staff at executive level in the NDIA.

“The CEO is certainly planning to retire this year and I think that is having a destabilising effect. There’s no doubt that the NDIS is a very exciting and very ambitious scheme and the roll out is very demanding and, as we said in our report, puts pressure on all stakeholders including the NDIA,” Baker said.

“The NDIA is working extremely hard but there is a lot of stress and pressure on staff within the NDIA and that may be taking its toll.

“These jobs, given their complexity, the pace of implementation and the complex governance structure to the scheme… are difficult jobs and involve new and unchartered territory so I think there is no doubt that there is significant pressure on all stakeholders within the agency and that may be one reason for why we are seeing the staff turn over.”

However he said the NDIA had a new board which “should provide some stability and direction”.

In an opinion piece published by Pro Bono News, the co-directors of Disability Services Consulting, Vanessa Toy and Roland Naufal, described the impact of the staffing situation at the NDIA as a “plane without a pilot”.

“[People who are] culturally and linguistically diverse, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and [from] rural and remote areas are getting a really crappy deal, and the NDIA’s ability to respond may have hit rock bottom with the recent exit of so many senior staff,” they said.

Late in 2016 the federal government replaced the so-called “father” of the NDIS, Bruce Bonyhady, as chair of the NDIA as well as including a number of corporate “heavyweights” to the new board.

From 1 January 2017 the board overseeing the scheme was expanded with Dr Helen Nugent AO, the former chair of Veda Group, and chair of the Australian Rail Track Corporation and the National Portrait Gallery of Australia, appointed to chair the board.

Minister for Social Services Christian Porter said at the time that the new board would deliver the “right mix of skills” to oversee the transition period for the NDIS, as it moved from a 30,000 person trial to 460,000 participants at full scheme in 2019/20.

“We need to ensure that the board has the skills and expertise needed to carefully manage the significant scale, cost and potential risks in delivering the best possible scheme for participants, their families and carers,” Porter said.

A spokesperson for the NDIA told Pro Bono News that: “It is a matter of public record that Mr Bowen informed the board in March of his long-standing desire to retire in the foreseeable future.  

“He kindly agreed to his contract being extended while a search for a new CEO was undertaken to ensure an orderly handover. The board is highly appreciative of Mr Bowen’s contribution and his ongoing commitment to the NDIS,” the spokesperson said.

“Two roles have recently been filled by very high calibre individuals following two executives leaving to pursue their own career objectives. The new appointees are unequivocally committed to achieving the best outcomes for NDIS participants. The ability to fill such roles with such high calibre executives reflects the important work they perceive the NDIA is undertaking.”

Minister Porter said in a statement to Pro Bono News: “I appreciate very much David Bowen’s agreement to remain on as CEO after flagging his desire to retire.  I have full confidence that the refreshed board is focused on securing the right person to fill the CEO role and other senior positions as required.”

Lina Caneva  |  Editor  |  @ProBonoNews

Lina Caneva has been a journalist for more than 35 years. She was the editor of Pro Bono Australia News from when it was founded in 2000 until 2018.

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