Advocates perplexed over government’s independent assessments plan
4 May 2021 at 5:07 pm
Amid ongoing plans to reshape the NDIS, disability groups are looking to reset relations with the government
Disability advocates say they are confused by the federal government’s messaging around independent assessments, after National Disability Insurance Scheme Minister Linda Reynolds confirmed the controversial reform will proceed in “some form” despite widespread opposition.
While people currently need to get reports from multiple health providers of their choosing to assess their NDIS eligibility, the government announced plans last year to introduce mandatory independent assessments (IA) conducted by NDIS-appointed healthcare professionals using standardised tools.
Following swift backlash from disability groups – who say this process fails to capture the complexity of a person’s support needs and will lead to unfair outcomes – the government appeared to soften its stance on the reform.
Reynolds said two weeks ago that the government would pause its plan to introduce IAs, which made disability groups hopeful the policy could be dumped.
But the minister told Senate Estimates on Monday that the introduction of IAs were still set to go ahead.
“I have been very, very clear today and previously that in some form we must have functional independent assessments. What form they take is very much the subject of consultation,” Reynolds said.
Children and Young People with Disability Australia CEO Mary Sayers told Pro Bono News she was perplexed by Reynolds’ comments.
“We are confused by the messages we’re getting from government,” Sayers said.
“On one hand, they’re saying ‘we’re having a pause’ and then on the other hand, they’re saying ‘we will have independent assessments’.”
The federal government has indicated the final design of IAs will be shaped by results from an IA pilot program that is currently underway.
But Sayers said she was concerned by the design of the pilot, which is conducted internally and not being evaluated externally.
“We don’t think it’s being conducted in a way that’s safe for people with disability, we don’t think it’s actually a robust evaluation and it’s not actually independent of the agency,” she said.
“And plus, the design of the pilot is such that we’re not 100 per cent sure if the minister pauses and waits for the results of the pilot that it’s actually going to lead to the types of information to make [an informed] decision.”
Scheme sustainability put under the spotlight
Reynolds also said during estimates on Monday that she believed the NDIS was growing at an unsustainable rate, with costs “increasing far more significantly, year on year, than was ever expected”.
Sayers said these comments were disappointing and reflected an incorrect view on how the scheme was meant to operate.
“A system like the NDIS is not meant to be rationed, so some of the messages around scheme sustainability are concerning because it feels like it’s about rationing the NDIS,” she said.
“And what we say is that when the NDIS works it saves all the other systems a huge amount of money.
“It saves the health system a huge amount of money. It reduces hospital admissions. It reduces all the other costs that come when you don’t support people.”
Disability advocates look to reset dialogue on the NDIS
Sayers was among a number of disability advocates who met with Minister Reynolds for the first time last Friday.
They delivered the new minister a formal “terms of engagement” hoping to reset relations between the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA), the government and the disability community.
Advocates are calling on the government to commit to the terms, which include putting people with disability at the centre of NDIS decision-making, and ensuring people with disability are represented in the leadership of the NDIA.
Sayers said these terms were also about shifting the dialogue on the scheme so that the government acknowledges the NDIS is a critical piece of Australia’s social infrastructure like Medicare.
“So what we want the government to do is to go back to square one and really design an NDIS that’s based on consultation and collaboration with people with disabilities,” she said.
“It’s about going back to the original founding principle of the NDIS, which is ‘nothing about us without us’.”