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Lived experience added to NDIA board as Fearnley becomes chair

26 September 2022 at 3:10 pm
Danielle Kutchel
Advocates say the move to include more people with disability on the NDIA board is a positive step forward for representation.

Danielle Kutchel | 26 September 2022 at 3:10 pm


Lived experience added to NDIA board as Fearnley becomes chair
26 September 2022 at 3:10 pm

Advocates say the move to include more people with disability on the NDIA board is a positive step forward for representation.

Former Paralympian Kurt Fearnley has been announced as the new chair of the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA).

He’ll be joined on the board by former Disability Discrimination Commissioner Graeme Innes and prominent sector leader and former general manager of stakeholder engagement at the NDIA, Maryanne Diamond.

Dennis Napthine, who resigned as chair of the NDIA in July, will also return to the board as a director.

Minister for the NDIS Bill Shorten also announced Rebecca Falkingham would take on the role of chief executive of the NDIS, becoming the first woman to permanently hold the role. Falkingham does not identify as a person with disability.

Speaking at the announcement of his new role, Fearnley said he looked forward to working with the board, the minister and the new CEO to ensure the NDIA is “what we lobbied for all along – a purveyor of disability rights”.

“The country needs an NDIS that is trusted, that is efficient, that is effective, and I hope I can play a part in that.”

“An excellent appointment”

Advocates have welcomed the addition of so much lived experience to the NDIA board, but have noted that with the CEO position still filled by a person who doesn’t identify as having a disability, there is more work to be done.

Greens senator Jordon Steele-John said today’s appointments were “a real relief”.

“Particularly to see the board chair position held by a disabled person is a really positive development,” he told Pro Bono News.

But he said there was a missed opportunity in not appointing a person who identifies as disabled to the CEO position.

“The community has been campaigning really thoroughly to have that role filled by a disabled person. It’s the reality now that of the three senior leadership positions, the minister, the CEO and the chair, only one of those three identifies a disabled person,” Steele-John said.

“So there is a missed opportunity here and that will create challenges. And the Greens and the [disability] community will continue to push for the transformational change that is needed to fix our NDIS.

“It’s progress, but there is still much more to do.”

Steele-John said he hoped the new leadership team would continue to engage with the disability community to ensure that people with different experiences and backgrounds are reflected in the decisions made about the NDIS.

“We really now need to see the new leadership team fully engaged in the process of transformation that is needed to fix the NDIS culture and to get us very rapidly to the space where it’s actually delivering the support and services that so many people right now are having to struggle to get.”

Disability rights campaigner Elly Desmarchelier told Pro Bono News the appointment of Fearnley would help the government rebuild trust with the disability community, as it promised at the election.

“The Defend our NDIS campaign first and foremost asked for people with disability to be put back in charge of our scheme. And Kurt is a formidable, talented, skilled person with disability and I am sure he is going to take the lived experience of people with disability to that board and to that role,” she said.

“And the additional appointments of Graeme and Maryanne just adds to that action of putting into action that commitment of rebuilding trust and putting people with disability back at the forefront of the NDIS.”

She said the appointments are a sign that the government is listening to the disability community and that the NDIS would return to its original focus of providing support for people to achieve their individual goals.

“I am just truly relieved,” she said.

“I am also filled with hope because having people like Kurt and Graeme and Maryanne in those senior leadership positions means that there is a real opportunity here to not just build the NDIS back to how it was pre-nine years ago, but to build it back better.”

But she said the disability community would need to “stay engaged” with the NDIS to keep it on track.

“Kurt and Graeme and Maryanne can’t do this on their own. They need the community to back them in and stand beside them. This scheme… will only work if we’re all invested in it,” Desmarchelier said.

Aruma chief executive officer and former NDIS board director Dr Martin Laverty also reacted positively to the news.

“The Minister, board chair and chief executive each having strong confidence in one another is exactly what the NDIS needs, with a major review of scheme operations about to get underway,” he said.

“We are capable”

Desmarchelier said Fearnley’s appointment should also serve as a demonstration to employers that people with disability are capable of taking on leadership roles.

“The only thing standing in their way… is disability discrimination in the workplace. If you don’t have a person with disability in a leadership position and you work in a major organisation, you need to ask yourself why, because one in five Australians have a disability,” she said.

“We are capable, reliable, innovative problem solvers, we make great employees and clearly the minister saw that. And it’s time that Australia’s employers woke up to the fact that they are missing out on a huge workforce because of discrimination in the workplace.”

Danielle Kutchel  |  @ProBonoNews

Danielle is a journalist specialising in disability and CALD issues, and social justice reporting. Reach her on or on Twitter @D_Kutchel.

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