Question without notice
E & OE
My question is to the Assistant Minister for Social Services, Senator Fifield. Can the Minister advise the Senate of the improvements the Government has made to the operating approach of the National Disability Insurance Scheme since coming to office?
It would be fair to say that when I came into the role in relation to the NDIS that there was a bit of work to do. The NDIS was not in a state of administrative nirvana. Firstly, the name, DisabilityCare Australia, was one that people with disabilities found patronising. They did not want to be objects of care, so we changed the name back to the NDIS.
We also discovered that the previous government had applied an efficiency dividend not just to administration as you would expect but also to package costs for individuals. They actually applied an efficiency dividend to the money that was meant to be going to individuals in their packages. So we overturned that and we put that $44.9 million back into the pot for people with disability.
We commissioned a capability review of the NDIS agency, which found that the agency was like a plane that was being built in mid-air. We have put a bit of work into the capacity of the organisation and made very good progress.
We also found that there was a plan to purpose-build stand-alone NDIS offices throughout the country. I put my head together with my good friend Senator Payne and we thought that the Department of Human Services has a big property footprint so why not, where it makes sense, co-locate with the Department of Human Services. So, in many cases, Senator Payne will be my landlord. Senator Payne, I will be a good tenant.
Also, we found that there was a plan to have 10,000 staff for the NDIS. The Minister for Finance and I thought why not open up the opportunity for not-for-profits and businesses to provide some of those administrative functions. So we will now see staffing levels below 3,000.
Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Can the Minister inform the Senate what progress has been made in keeping the NDIS sustainable and within its funding envelope?
As I was concluding there, we will have staffing levels below 3,000 rather than about 10,000.
Average package costs when we came into office in the first quarter of the scheme were about $46,000. We have now consistently had that down to about the mid-30s, which is where it should be.
We have also kept enhancing and building on the actuarial capacity of the agency, which is important because the whole basis of the scheme is early investment to reduce long-term costs.
We also have $143 million in the budget to build a new ICT system that is critical to making sure that the scheme can be delivered efficiently to provide consistent supports for people with disabilities.
I can report that the scheme and the trial sites are operating within budget. That is good news. As I said, this is a shared venture with state and territory partners, but I particularly thank the staff of the agency for the work they have done.
Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Can the Minister update the Senate on the finances of the NDIS?
You cannot have a good social policy without a good economic and a good budget policy, which is why we are working hard to repair the budget so that we can fund the NDIS. The Australian Labor Party continue to contend that they fully funded the scheme. Just to recap: it will be a $22 billion scheme; $10 billion will be from the states; $3 billion is Commonwealth money that would have been spent anyway in the absence of the NDIS; and there is a further $9 billion of new Commonwealth investment. The previous government said: ‘Oh, don’t worry about that. The half per cent increase in the Medicare levy covers that.’ Well, no, that only covers about 40 per cent of the Commonwealth’s net additional costs. The other thing that those opposite will say is: ‘We had a terrific graph in a paper when we were in government that outlines it.’ I want to refer to that graph which has a footnote that has ‘(a) selected long-term savings.’ They did not specify what those long-term savings were so there is $5 billion unfunded.