Radio interview, 6PR
Good morning to you Christian.
I just want to play you a bit of this interview that I did with Andrew Thompson this morning.
Andrew, for the past 17 years, has been the legal guardian for a Perth man by the name of Vaughan McNichol. Now Vaughn has Down Syndrome, he has a sever psychiatric disability, he doesn’t have any family, so Andrew is his legal guardian. He’s got concerns about the way the changes are being made to the way that disability services are provided in the lead up to the roll out of the NDIS – just have a listen to this.
The early signs around implementation, particularly in some of the states on the eastern coast, where implementation is a bit further advanced than it is here in WA, that we need to be very careful about getting it right. So the scheme itself, I think, is a once in a generation idea that we need to grab with both hands and make sure that it works, but I’m not sure that state governments, in particular, have got it right in terms of wanting to rush headlong into privatisation.
You may be aware of things like the television adverts that some private providers now have running on high rotation in primetime spruiking for business. What I’m concerned about is that we’re getting it wrong in terms of how we interpret and implement the NDIS, and that people with disability are becoming commodities in the middle of that, as the private sector increasingly wants to take a slice of the billions of dollars that are part of the scheme, and that’s something that we have to avoid at all costs. We have to see people as valuable individuals with the same value as you and I and all of your listeners, and we have to make sure that the scheme supports them as valued individuals, not as a way of making money, or as a way of governments getting rid of their responsibilities to the private sector.
Ok, so that’s Andrew Thompson, who is the legal guardian of Vaughan McNichol, with Down Syndrome and a psychiatric disability.
Christian Porter, what do you make of those comments?
I think some of the observations there, I would join issue with. They make sense, I mean some of the observations around private service delivery, I think needs some qualification and context, but the idea that we need to implement the NDIS in a cautious and orderly fashion is obviously right. The scale of the enterprise is massive.
So, during the trial phase there were around about 30,000 people who were in the NDIS trials, and over the next three years that 30,000, as we go to full scheme, will go from 30,000 to around about, estimates say 460,000 – in three years. And, right now we’re at around about 80,000, which is around about 80 per cent of the relevant Productivity Commission estimates.
So the scale of moving people into the NDIS is absolutely huge. And it effectively means a doubling, in or about 2020, of the amount of money that governments spend on servicing and helping and assisting Australians with a disability. And in turn, that means that we need to have a very significant ramp up in the organisations who are able and willing to deliver services. For instance, in the next two years the workforce increase in disability services will be 60,000. Those services are provided at present by a mixture of government service provision, non-government organisations and also, of course, private organisations – and that will continue. But all of those have to be monitored to make sure that the quality of the service is good and fair and meets the needs of Australians with a disability.
Private sector service delivery has always been a part of disability services, and will continue to be a part of it, but of course that part of it – like all the other service deliveries – have to be watched and monitored, because the scale of the enterprise is so large.
What Andrew Thompson also said, and this was echoed by a caller we had to program, Emma, whose brother is in a group home – as is Vaughan McNichol. What they both suggested is that here in Western Australia the Disability Services Commission has begun the process of bringing in private provision of the carers who look after those people who live in those group homes.
Now the point that Andrew made, and that Emma made – the caller to the program – were that people with intellectual disabilities often don’t cope well with changes, and they regard the people who care for them in their group homes, not as carers, but as family. And the feedback that they’re getting from the WA Disability Services Commission is that those carers, those family members if you like, might have to move on, to be replaced by some other service provider and that’s causing the people with disabilities, who are the ones we are supposed to be looking after with this whole scheme, an enormous amount of distress.
Have you heard of that before, and does that make sense to you that that would have to happen?
Well, obviously it’s a little bit difficult to comment on a matter that’s inside the West Australian Disability Service Commission’s decision making process – so…
Except to say that the suggestion seems to be that disability services are telling people who access the services that they’re needing to make these changes to prepare for the arrival of the NDIS.
There will necessarily be changes in the way in which services are delivered. I guess the best way I can describe this to your listeners is – prior to the NDIS services for Australians with a disability were delivered by organisations, whether they were public or non-government or private organisations, based on what could best be described as block grants. So, an organisation who offers services in a geographical area would get a grant from one or other level of government, and that would be the organisation that, if you were in that geographical area, essentially you would have to go and get the service from.
What the NDIS does, is assess every single participant’s individual needs, develops a plan and then attaches what’s known as a package cost to that person. And that will be itemised for a whole range of things – it might be assistive technology, physiotherapy, as you note also accommodation – but the scheme necessarily means that the block funding – the grant funding – rolls into the NDIS in its entirety and the funding now attaches to the person and that person exercises choice amongst service providers as to how they will receive the service, and who they will go to for that service.
The very point of the NDIS was that, the individual person who’s in the NDIS gets a choice as to how to allocate the funds that have been assessed as necessary for them to get proper care. So, people will experience change. Most of that change – and this is happening with the NDIS as its being rolled out in all the other states and territories – most of that change is driven by the person themselves.
Accommodation is obviously one where there are a whole range of complications, but generally speaking what we’re aiming for – is where a person wants continuity that they receive that continuity.
Ok. I’ll ask you one more quick question and then we’ll move on to other matters, but, do you have any clarity yet from the McGowan Government about which way they are going to go in terms of handing responsibility to Canberra, or persisting with a WA run NDIS?
Well there are two major issues with the NDIS at the moment – that’s one of them, and the other one is the funding issue that we’re debating in Federal Parliament. And we’ve said we want to increase the Medicare levy by 0.5 per cent to finally fill Labor’s funding gap, and just put this thing beyond any reasonable doubt and give absolute certainty for people.
That second issue that you’ve mentioned is – what will the WA Government do? I’ve had some productive conversations with the state minister. I think it’s fair to describe that they are still in their decision making process. We’re assisting in whatever way we can, providing any additional information that they think they might need to help them inform their decision. The clock is ticking a bit, because the bilateral that we agreed with the previous WA government, in effect starts to have – starts implementation on 1 July. So this decision needs to be made soon, but I can only say, that they are in the decision making process and this is very much a live issue for them.
Ok. Let’s move onto the Budget. You referred to the tax increase to pay for the funding gap in the NDIS, which is something we discussed last week. The thing that I’m interested in, in a political sense, is that Bill Shorten seems to be signalling, that while he’ll support the bank tax, he won’t support the proposed broad-based tax increase that you’ve just outlined, nor will he support the Government’s funding plans for education. Is he being obstructionist, or is he doing what he says and being ‘fair’?
The fairest way to fill this funding gap left by Labor is through the Medicare levy, because the way that the Medicare levy structurally operates is that people with less pay much, much less and people with more, pay more.
And the point about the NDIS is that, it is an insurance policy for every single Australian and their family. And for the people who enter the NDIS, roughly speaking a third would have acquired a disability during the course of their life, and the remainder would have been born with a disability. So…
Which is a message is – it could happen to anyone.
Completely. So Something like multiple sclerosis – any one of us could face the challenge of that, or our families, in our forties or our fifties. And what the National Disability Insurance Scheme would apply is a safety net for that person with the highest level of care and assistance and support.
So, as I noted in Parliament yesterday, someone who becomes – faces the challenge of say, multiple sclerosis in their forties, might find that the care they get over the rest of their life through the NDIS is valued at $1.5 million. Now a person on a low income, under the policy that we’re suggesting – the 0.5 per cent increase – would be asked in 2019 to chip in $75 a year to fill that funding gap and provide that absolute certainty that they can have this insurance scheme at their back if they, or their families, ever need it. Someone on a higher income would be required to pay $1000, in fact their income might be seven times larger, but they’d be required to pay thirteen times more than someone on a lower income.
So it’s a very structured, progressive system. But it’s always been considered fair – that for an insurance scheme, which is what the NDIS is, that everyone, within reason, who has some capacity to pay, chips in to help pay. Because all of us, and our families, stand to benefit from this insurance scheme if we ever face a challenge, or in our lives, our families will need services for disability support.
Can I get a very quick response to something that listeners have raised with me quite a bit, both on emails and on air, and that is – is it the case that the NDIS is not available to people over the age of 65, and therefore the question that listeners ask, should people over the age of 65 have to pay the increase in the premium?
The way in which the NDIS was designed, by Labor, and it is accepted by the Coalition as the appropriate design is that, if you a born with a disability or indeed acquire through the course of your life before you are 65, then you are inside the NDIS. But if a disability is acquired after 65 then you’re in the aged care system. So in answer to that, the reality is that all Australians can get the NDIS after the age of 65 if they acquire the disability before 65. Which is why it is a very fair system, and why the Labor Party thought it was a fair system back in 2013, to have a Medicare levy increase to fund that level of care and support.
So I think the answer to your question is, we think it’s fair because, again, the exclusions are by design over 65, but everyone can potentially benefit from the NDIS if they need it.
Thanks for your time.