Speech by The Hon Sarah Henderson MP

2nd Annual NDIS and Mental Health Conference Melbourne

Good morning.

I acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which we meet. I pay my respects to their Elders, past and present, and the Aboriginal Elders of other communities who may be here today.

I am very pleased to be here to take part in this important conversation about supporting participants with psychosocial disability through the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

I would like to thank Community Mental Health Australia and Mental Health Victoria for inviting me to speak at the conference today.

I would like to acknowledge people with a lived experience of mental illness; families and carers of people with mental health issues; Elizabeth Crowther, Chair Community Mental Health Australia; Damian Ferrie, Chair Mental Health Victoria; Janet Meagher, member of the National Disability Insurance Agency Board’s Independent Advisory Council; and Professor Diana Rose.

I would also like to thank every one of you here for your ongoing contribution to the NDIS.

The NDIS is one of the most important social reforms in Australian history, and it’s important to discuss and share information about what is working and what we can do better as the scheme rolls out across Australia.

For the first time, people with disability are being given choice and control, but we know it is a very new and different system, so we need to do more to support people to understand the NDIS and exercise control, and to build the services sector so there is real choice.

The Australian Government is fully committed to implementing the NDIS for people with psychosocial disabilities, empowering them to achieve their goals in inclusive communities and workplaces.

In my new role as Assistant Minister for Social Services, Housing and Disability Services, I am honoured to be part of this transformative work.

From my home in Geelong, I have seen the scheme grow from a few trial sites to a maturing Scheme now available across many parts of Australia in all states and territories.

There are now more than 200,000 Australians with disability benefiting from the NDIS, including almost 35,000 people with a primary or secondary psychosocial disability.

Through the NDIS, participants with primary psychosocial disability are receiving more supports than ever before.

Under the previous system, providers were limited in the support they could provide. The average annual cost of supports for clients with mental illness was only $6,500. Most participants with psychosocial disability with NDIS plans now receive between $20,000 and $100,000 a year.

Funding is expected to continue to increase overall—not decrease—to support NDIS participants with psychosocial disability.

It is currently estimated that around 64,000 people with a long-term primary psychosocial disability will access NDIS supports.

Importantly, 30 per cent of those eligible for the NDIS with a severe psychosocial condition will have never received services before.

For many people with psychosocial disability, the support they now receive through the NDIS is life changing.

One of the scheme’s most significant achievements for people with psychosocial disability to date is reducing social isolation. We hear stories of people using their funding to better engage with their community, join local groups, be part of community activities or give back through volunteering.

Although many people are seeing significant benefits from the NDIS, major social reforms like this take time to mature and we will continue to refine and evolve the scheme over time.

An important part of this process is listening to people’s experience with the NDIS, including participants, families, carers and service providers.

Over the past twelve months, we have recognised that there were a number of design problems in the scheme for participants with psychosocial disability.

We heard loud and clear from participants, advocates, and providers, many like yourselves in this room, like yourselves that the NDIS was missing the mark for people with psychosocial disability, and that we could do much better.

We consulted extensively across the country, where we heard about the experiences people with psychosocial disability have had with the NDIS – the good, the mediocre, and the frustrating.

This gave us critical information about what we were getting right and what we needed to improve.

On World Mental Health Day on 10 October, the Minister for Families and Social Services, Paul Fletcher, and I announced a new dedicated ‘psychosocial disability stream’ or ‘pathway’ for the NDIS to provide a better experience and support for people with psychosocial disability, as well as their families and their carers.

This pathway was developed as a result of the consultation feedback and is tailored to meet the needs of people with psychosocial disability, from when they first engage with the NDIA through the course of their plans.

We will have specialised planners and Local Area Coordinators with expertise in working with people with psychosocial disability.

We will also strengthen the expertise and capacity within the NDIA through developing a Psychosocial Disability Capacity Framework. The Framework will work to ensure the NDIA has specialist planners and staff to improve the experience of participants with severe mental illness.

We will have better communication and outreach, to help ensure important information reaches potential participants about the scheme, eligibility and how to apply.

The outreach function is crucial, especially for those who are homeless, to ensure those eligible can access the NDIS and joined with important services.

We will have a consistent point of contact for people through their NDIS experience and offer face-to-face planning for all participants who prefer it in the psychosocial pathway.

There will be a much-needed focus on recovery-based planning and the episodic needs of participants.

And, crucially, the NDIA will be working more collaboratively with mainstream services like mental health, health and GPs, housing, justice, transport and social services.

This means that the NDIA’s planners and Local Area Coordinators will be working more closely with staff in hospitals, community clinics, non-government mental health organisations, housing providers, disability employment service providers and a broad range of social support service providers.

The NDIA is also working with Mental Health Australia and the Primary Health Networks to build a national system of navigation, linkages, and referral, to make sure people are connected with the right community supports and services.

For those transitioning to the NDIS from existing Commonwealth programs, we are creating a streamlined access process, so with the client’s consent, providers can be the direct liaison on access requests.

After a successful trial with 1000 participants, the NDIA has started to progressively implement these improvements.

We know it will be critical to continue to listen to and work with you and our participants to co-design something that really works.

I would like to thank Mental Health Australia, in particular Frank Quinlan and his team, for their significant contribution to these enhancements to the scheme.

And I extend the Government’s thanks to the many people who shared their stories and made suggestions, which will be essential in continuing to improve the experience of the scheme for people with psychosocial disability.

Ahead of the joint political panel this afternoon, I’d like to emphasise that the NDIS enjoys bipartisan support. It’s easy to point-score on the NDIS, which creates uncertainty amongst Australians living with disability and their families.

The far more difficult task is addressing the challenges and fixing the things that are not working, as they should.

Our focus is on constructive solutions.

Just this Monday, I was with the Prime Minister in Geelong and along the Great Ocean Road, and he had a chance to remind me of his personal commitment to the NDIS, from his time as Minister for Social Services, the Treasurer, and now as Prime Minister. This work, and getting it right, is important to him, and the Morrison Government.

I’d like to tell the story of Ron who lives in my electorate of Corangamite. Ron was a participant in the Victorian Community Mental Health services system. He lived in a social housing unit and received daily support of 2 hours per day Monday to Friday. He attended a day centre program with other people with mental health issues twice a week. Ron’s mum cooked his meals for the week, did his laundry and cleaned his unit on the weekend.

Ron entered the Scheme in 2016. NDIA opened up new opportunities for Ron and his mum that neither thought possible prior to the roll out of the Scheme. So how did Ron’s life change?

First, instead of receiving services Monday to Friday, Ron received services on Saturday and Sunday. Ron wanted to build friendships with people of his own age rather than with people with similar mental health issues. He now attends a social group in Geelong with other people of his own age. He goes on holidays and trips with this new social group and is building a whole new network of friends.

The other change is for Ron’s mum. Instead of providing lots of practical support on the weekend for Ron, Ron and his mum now go out to lunch together regularly on a Sunday. His mum no longer feels that she needs to do his laundry or make sure he has meals for the weekend.

She also feels that when she is no longer able to provide support for Ron that the NDIS will ensure that those supports are available for him and will do what she has done for many years.

I know everyone has their own stories to tell.

These pathway improvements are occurring in a time of change, as clients continue to transition into the NDIS.

The NDIS replaces a disability system that was unfair and inefficient with a new system that is world leading, equitable and sustainable.

However, the NDIS does not, and was never intended to, replace other government support systems, such as state-government funded mental health or community-based supports for people living with mental health conditions.

Most NDIS participants with a psychosocial disability as their primary disability will also require support from the mainstream health or mental health system, which will continue to be responsible for the broader group of people who require mental health supports outside the NDIS.

Community mental health services are primarily a state and territory government responsibility, and I encourage my state colleagues to continue to provide targeted funding to where it is most needed to improve our mental health system

The Australian Government is doing its bit. For those who aren’t found eligible, I want to assure you that the Government is firmly committed to ensuring they get the support they need and don’t fall through the cracks.

Currently around 77 per cent of existing Commonwealth clients with psychosocial disability who have undergone an NDIS assessment have been found eligible for NDIS support. However, there will be and are people in our programs that won’t be eligible for the NDIS and will require longer-term support.

That is why we are providing an additional $109.8 million over three years from 1 July 2019 to provide continuity of support for Commonwealth clients, delivered through the Primary Health Networks–the PHNs.

An additional $19.1 million has been committed this year to the PHNs to assist them develop a ‘front door’ approach, and make sure they are ready to build networks and work closely with existing providers and the NDIA.

Just yesterday I met with a local community health provider, Bellarine Community Health, which through our local PHN is delivering the GPs in schools program. Programs like this make a real difference on the ground and are an example of the broader important work of PHNs in community mental health.

For people who aren’t currently in a service or are not eligible for the NDIS, the Commonwealth Government, along with the states and territories, has committed a total of $160 million over four years for the new National Psychosocial Supports measure, which will be delivered by the PHNs.

New clients will be able to access community mental health services through this measure from January 2019.

This means that our PHNs essentially become a front door to those ineligible for the NDIS.

In addition, there is work being done to build stronger interfaces with the existing mental health system through the Fifth National Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Plan.

These developments offer a more comprehensive and inclusive approach to psychosocial disability than has existed in Australia before.

Delivering services for people with disability is a team effort. Governments at all levels need to work together with providers and stakeholder – and we’re going to keep doing that.

I know that the NDIS is only possible because of the commitment and dedication of strong providers, staffed by dedicated workers. Thank you for your commitment to the NDIS and working with us to create a better pathway for people with severe and persistent mental health issues.

There are currently over 400 specialist mental health service provider organisations registered with the NDIS delivering supports specifically for people with psychosocial disability. In addition, there are a broad range of registered providers of social and recreational support, who are providing a much broader range of social and recreational opportunities for participants.

As the NDIS continues its roll-out, it is critical that we build a strong and capable disability sector, laying solid foundations for the future of the scheme for all participants.

I understand for many service providers the NDIS rollout presents some challenges in moving from a block funding model to a fee-for-service model.

But it does also present significant opportunities.

I want to acknowledge the hard work and commitment you have put into transforming your businesses.

It is by no means an easy feat, but I do know that many of you, whether existing providers or new market entrants, are already seizing opportunities under the NDIS.

A number of providers report they have doubled their workforce and diversified their business since making the transition.

The NDIS will bring one of the largest job creation opportunities in Australia’s history, with an additional 90,000 jobs predicted across Australia by 2020.

In the mental health space alone we are expecting an increase from around 12,000 in 2012 to up to 35,000 by 2020.

To help this along, and ensure we have the workforce available to meet demand, the Government is investing in programs to support providers to transition to the NDIS and develop their workforces.

One example is the $45 million Jobs and Market Fund, which will address collective challenges through projects to grow the market and workforce, including support for under-supplied markets by participant cohort, support type and geographic area.

Complementing this, the $33 million Boosting the Local Care Workforce Program aims to build a diverse market and workforce, which enables people with disability to exercise choice and control over the services they receive and when they receive them.

The program will help providers to grow their workforce, boost local job opportunities in rural, regional and outer suburban areas, and link job seekers with disability employers.

Under the program up to 25 Regional Coordinators and up to ten Specialist Coordinators are being deployed in key locations across Australia to support existing providers and businesses entering the disability market.

The Regional Coordinators will work with providers at the local level to help them transition to the NDIS operating model, improve workforce planning and business capability and link them with government employment services and other relevant programs.

Specialist Coordinators will provide a national approach and address specific issues, including financial skills, workforce planning, specialist disability accommodation, and supporting market development in remote regions.

The Program also includes the Sector Transition and Employer Support Initiative, which will provide business advice and grants of up to the value of $20,833 to help eligible disability service providers, including mental health services providers, prepare their businesses to deliver services under the NDIS. The first grants round is expected to open early next year.

Another part of a strong disability sector is ensuring we have a robust national system of quality and safeguards.

All people with disability have a right to receive safe and quality services under the NDIS.

The new NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission began operating on 1 July this year and will work with providers, participants, families and carers to ensure these rights are upheld.

The NDIS Commission introduces a nationally consistent approach to quality and safety in NDIS services and supports, and will register and regulate NDIS providers, investigate complaints and incidents, and strengthen the skills and knowledge of providers and participants across Australia.

Part of the new system of quality and safeguards includes an NDIS Code of Conduct that applies to all providers and workers, and the NDIS Practice Standards, an enforceable set of requirements for the safe and quality provision of services by registered providers.

The NDIS Commission is already in place in New South Wales and South Australia, and will roll out across the country in line with the roll-out of the NDIS.

The Government’s work to support people with mental health and psychosocial disability extends beyond the NDIS

Over $4.7 billion has been invested in mental health this year alone.

For example, earlier this year, the Government announced an additional $51.8 million dollars to increase funding to Headspace Centres across the country, meaning young people will have access to around 14,000 additional services, shorter wait times and extra clinical staff.

In early October, the Government also announced the establishment of a Productivity Commission Inquiry into the role of mental health in the Australian economy and the best ways to support and improve national mental wellbeing.

The Inquiry will provide recommendations on how the Government can most effectively improve population mental health, and social and economic participation. The NDIS is one part of a broader National Disability Strategy, which guides a unified, national approach to improving the lives of people with disability, their families and carers.

The NDIS, together with community support, informal supports, and other government services, the Fifth Mental Health Plan and the Strategy, is working to deliver the supports people with psychosocial disability need.

Events like this second NDIS Mental Health conference are a great opportunity to stop and reflect on the progress and challenges so far, hear about some of the innovative approaches being delivered through the NDIS, and progress our work in delivering a new era of service and support for people with psychosocial disability in Australia.

This is a time of change and transition, but also of great opportunity to work together to deliver an innovative and life-changing service system.

If I can leave you with one message today, it is that we are listening—and we will continue to listen because it is absolutely vital we ensure the NDIS delivers strong outcomes for people with psychosocial disability.

I look forward to continuing this important work with all of you.