Speech by Senator the Hon Linda Reynolds CSC

The future of the NDIS


I begin by acknowledging the Whadjuk Nyoongar people, the Traditional Owners of this land here in Perth – from where I am speaking from today.

I pay my respects to their elders past, present and emerging. I also acknowledge all here today with lived experience of disability.

I’m sorry I can’t be with you in person today, but I am delighted to be able to still speak with you.

Before I share my views on Where to from here? I will first remind us all of our journey so far.

The National Disability Insurance Scheme, a globally unique scheme, has just turned 8 years old.

Much older than a toddler, but not quite a tween.

On the birth certificate are both proud parents, a Labor Government and a Coalition Opposition.

As Jenny Macklin observed: The Scheme was designed for people to be able to decide for themselves the type of care and support they receive, and choose how they want to manage these supports. And now it is.

There is much to be proud of and celebrated. The Scheme is now available in all corners of this vast continent.

Participant satisfaction levels are now at 80 per cent across the access, pre-planning and plan review processes.

The number of young people in residential care has dropped by 30 per cent since September 2017.

Entries of younger people into residential aged care have reduced by 68 per cent over the same period.

As I expressed recently in an opinion piece…

That all States and Territories and the Commonwealth united across party lines to create this scheme says so much about what is wonderful about Australia’s Federation and our people.

We united on a multi-partisan basis to implement a truly national scheme.

A scheme to support Australians with significant and permanent disabilities with the opportunity to realise the same life aspirations as all other Australians do.

To work, to study, to engage with their local communities, to have meaningful relationships with others, to live independently.

Today, four hundred and fifty thousand Australians are supported by the NDIS and are transforming not only their lives but also the lives of their families and of their loved ones.

The safety of some of our most vulnerable Australians is paramount.

A major improvement to the original Scheme has been the establishment by the Coalition Government of the Quality and Safeguards Commission.

A Bill to strengthen the Commission’s powers is currently before the Parliament.

As a Government committed to delivering on the NDIS, we understand the Scheme needs a strong, responsive and sustainable workforce to support it.

Which is why last month I launched a National Workforce Plan to attract a sufficient and well-trained workforce for the Scheme going forward.

But participant experience has always been at front of mind, and this eight year old is experiencing a few serious growing pains – that won’t fix themselves.

When I became the federal ministerial custodian of the NDIS three months ago, I was grateful for the opportunity to work with participants and the disability community to make the Scheme the best it can be.

I have heard and seen that while there is much to celebrate there are many aspects that have not stood the test of time.

Over these past three months, I have listened and heard which is informing the next steps.

The next steps on independent assessments, on participant experience and on sustainability and fairness.

I believe there are a number of things we need to do to improve the participant experience.

Participants have told me that the annual planning focuses far too much on what participants can’t do, rather than what they can. It makes them feel more disabled – not more able.

A participant recently told me that they never feel more disabled than when they have their annual plan review.

I’ve heard that the planning process is too bureaucratic and plan funding is too inflexible.

The Scheme was intended to empower people to make choices about how and when they use their supports – not to justify how and when they spend their package funds.

No one is more invested in the sustainability of the Scheme than the people and their families who rely on it.

Over the past two Budgets, the Morrison Government has allocated an additional 17.2 billion dollars to the Scheme.

This is a real demonstration of this Government’s ongoing support for the NDIS.

I am resolutely committed to Scheme sustainability because I’m committed to a Scheme that is built to endure for many generations to come.

As the then Shadow Minister Mitch Fifield stated at its birth:

We must not leave Australians with disability wondering about whether reform of the magnitude of the NDIS will be able to stand the test of time.

Wise words then and they resonate strongly today. The costs of the NDIS are now on a trajectory far greater than was foreseen when the Scheme was designed and legislated.

This increase reflects demand on the Scheme being higher than previously estimated due to two factors:

The cost of supports provided on a per participant basis, and the greater number of people entering the Scheme than was initially projected.

The average payment per participant has increased by 12.5 per cent per year for each of the past three years.

This is much greater than both wage inflation and the assumptions in the 2017 Productivity Commission report which were about 2.5 per cent per annum in per participant costs.

Put simply, when costs are going up at 12.5 per cent a year and we were expecting and budgeting for 2.5 per cent, we must carefully examine cost drivers to ensure the NDIS can endure.

Another trend is that the Scheme is in danger of moving away from the insurance principles on which it was founded – that is around providing early intervention and taking a lifetime approach to supporting participants with serious and permanent disabilities.

In fact, under the insurance approach, we would expect to see costs stabilise or even reduce over the longer term per participant.

This hasn’t been the case.

And while Commonwealth Government is committed to fully funding the scheme, we all know that for any taxpayer funded scheme, demand driven cannot mean unlimited.

So, Where To From Here?

As a true scheme of our Federation, wherever we travel next with the NDIS, all Australian governments must take the journey together – with the same spirit of collaboration and partnership that we saw when we came together to create the scheme.

The politics of fear and hyper-partisanship did not create the NDIS, and today they won’t make a better and more sustainable Scheme for participants.

Participants are relying on national leader’s right across the sector to work constructively together to find common ground.

After eight years of operations, now is the time to listen and take the lessons of lived experience and turn those lessons into an even better NDIS.

After three months of extensive consultations I engaged in the extraordinary Disability Reform Ministers Meeting in the spirt of collaboration.

But as important is listening is, it is not enough, we must also act to reform the NDIS Act.

I was encouraged and delighted that all ministers together took important steps in this direction.

Ministers agreed the trialled format of independent assessments would not proceed.

We also agreed that together, we will work in partnership with those with lived experience of disability to co-design a new person-centred model of assessment.

An assessment model that is consistent with the legislative requirements as set out under the NDIS Act. An assessment model that will deliver a fairer and more consistent scheme. A scheme that delivers more true choice and control.

Ministers also agreed that we need to build a unified understanding of financial matters and pressures on the system to inform the pathway forward.

We commissioned further work by senior officials on the cost drivers and underpinning actuarial assumptions of the NDIS ahead of our next meeting in August.

We also agreed to work together to consider amendments to the NDIS Act to legislate a Participant Service Guarantee.

The legislation will further strengthen integrity measures and the draft legislation will be subject to public consultation.

In my consultations I have also clearly heard about the negative consequences of the lack of state and territory provision for what the Productivity Commission called Tier 2.

Or what I refer to as community based support.

Tier 2 was intended to provide people with or affected by a disability – who are not eligible to receive NDIS funded support – with information and referral services.

A functioning community based support system would contribute to the sustainability of the NDIS by ensuring people with disability have improved access to community and mainstream supports as their first point of call.

It would be a tragedy for all four and a half million Australians with disability if the NDIS became their only option.

The services specifically for people with disability, through the NDIS and otherwise, are not and should not be the only focus for improving the lives of people with disability.

A new and improved National Disability Strategy will hold broader services and systems accountable to be more inclusive and supportive for people with disability, achieving better outcomes.

So in conclusion, as Australians we have created an amazing insurance scheme that is transforming the lives of hundreds of thousands of Australians in the most wonderful of ways.

But it is a scheme that urgently needs reform. But this can only be done by working together as a Federation.

My commitment as the federal Ministerial custodian is to do all I can to ensure the Scheme endures for many generations to come.

Thank you.