A group of 25 disability advocacy groups has signed a joint statement urging a halt to controversial NDIS reforms and for them to be rebuilt with an end-to-end co-design process directly involving people with disability.
The signatory organisations say their clients “are overwhelmingly expressing acute fears regarding the risks to their health, wellbeing and access to reasonable and necessary supports” raised by the mandatory independent assessment reforms set to come into effect later this year.
The signatories say the consultation offered on the reforms has been centered on how to implement the policy, not the development of the policy itself.
Naomi Anderson, a lawyer at Villamanta Disability Rights Legal Service, one of the 25 signatory bodies, said the statement reflects a high prevalence of concern about the reforms.
“It’s the result of a number of advocates who saw the issues proposed and have had different experiences with different client bases, but all coming to the same conclusion that the proposals in question are simply not going to be in the best interest of our clients,” she told SBS News.
The 25-body statement came in response to consultation papers released in November. The three-month consultation period closed last week.
Under the independent assessment reforms, current and prospective participants will be referred to an independent healthcare specialist for a free one-off session to determine their eligibility for the scheme.
They were announced last year after a version was recommended in an independent review of the NDIS Act in 2019 and by the Productivity Commission at the scheme’s inception.
Currently, participants need to acquire reports from multiple therapists of their choosing, which then forms evidence for their eligibility.
The government has said the reforms will make access to the NDIS more consistent and transparent. But there has been concern assessments could be too brief to properly determine an applicant’s true eligibility for the scheme and force vulnerable people to be assessed by practitioners they don’t know or trust.
Mary Mallet, CEO of Disability Advocacy Network Australia, another of the 25 signatory groups, said while there is lots of material available explaining the reforms, not much has been “sufficiently reassuring” for people with disability.
“There is still a concern there’s an intent behind it which is more to do with protecting the financial sustainability of the NDIS than it is about making sure that people with disability get an individualised plan that meets their needs,” she said.
A spokesperson for NDIS Minister Stuart Robert said there had been extensive consultation on the reforms and that they will help set up “an NDIS that works for everyone”.
“The reforms to the NDIS deliver on the final elements of the Productivity Commission’s original design for the Scheme and are based on recommendations from reviews and inquiries,” the spokesperson said.
“The reforms will deliver greater flexibility for participants to spend their plan funding on disability-related supports. More guidance about the boundaries of the NDIS will also be provided, including what should and should not be charged to NDIS plan budgets.
“The reforms will improve information gathering required for decision making, notably at no cost for participants and those applying to become participants.”
In December, it was announced a cross-parliamentary committee would conduct an inquiry into independent assessments.
The Joint Standing Committee on the National Disability Insurance Scheme inquiry will focus on the rationale and evidence supporting the reforms, the assessment process and its impacts, and their appropriateness for particular cohorts of people with disability.
The closing date for submissions to the inquiry is 31 March.
Federal senators last year also called into question the integrity of feedback from an independent assessment pilot program.
Last week, the organisations chosen via an open tender process to provide the assessors were announced. Most applicants are expected to be able to choose between two or more of the organisations.
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