Australia’s disability minister is promising to review feedback before introducing independent assessments to the national support scheme.
National Disability Support Scheme (NDIS) minister Linda Reynolds will meet with her state and territory counterparts on Thursday, with the planned changes high on the agenda.
While Senator Reynolds said she would look closely at feedback before drafting laws to lock in the rollout, the long-term cost of the NDIS was a key concern.
“It was established as – and continues to be – an insurance scheme,” she said.
“Any future reforms must continue to deliver on the promise of the NDIS: to provide people with a permanent and significant disability with true choice and control over a flexible support package to achieve their goals.
“And this is what independent assessments are designed to do. I’ll be closely assessing the independent assessment trial outcomes before any enabling legislation is taken forward.
“The purpose of the trial is to understand what is working and what needs to be improved.”
Senator Reynolds’ predecessor Stuart Robert was concerned people with deeper pockets were receiving more support than those accessing the scheme from lower socio-economic areas.
The changes would result in NDIS participants undergoing a three-hour assessment by a government-approved doctor to decide what level of help they need.
Independent assessments would also be required for people having their plans reviewed, with concerns the government would use them as a cost-cutting measure to reduce how much support people receive.
Pause welcomed by disability advocates
Kevin Stone is the CEO of the Victorian Advocacy League for Individuals with Disabilities (VALID) and the chair of Inclusion Australia.
He welcomed news that the government would put plans to introduce independent assessments on hold, pending feedback.
“I’m certainly sighing a big sigh of relief but of course we need to see what their intent actually is,” Mr Stone told SBS News.
“I think it’s a good thing that they are responding to the enormous backlash from the sector. I’ve never seen so much mistrust and anxiety created by a poorly perceived governmental and departmental decision.”
Mr Stone says it is important that the government rebuilds trust with the sector, calling out a “lack of consistency [and] rigour on people’s support needs, which results in disparities”.
“The key to [rebuilding trust] is listening to people living with disabilities and their families,” Mr Stone said.
Disability advocacy organisations in a joint statement said it was “heartening” that the new minister had listened to concerns about the proposed new model.
“A privatised assessment system where a person with disability’s future would be determined by a tick-a-box assessment with a stranger over a few hours was not the NDIS thousands of Australians fought for,” the statement said.
“The minister now has an opportunity to genuinely engage with the people the NDIS was designed to support and we stand ready to work with the government to develop a system that is sustainable and fair for the almost 450,000 Australians with disability who rely on it.”
Labor’s NDIS spokesman Bill Shorten is pleased the independent assessments will be delayed but says they should not even be considered.
“What this anti-disability monster of a plan really needs is a stake through the heart,” he said.
Senator Reynolds’ office recently had to defend the independence of a review into the scheme, conducted by retired public servant David Tune.
Documents obtained under Freedom of Information laws showed the government inserted an entire chapter on introducing independent assessments and made substantial changes to the rest of the review.
A spokesman for Senator Reynolds said the government respected Mr Tune’s independence at all stages.
With reporting by Jennifer Scherer.