By David Clarke, CEO
It is now 6 months since the Labor government came to power and Bill Shorten was installed as the NDIS Minister. Additionally, Kurt Fearnley has been appointed Chair of the NDIS – the first person with lived experience to hold such a position. The former CEO was stood down, and Rebecca Falkingham appointed to the role. Ms Falkingham has a faultless record in policy development and reform under a number of administrations. This all adds up to an organisation with a healthy reform agenda.
This is important for us at Forward Ability Support. Over the past 8 years (or so) of the NDIS we have become increasingly involved in delivering services on behalf of the agency. NDIS services now generate more than half the revenue of our Association. Additionally, the systems and processes required to support NDIS service delivery means it is now woven into the fabric of how we operate.
When Mr Shorten was appointed, he outlined a number of undertakings around changes to the NDIS – changes that are vitally needed. He stated that he wanted to remove lawyers from NDIS proceedings. In their stead, the agency would appoint 380 permanent staff to assist participants in accessing the NDIS. At the same time transparency and a consultative approach are to be fostered.
These are welcome and important principles, but 6 months in, how would we track progress? It is clear that the NDIS is a huge administration. Such administrations take time to change, not the least because many elements requiring change are linked to the organisational culture – an area that is notoriously difficult to change in organisations.
To date our dealings with NDIS indicate that while there have been good intentions to implement meaningful improvements, not much has changed at this point in time. Towards the end of last year, a client we support contested the level of financial support offered by the agency. The response from the agency was sent to the participant from one of Australia’s top legal firms. The language in the letter was more suited to a legal argument than advice from a supporting government agency. At the appeal meeting, the NDIS was represented by that same legal firm. We are pleased to say that the dispute was resolved largely in the participant’s favour – but it could have been handled much more simply with open and clear quality and clinically-oriented discussion.
Admittedly that was a couple of months ago, so perhaps things have changed? Unfortunately, it seems not yet. Another participant we work with applied for Supported Independent Living financial support from the NDIS. This was rejected out of hand without the participant being personally contacted. The agency recommended an alternative form of support that was clearly inadequate. Through excellent advocacy work by one of Forward’s senior support officers, the NDIS was convinced to offer suitable support at the right level for the individual’s needs.
We have been actively working towards sector reforms, not just idly commentating from the sidelines. In 2022, our expanded federal government advocacy agenda pushed for evidence-based funding for our Supported Independent Living clients and appropriate support for people over 65 with significant disabilities. In 2023, we will actively contribute to the NDIS Review, ensuring our clients’ voices are heard, and proposed reforms meet their needs and goals. This is a once-in-a-generation chance to turn promises into action. The NDIS must be fixed and return to its original vision…
Forward sees the NDIS as a vital and valuable system that has delivered huge social value to people living with disabilities. It has been widely accepted that the agency “lost its way” over the past 3 or 4 years prior to the Labor government coming to power. Since then, a reform agenda has been spelled out which, if it can deliver the promised benefits, will be of huge benefit to participants and providers alike. However, such fundamental and far-reaching change takes time, and, in our experience, we aren’t there yet. Forward is committed to working with the agency to deliver on these reforms in whichever way we can and welcome the opportunity to be further engaged in constructive dialogue.
Ref: https://www.billshorten.com.au/news/bill-s-opinion-pieces/labor-s-plan-to-revive-ndis/ accessed 27th January 2023