SPEECH - GETTING THE NDIS BACK ON TRACK

December 05, 2017


I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which this meeting is taking place.

I am sorry I can’t be there with you all in person, as you know, parliament is sitting.

I do want to start by acknowledging the very important role you have played and continue to play in the rollout of the NDIS.

It is five years almost to the day since the NDIS legislation was introduced into the House of Representatives.

National Disability Services and Ken Baker in particular were part of the alliance with people with disability and carers that were essential to the momentum for change.

You understood that the old system of disability care and support was broken.

Without that Alliance the NDIS would not have been possible.

Ken and NDS provided great support for Every Australian Counts, both practical and financial to support this outstanding on the ground campaign.

So I really want to acknowledge and thank you for your commitment and determination to create the NDIS and now to make it a success.

I know it hasn’t been plain sailing, but it is also the case that there are some great stories of how the NDIS is transforming the lives of people with disability for the better.

In the NDS Report there is a great story of Kyal.

A 16 year old student with autism and ADHD.

When Kyal began the discovery phase of the Customised Employment approach through the NDIS he quickly discovered his love for his dog, for cooking and for hands on work.

So Kyal was supported to make Doggy Delights dog biscuits.

The doggy biscuits have been such a success that Kyal now has 500 orders each week.

Kyal’s story is just one example.

It demonstrates how individualised supports through the NDIS can improve the lives of people with disability.

Now I know that this is a working conference.

And I know that the challenges facing the sector are very complex, particularly at this important point in the transition to the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

As the Productivity Commission recently observed, the issues with the rollout of the NDIS are “highly challenging” for disability service providers.

These challenges are well captured in the NDS Report.

I just want to highlight some of these today.

I know that many of you have been frustrated by the problems with the rollout of the NDIS.

You understand that there is much work to be done to ensure that the NDIS fulfils its promise.

So I want to talk with you about the key issues that I think need to be fixed in order to get the NDIS on track.

Cultural Problems

First and foremost is the culture in the National Disability Insurance Agency.

People with disability and their families, providers of services want a people centred organisation not a bureaucratic culture.

To be clear, I’m not having a go at the staff at the NDIA.

I know there are many good people that work at the NDIA.

People that are working night and day to make the NDIS as good as it can be.

But people with disability, family members, and providers do not want to wait on the phone for hours.

Or have emails going unanswered.

Or no one local to engage with and help fix problems.

Phone planning instead of face to face planning, as well as new planners that lack adequate training, have all contributed to a fall in the quality of NDIS plans for participants.

As a result many disability service providers have borne additional costs from NDIS processes that simply aren’t working as well as they should.  

There’s been a lack of trust and transparency in dealing with key stakeholders, including disability services providers.

To give you an example – the Joint Parliamentary Committee on the NDIS, of which I am a member, recently heard from a blind woman.

She told the Committee about the planners not understanding simple things like that she wants documents in a readable format. 

I hear story after story of people complaining about the bureaucracy at the NDIA. 

Participants should be able to see a draft version of their plan before it’s approved.

This is another big issue that is raised with me everywhere I go.

People just cannot fathom why NDIS participants cannot see a draft version of their plan before it’s approved.

As the NDS report said on this issue: "some participants receive plans they don't recognise.”

I accept that some of these are process and administration issues that will be worked through and resolved.

However, the evidence received during the committee's recent public hearings seems to indicate the development of a culture in the NDIA that is not placing the participant, their families and carers, at the centre of the Scheme.

That is unacceptable.

IT System

I have heard from so many of you about your frustrations with the MyPlace Portal.

There has been a shocking bungling of the NDIS IT system.

When the new IT system was introduced in July 2016 there were huge problems that you know so well. 

In many cases the portal could not process claims for payment.

Many disability service providers experienced significant delays in payment, leading to financial stress and ultimately the closure of some service provision.

The closure of services, or the inability to pay for them, resulted in people with disability not being able to access supports through the NDIS.

It was revealed at Senate Estimates that the IT system had never undergone any live testing before it came into use in mid-2016.

And that’s when the delays with the NDIS rollout began - and the scheme has not been unable to catch up. 

Many people are waiting to get into the NDIS and they shouldn’t be.

So it is a major problem, and I also think the source of some of the cultural bureaucratic approach.

People with disability find the NDIS IT portal hard to use and providers also find it difficult to use.

The problems with the IT system are a failure by the Department of Human Services who designed and operate the IT system.

And while some of these problems have been addressed in recent months and the Pathways pilot starts very soon, more still needs to be done. 

National Disability Insurance Agency

Many of the delays are also caused by a lack of staff.

This Government has imposed a staffing cap on the NDIA.

The staffing cap must be lifted.

There is simply not enough staff inside the National Disability Insurance Agency.

The Productivity Commission report made clear that the staffing cap needs to be lifted and that the staff must be well-trained.

Too many are getting NDIS plans that are inadequate or with too many mistakes.

They are getting plans that don’t give them the supports they need.

And as a consequence many of these plans end up being reviewed.

Which take too long to finalise.

NDIS Pricing

I have heard from many stakeholders that the NDIA’s pricing methodology has, at least in some instances, led to perverse incentives and poor outcomes for people with disability, in particular poor outcomes for supports required by people with complex needs.

Issues with the pricing have also impeded adequate market development.

As highlighted in your report some disability service providers announced closures of short-term accommodation facilities – a service which gives much needed support to families.

More encouragingly the data from your report shows that the percentage of organisations reporting an expected profit in 2017-18 has increased slightly from 40% to 43%. 

An Independent Pricing Review has been commissioned by the NDIA’s Board and will report by the end of the year.

Decisions on pricing need to be made urgently to give disability service providers certainty.

We need a viable disability sector and that’s only going to come about if we get the pricing right.

Workforce Challenges & Market Development

There are also very significant workforce challenges as the NDIS rolls out.

The PC estimates that 1 in 5 new jobs over the next few years will need to be in disability care.

But we all know that the workforce isn’t growing fast enough.

That demand for services continues to outpace market supply.

That the scale of organisational change required is great.

I understand that.

But it’s not being helped by the failure of the Government to adequately promote work in the disability sector.

Where is the national advertising campaign informing Australians that there all these great jobs that are being created as part of the NDIS?

Where is the workforce strategy?

This is something that needs to be addressed urgently, so that we grow the disability workforce so that people with disability get the services they need.

There are just too many examples of people not getting the services they need in their NDIS plans – and work on market development is urgent.

I also want to emphasise the need to make sure that the workforce that is being created is not a casualised workforce.

Just as people with disability want control over their lives and the services and supports they need, so too do workers need decent wages and security.

This requires us all to work together to make this happen.

Conclusion

In closing - we want to make sure that our hopes for the NDIS are met.

I’m sure you do too.

That people with disability and their families are able to have the lives they want with the supports that give them independence and the capacity to participate both socially and economically – to work, to have fun, to have a decent home.

This is the promise of the NDIS.

It’s a promise that we have to be determined to see delivered.