Swings and Roundabouts with the NDIS

It’s been a fun-filled few months for the NDIS since the the start of the 2016-17 financial year. While progress has been made, it’s been far from smooth sailing.

NDIS logo

July 2016 was the launch date for large population chunks in NSW and other parts of the country. As the rollout progressed, it was clear the NDIA payment portal was not coping.

Some service participants and service providers could not process payments for close to two months, leading the NDIA Chair Bruce Bonyhady to issue an open letter to all Australians with disability, their families and carers on September 5th. In the letter the (then) NDIA chair apologised for the problems and said the portal was now operating as it should, claiming 96 per cent of payments now paid within 48 hours.

Aside from that glitch, significant progress has been made in particular parts of the country, with 30,281 approved plans at June 31, an increase of 5425 over the previous quarter. Sadly, just not so much in Queensland, which (apart from the NT) lags all other states with just 361 approved plans.

Graphic of NDIS approved plans by state

To get a better picture of the NDIS roll-out, you can now check out an Australia-wide map colour coded by roll-out date. You’ll notice most of Western Australia is blank, without any roll-out date at all. The explanation for that is, in short the WA Government has so far stuck with trial sites, but is meant to finalise their rollout arrangements with an announcement by the end of October.

That’s already late, for those keeping score at home…

What the map doesn’t show, however, is what’s happening in the ACT. After a previously agreed target of 5075 NDIS participants was reached on September 30, no new participants will be accepted until a new agreement between the Commonwealth and ACT governments is reached after the October 15 ACT election. After considerable outcry from the disability sector that over 1000  applicants could potentially be denied access the NDIA has since backed down saying the original target was an “estimate” only.

Watch this space…

A Board of Bean Counters?

The most disturbing news however, is the recent NDIS board shakeup, where not a single candidate with a disability or lived experience of disability was considered. Bruce Bonhardy, considered the “father” of the NDIS is out, perhaps falling on his sword for the recent IT dramas (unfairly we think). Along with Glenn Keys and Fiona Payne, Bruce Bonhardy was one of only three current NDIS board members with any lived experience of disability (they all have disabled family members). The proposed new board will reduce that number to a token one.

Indeed, it seems existing board members with either lived experience or even disability service expertise have been reduced to a token rump. According to reports in The Australian, half the current NDIS board will go, to be replaced predominantly with people of a very strong, for-profit “corporate” background. Assuming the board is expanded to eleven members with all of the minister Christian Porter’s nominee’s appointed, the board will have:

  • At least seven corporate CEOS or chairpersons (Helen Nugent, Jim Minto, Sandra Birkensleigh, Paul O’Sullivan, John Langoulant, Andrea Staines, and Glenn Keys)
  • Two actuarial specialists (Estelle Pearson and John Walsh)
  • A former public servant once involved with the Home Insulation Scheme (Robyn Kruk)
  • Two or three members with a medical industry background (Rhonda Galbally and Martin Laverty, arguably also Glen Keys)
  • One member with a close relative with a disability (Glen Keys)
  • Zero members with any disclosed disabilities.

In terms of diversity the new NDIS board will be as diverse as white rice – and likely about as useful. The majority of NDIS board members have no direct experience with disability whatsoever and the few who do have service expertise are from a distinctly medical model of disability.

To misquote Paul Keating, the new NDIS board will be a board of “unrepresentative swill.” There will be no board members with a disclosed disability and only one with any lived experience of disability. The new board won’t have a single representative from the not-for-profit sector and nearly all (with the possible exception of Rhonda Galbally) would struggle to understand the social model of disability, much less articulate policy based on that model.

Nothing About Us Without Us?

Not surprisingly many disability groups are really upset about this. The AFDO is so upset about not a single nominee having a disclosed disability or lived experience of disability, it is calling for the NDIS board recruiter to be sacked.

The NDIS portal, Every Australian Counts is running a campaign called Lived Experience Matters. They are calling on NDIS supporters to contact their local MPs via Facebook and twitter to send them a message that #livedexperiencematters. They have a dropdown tool to find the best contact based on your state to send a message via social media.

Image for #livedexperiencematters

If you’re unsure what to say, here’s a short, succinct message they suggest:

The biggest disability reform our nation has ever seen needs people with lived experience of disability and service expertise in governance roles. It’s common sense. Minister, please ensure the new NDIA Board includes members who know directly what it is like to live with disability. #livedexperiencematters

For more information, check out their lived experience matters page.

*N.B. This article is solely the opinion of Tony Leggett and does not necessarily reflect the views of QSSS.