DSC’s Annual NDIS Conference 2024

Sydney & Online, March 26-27

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Support Work

Joint Standing Committee talks sex (and more)

Chris Coombes
Todd Winther

It's been a hectic time for us NDIS nerds. At DSC, we have been poring over the Royal Commission Report and are eagerly awaiting the findings of the NDIS Review. However, there is yet another significant report that may have flown under your radar. But don’t worry, we’ve got you!  

The Joint Standing Committee on the NDIS’ Report Into the Capability and Culture of the NDIA Report makes for compelling reading, because much of the analysis is direct, and fearless - uncharacteristically for politicians who are known for their measured language. It also covers some uncharted, and unexpected territory.  

So, let's get stuck into it.

What is a Joint Standing Committee?

A Joint Standing Committee (JSC) is a Federal Parliament mechanism that goes beyond what the House of Representatives and the Senate can do as part of its regular activities - passing or rejecting bills and conducting Question Time. A JSC is designed to investigate and analyse legislative issues to measure the Parliament's performance. To ensure it's politically fair, a JSC comprises ten politicians from both Houses of Parliament and across the political spectrum. 

The JSC into the NDIS investigates the NDIS’s performance and whether it meets the expectations laid out in the NDIS Act (2013).

Summary recommendations

The Culture and Capability report recommends the government:

  • Reconsider the use of primary and secondary disabilities

  • Train staff on invisible, episodic, rare, and psychosocial disabilities

  • Reduce fraud

  • Improve Early Childhood intervention

  • Protect rights and autonomy, rather than falling back on guardianship and trustees

  • Expand access to “respite services” (their words, not ours) for participants and carers

  • Improve Information, Linkages and Capacity (ILC) building programs

In amongst all that, here’s what we think are the three big takeaways from the JSC Report.

Sexual Supports 

The report explores how the Agency navigates sex, gender, and sexuality of people on the Scheme. Spanning pages 27 to 36, it’s the most expansive coverage of the problems at this interface we’ve seen in a government report. 

The Committee heard about the absence of relevant line-items in the price guide and no explicit way of funding sex and relationship support in people’s plans. The Committee also heard that NDIA hasn’t released operational guidance on sex work, despite a Tribunal and a Federal Court finding it can be a reasonable and necessary support. Assuming disabled people aren’t sexual beings, the report found, is really damaging to well-being, rights, inclusion, and health. 

The Committee said, 

"Sexuality is a key aspect of the human experience and cannot be separated from other aspects of life. However, people with disability who want to experience their full sexual development and sexual expression face complexity, controversy, and barriers to inclusion. These issues are especially salient for people with intellectual and cognitive disabilities, whose sexuality is more often problematised, controlled, or erased" (Chapter 2.98).

Here’s the rub. Although this section on supports for sexuality accounts for about 10% of the entire report’s analysis, it features in none of the 27 formal recommendations. It’s not clear why this is the case. But perhaps the erasure of disabled sexuality - the very thing the Committee criticised the Agency for – was repeated in the Committee’s avoidance of recommendations. Or could the Committee be concerned about how politically contentious the issue may become?

Things gets surprising at the very end of the report. The Coalition’s Additional Comments, recommend: 

That the NDIA co-design and implement a Sex and Relationships policy to give NDIA staff and participants clear guidelines on the approach to related supports. Additionally, the committee recommends that planners and coordinators are trained to engage with participants about relationships and sexual expression goals during the development of plans” (p. 110).

Quite a change of tune from the Stuart Robert days! We think that’s the sexiest thing the LNP has ever written. The Greens recommended something similar in their Additional Comments. 

DSC are running training on sexuality, intimacy and sex, and we’d be delighted if the NDIA planners, LAC’s (and you!) came along.

Planning Process 

The JSC report largely agrees with the NDIS’s Reviews findings about the planning process. The JSC challenges how the NDIA makes “reasonable and necessary” decisions, while taking aim at the Agency’s organisational culture. The JSC Report claims that the Agency does not respect that participants are experts in their experiences. 

Several submissions to the JSC highlight that the NDIA is not making decisions that support a participant’s right to choice and control, or encouraging autonomy. Instead, the JSC is concerned that the NDIA has reverted to a deficit-based approach, relying on medical model thinking, where participants must highlight their weaknesses, rather than their capabilities. 

The report also delves specifically into the issue of primary and secondary disabilities. The JSC explains that the legislation “…makes no mention of primary or secondary disability, and does not specify how planning decisions should be made if a person has multiple impairments.” Therefore, the JSC believes the practice of prioritising a person’s primary disability does not encompass the total experience of people who have multiple impairments and has no legal basis when determining funding decisions.

NDIS CEO Ms Rebecca Falkingham provided an Additional Document, saying “all disabilities reported by a NDIS participant are captured in the CRM [Customer Relationship Management] system, including a secondary disability or in free text fields. All disability information provided by NDIS participants is considered by NDIA planners. The NDIA’s new system PACE has not been designed with this constraint”. 

This response doesn’t explain the relationship (if any) between these disabilities and typical support packages.

ILC 

The Committee heard evidence about the Information, Linkages and Capacity-building (ILC) program (sometimes called tier 2). The program has historically been managed through smallish grants awarded to organisations that apply through competitive tender. If the NDIS is the only lifeboat in the ocean, the Committee’s vision of how to expand and better manage Tier 2 could really float your (life)boat. 

The Committee found the failings of ILC were fourfold.

Firstly, citing the Melbourne Disability Institute’s work, the Committee heard the government currently spends $70,000 per NDIS participant, yet only $33 per disabled person who is ineligible for the NDIS. The Committee recommended the government needs to invest bigtime in ILC.

Secondly, the Committee heard that the NDIA used to administer the ILC program. The administration was then handed over to the Department of Social Services (DSS). The Committee felt DSS were too disconnected from the coal face of disability to be administering this well. To be fair, only the Ministry of Magic could effectively administer $33 per person and get outcomes. Nevertheless, the Committee recommended ILC administration should be hot-potatoed back to the NDIA.  

Thirdly, the Committee recommended a re-design of these grants. The Committee heard submissions that twelve-month grants aren’t enough for organisations to gain momentum. The process, the Committee heard, should be friendlier to smaller organisations (who can’t afford to pay professional grant-eaters) and the outcomes should be measured.

Finally, the Committee recommended LACs should be doing referral, information, and capacity building. The Committee learnt that LACs are doing too many other things (*cough* building plans *cough*) and are not well resourced to do the linking and capacity building. 

Conclusion

People are putting a lot of eggs in the 10-year review basket, and the Royal Commission. But there are also reams of other reviews and recommendations that should inform where we go from here. Thanks to the folks at the Committee for getting nerdy over the deets with us. It’s well worth your time to read the full report here.

The NDIS Reviews’ Interim Report (March 2023) is also great reading – find it here.

Author

Chris Coombes

Chris entered the sector as a support worker 13 years ago. Early on, Chris was working alongside a person who was unnecessarily detained in a prison. The injustice ignited a fire in his belly for a fairer system and drove him to study social policy. Completing a masters from the London Sch...

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Todd Winther

Todd is a political nerd with an academic background in political leadership, party politics, and disability policy who has taught these subjects at multiple universities. He is also an NDIS Participant who has a severe form of Cerebral Palsy. Todd combines these two seemingly different in...

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