NDIS News & Analysis
Shorten's plan for the NDIS
On Tuesday, NDIS Minister Bill Shorten spoke at the National Press Club on the ‘future of the NDIS,’ where he outlined his 6 policy priorities for the Scheme.
Shorten is a man caught between a rock and a hard place - or more specifically, a Review and a budget. The Minister has promised that all substantial changes to the NDIS will be led by the recommendations of the big independent review into the NDIS. Yet on the flipside, with the May budget set to once again indicate a ballooning NDIS price tag, there must be political pressure to be seen to be doing something.
We are left with a speech that includes a mixture of announcements, kind of announcements, hints of things that may-or-may-not be announced one day and a good chunk of fluff. Let’s look at the 6 policy priorities to sort out the real from the rhetoric.
1. The NDIA workforce
The first priority highlighted by Shorten is to increase the capacity and capability of the NDIA. This will be done through a focus on building a specialised workforce, lifting staff caps, improving systems and processes, moving some call centre functions back in-house and reducing staff turnover.
Shorten did not say how much we can expect the staffing cap to lift by. It has gone up over the years, but only by a few hundred workers here and there. Labor went to the last election promising only 300 additional staff for the Agency. Which, if you ask me, isn’t in line with the scale of the problem.
More positively, there was an emphasis on hiring more people with disability at the Agency.
2. Long-term planning
Shorten also promised a move away from short-term planning and towards more multi-year plans. This was a bit of a non-announcement, as 3 year plans have been the standard for people with stable needs for a while now. Unless we’re moving to even longer plans, there’s not much to see here.
3. Addressing rising costs
Now for the reason the majority of journalists were in the room: the rising cost of the NDIS. Very importantly, the Minister was clear that the NDIS would continue to fund reasonable and necessary supports and that there would not be a move to kick people with certain diagnoses off the NDIS.
Instead, he spoke about ensuring every dollar was well spent, and that people are not being charged higher rates for supports just because NDIS is footing the bill. Depending on the outcome of the Review, they ‘could’ also trial an approach where payments would be more closely tied with outcomes rather than just time spent.
A major focus was ensuring interventions reduce lifetime costs, with Shorten making the rather dubious statement that ‘The parent of any child on the NDIS will tell you they hope to exit the scheme as quickly as possible.’
One of the more concrete announcements was the trial of an early intervention program for infants between 9 and 15 months old showing early signs of autism. 700 families in WA will participate in the trial, which will be run in partnership with Telethon Kids Institute.
4. Better outcomes for Supported Independent Living (SIL)
Shorten’s fourth priority was a review of SIL, which he said is ‘delivering poor outcomes for many participants.’ It's a poorly kept secret that the government and NDIA are sour on SIL, which despite only supporting 5% of participants accounts for 28% of Scheme expenses. No detail was provided about what this review will look like, though Shorten did list housing supply, rental market accessibility, cotenancy models, community housing and other innovative housing models as being “integral” to getting better home & living outcomes.
5. Eliminating unethical practices
Shorten has long been keen to push a tough-on-fraud message and the Press Club address was no exception. Where this speech was different was that it went beyond a commitment to tackle crime in the NDIS, to a promise to also address unethical practices.
Examples of unethical practices that he listed include:
pressuring participants to ask for services or support ratios they don’t need;
spending participants’ money contrary to their plan
asking for or accepting additional fees for a service
offering rewards for taking particular services not on a participant’s plan
Shorten emphasised that the majority of providers are doing the right thing and that the focus on these investigations will be on the organisations who treat participants “feel duhumanised and treated as cash cows” and who “taint the reputation of quality service providers”.
He also spoke about getting rid of ‘shoddy therapies’ that don’t actually offer any value. But who gets to decide which therapies are ‘shoddy’? Determining which therapies are evidence based, and what evidence to consider, is far more complex that a pub-test-approved slogan.
6. Increasing mainstream and community supports
The final priority was basically a call for states and territories to do more to support people with disability, so that people aren’t forced to depend on the NDIS for all their disability support needs. Shorten was vague about whether they plan to renegotiate the initial agreements with the states & territories which left the Commonwealth footing the bill for all NDIS overspend. Unfortunately, right now, there isn’t a lot of incentive for the states to relieve the Scheme at the expense of their own hip pocket.
That’s all for the speech! If you are so inclined, you can watch it on ABC iView, though be warned it's over an hour long and is, for the most part, not hugely riveting. You can also read the speech here. Dr George Taleporos also has a great write up of the address, including raising important concerns about comments Shorten made during the Q&A about minimum qualifications of disability support workers.
And, if you’re worried that you’ll have to wait too long for another public frenzy about how expensive the NDIS is, rest assured the Federal budget is only weeks away. We’ll see you then!