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We Said, You Ignored: NDIS Week in Review

‘Blink and you’ll miss it’ was the NDIS in March. Lucky for us, Sara had her eyes wide open and is here with the low down on the NDIS consultation papers, Senate Estimates, leaked legislation and of course, the new NDIS Minister.

By Sara Gingold

Updated 15 Apr 20241 Apr 2021

You know how they say a week is a long time in politics? Well, if the past week has taught us anything, it is that the same can easily be said for the NDIS. 

There has been so much NDIS drama over the last week that if you blinked, took a toilet break, or – heaven forbid – slept a solid eight hours, then chances are you missed some major news. That’s why we’ve put together a brief summary of all the biggest headlines from the last week.

 

The Morrison Reshuffle

On Monday 29th March, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced a reshuffle of his cabinet after what can only be described as a catastrophic couple of months for the government. Former NDIS Minister Stuart Robert was named Minister for Employment, Workforce, Skills, Small and Family Businesses. With Jobkeeper ending over the weekend, we’re not convinced this bodes well for the nation’s unemployed.  

Former Defence Minister Linda Reynolds will take over the NDIS portfolio and Government Services. To say Reynolds is a controversial figure right now is something of an understatement. She was moved from the Defence portfolio after her mishandling of the Brittany Higgins sexual assault allegation. This is probably Reynolds’s last shot at maintaining a cabinet position, but given that she only has to perform better than Robert, it’s not exactly a high bar. 

We cannot predict what the new minister’s priorities will be for the NDIS. However, I think we can safely assume that Independent Assessments (IAs) are going to stay on the agenda.  

 

The Shorten Draft 

Last Friday, the Channel 9 newspapers reported seeing a leaked draft of the new NDIS legislation that is set to go before parliament in the coming months. The version of the draft contained comments by senior NDIA staff. Later in the day, Shadow Minister for the NDIS Bill Shorten released the leaked draft in question, sans all the juicy comments. 

The contents of the Shorten Draft (it is 100% certain he would not like us calling it that) are pretty disturbing, including the complete deletion of the term ‘reasonable and necessary’ and giving the CEO power to require assessments. 

At this stage, it is hard to know what to read into the leak. Stuart Robert was quick to claim on Twitter that the draft was only one of 78 versions:  

A screenshot of 2 tweets. Women with Disabilities Australia writes: "It's awful to witness the distress cause to NDIS participants & potential participants re the news today about intended changes to NDIS Act. @stuartrobermp should release the draft legislation TODAY. It is cruel to keep us in the dark. PWDs are scared". Stuart Robert replies "I agree. the facts are the draft legislation is not complete. That is why it cannot be released, however, I hope to release it shortly. I find it abhorrent people are using what I am told is one of 78 drafts to unleash unnecessary concern on #NDIS participants."

A new minister also throws a spanner in the works for the legislative reform. But if the government wants to get the new legislation passed by mid-year, they’re going to need to release a new draft soon, so we won’t be left wondering for long! 

 

You said, we ignored

Last week, the NDIA also released their “You Said, We Heard” post-consultation reports summarising the submissions they received about their proposed changes to planning, eligibility, and ECEI. Given that the tender winners for IAs had already been announced only three days after submissions were due, the community did not have high hopes for these reports. 

The feedback they report receiving is pretty much in line with what you would expect. In the planning and eligibility papers, people liked the idea of funding flexibility and better communication from the NDIA. However, there was concern about IAs being used as the main piece of evidence to inform NDIS decisions, plan funding being decided before the meeting, funds being released in intervals, and not being able to challenge the results of an IA. 

In the ECEI space, people liked the idea of the NDIA working more closely with mainstream services, moving the age limit to 9, and having more processes in place to check on a child’s progress. However, feedback was “mixed” on IAs, requiring ECEI providers to be registered, ECEI Partners providing Short Term Early Interventions (STEIs), and partners making recommendations about providers. 

The real question is simple: What is the NDIA going to do with this feedback? By all indications, not a hell of a lot.   

In the planning and eligibility reports, when the feedback got a little too negative the report followed up with sections entitled ‘Further information on [topic x,y,z]’. There is no new information here, as the section just repeats what was said in the consultation papers. The implication is that there was negative feedback because people with disability, their families, and the sector have misunderstood what the NDIA has planned. The Agency is perhaps auditioning for the role of the most annoying guy at a party, who upon hearing you don’t like their favourite movie, insists you “probably didn’t understand it.”

 

Senate "conflict of interest" estimates

Senates Estimates once again provided good value, with additional hearings held last week. A whole range of issues were discussed, but the most intense exchanges were, perhaps unsurprisingly, about the IA tender. As we said above, the tender winners were announced just three days after the submissions closed. A lot of scrutiny was put on the decision to award a tender to Allied Care Group, a subsidiary of Zenitas which is run by former NDIA CEO Rob De Luca. Current CEO Martin Hoffman said this when questioned: 

“I have never met or spoken with Mr De Luca. I clearly owe him nothing. He resigned to move to a provider, as you correctly said. He left immediately in April 2019. It's probably fair to say that that caused some disruption to the agency. The suggestion that the board two years later would award improperly a contract to his firm just doesn't hold water. This tender has been handled perfectly appropriately and fully. There has been no impropriety or problem here. I think it is an unfounded slur on me, the board and Mr De Luca, frankly, to suggest otherwise.”

More juicy details were revealed, including the disturbing fact that Rob De Luca’s position at Bankwest had been terminated in the run up to the banking Royal Commission, leading to questions about why he was selected to head the Agency in the first place. All in all, it was not a great day for Mr De Luca. 

But Zenitas was not the only provider under scrutiny. It was also disclosed that one of the directors of Access Care Network is former Liberal MP Judi Moylan. 

 

Early intervention support for autism consultation

Let’s face it, we’re all bloody sick of “consultation” papers. However, here is another one. This paper focuses on best practices for early intervention support for children with autism. It is based largely on research conducted by the Autism Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) and explores what may be considered reasonable and necessary supports for this cohort. 

 We’re going to take some time to absorb this paper before commenting further and give the autism community the opportunity to respond. However, it is worth noting that the paper has a short turn around for feedback, with submissions closing on 30th April. 

That’s a wrap on one week of the NDIS. And let’s all cross our fingers that nothing extra happens over the Easter break 🤞

Authors

Sara Gingold

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