The National Disability Insurance Scheme is set to undergo serious and systemic reform to ensure it continues to meet people’s needs long-term.
NDIS and Government Services Minister Bill Shorten outlined six key areas of reform in an address to the National Press Club on Tuesday.
More than half a million Australians receive support from the NDIS, which was established almost 10 years ago by the Gillard Labor government.
The scheme is on track to be one of the federal budget’s biggest expenses, with projections showing it will cost more than $50 billion by 2025/26, overtaking the annual cost of Medicare.
Mr Shorten said reforms would be centred on improving the experience of participants and maximising funds for their benefit.
“The NDIS saved the disability system from collapse … It is the difference between a life and living death for many vulnerable Australians,” he said.
Systemic reforms flagged by Mr Shorten included increasing the National Disability Insurance Agency workforce, addressing spiralling costs, introducing long-term plans, reviewing supported independent living arrangements and targeting criminal syndicates rorting the system.
But the most fundamental reform would be to ensure the NDIS was surrounded by increased community and mainstream support services.
“There needs to be investment in community-based programs – sports, recreation, education – and ensuring these programs are better integrated into the support mix for NDIS participants,” Mr Shorten said.
“Because the NDIS in isolation can’t deliver independence, and because it was never conceived or promised to support every Australian with any disability.”
He said there were no plans to change eligibility for the scheme, which is currently for people under 65.
Aruma Disability Services, one the largest NDIS charitable providers, welcomed Mr Shorten’s plans to fix the scheme but flagged that the most crucial reform would be hardest to secure without state and territory government support.
“This (fix) requires state and territory government-run hospitals, schools and community services to end cost-shifting to the NDIS,” CEO Martin Laverty said.
“To get the NDIS back on track, we must build support for people with disability in the nation’s health, education and community services to allow the NDIS to focus on those who need it most.”
Alliance20, representing many of Australia’s largest disability providers, described Mr Shorten’s speech as a “turning point” for the scheme and noted his commitment to stamp out dodgy practices by some providers.
In October, Mr Shorten ordered a review of the scheme to find ways to rein in spending, starting with fraudulent behaviour.
“There is unfortunately a cultural assumption in Australia that where there’s government money you can charge more,” he said.
“Because an NDIS package is taxpayer-funded it is not fair game for the doubling and tripling of prices (and) it shouldn’t be treated as some sort of ‘wedding tax’.”
The independent review is expected to provide recommendations on ways to maximise outcomes for participants from every dollar spent.
In a personal reflection, Mr Shorten said he felt he got a second chance after the “bitter disappointment” of Labor’s 2019 federal election loss under his leadership,
“The universe does not grant re-runs, but with every precious minute in the job as NDIS minister I do feel I’ve been given a remarkable second chance to serve where my passion beats,” he said.
“It is unusual in the cycle of politics to somehow have had the opportunity to be involved at the very start of this scheme and to get the chance to come back in an even more senior position … to get it on the right track.”
(Australian Associated Press)