‘A warning against NDIS scare tactics’ from PWDA President

Tonight, I’ll be in the Budget lock-up with many others, scrutinising the Budget papers.

They say it’ll be a Budget for women, aged care and infrastructure.

But what if you’re a disabled woman – or any other person with a disability?

Let’s be clear. There is enormous risk to the lives and welfare of people with disability if this Budget does not deliver for disabled people, especially in the middle of a pandemic.

There is significant concern that the measures government plan to implement, including independent assessments, will have perverse outcomes for us.

And there is solid evidence that government are desperately trying to pull out every card they have, including dodgy accounting and dark forecasts, to ensure these changes go through.

Last night, the ABC’s Andrew Probyn solemnly declared that the ‘ABC had learned that Treasurer Josh Frydenberg’s third budget will on Tuesday forecast the NDIS costing more than $30 billion in 2024-25.’

It’s the latest in a raft of scare tactics used by the Coalition, citing the use of ‘prostitutes’, ‘funding of yachts’ and ‘postcode disparity’ as reasons not to properly fund the landmark scheme.

Unsurprisingly, government have chosen not to release the figures that back up the assertion that the NDIS will ‘overtake the cost of Medicare within three years’ and other dire predictions, including an unprecedented escalation in the number of participants in the scheme.

Disability advocates are united in their response to the new announcement – it’s just not true. Worse than that, it’s potentially deliberately misleading.

We disabled people know how the NDIS works and we understand the ways the NDIA’s outsourced actuary can present what I believe is fiction and conjecture as truth, almost convincingly.

When government says that ‘the average payment per participant increased by almost 48 per cent between 2017 and 2020’, they’re not telling you that the NDIA moved to two- and three -year plans (rather than annual plans) over the past few years, so they’re comparing apples to oranges.

They’re also not telling you that they increased costs due to the pandemic, adding a whopping 10 per cent COVID-19 loading on supports and introducing stringent rules around cancellation policies – without reimbursing participants packages.

That, combined with an international pandemic which involved provision of PPE, emergency labour hire, hugely increased cleaning costs and other measures, like adding desperately needed flexibility about the use of people’s plans, incurring additional expenditure.

That’s for the population who, along with seniors, are most likely to die. Emergency measures in emergency times. How much did health spending increase last year due to COVID-19? Nobody is proposing drastic ‘sustainability measures’ or radical changes to health funding based on that – right?

I’m a great believer in facts rather than predictions. History is our best predictor of the future. There isn’t a good history here about accurate estimates of costs. Look at the costs in 2014, 2015 and onward. The underspend has been significant. In 2019, the inaccuracies were so great that they clawed back over $4.2bn to support the budget surplus, thereby winning an election.

But we don’t have all the facts.

In February NDIA CEO Martin Hoffman said in the Financial Review that in the September quarter of 2020, the annualised spend per participant was $52,000 – compared to $35,000 in the same quarter of 2017.

We’d like to know exactly how much of that money translated to actual disability aids and equipment and hours of support for participants rather than costs thrown at a cavalcade of expensive consultants and lawyers who are fighting appeals.

If you look at last year’s figures, it’s clear that the same Henny Penny tactics are being used to try and build public support for both independent assessments and sweeping legislative changes to the scheme to support a dark new future for disabled people.

This scheme was in part predicated on the idea that disabled people would be able to contribute equally to the workforce through support, employ thousands of workers enable carers to return to the workforce and to have the same rights and freedoms as other Australians.

The NDIS isn’t the only issue we are unpacking tonight. There’s the Disability Royal Commission, issues like employment, education, health, young people in nursing homes and a huge number of other policy issues.

Like other women, I look forward to hearing what changes there will be for women in the so called ‘women’s budget’. But as a disabled woman, I am, like others, deeply concerned for the future.