A radical plan to reform the National Disability Insurance Scheme that was leaked to the media in news unveiled today has caused widespread tension and anger among people with disability, their families and supporters.
People with Disability Australia President Samantha Connor said reports about the confidential 300 page draft were “deeply concerning”.
“At Senate estimates this week, representatives from the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) said that they had consulted extensively with the disability sector over the past few months,” she said.
“To discover that there are significant changes proposed that will disadvantage people with disability, along with a proposal to cut out co-design with participants and disabled persons organisations, is deeply concerning.”
The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age report that the draft includes a proposal that could deny funding to Australians with foetal alcohol syndrome and acquired brain injuries, considers reducing avenues of appeal and canvasses removing the “reasonable and necessary” test for the provision of supports and services, along with other radical changes.
Ms Connor said that the contents of the report must be scrutinised carefully and the trial for independent assessments halted immediately, before any further discussions are held around disability reforms.
“It is clear that there are significant issues around both the independent assessment trial and the proposal to change the NDIS legislation,” she said.
“Of particular concern is the proposal to remove support from participants in prisons and those based in external territories like Christmas Island.
“NDIS support should not be rationed by punitive measures that will disproportionately affect target population groups, especially First Nations people and those living with multiple levels of disadvantage.
“Excluding people with foetal alcohol syndrome, acquired brain injuries and the prison population would remove support from disabled people who are very vulnerable in our society.”
In a submission to the FASD inquiry mid last year, the Australian Human Rights Commission called upon the Australian government to improve treatment and support for people living with FASD.
Australia’s Disability Discrimination Commissioner Dr Ben Gauntlett said it is essential adequate resources are widely available to prevent, diagnose and effectively support those with FASD.
Ms Connor agrees.
“First Peoples Disability Network reports about half of Aboriginal people are disabled. A study was released in 2019 that revealed 89 per cent of children in a WA youth detention centre are cognitively disabled – 36 per cent of those children have foetal alcohol spectrum disorder,” she said.
“It is the highest rate of FASD in a prison environment anywhere in the world. Is this really what Australia is proposing, punishing disabled children based on their circumstance or postcode?”
Crisis meetings are being held around the country in the wake of the news to determine what action the disability sector will take. Discussions are centred on the reform bill, which is due to be tabled in Parliament in about a week, and widespread concerns about the independent assessments that are being piloted across the country.
The proposed mandatory assessments have been awarded to a number of contractors, including to a group of subsidiaries co owned by former NDIA CEO Rob de Luca and the company he runs, Zenitas.
The NDIA was under fire on Thursday night at Senate estimates, as senators grilled bureaucrats over the independent assessment process and the tender process.
“Government must immediately cease independent assessments and engage in a meaningful co-design process with people with disability, their families and the organisations that support them, as outlined in the disability sector statement,” Ms Connor said.
“This scheme was initially designed by disabled people and their families in conjunction with those who support us – if we are not at the table, that is when it all goes wrong.”
People with Disability Australia will be making a submission on independent assessments to the Joint Standing Committee on the National Disability Insurance Scheme. The organisation encourages all people with disability, family members and representative organisations to submit their views.
Submissions close on 31 March 2021.
Spokesperson Samantha Connor, PWDA president
0400 890 571
Media inquiries Amanda Ellis, PWDA communications
0438 003 868