Concerns Robo-debt coming to NDIS
Two of the main players in the creation and development of the Robo debt scheme that illegally targeted welfare recipients, who have recently given evidence at the Robo debt Royal Commission, now occupy senior positions in the compliance division at the National Disability Insurance Agency, the parent organisation of the NDIS.
There is concern that a similar strategy to Robo debt is now being pursued, with a job advertisement for an “Assistant Director Behavioural Insights to address potential and actual non-compliance by participants and providers” currently open.
Earlier this month, Disability Advocacy NSW, along with organisations including the Rights Information and Advocacy Centre and Villamanta Disability Rights Legal Service, made a submission to a joint standing committee inquiry into the capability and culture of the NDIA. It was scathing.
“In the context of rhetoric suggesting that the NDIS is too costly, we see numerous complaints made about access requests denied, inadequately funded plans and plans being unfairly slashed,” the submission says. “This ultimately leads to people with disability having to fight for reasonable and necessary supports and services through the internal and external reviews processes”.
“As we have stated previously, this fight is an unfair battle, as legally unrepresented people with disability are confronted with adversarial behaviours from the agency and their legal representatives. The NDIA disproportionately holds the power, the resources, and is under no time pressure. In contrast, the individual often has necessary disability supports withheld from them and little or no capacity to negotiate.”
The authors of this submission note there has been a “distinct shift” in the way funding decisions are made with a “marked decrease in transparent decisions”. Notably, the agency has even published “misinformation on the NDIS website regarding what they will and will not fund”. According to disability consultants DSC, the NDIS has published at least 36 different “myths” on the website page “Would we fund it” about things it will apparently not cover but that have already been allowed under appeal by NDIS participants at the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT).
Current Minister responsible for the NDIS, Bill Shorten, has appointed Bruce Bonyhady, the first board chair of the NDIA to review the compliance program. Bonyhady has been a champion of people with disability for a long time and outspoken critic of the direction the NDIA and NDIS has been taking in recent times.
It is to be hoped that these moves, along with the recent appointment of Kurt Fearnley as chair of the NDIA board, will see the NDIS reverse its increasingly onerous, oppositional and confrontational stance in dealing with many NDIS applicants and participants.
Lost in the dialogue over the past couple of years in the rhetoric of scheme opponents and the NDIA itself, is the fact that both initial and subsequent modelling of the scheme shows the return on investment to be staggeringly positive in its category. Instead of stating that for every $1 spent by the government on the NDIS, $2.25 is generated for the Australian economy, the NDIA in its recent annual report highlighted that by 2029-30, the NDIS budget would “blow out” by a further $22 billion, choosing to focus on cost with no mention of return in its one-sided and specious assessment. In 2020 – 21, the NDIS will provide a $52 billion economic benefit to Australia, supporting 467,000 participants, providing 270,000 jobs and increasing workforce participation of informal carers such as family members as well as people with disability.
The disability community watches with interest where things will head next in this battle that people with disability should not be having to fight.