Australia’s new minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme has confirmed the government will go ahead with “some form” of mandatory independent assessments for both people wanting to access the scheme and those already on plans.
Two weeks ago, NDIS Minister Linda Reynolds announced she would pause the controversial reforms to give the government the opportunity to review trial feedback, raising hopes among advocates that the policy could be scrapped.
The proposed assessments would involve participants undergoing a three-hour assessment by a government-approved health professional to decide what level of help they need.
The move aims to stop those with deeper pockets receiving more support than those accessing the scheme from lower socio-economic areas. Disability advocates fear the policy is aimed at cutting funding package sizes and participant numbers.
Fronting a Senate estimates inquiry in Canberra on Monday, Senator Reynolds confirmed independent assessments would go ahead but the pause in their rollout allowed the government “to get the construction right”.
“I have been very, very clear today and previously that in some form we must have functional independent assessments. What form they take is very much the subject of consultation,” Senator Reynolds said.
‘Unsustainable over the long term’
Senator Reynolds provided a long statement about the current situation of the NDIS, which she said needed a sustainable solution to its exponential growth.
Over the past three years, support packages had increased by 12.5 per cent each year, she said.
“And that is unsustainable over the longer term, which is what we collectively have to work on,” Senator Reynolds said.
In 2019, the Morrison government boasted about a $4.2 billion underspend in the scheme helping them put the balance back in balance, which ultimately did not occur because of the coronavirus pandemic.
But since then, Senator Reynolds said, more people had joined the scheme and were getting more financial support than before.
A fair and consistent solution was needed, she said.
Disability deaths under spotlight
The NDIS inquiry also shone a spotlight on the deaths of three Australians with disability.
Liam Danher died in February this year after having a seizure in his sleep.
His parents had been trying to get him a mattress with a seizure alarm so they could monitor and move him.
The mattress had been recommended by the 23-year-old’s healthcare team but it did not arrive.
Senator Reynolds said she was deeply saddened about the death, after Mr Danher’s parents sent her a letter asking for answers.
“I cannot imagine the grief that they are going through,” she told the inquiry.
“I will be very happy to meet with them if they would like to meet with me, to discuss this matter. I will certainly write back to them and answer their many questions.”
Labor’s NDIS spokesman Bill Shorten said the minister must apologise.
He says the government spent more money trying to prevent the Cairns man getting the mattress than what it would have cost for him to receive it.
“The Danher family’s tragic experience is another example of the bureaucratic nightmare the Liberals have created to stop people accessing the NDIS,” he said.
Officials were also asked about the statement the National Disability Insurance Agency published after two 25-year-old men died in 2014 after a storm cut power and the ventilators they relied on to breathe stopped working.
Greens Senator Jordon Steele-John said the agency’s statement after their deaths was devoid of humanity.
NDIA boss Martin Hoffman said the deaths were tragic.
“Any death of children is tragic and is about humanity and a person, and I certainly acknowledge that,” he said.
With reporting by Caroline Riches