25 disability teams signal joint assertion calling for rebuild of controversial NDIS reforms

A group of 25 disability advocacy groups has signed a joint statement urging to stop the controversial NDIS reforms and rebuild them through an end-to-end co-design process in which people with disabilities are directly involved.

The signatory organizations say their clients are “mostly expressing acute concerns about the risks to their health, well-being and access to adequate and necessary support services” sparked by mandatory independent assessment reforms due later this year.

The signatories say the reform consultation focused on policy implementation, not policy development itself.

Naomi Anderson, an attorney at Villamanta Disability Rights Legal Service, one of the 25 signatories, said the statement reflected a high prevalence of concern about the reforms.

“It is the result of a number of proponents who have seen the proposed issues and had different experiences with different customer bases, but all have come to the same conclusion that the proposals in question are simply not in the best interests of our customers. She told SBS News.

The 25-digit statement was made in response to the consultation papers published in November. The three-month consultation phase ended last week.

As part of the independent assessment reforms, current and potential participants will be referred to an independent health professional for a free one-time session to determine their suitability for the program.

They were announced last year after a version was recommended in an independent review of the NDIS Act in 2019 and by the Productivity Commission at the start of the program.

Currently, participants are required to obtain reports from multiple therapists of their choice who will then provide evidence of suitability.

The government has announced that the reforms will make access to the NDIS more consistent and transparent. However, there have been concerns that assessments may be too brief to properly determine an applicant’s real eligibility for the system and forcing vulnerable individuals to be assessed by practitioners they do not know or trust.

Mary Mallet, CEO of Disability Advocacy Network Australia, another of the 25 signatory groups, said that while there was plenty of material available to explain the reforms, not much was “sufficiently reassuring” for people with disabilities.

“There are still concerns that there is an intention behind this that has more to do with protecting the financial sustainability of the NDIS than ensuring that people with disabilities are given an individual plan that meets their needs,” she said.

A spokesman for NDIS Minister Stuart Robert said there had been extensive consultations on the reforms and they would help “create an NDIS that works for everyone”.

“The reforms of the NDIS provide the final elements of the productivity commission’s original draft of the program and are based on recommendations from reviews and investigations,” the spokesman said.

“The reforms offer participants more flexibility to spend their budget funding on disability-related assistance. Further guidance on the boundaries of the NDIS is also provided, including what should and should not be charged to the NDIS planned budgets.

“The reforms will improve the gathering of information necessary for decision-making, especially at no cost to participants and those who apply to participate.”

In December it was announced that a parliamentary committee would conduct an inquiry into independent evaluations.

The Joint Standing Committee on the Inquiry into the National Disability Insurance System will focus on the rationale and evidence to support the reforms, the assessment process and its impact and adequacy for particular cohorts of people with disabilities.

The deadline for submitting inquiries is March 31st.

The federal senators also questioned the integrity of the feedback from an independent evaluation pilot program last year.

Last week, the organizations that had been selected through an open tender process to provide the auditors were announced. Most applicants are expected to be able to choose between two or more organizations.

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