Another election is over. The campaign banners have been packed away and the barrage of political rhetoric invading our senses over the last few months has all but dissipated.
We still have a Scheme that can be compared to a wooden boat (with a few small leaks) travelling down a river and about to embark on a journey across the high seas. The boat is driven forward by bursts of winds sent by the government trying desperately to fill its sails – but unfortunately those small leaks are starting to cause real problems.
There is good news on the horizon with Prime Minister Scott Morrison making it clear he intends to take speedy action in his new term, focussed on getting the NDIS back on track. This was on the cards before the election: he intervened to prompt increased price caps for providers and introduced a range of provider support grants to subsidise costs associated with registration – all designed to keep providers operating and help grow the market.
- Fresh Faces in Government
Stuart Robert has assumed the role of Minister for the NDIS and will be charged with delivering on this promise, with Former Labor Leader, Bill Shorten as the Shadow Minister – remembering it was Mr Shorten who drove the Scheme forward in his previous role of Parliamentary Secretary for Disability Services. Senator Anne Ruston will work alongside Mr Robert as Minister for Social Services.
- Advocates are Optimistic
Disability advocates are generally happy with the news on both sides of politics, hoping it will renew (and hasten) efforts to make the NDIS as it was intended to be. Acting CEO of NDS, David Moody says he’s looking forward to working with the new cabinet and is delighted there is now a Minister appointed to the NDIS.
- Renewed Focus
You can already feel a positive change in the air. A willingness to move forward, put differences aside and work in true bipartisanship to nurture this great social reform that so many Australians now and will depend upon.
We expect the Government to target some of the ‘big leaks’ threatening the Scheme, including:
- Long waits for services
During the election campaign, the Morrison government committed to introducing a new NDIS Participant Guarantee to make it quicker for people to enter the scheme or have their plans reviewed. It committed to introducing an NDIS Participant Service Guarantee which would would set timeframes for participants to receive an access decision, and have their plan approved or reviewed.
- Staff shortages
Some of the key challenges faced by the NDIA in terms of implementing the Scheme is staff shortages. In 2014, a staffing cap was placed on the NDIA (3,000) to mitigate cost-blowouts. While the Government committed to gradually increasing these numbers to 3,400 by 2020-12, it’s obvious that real progress will only be made if the cap is substantially increased or removed altogether.
The NDIS is failing to accommodate diversity with the rates of disability higher in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations (almost 25%), but only 5% of participants of this cultural heritage. Concerningly this is also seen amongst culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) populations more broadly, despite efforts on behalf of the NDIA to foster engagement.
- Provider Engagement
The Government needs to see at least another 20,000 providers enter the Scheme to service an expected 460,000 participants in the next two years. The NDIS Commission recognised that many providers are still struggling to run viable business, prompting a Provider Grants Program to help providers access important tools, resources and supports.
The number of NDIS participants has grown to 277,155 this quarter – a 13% increase. A record number of 85,489 participants are receiving support for the first time under the NDIS. Registered provider numbers now total 20,208, which is a 6% increase on the last quarter – according to the latest NDIS Quarterly Report
While there’s lots of work to be done, we can be more confident of a more proactive and collegial response to getting things back on track. If the Government can make an impact on some of the issues hindering the Scheme’s implementation, we will see greater appeal for providers and better services for participants.
More importantly the leaky boat will turn into a reliable strong vessel, protecting its crew and passengers and taking us to lands we’ve only so far heard about.