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04 June 2021


SUBJECT: Morrison Government’s secret plan to push through NDIS Independent Assessments.
NADIA MITSOPOULOS, HOST: ABC Radio Perth in WA, Nadia Mitsopoulos with you. Last week, you'll recall I had a forum on the NDIS, and you heard stories from people on the scheme telling us how their funding had been cut. They were not getting the adequate support that they needed. They said the trial of independent assessors had proved these people do not understand their needs and it’s all about saving money. And I wonder if you remember Tom Monks. Do you remember Tom Monks? He's a double amputee who told us how he was asked by an assessor if he was still an amputee. And Tom had to explain that his legs had not grown back. That is the reality of some of the experiences that people are having with the NDIS. Now the Minister responsible, Linda Reynolds, said she'll wait for the outcome of trials on the independent assessors and community consultation before legislating the new model. But the ALP says it's found proof that won't be the case. Bill Shorten is the NDIS Shadow Minister and he's been looking at some very interesting documents. Thanks, Bill Shorten. Good morning and thanks for your patience.
BILL SHORTEN, MEMBER FOR MARIBYRNONG: Oh, good morning, Nadia. Lovely to be on the show.
MITSOPOULOS: Now, you've managed to get your hands on a document from the National Disability Insurance Agency, which administers the NDIS. What does that document tell you?
SHORTEN: It's a leaked communications and engagement strategy from the National Disability Insurance Agency. They've outlined how they're going to go for a consultation and then legislate independent assessments. So, in other words, the consultation is more for optics than it is for listening.
MITSOPOULOS: Okay. But I mean, I'm sort of looking at this document and it does talk about tweaking the independent assessment process, I think, you know, improving it and taking on board some of the concerns.
SHORTEN: But why do we have to have them? Look, if it's fair dinkum consultation, if they're far dinkum trials, the question should be whether it is a good idea or not, that it's a good idea and we'll just try and make it as least painful as possible.
MITSOPOULOS: What is your concern with them?
SHORTEN: Well, I think it's just a thinly veiled attempt to make it harder for people to access the scheme and to cut the cost of the packages which people are getting.
MITSOPOULOS: Do you accept the cost estimates? I mean, the Government is saying that the NDIS is going to cost more than Medicare.
SHORTEN: Well, they're just making that up. No, I don't. The reality is that it's a joint state federal scheme. So as soon as you take out the 45 per cent, which is paid for by the states, it's nowhere near Medicare. So, they're just in their first sentence they're caught out exaggerating to listeners who haven't followed the debate, the National Disability Insurance Scheme provide packages of individualised support for 430,000 plus profoundly impaired Australians. But what happens is that the Government just wants to restrain what people are getting. And now they've said, over the last eight weeks, they've had five different figures about the cost blowouts. Yet barely two years ago, just before the last federal election, Mr Morrison said he could take 4.6 billion dollars out of the scheme because it was fully funded, and they didn't need to spend the money. So, two years ago, it was good enough to be the fig leaf for Mr Morrison's promise to get the budget back in black before the federal election. Now, apparently, it's in a state of crisis and every week we hear a new number about what it's costing. So, I just don't believe them.
MITSOPOULOS: And the whole point, the Government says about the independent assessments, is to sort of claw back some of those costs. And the people that we've spoken to say, look, this is a box ticking exercise about - and they've told us, you know, time and time again, their funding is being cut and they're having to deal those that have been trialling independent assessors, say they've been dealing with people that just do not understand their needs, do not understand the conditions and don't really seem to care.
SHORTEN: That's right. I mean, the fact of the matter is they had one trial. I mean, why do you have a trial if you've already determined the verdict? And that first trial it turned out only 35 or so people actually with a disability were interviewed or surveyed. And this is out of a pool of 430,000 people. Now, this time around, they’ve had to pay people to do the trial. And we're hearing horror reports all around the country that an independent assessment was done of a different person in a different room to the one that the participant thought they were in. And at the heart of the matter is this. The Government says that there's a funding crisis, although they've given five different numbers for it, but two years ago, there was no funding crisis. They could raid it. And they say they want a trial. But isn't the nature of a trial that you don't determine if someone's guilty or innocent until the trial's been held? You know, if you have a trial to determine if you go ahead with the scheme or don't. But we've got off the back of a truck, the Government marketing documents which say they've made up their verdict. They just want to put some lipstick on it to make people feel better.
MITSOPOULOS: And when you look at it says, you know, we'll say that we've listened and we consulted and that we will make some tweaks to the legislation, where they might be able to take into account some of the specialists that people deal with when they're making their assessments, so they do talk about things that they could do. Does that satisfy you at all?
SHORTEN: First of all, should we be having a change in the nature of the way the Scheme is assessed? If they say that it's inequitable and why middle class people are getting on the Scheme and indigenous groups or indigenous people with disabilities or poor people with disabilities are not, you don't sort out inequity in the Scheme by making it harder for everyone to get it. Secondly, it's grossly insulting to the allied health professionals. And there'll be occupational therapists and speech pathologists and physiotherapists right now who've been treating and working with people with profound impairment for years, and they're being told we don't we think that you are captured by your client and we don't trust your report. We'll have to have an independent assessment of it. I mean really, if you've been raising adult offspring with severe autism on the on the spectrum and you've been getting speech pathology and a loved family member who you were initially told would never speak now has, you know, a couple of hundred words, why is some random stranger from the Government, a contractor for the Government, going to understand your journey, the journey of the participant and all of the work done by the allied health professionals? Why does that one-hour interview mean that you're going to know better than everyone else has been in this person's life for years?
MITSOPOULOS: And that's exactly what the people that I've been speaking to on the NDIS have been saying. This document, I assume, has sort of fallen off the back of the truck. What does this say about the people that are working in the NDIA and the NDIS and their satisfaction? Is there some unhappiness in this organisation?
SHORTEN: We wouldn't be getting it if people thought the organisation was going in the right direction. I want to make very clear; I have the highest respect for the thousands of people working in the National Disability Insurance Agency. They're understaffed. There's a staffing cap, which means that rather than put on extra permanent people, the Government, because it doesn't want to look like its hiring public servants, is just using more expensive contractors. The people working at the Agency are good people, but they are very poorly led. And I feel that the vision and the values of the National Disability Insurance Scheme, individualised packages of support for people who are profoundly and severely impaired, that vision is not evident in the day to day senior decisions of the organisation.
MITSOPOULOS: We'll leave it there. Appreciate your time.
SHORTEN: Great to talk, thank you.
MITSOPOULOS: Bill Shorten, the Shadow Minister for the NDIS.