NDIS too reliant on public servants’ ‘natural empathy’, Reynolds says

By Shannon Jenkins

Thursday May 20, 2021

Linda Reynolds
Responding to the findings, NDIS minister Linda Reynolds said progress had been made since the commission’s hearings in May.  (AAP Image/Lukas Coch)

The National Disability Insurance Scheme is currently too reliant on the ‘natural empathy’ of public servants’, according to the minister responsible for the scheme, Linda Reynolds.

Reynolds made the comment while appearing before an inquiry into the government’s controversial proposed NDIS eligibility testing model, independent assessments, on Tuesday.

The government’s plan to introduce independent assessments — which would be undertaken by allied health professionals unknown to NDIS participants rather than their own treating professionals — has received substantial pushback.

Labor MP Alicia Payne on Tuesday recounted examples that the inquiry has heard of people ‘not getting the things they need’ during the independent assessments trial, including a nine-year-old girl who was deemed as not having mobility issues despite using a wheelchair, and a man who died after being denied funding for a seizure mat.

“In the context of sustainability, where does the need of participants fit and where does the concept of choice and control fit for you, minister?” she asked Reynolds.

READ MORE: The Briefing: Conflicts of interest claims and ‘independent assessments’ dog NDIS reform

Reynolds noted that support for scheme participants must be reconsidered every year, and must be deemed as ‘reasonable and necessary’ under the NDIS Act.

While defending independent assessments, she said NDIA staff don’t intend for scheme participants to go through this ‘painful process’ every year.

“Again, the public servants have had to go through this process because that’s what section 34 of the act says. I think it’s not possible for them to make these decisions accurately, consistently and fairly right across the country in a timely and fair manner when we’re relying on different information, as the NDIA officials have said today,” she told the inquiry.

“We’re relying, I think, too much on individual public servants’ judgement and their natural empathy. They’ve all got different skills and experience. They are making their own judgements about the different levels of support that many participants have to negotiate themselves.”

Reynolds suggested that the annual reassessments could be extended to once every three to five years, and that the concept of ‘reasonable and necessary’ needed to be more clearly defined.

She said that while legislative changes were necessary to ensure that NDIS participants receive a fair, equitable, respectful and consistent form of assessment, the government would still go ahead with the controversial changes to the assessment process.

READ MORE: ‘Dehumanising’ and ‘a nightmare’: why disability groups want NDIS independent assessments scrapped


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