NDIS sustainability more complex than funding tug of war, expert says

By Jackson Graham

Monday November 29, 2021

Linda Reynolds
NDIS minister Linda Reynolds. (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas)

National Disability Insurance Scheme minister Linda Reynolds says she expects states and territories to share more cost of the scheme, but policy experts believe there are more issues at stake than a funding tug of war. 

Reynolds says the original federal-state agreements are based on “optimistic” projections that aren’t sustainable, and the scheme needs to keep evolving. 

It comes as the government prepares to introduce redrafted NDIS legislation without a controversial plan for the agency’s chief executive to have more powers that would have included the capacity to change people’s plans and make budget cuts. 

Reynolds has stressed the powers were there for emergency situations and not to change recipient’s plans, but the proposal was met with suspicion from close observers. 

Professor Helen Dickinson, head of UNSW Canberra’s Public Sector Research Group, said very few people wanted the legislation to stay as it was. 

“There has been a general concern because the government keeps talking about the financial sustainability of the NDIS, and the sorts of changes they are pushing with a view to reducing package size,” Dickinson told The Mandarin

“I have heard from a huge number of people this year who have had significant cuts to their plans. But also there’s a lot of distrust in the agency as well, which means any proposal comes with extra suspicion.” 

Dickinson, who has extensively researched the NDIS, believes the scheme overall is “world-leading” but there are some inequities, with not everyone receiving transformational care. 

She agrees with Reynolds that the NDIS’s initial numbers are problematic, and questions the approach of the federal government picking up additional costs but the states and territories not also doing so. 

“[But] I think there are a bunch of issues that are slightly more complicated than ‘should the states pay more or shouldn’t they’,” Dickinson said. 

Of greater concern to Dickinson is what can be done for people who have relatively high needs but don’t make the threshold for NDIS support. 

“Ten per cent of people with disabilities get services from the NDIS and the other 90% of people with disabilities carry on still accessing services through mainstream services,” she said. 

“What the minister is pointing to here is the fact she feels the states and territories aren’t stepping up enough for the 90% of people who don’t get services through the NDIS.” 

Gaps in the market, where people can’t find the services they’re after, also need to be addressed, Dickinson says.

“It’s often said you’ve got a market and people can choose between different providers. And while they can, the market isn’t working the way it should be in many places, and there are some real gaps around provision,” she said.  

Dickinson also wants to see more support for people becoming accustomed to choosing the services they want, and a greater evaluation of the outcomes of the scheme is also needed. 

“It’s a world-leading scheme — it’s one Australia should be really proud of — and when it works well it’s really transformational for people,” Dickinson said. 

“We just need to make sure it works for everybody.” 


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