5 min read

Broken promises, broken trust, broken priorities

Friday’s announcement by the Prime Minister of cuts to the NDIS shouldn’t be a shock to anyone paying attention, but are a hugely disappointing, broken promise to the disability community.
Broken glass with text over the top saying broken promises

First published May 2, 2023

I’ve been trying to write this piece for days now, each time coming up against a wall of frustration and fury that makes the words hard to settle on.

Friday’s announcement by the Prime Minister of cuts to the NDIS shouldn’t be a shock to anyone paying attention, but are a hugely disappointing, broken promise to the disability community.

Before the last Federal Election, the then Opposition joined disabled people in campaigning hard against the proposed cuts and changes to the NDIS from the Coalition. The ALP went to the election promising to work with us to fix the NDIS, a promise reiterated by Minister Shorten recently at the National Press Club.

The announcement on Friday, of a cap on the growth of the NDIS of 8%, is believed to cut $57b from disability support over the next decade. This will directly cut supports from disabled people and families, and breaks trust with the disability community, which is vital to getting the NDIS working again.

And all of this comes months before the NDIS Review hands down its final report.

If all this feels like Groundhog Day, then that is because it is. After the previous Federal Election, the then Coalition Government announced a big NDIS Review, called the Tune Review. Everyone ran around and did submissions and consultations for it, and while this was happening, the former NDIS Minister Stuart Robert give another speech to the National Press Club, where he talked about six ‘swim lanes’ that needed reform, including financial sustainability.

When the detail finally became clear after that speech, it turned out that Robert wanted to introduce the woeful independent assessments, and the automated personalised budget, rather than doing much of what he promised. Those so-called reforms were about cutting essential supports, and hurting disabled people, rather than the very real changes needed to make sure the NDIS delivers on its promise.

The Tune Review delivered a bunch of recommendations that were mostly ignored by the Government who were instead determined to make disabled people jump through nasty and endless hoops for a cookie cutter support package that wouldn’t meet their needs.

After this new speech from the NDIS Minister, Roberts sniped about it, instead of taking a shred of responsibility for not doing any of the vital changes recommended by disabled people during his term as NDIS Minister. Instead, he put his faith into automation and outside consultants, and lying about the NDIS to the media.

When the disability community beat back the independent assessments debacle, the new NDIS Minister Linda Reynolds talked a lot about re-building trust and co-design. A lot was made about how important disabled people are to fixing the NDIS, and that engaging us in that reform is vital to getting it right.

When this new Labor Government came to power, and announced yet another review, they repeated much of this sentiment saying that the review “is committed to support people with disability through genuine consultation and engagement with people who have lived experience.”

Building back this trust between disabled people, families and supports, and organisations and the Federal Government was seen for the last eleven months as a priority. Shorten said LAST WEEK that “We will work together with people with disability and the sector to implement these initiatives to ensure we get it right and people with disability are with us every step of the way.”

So why blow all this up in announcing such big cuts to the NDIS on a Friday afternoon, with no warning or involvement of disabled people? Were all of those words about trust and co-design just rhetoric, blown away by staffers spooked by relentless conservative media campaigning? 

Or did the Government see little political pain to come from targeting disabled people, particularly given the muted response to the attacks on the NDIS. I said two months ago that there were “much better questions to be asking, particularly as the politics about the bilateral negotiations with the states and territories heat up. But instead, the right is committed to destroying the NDIS, and those who should be defend the Scheme, are doing nothing.”

Ok, let’s get into the detail of what was announced on Friday by Minister Shorten, with some translation and questions..

In his media release, the following ten reforms were listed and are in italics, with my translation following.

Investing in better decision-making processes and planner capability for participants with specialised needs.
This could be about the much promised supported decision making framework that the NDIS has been consulting on and even co-designing with disabled people, particularly with people with an intellectual disability. Or it might be about more training for planners, or something else entirely.

Moving to less frequent plan reviews where it makes sense and committing to participants that not spending budgets won’t affect future plans.
Longer plans was something that has already been happening for some people using NDIS supports, and Shorten’s press club speech promised more of this for everyone. It is a good idea, and one long wanted by the disability community.

Improving lifetime planning approach to ensure plans are more transparent and flexible for life events. This includes the flexibility where participants do not need as much support at a stage of life but know that they can receive support as their circumstances change.

Better supporting participants to manage their plan within budget, including assistance from NDIA during the year and holding plan managers, support coordinators and providers to account.
If this means cracking down on profiteers and ticket clippers, I’m all for it, but I doubt that’s what he means. I suspect what it may mean is more compliance rules, more scrutiny and more bureaucratic controls on plan spending.

Partnering with communities to pilot alternative commissioning to improve access to supports in remote and First Nations communities.
This is an excellent announcement that First Peoples Disability Network has been calling for for a long time.

Working with participants and providers to trial blended payments to increase incentives for providers to innovate service delivery and achieve outcomes for participants and governments.
What on earth are blended payments? Outcomes based payments sound great, but can be really hard to measure and decide on. Whose outcome, and for what? I’d like to see more linkage between the known evidence and funding for programs, such as employment supports for people with an intellectual disability, but I don’t think that’s what they mean.

Establishing an expert advisory panel to list items to make it easier for participants to access proven evidence-based assistive technology and other supports.
Hmm, this sounds a whole lot like restricting choice and control. Who will be on the panel? Whose expertise is valued? When are we getting that fabled independent consumer information source?

Implementing preferred provider arrangements to leverage buying power of the NDIS.
AARGH. This is not the way forward. Do they mean bulk-buying of particular services and supports? If so, will that mean disabled people can only have those services or supports? What does this mean for choice and control?

Strengthening guidelines for planners on support volumes and intensity, and providing clear minimum standards of evidence for assistance with daily living.
Ok, there’s some merit in this, IF the focus is firmly on providers that do group supports, such as day programs. Assistance with daily living is the second biggest expense in the NDIS, and mostly means disability support workers’ time. But this isn’t necessarily going to be less expensive, so is this more about restricting what disabled people can get support for from support workers?

Cracking down on fraud and non-compliance by funding, in addition to the Fraud Fusion Taskforce, 200 staff for two years and developing a business case for a new system to detect, prevent and reduce non-compliant payments.
That’s obvious what this means, but I worry that this is again going to mean more bureaucracy and approval layers for disabled people, instead of less.

We clearly need a whole lot more detail about all this, and a strong message from the disability community that this kind of Friday afternoon taking out the trash treatment of us is totally unacceptable. So much for all that trust restoration hey.