26 October 2020

I'm pleased to support this motion moved by my colleague the member for Maribyrnong today. I thank him for his passion and commitment to the thousands of people who are on the NDIS, which is such a vital support for so many in my community and in communities across the country. The NDIS is a great legacy of a Labor government and was created to provide a better life for people living with a disability. But we know the reality of the NDIS under this government is far from what Labor envisaged. The system as it stands has a number of glaring issues.


People living with disability haven't forgotten the $4.6 billion which was ripped out of the system last year, which this government attempted to spin as an underspend. They haven't forgotten, because this so-called underspend isn't just a buffer to this government's bottom line, it's a real cut to the funding provided to NDIS participants and to the level of care they receive. People in my community have become housebound for months waiting for a piece of equipment to be approved. People's conditions are worsening while they wait for support. The member for Maribyrnong will remember well the heartbreaking story we heard when visiting the Northern School for Autism, in my electorate of Cooper, of a family forced to relinquish care of their child after being denied the respite care they so desperately needed.


Then there's the issue of flexible and tailored plans. All too often I hear stories of people having to justify the slightest change to their plan or an expense that falls just outside what the person on the other end of the phone actually needs. Ask anyone about the delays to have plans reviewed. For many people, their disability doesn't fall neatly into a category. Their situation is complex and it's intricate, and they need support that is directly tailored to their individual and family needs. Individualised, high-quality support plans were at the core of what Labor envisaged the NDIS to be, and they have been sacrificed under this government.


So in 2019, when a review into the system was undertaken by David Tune, there was hope that perhaps there would be some action to address these issues. The review found that it was worth looking at how assessments work and that to do so the government should run some pilot programs of an independent assessment system. This is reasonable. You trial alternatives, you consult with the sector and you see how a different approach may benefit participants in the functioning of the system. So when the government announced they'd be proceeding with independent assessments, you'd be forgiven for expecting they must have completed some pilots, just as the Tune review recommended. But again they've cut corners and gone their own way, ignoring expert advice. The government announced two pilot programs, the first of which was unrepresentative on just about every level you could imagine and the second of which ended early due to COVID. So they've failed to successfully trial this new system for assessments, but not only have they failed to trial it, as recommended by the review, they've failed to consult.


I recently held a virtual forum with the member for Maribyrnong, where we got to hear from people living with disability and their carers, support workers and advocates. I can tell you the confusion and fear around independent assessments is palpable. They don't know how it will work. They don't know what it will mean for their plans or what effect it will have on the support they have available to them, and, rightfully, they are fearful it will mean less support. They know that this government has real form on that. As it stands, we won't even get the chance to get answers to these questions here in parliament. Rather than introducing these changes through legislation, as the Tune review recommended, the government plans on sneaking them through in regulatory changes.


When there's so much at stake, NDIS participants at the very least deserve these changes to be properly scrutinised and, if necessary, challenged by this parliament. So much for transparency being the key to this government's approach. Where is the fair period of consultation? Where are the assurances that services won't be cut, that barriers to access won't be raised, that people won't be worse off? The government refuse to provide these assurances. So I echo the words of the member for Maribyrnong to those opposite: pause the rollout of the independent assessment program; properly consult with people living with disability and their families, their carers and the sector; and be transparent about how these changes will affect their lives. NDIS participants deserve to be involved in changes to the system. They deserve transparency. They deserve to be heard.