$8.8bn blowout in NDIS budget

This Julia Gillard invention is an absurdity. "Disability" is a very loose term. I am in some ways disabled by my degree of autism. Do I qualify for government support of some kind?

At the very least, eligibility to the scheme should be based on visible physical disability only. Others should be expected to cope with the aid of the payments that all unemployed people get

Bill Shorten sees the problem, which is good coming from him, but his solution -- to pass the buck to other levels of government -- has zero chance of being taken up

Australia’s “disability safety net” has blown out by $8.8bn and needs a reset to remain sustainable for future generations of people with disability, NDIS Minister Bill Shorten says.

Mr Shorten has brought forward by a year a planned review of the National Disability Insurance Scheme, saying the scheme, now forecast to cost taxpayers $50bn a year by 2025-26, needs “to be better than it is”.

“For too many people the scheme has developed into a source of stress and anxiety,” he said.

“We want it to do what it’s meant to do – to provide choice and control for people with disability. (We) want to make sure that our national disability safety net is strong and responsive, generous and reasonable.”

Mr Shorten said next week’s federal budget would reveal “an increase in projected costs over the next four years of $8.8bn” compared to the Coalition’s budget handed down just seven months ago, blaming poor management by the previous government.

The first Chalmers budget will show the cost of the NDIS is forecast to be $50.3bn in 2025-26, compared with $44.5bn in the last Frydenberg budget.

Mr Shorten called out waste, inefficiency and fraud as driving up NDIS costs, but also noted other levels of government had retreated from offering support and services to people with disability, leaving them to try to scramble their way on to the scheme.

“What we need is to have more support for people with disabilities outside the scheme. We need to make sure our school system is more responsive to kids with learning needs,” he said.

“We need to make sure that (in) community mental health … there are supports for people who wouldn‘t be eligible for the scheme.”

But he didn’t accept the NDIS’s own financial sustainability report, which forecast costs to reach almost $60bn by 2030.

“I’m sceptical about some of the out-year forecasts,” Mr Shorten said. “I don’t necessarily sign up to every 10-year number. I think that is more science-fiction and art than it is science and evidence.”

He said it was important to restore community trust in the NDIS, and the new review would investigate its design, operation, workforce and overall sustainability, including costs.

“I absolutely want to see this scheme be sustainable, I absolutely want to see what we can do to moderate the growth cost trajectory.

“(And) I absolutely want to minimise rent-seeking by people who are seeking to take money from the NDIS, which the taxpayer wants to get to people with disability.”

The NDIS currently provides support to 530,000 people with a permanent disability, ranging from physical to neurological and psychosocial.

The NDIS projects there could be more than 850,000 participants by 2030.

The independent review will be co-chaired by longtime disability advocate Bruce Bonyhady, the inaugural NDIS chair, and Lisa Paul, a distinguished bureaucrat. Professor Bonyhady said there were “important issues to address in order to ensure the scheme can be … the best disability system in the world”.

He said the review was taking place at a critical juncture, and warned about the focus on costs.

“There’s far too much talk about the costs of the scheme,” Professor Bonyhady said. “It needs to be balanced with a discussion about the benefits, and there’s no doubt there are many examples of the scheme transforming peoples’ lives.

“It’s essential this review is owned by the disability community and in particular people with disability and their families.”

Disability groups and unions welcomed the review being brought forward, but the federal opposition said Mr Shorten was now caught in a difficult position on scheme sustainability.

“Bill Shorten promised plans would not go backwards under his watch, but questions are now being raised over the NDIS’s future funding, so let’s see if Labor’s actions meet its promises around the scheme’s framework and viability,” opposition NDIS spokesman Michael Sukkar said.

People With Disability Australia president Samantha Connor said the disability community was “looking forward to seeing the application of a rights-based lens to the NDIS, an increased focus on choice and control for people with disability, and renewed efforts to make sure that people with disability are truly the authors of our own lives”.

Australian Services Union NSW secretary Angus McFarland said the review “should mean frontline workers are now that much closer to being properly valued”.

“Right now we just don’t have the conditions, the job security or the salaries to attract – or retain – a sufficient number of disability workers to the sector.”

A final report will be delivered by the end of October next year.


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