Bill Shorten flags NDIS overhaul for troubled disability scheme

Bill Shorten has promised an NDIS overhaul, admitting the scheme is "not what it should be" and flagging a crackdown on dodgy providers.
NDIS overhaul

Bill Shorten has flagged a major NDIS overhaul in a speech at the National Press Club.

Shorten, who is the Minister in charge of the NDIS (National Disability Insurance Scheme), says he wants to crack down on dodgy providers, get rid of ineffective therapies and make the system easier to navigate for participants. At the same time, the Government is concerned about the growing cost of the multi-billion dollar scheme.

What is the NDIS?

The NDIS was established by the Gillard Labor Government in 2013.

It provides supports for people who are permanently and significantly impaired by their disabilities. Its purpose is to reduce the impact of a disability, not to fund treatment.

The government does not provide support payments directly – instead, NDIS participants get a ‘budget’ which they can use to purchase support from registered providers. Supports may include aids and equipment, transport, help with household tasks or behavioural supports such as therapies.

NDIS eligibility

To be eligible, you must prove you have a long-term impairment which reduces your ability to work, study or take part in social life.

This may be an intellectual, cognitive, neurological, sensory, physical or psychosocial disability.

Having a medical diagnosis is helpful but not always necessary – NDIS eligibility is related to the level of impairment.

There is an official list of conditions likely to be eligible, but this is not exhaustive.

The NDIS today

There are over half a million NDIS participants (compared to 4.4 million Australians with disability).

According to the latest figures, 35% of participants receive support for autism, 17% for an intellectual disability, 10% for a psychosocial disability (e.g. mental ill-health), 12% for a developmental delay, 7% for a sensory disability (e.g. blindness) and 19% for other disabilities (e.g. physical).

NDIS reboot flagged

In his speech, Shorten said the NDIS is “not what it should be” and identified two key areas for an NDIS reboot.

The first area is reducing complexity and confusion for participants. Shorten noted that patients often have to prove their disability multiple times and struggle to navigate the “rigid” system.

He promised a shift to long-term support plans to provide certainty and also promised more support for participants navigating the system.

The second area is the existence of unethical providers who overcharge participants or charge them for ineffective or unnecessary supports.

Shorten flagged a tougher crackdown on “criminal syndicates” taking advantage of participants and the removal of supports that offer “little to no value”. He linked these concerns to the growing cost of the scheme.

“We must say to the untrustworthy providers who make participants feel dehumanised and feel treated as cash cows, you’re not welcome. You taint the reputations of quality service providers,” Shorten said.

Cost pressures

Successive governments have been concerned about the cost of the NDIS.

A 2022 government report projected the scheme would cost $34 billion in 2022-23 and was expected to reach $89.4 billion by 2031-32. Some of this funding is provided by state governments.

The report says one reason for this is that the number of participants has grown much faster than expected. Over one million participants are expected to access support by 2032.

Opposition view

Michael Sukkar, the Shadow Minister for the NDIS, accused Shorten of downplaying the cost pressures on the scheme.

Sukkar said Shorten had identified “issues without providing detailed solutions” and in particular had not addressed workforce shortages.

Sukkar said the Government should “outline the therapies and services [it] inevitably intends to cut”.

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