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Newcastle Herald
Newcastle Herald

NDIS review must be wide-ranging and independent, given Labor's role in creating the disability scheme

The NDIS review announced in Parliament House, Canberra. Picture by Elesa Kurtz

IT has been obvious for some time now that the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) was becoming a far more expensive proposition than its early proponents - including the Productivity Commission - had acknowledged.

By way of comparison, the general medical insurance scheme, Medicare, has a budget of $31 billion this year. The NDIS, with fewer than 500,000 participants, will cost more than $33 billion and is predicted to hit $50 billion in three years' time.

Medicare, by comparison, will inch up to $35 billion.

In bringing forward a promised review, Disability Minister Bill Shorten has bowed to the inevitable, and recognised the pressure the Rudd-Gillard era scheme is putting on the Commonwealth's coffers.

But the review needs to be more than just a razor-gang exercise in reining in costs.

As unpopular as such criticism might be, the review will be doing an incomplete job if it does not look at the fundamental design of the NDIS, and ask whether the open-ended approach of "building a market" for disability, as the Productivity Commission theorised, is the best way for the nation to address the myriad issues involved.

There are questions to be asked as to whether the co-chair of the review, Bruce Bonyhady, is an appropriate appointment, given his years of work in lobbying for the creation of the scheme, and his subsequent appointment as inaugural chair of the National Disability Insurance Agency from 2013 to 2016.

2013: Bonyhady 'regrets' sexual assaults at charity under his chairmanship

While Mr Bonyhady's abilities, experience and integrity are not in question, the review needs complete independence from the NDIS, and its history, if it's to make the tough decisions needed to alter its otherwise unsustainable trajectory.

Newcastle was an initial trial site for the NDIS, and its introduction here was entangled with the NSW government's decision to close the Stockton Centre and other large disability homes.

Critics still believe these closures were for the worse, and some wonder whether better care would have been achieved by putting the subsequently increased levels of funding through the former state-run channels.

Finally, the review comes less than a month after Newcastle's celebrated wheelchair athlete Kurt Fearnley was appointed chair of the NDIA.

Whatever the review finds, it did not occur on Mr Fearnley's watch, and he cannot be made a scapegoat.

ISSUE: 39,734

Bruce Bonhady, with Bill Shorten at the rear, during the review announcement. Picture: Elesa Kurtz

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