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The Guardian - AU
The Guardian - AU
Sarah Basford Canales

NDIS review: what changes to disability services are coming and how have people reacted?

NDIS minister Bill Shorten at the National Press Club in Canberra
Bill Shorten says he is determined to improve the NDIS, just as other major political reforms, such as Medicare, had been after launch. Photograph: Mick Tsikas/AAP

The highly anticipated NDIS review has been released and has recommended a total rethink of how governments offer disability services in Australia.

Here is everything you need to know.

What is the NDIS and why was it reviewed?

The national disability insurance scheme is a government-funded program offering individual budgets to people with disabilities to support their needs, whether it be daily living assistance or live-in support.

But its growth has outpaced initial projections and many have questioned how financially sustainable it will be in the years to come.

More than 600,000 Australians with disabilities are now participants in the scheme. It is expected to cost next year’s federal budget $50bn and could hit the $100bn a year mark within a decade.

The review was tasked with looking at this fast-rising dollar figure, put people with disabilities back at the centre, and to restore trust and confidence in the scheme.

What did the review recommend?

The 12-month review, published on Thursday, offered 26 recommendations with 139 detailed actions to make them happen.

The recommendations cover a few key areas, including access to the scheme, how individual support packages are budgeted, how much providers can charge for required items or services and how those companies are regulated.

The report’s authors, Prof Bruce Bonyhady and Lisa Paul, suggest a five-year plan to build up mainstream disability services and foundational supports outside the NDIS for those who cannot access the scheme.

“Our view is that you can’t fix the NDIS without fixing everything around it,” the review says.

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The new system would mean those with less severe disabilities, based on comprehensive needs-based assessments, would be transitioned from the NDIS scheme to these foundational supports.

The report’s central aim argues the NDIS should return to its original intent in providing supports for those with a functional impairment, rather than a focus on those with a diagnosis.

“We recognise that change for participants can be very difficult. We have recommended a guide to transition to ensure participants are given time to understand and have a say in changes before they are affected by them,” the report says.

“Changes to access and budget setting processes for children and young people should only be implemented once widespread foundational supports are in place.”

NDIS report co-author Prof Bruce Bonyhady at the National Press Club in Canberra
The NDIS review co-author Prof Bruce Bonyhady at the National Press Club in Canberra. Photograph: Mick Tsikas/AAP

A new role of navigator would be introduced in a gradual phaseout of existing case managers.

There would be two primary types of navigators – general navigators providing information on the available support services and specialists who help participants with complex needs.

A central online platform has also been envisioned as a one-stop shop for essential, accessible, timely and reliable information to inform users of the types of providers and services in their area.

The report also suggests changes to improve the NDIS provider market, which is not performing as intended, and stronger regulation of providers, including a requirement for providers to register their details with the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA).

What did Bill Shorten say about it?

The NDIS minister, Bill Shorten, welcomed the review, saying he was determined to improve the scheme, just as other major political reforms, such as Medicare, had been after launch.

The Labor minister said he was hopeful there would be goodwill among governments to ensure the necessary changes can be made over the five-year timeline.

In a speech to the National Press Club on Thursday, Shorten said nobody wanted to return to “the days of the misery Olympics when Australians were at the mercy of a broken system”.

“We need to develop supports for people whose disability doesn’t have a significant impact on their daily life or impact their daily functioning in the same way,” he said.

“These supports would create a continuum so there would not be such a focus on being ‘in’ or ‘out’ of the NDIS.”

Does this mean some people will be taken off the scheme?

The issue is of particular interest to existing participants, given any changes to the NDIS’s eligibility criteria could mean being struck off the scheme at the next review.

Shorten said he could understand the anxiety many may be feeling.

The recommendations, if fully adopted by the federal government, do propose that a transition occurs for some on the scheme that could be better placed in foundational supports.

However, it would be dependent on foundational supports, which would be jointly funded with the states, being built up to an adequate level.

Shorten, and the report’s authors, stressed this would not happen overnight.

When asked whether he would guarantee no one would be left behind as a result of the transition, Shorten responded: “That hasn’t been my track record in the 15 years I’ve been in politics.”

How have people reacted?

Disability advocates so far have welcomed the review’s proposals, though admit they still need to be combed through further.

The People with Disability Australia president, Nicole Lee, says she is particularly supportive of the move to lift foundational supports, adding it benefits everyone in the community.

“I’m hoping that those foundational supports will actually be able to help people when they actually need it,” Lee says.

“We’re constantly having to fight [for] access at the moment, fight arduous systems.”

Less optimistic is the shadow disability minister, Michael Sukkar, who says the review “left many questions unanswered and stones unturned”.

In particular, Sukkar points to how the federal government will meet its 8% cost growth rate from 2026, as agreed on by national cabinet earlier this year.

“There is still very little detail on how the scheme’s 8% growth cap will be met. Although, it seems clear that the government will seek to deny access to the NDIS for children with autism and developmental delay,” he says.

“Participants also remain in the dark on what the new ‘foundational supports’ will look like, whether these will ever be comparable to the NDIS, and when these supports will commence.”

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