Disability advocates and organisations have labelled the proposed independent assessments as 'robo-planning' and have rejected the model at an National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) inquiry in a bid to stop the independent assessments in its tracks.
After immense backlash to the proposed introduction of independent assessments by the Federal Government, new Minister for the NDIS, Linda Reynolds CSC, called for the assessments to be put on hold earlier this month and an inquiry into the independent assessments was announced on 19 April in response.
So far, advocates, organisations and people with disability have appeared at two Joint Standing Committees, on the 23 April and 27 April, and there are another two hearings to be held, 30 April and 4 May.
In the 27 April hearing, President of People With Disability Australia (PWDA), disability advocate as well as a person who lives with muscular dystrophy, autism and ADHD, Samantha Connor, told the inquiry that she is unsure why there is even an inquiry into the independent assessments, as the entire disability sector is unified in its message - independent assessments are a bad thing.
"It is widely reported that plans to introduce independent assessments, we say 'robo-planning', have been on the cards for some time. The plans for these changes date back to 2017 and most of the planned changes are still not on the table," explains Ms Connor.
"There is an absence of solid data or modeling that has been presented to the States, Territory and community about the rationale for the misinformation that the scheme is not sustainable. This misinformation comes on the back of a massive underspend in 2019 of $4.2 billion.
"You know, I never once heard that medicare is unsustainable, we have a universal right to health care, nobody ever says when you get cancer you can't afford to be treated. Nobody ever says when you have IBS, or need glasses, or a hip replacement, that this is not sustainable and you should live in crisis or be deprived of healthcare."
Government has alleged that the independent assessments, which began in 2019 but were put off until October 2020 because of COVID-19, were co-designed with people with disability.
However, disability organisations and advocates say there was very little consultation with people in the sector, and most peak bodies were provided bare bones information about the independent assessments.
Feedback from participants of focus groups say that they were only being provided information about independent assessments rather than being consulted on the process, and they felt like the groups were 'ineffective' and were told 'things are not negotiable', which Ms Connors says is not a co-design process.
Ms Connors told the inquiry, "I am unsure why we are even having an inquiry, the entire disability sector is unified in saying it's a bad thing. That includes allied health professionals, people with disability, their families, advocacy groups, Aboriginal and CALD representatives.
"We are united in saying that this plan is flawed, that there has been no co-design and it will negatively impact people with disability and their families. There is not only no evidence it will be a good thing for people with disability and their families, but there is significant evidence before you provided by many people that the plan is flawed."
A vast range of proposed NDIS changes, besides the independent assessments, was leaked to the media over the last month, including documents suggesting that the Government was using the independent assessments as a cost cutting measure.
The National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) has also announced a number of areas that the NDIS won't fund, including backup generators for life-saving equipment.
Ms Connors was not happy to hear about the recent funding cut to important equipment that would save lives, especially as two men with muscular dystrophy died after a power outage in 2014. They required equipment to breath but their support worker did not wake up during the outage to turn on their generators.
She says that this will not be the only way people with disability will die under all the proposed changes for NDIS.
Executive Director of People With Disabilities WA (PWD WA), Brendan Cullinan, also appeared before the Committee, saying that PWD WA is deeply concerned about the introduction of the independent assessments for NDIS participants.
"It is acknowledged that the system would benefit from having greater consistency, but we believe the introduction of independent assessments would fundamentally alter the individualised and personalised nature of the NDIS with an automated system that would not adequately consider individual need and circumstance," says Mr Cullinan.
"Consultation undertaken by [PWD WA] has highlighted a number of grave concerns with the proposed reforms, including the intent behind the reform with concerns that a desire to cut cost the main motivation for the hurried introduction of the reforms..."
PWD WA is hoping this inquiry will allow for a 'reset', so that the Government can embrace a true co-design process to ensure people with disabilities rights are engaged as equal partners in decisions that affect their lives.
The independent assessments have also been called culturally inappropriate by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander disability advocacy groups.
Marninwarntikura Women's Resource Centre and University of Sydney Research Fellow, Dr Lauren Rice, told the inquiry that the proposed independent assessment model will only serve to widen the inequity for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and is not culturally appropriate for use in Aboriginal communities.
The NDIA responded to the submissions made to the 23 April inquiry to reassure participants, their families and carers. They stated that while they respect and welcome discussion around the changes to the NDIS, they want to address any misinformation or incorrect statements.
Some of the areas they touched on include:
No proposed caps for individual plans and eligibility criteria will not change under independent assessments
Independent assessments will not determine a participant's specific supports but help develop an overall personalised budget, not access and planning decisions
No directive for assessments to reduce individual participant plans. A plan will go up and down depending on capacity and circumstances
The right for people to seek a review of NDIS access and planning decisions does not change
No time limit on assessments and they may be conducted over one or more days
The recommended tools meet certain criteria, are focused on functionality and are disability neutral
The NDIA also states that the independent assessments are based on recommendations from reviews and inquiries, like the 2019 Tune Review.
Ms Connors says that the independence of the Tune Review has now been brought into question after reports that the Review was amended by public servants to be in favour of independent reviews.
"These [reports and reviews] are being used as conveniences and it is misinformation, it is not based on fact," says Ms Connor.
"...Depriving people of care and support is cruel and unusual treatment, and this should be immediately discontinued, including the trials."