Kurt Fearnley named NDIA chair, plus new CEO and board announced

Posted 1 year ago by Alex Jacobs
Members of the new NDIA board, including chair Kurt Fearnley (left) and CEO Rebecca Falkingham (right). [Source: Twitter]
Members of the new NDIA board, including chair Kurt Fearnley (left) and CEO Rebecca Falkingham (right). [Source: Twitter]

The National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) has a new-look leadership team, headlined by new NDIA chair, Australian Paralympian and disability advocate, Kurt Fearnley AO.

Announced at a press conference today, Mr Fearnley is joined by new NDIA Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Rebecca Falkingham, and Board members Dr Graeme Innes AM and Maryanne Diamond AO.

Ms Falkingham, the former Department of Justice and Community Safety Secretary, is the first permanent female CEO of the NDIA.

Dr Innes, is a lawyer, author and former Chair for Vision Australia, while Ms Diamond is the General Manager of Stakeholder Engagement at the NDIA. She was also instrumental in the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) rollout.

Additionally, former NDIA Chair Dr Denis Napthine AO, who resigned from his position in July of this year, has been reappointed back to the Board.

Mr Fearnley says he is excited by the role and looks forward to providing a fresh take on the NDIA.

“I think it’s important that the participants of the NDIS get to see themselves in this organisation, and trust with the organisation itself is a visceral thing,” says Mr Fearnley.

“The scheme cannot be a success without trust and that is built over a period of time. It’s filled – that’s one thing I do know about the community of people with disabilities, they are filled with hope.

“The scheme itself – I can’t wait to get to know the people within the organisation, to get to know those that are building the NDIA. It’s an honour the Minister would see me fit to take on this role.

“And I can’t wait to join the Board with, well, with two other voices behind me, of people with disabilities, who have another fresh take on what this organisation can be.”

NDIS Minister Bill Shorten says his new appointments deliver on a promise he made before the Federal Election to “prioritise putting people with lived experience of disability back at the centre of the scheme”.

These appointments also reinforce the calls for inclusivity at the NDIS as well.

“The way I would want to see the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) run is a broad church where people feel included, not excluded,” says Minister Shorten.

People with disability welcomed to the NDIA

It has been a tumultuous year for the NDIA after former CEO Martin Hoffman and chair Dr Napthine both resigned in July.

Mr Napthine’s absence was short-lived as Mr Shorten announced he will be returning to the NDIA board today.

The departure of these executives led to calls from the disability community to appoint more people with disability to leadership positions within the NDIA.

The addition of Mr Fearnley, Dr Innes and Ms Diamond means the NDIA board features a historic five people with disability, including current members Leah van Poppel and Meredith Allan.

Mr Fearnley was full of praise for his fellow board members and he says their experience will greatly benefit people with disability.

“I will do everything within my power to engage with the people who I have fought alongside, who I have engaged with for the last decade when it comes to the advocacy of the scheme,” says Mr Fearnley.

“We’re also bringing not just my voice, but we’re also bringing Maryanne and Graeme, who bring a depth of experience to the organisation at the Board level, whether it be their advocacy role, or Marianne’s experience of working within the NDIS itself.

“This organisation can be what we believe it to be. For now, I just need to take a breath [and] get to know the organisation.”

Mr Fearnley adds he is looking forward to sitting down with the NDIA Board and getting an understanding of where the NDIS is at and what they can do to improve it.

Focus on building trust

Australia’s national peak disability and advocacy organisation, People with Disability Australia (PWDA), hopes to see trust between the NDIS and people with disability rebuilt.

Deputy CEO Carolyn Hodges says it is important the new NDIA CEO listens to the experts and provides a wide range of positive outcomes.

“Ideally, PWDA would like to see any new CEO concentrate on rebuilding trust between the NDIS and people with disability, their families and supporters,” says Ms Hodges.

“Too many people with disability have been living in fear of losing the supports they need.

“[The NDIA needs to] ensure planning decisions are based on listening to the experts – people with disability themselves and the professionals they chose to support them.

“[We also want to see] work to ensure that the NDIS supports high quality and equitable outcomes for a diverse range of participants regardless of their specific disability, location, culture and language groups and/or sexuality.”

Ms Hodges says PWDA also wants to see a reduction in the number of appeals being taken to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, while ensuring all outcomes are developed and delivered in partnership with people with disability.

Excluding people over 65

Monday’s announcement of the new NDIA Chair, CEO and Board was not the only focus of the press conference.

Minister Shorten was asked about a proposed class action against the NDIS for excluding people aged over 65.

The Federal Government has not previously commented on the class action, but he says the NDIS is at a place where it provides better support for many older people with disability than aged care.

“There’s people in the community who say that the quality of disability care after the age of 65 is [inferior] to the quality of disability care before 65,” says Minister Shorten.

“I think they have a point. Aged care and parts of its operation have fallen into a rut and the NDIS, despite all the challenges, is still a scheme which looks better for people in aged care than what they have.

“The scheme was designed [for under] 65. I think there’s a challenge for disability care for people over 65.

“Whether or not the solution is [the] NDIS, which would be very expensive, or an improvement to the quality of disability care in aged care, that will be a matter for the whole of the Government to talk through.”

Raising the age limit for the NDIS is just one area that Minister Shorten is looking into, with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) a potential NDIS addition.

He says he has asked for additional advice about ADHD diagnosis and how it may fit into the NDIS for neurodivergent persons.