The National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) is not trusted by First Nations people with disability or supporting this group appropriately, hears the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability.
A theme of public hearing 25 - ‘The operation of the NDIS for First Nations people with disability in remote and very remote communities’ - was a lack of trust for the NDIS and the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) that runs the scheme.
The system was criticised as having a 'Western view' of disability that does not match the view of First Nations people - who see the strengths of the person and not a diagnosis - and the Scheme was also labelled by witnesses as not being culturally safe.
Where First Nations people did engage with the NDIS there were issues with understanding how much funding was in their plan and how they could use it, in part because there was no one to speak to face to face in their community as there wasn’t an NDIS office.
The Commission heard participants in remote areas would not only prefer to speak to someone in person, but in some cases didn’t have any phone or internet to use as an alternative.
Not having face-to-face contact with the NDIA was a major barrier to people with disability being able to use their plan funding as well as get the support they need.
In remote areas, particularly across the Northern Territory, Western Australia, Queensland and the Torres Strait Islands, witnesses reported the services they could have used were not available at all or not available consistently.
This included everything from disability services, such as physiotherapy or replacement and servicing of electric wheelchairs, to mainstream services such as housing or affordable clothing stores.
Witnesses shared their stories of having to leave their homes and families and move to regional centres or cities, such as Alice Springs, to be able to access supports.
Once they were living in a city, they were then not able to return home when they needed to because it would not be covered by funding.
Moving away from Country for supports affected the wellbeing of these witnesses, who felt disconnected from culture and community.
Others talked about children with disability being taken away from their families in order for supports to be delivered, an issue that was a theme of the Commission’s previous hearing about the experiences of First Nations people with disability.
Consultation and understanding is needed to change the NDIS
Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Damian Griffis and Deputy CEO June Reimer of the First Peoples Disability Network (FPDN) explained its 10 point plan to make the NDIS work to the Disability Commissioners during this week of hearings.
Mr Griffis says, “We developed a 10-point plan for the successful implementation of the NDIS in First Nations communities because we sadly anticipated that the establishment of the scheme was likely to not have sufficient focus on the needs of First Nations people with disability.
“So, we decided back in 2013, when the scheme was first established, to clearly articulate 10 priority actions based upon some 15, 20 years of community consultation.
"And those 10 points were about giving a clear direction to the agency and to the scheme for how it could better support most First Nations people with disability, particularly those living in regional and remote Australia.”
Although FPDN has shared the plan with the NDIA and attempted to begin the changes needed, Mr Griffis says the result has been disappointing.
“It's a source of great frustration to us that we have really only experienced, in our view - and not just in our view; amongst the wider First Nations leadership - a tokenistic approach to the needs of First Nations people with disability by NDIA," explains Mr Griffis.
“It's not sufficient to write a strategy document based upon a two or three-hour meeting.
“What needs to happen is a genuine power-sharing co-design approach between experts from the First Nations communities and from community members in partnership with the NDIA that clearly articulates what we want to achieve and the outcomes we are seeking for First Nations people in regional and remote Australia.”
Ms Reimer says it’s clear that First Nation people with disability living in remote and very remote communities have not been considered in the design of the NDIS.
“The expectation that every Aboriginal person with disability living in a remote or very remote community will have access to a phone or the internet, will have the required diagnostic assessments to demonstrate their impairment, or will be willing to put themselves in a deficit position to access supports is unrealistic, demonstrating the scheme’s failure to engage with the cultural model of disability,” says Ms Riemer.
“What is needed is genuine investment in a safe cultural NDIA framework led by community Elders, cultural navigators and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with disability.”
The Royal Commission hearing ended with representatives from the NDIA answering questions.
General Manager of NDIA's National Delivery, Scott McNaughton, told the Commission he had gained a lot from hearing the witnesses’ stories over the week and admitted there was a lot of work to be done to deliver the support the NDIS promised to people with disability.
Mr McNaughton is the NDIA’s First Nations Champion, a senior level role designed to promote inclusion, and does not identify as a First Nations person.
The Commission heard there were no First Nations applicants for the champion role when Mr McNaughton was appointed, although he says there are some candidates who may be able to take on the role in the future.