NDIS review panel introduced early as projected costs blow out

Posted 1 year ago by Alex Jacobs
NDIS Minister Bill Shorten has named Professor Bruce Bonyhady AM and Ms Lisa Paul AO PSM as co-chairs of the new review panel. [Source: Twitter]
NDIS Minister Bill Shorten has named Professor Bruce Bonyhady AM and Ms Lisa Paul AO PSM as co-chairs of the new review panel. [Source: Twitter]

The Federal Government has brought forward its planned review of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) as next week’s October Budget is expected to reveal a cost blowout of almost $9 billion.

NDIS Minister Bill Shorten has named a seven-person Independent Review Panel, co-chaired by Professor Bruce Bonyhady AM – the Melbourne Disability Institute Chairman, and Ms Lisa Paul AO PSM – former public servant and Chairman of notable organisations, as part of a series of sweeping changes that have taken place recently.

This NDIS review has been called early with the aim of addressing the causes of the increased expenses that are set to make the NDIS cost more than $50 billion annually by 2025-26.

The projected cost of the NDIS is expected to blow out by $8.8 billion over the next four years, rising to an annual cost of more than $50 billion by 2025-26.

That’s $8.8 billion more than the Liberal Government’s March Budget estimated, and close to $20 billion more than the Productivity Commission’s 2017 estimate, which has also fallen short of projected NDIS participant numbers.

Currently, there are just over 530,000 NDIS participants with the Productivity Commission estimating there will be just under 600,000 by 2030. That number is expected to be far exceeded with an expected 860,000 NDIS participants by 2030.

Minister Shorten says this reflects the NDIS’ ability to support people who had “unmet needs” prior to its implementation.

However, he was quick to state that “consistency and equity” is required for parts of Australia where people with disability are underrepresented.

According to Minister Shorten, current participants should not be worried about cost-cutting measures.

“The task of the [NDIS] review isn’t to reinvent the wheel,” he says.

“It’ll be looking at all the work that has already come before. It will be based on the principle of co-design with people with disabilities.

“This review is not about a razor gang and cost-cutting. It’s about changing and recasting the Scheme for one of the cost of everything, to the value of what we’re getting.”

Minister Shorten says improvements can be made by analysing the “waste, inefficiency and red tape” associated with the NDIS.

Familiar faces named to review board

The NDIS review will occur in two parts, with Professor Bonyhady leading the review on the design, operation and sustainability of the NDIS.

Professor Bonyhady is a familiar face to the NDIS having worked as the inaugural Chair of the NDIA from 2013-16.

He says the review needs to be led by people with a disability as they will receive “maximum opportunities” and “lifetime outcomes” from the outcomes.

“This is an extraordinary opportunity. It is an opportunity to reform the scheme,” Professor Bonyhady says.

“We are in the strong position of having an enormous amount of data and evidence that’s been accumulated over the nine years since the Scheme began.

“We want to take that information and build on and then use that information to inform this review and then work with the disability community, particularly with people with disabilities and their families and carers.”

Ms Paul, a former public servant who has chaired headspace, the National Youth Mental Health Foundation, and The Australian Academy of Science’s Audit Committee, will analyse how to develop a “responsive, supportive and sustainable disability support services market and workforce”.

“I hope we can restore some trust and confidence and pride in the Scheme, not just for participants but for all Australians,” Ms Paul says.

“And [to] make sure the Scheme is more fair, more predictable, more consistent so that people with disability and their carers can feel confident that they know exactly what’s going to happen for as long as they need help, which might be their whole lifetime.”

Samantha Connor, People With Disability Australia (PWDA) President, is encouraged by the make-up of the review panel.

“It is exciting to see a line-up of people who have a strong background in disability, including a thorough understanding of both the NDIS from its inception and the problems that have plagued the scheme,” Ms Connor says.

“We are looking forward to seeing the application of a rights-based lens to the NDIS, an increased focus on choice and control for people with disability and renewed efforts to make sure that people with disability are truly the authors of our own lives.”

The Independent Review Panel also features panel members Kevin Cocks AM, former Queensland Anti-Discrimination Commissioner; Judy Brewer AO, Autism Co-operative Research Centre Chairwoman; Dr Stephen King, Commissioner of the Productivity Commission; Dougie Herd, former NDIS coordinator; and Kirsten Deane OAM, Melbourne Disability Institute General Manager.

The final report is expected to be handed down before the end of October 2023.

NDIS needs to be more sustainable

Disability advocate Dylan Alcott recently presented Minister Shorten with his own report highlighting key recommendations for the NDIS, including the need to change the narrative around costs to benefit.

Minister Shorten echoed those thoughts during his announcement on Tuesday, stating that the “best way to get value for the Scheme is to focus on the outcome and the benefits”.

“What I say to people with disability, the half a million plus participants, their families, the people who work for them, the service providers, is the NDIS should be better than it is,” Minister Shorten says.

“I think that we can identify waste. I think we can identify the crooks. I think we can improve the processes and cut out the bureaucracy, but it won’t be at the expense of people with disability and their dreams and hopes.”

Ensuring the NDIS does not become the “only lifeboat in the ocean” will be another priority as Minister Shorten believes a wide range of disability support options are required to improve sustainability.

He says that more disability support needs to be available in schools for kids with disabilities, while increased community health support is necessary for people who cannot access the NDIS.

This NDIS review is a key part of the reforms in the sector from Minister Shorten, which has also included the appointment of Kurt Fearnley to the Chair of the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) and Rebecca Falkingham to the position of NDIA Chief Executive Officer (CEO) – both starting in their new roles this week.