‘NDIS will be the next Robodebt,’ disability advocate warned

Posted 6 months ago by David McManus
Mr River Night, national disability sector advocate, cautioned Australians about the need for immediate action to reform the National Disability Insurance Scheme. [Source: Developing Australian Communities]
Mr River Night, national disability sector advocate, cautioned Australians about the need for immediate action to reform the National Disability Insurance Scheme. [Source: Developing Australian Communities]

Over 4.4 million Australian’s live with disability and Mr River Night believes more needs to be done to support them.

Key points:

  • August saw Australia’s largest disability and NDIS-related event in history delivered by Developing Australian Communities — with over 8,600 attendees
  • More than 240 organisations were represented at the Perth Disability Connection Expo 2023, hosted on August 25 – 26 at the Perth Convention and Exhibition Centre
  • The event racked up 21 million views on social media


Mr River Night, a father and full-time carer living with disability, shared his thoughts on the necessary changes to the national disability sector after 30 years of experience.

“Along with my Co-founder Mike Clark, we delivered the largest event in Australia’s history for the NDIS and disability sector in Australia recently,” Mr Night said.

“I was overwhelmed with the enthusiasm and support we saw from people with disability and good providers in getting rid of these ‘shonky businesses,’ rallying together to work on how we safeguard ourselves in a sector that is in deep need of better regulation and a brush fire to clean out the bad eggs.

“Living with disability and not being neurotypical, perhaps I walk forward when I should slow down and hesitate, according to our cultural push to avoid talking about disability and diversity even when it impacts more than 4.4 million Australians.

“What truly makes me sad is that after 10 years of NDIS, we are still asking for things as simple as being treated as a human being by its processes.”

Over the past 30 years, Mr Night has had the privilege of delivering hundreds of media items of national coverage on disability, working and teaching in a wide range of Government roles. He said that despite the immense turn-out for the Perth Disability Convention Expo 2023 — the largest disability event in Australia’s history for the sector, he had struggled to get leaders to address areas of concern.

“We launched the first of our events in Brisbane three years ago. With little lead-up and no funding, grants or help, we delivered the largest event Australia had ever seen and the energy from the sector moved it forward to the rest of Australia, involving advocacy groups and sector leaders,” Mr Night continued.

“As a person with a disability, I was able to shape the event with people living with disability, for us all. I have connected with tens of thousands of people and thousands of providers and had a chance to advocate nationally with reforms which cannot wait [sic].

“The disability sector does not need a Royal Commission to find what is wrong — we all know it, we all live it. We have been yelling it from the roof-tops for decades.”

River said that those who have worked in the sector for even a short period of time were well aware of what needs to be done and the perceived need for a Commission to highlight areas of improvement was “offensive.”

“Many months ago I contacted the Minister’s office, Mr Bill Shorten, the NDIS national team, provider support, provider payments and the enquiry team.

“I asked for a simple conversation with a front-line NDIS delegate to review a matter that would potentially impact hundreds of thousands of NDIS participants and thousands of service providers nationally, due to the misalignment of the awards and the payment guidelines NDIS provides.

“I wished to confirm that the major funding issue I identified that would either cripple some service providers or see a short-fall in annual funding for many participants was correct, [which] it was.

“However, it took almost four months just to get one staff member from NDIS to simply talk on the phone for 15 minutes. This human response was so unachievable for a massive agency and not one staff member had [the] capacity to just email and make a time for months.

According to Mr Night, he eventually managed to hear back from an executive, as his request had escalated amongst several complaints processes and multiple departments.

“The NDIS Review and Royal Commission have been asking what is wrong and what needs fixing. The agencies already know and so do the service providers. The Minster knows and there is plenty of evidence out there already, River summarised.

“While I applaud the work of the Commission and review it feels like another opportunity to stall urgent changes — 10 years is long enough to work out issues.

“If we don’t get back to basics […] the NDIS will be the next Robodebt with its push for standardised decision making for individual situations, automation for plans worth hundreds of thousands of dollars and lack of diligence, transparency, checks and balances.”

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