The Federal Government has scrapped its plan to bring in independent assessments for National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) participants following a meeting with State and Territory Ministers on Friday.
NDIS Minister Linda Reynolds agreed to not make any legislative changes to the scheme and committed to public consultation on any future amendments.
“Importantly, all ministers agreed to work in partnership with those with lived disability experience on the design of a person-centred model," Senator Reynolds says.
“A model that will deliver consistency and equity of both access and planning outcomes. A model consistent with the assessment requirements under the NDIS Act.”
Senator Reynolds was looking for support from State and Territory Disability Ministers for amendments to the scheme with the aim of cutting back the annual cost of the NDIS, which the Federal Government has estimated will reach $60 billion by the end of the decade.
Several States and Territories had previously opposed independent assessments, as well as disability advocates and political parties – Labor and the Greens.
Proposals opposed by Government’s own advisory council
The news comes after the Government’s own advisory council said last Thursday that independent assessments cannot go ahead in their current form.
The Independent Advisory Council recommended that the proposed independent assessments “do not proceed in the current form”, stating they should be “co-designed with Council and representatives of [the] Disability Support Organisation to be simpler, fairer, more respectful and safer for participants”.
The National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) issued an interim response to the Council’s report, agreeing that “independent assessments should not proceed in the form used” in a pilot of the process, which involved almost 4,000 NDIS participants.
Senator Reynolds spoke to the ABC on Friday to confirm the Government supported these recommendations.
"I can absolutely confirm that we agreed with the Independent Advisory Council's recommendation that the independent assessments in their current form will not proceed," Senator Reynolds says.
"So are independent assessments as we currently understand them dead? Yes, they are."
In the original proposal, an independent assessor would have determined someone's eligibility for an NDIS funding plan.
Currently, a person's doctor, specialist and allied health professional provides reports to determine if someone is eligible for an NDIS plan.
The Federal Government has repeatedly said independent assessments were an original part of the NDIS and would make it “fair and equitable” for everyone.
But many in the disability community argued this was merely a box-ticking exercise designed to cut costs and was described as "robo-planning" by those in the sector.
Shadow Minister for the NDIS Bill Shorten says axing independent assessments was “great news” for the disability sector.
"Independent assessments are dead, at least dead for the time being, no laws are being put into Parliament, it's back to the drawing board," Mr Shorten says.
Senator Reynolds also mentioned that while independent assessments were being scraped, Disability Ministers would work together to develop a new method.
“We've agreed to work together in a way that hears more clearly the voices of those with lived experience of disability that is based on the principles of equity and fairness,” Minister Reynolds says.
"So we did agree to work together on a new model [for assessments], and I'm very grateful to them for that agreement."
Senator Reynolds said further work would be undertaken "to understand the assumptions and cost drivers that underpin the actuarial modelling" on the financial sustainability of the NDIS scheme.
"This will allow ministers to form a unified understanding in order to develop a pathway forward together.”
Advocates celebrate win for disability sector
El Gibbs, a spokesperson for advocacy group Every Australian Counts, says the disability community was happy the States and Territories had listened to campaigning from the sector.
"We are glad that the State and Territory Disability Ministers have listened to the thousands of people with disability and their families who have contacted them this week to ask them to say no to the NDIS independent assessments," Ms Gibbs says.
"We have worked together for months to raise our voices and say that these changes were wrong.
“Minister Reynolds and the [NDIA] now need to commit to working with us to make the NDIS deliver on its promise.”
Greens Senator Jordon Steele-John, who lives with cerebral palsy, says the outcome was “a beautiful thing”.
“I am so proud of the work everyone has done this week,” he says.
“It’s incredible. [People with disability] made politicians listen to them today. They proved their power.”
People with Disability Australia (PWDA) President, Samantha Connor, released a statement of support on Twitter following the announcement, but suggested there was more work to do.
“Lots to do, no trust in Government to not be pulling ever increasing shifty moves - but I’m counting this as a major strategic win for people with disability,” Ms Connor says.
“Your voices made this happen.”
Speaking to SBS following the announcement, Ms Connor believes the relationship between the Federal Government and people with disability has been damaged and would take significant work to repair.
“That sacred compact of trust between the community and Government - that's been somewhat destroyed. We don’t trust the Government right now,” explains Ms Connor.
“That's going to take some rebuilding - the disability community have set down the terms of engagement for that process to sit down and have a conversation.
“And I hope the Government is prepared to listen."
State Ministers challenged Federal Government’s proposals
Western Australian Disability Services Minister, Don Punch, welcomed the decision to scrap the introduction of mandatory independent assessments which he says were based on “unsubstantiated financial assumptions” and “inadequate consultation”.
“This is an enormous win for NDIS participants, their families and their carers,” Minister Punch says.
"We continue our commitment to working with the Commonwealth to deliver a financially sustainable scheme that provides reasonable and necessary support for people with disability, which puts people with disability at the centre and does not compromise the original intent of the NDIS.
"Any future proposals for changes to the scheme must be co-designed in partnership with stakeholders across the disability sector, and I welcome the Commonwealth's commitment to such a process."
The ACT Minister for Disability, Emma Davidson, was also pleased with the result and believes the meeting with Senator Reynolds was productive.
Ms Davidson says, “This is a massive win for the sector and it is clear that the voices of people with disability were heard loud and clear in [Friday's] meeting.
"Fundamentally, people with disabilities do not want strangers coming into their homes, checking things off a list and putting them into a box - that isn't the NDIS that they want.
“The mood in the meeting leaned towards a person-centred approach, which the community has been advocating for since the first trial of independent assessments."