Sunday, September 24, 2017
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In the hurly burly of new government policy roll outs there was a change to the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) late last week. The government quietly announced that it would cease using the word “launch” and start using the word “trial”.

This makes a huge difference. It suddenly puts the entire NDIS in doubt in the long term and raises questions about whether the Abbott government really is committed to ensuring that people with disabilities finally get their opportunity to live with dignity and independence.

The Gillard government slipped up fundamentally when it named the NDIS Disability Care. It did so with poor consultation and without realising how patronising and offensive the language of dependence is to people with disabilities. Then shadow minister Mitch Fifield got it, and promised to change the name back. In fact this was the only disability policy that the Coalition took to the September election.

The new government has repeatedly assured the disability community that the NDIS will be rolled out as planned. There has been real uncertainty about whether the Scheme will continue, and if it does will it remain in the original form. For the disability community, many of whom live in very difficult circumstances, this has been a major concern both before and after the election. Minister Fifield’s recent good work on assurance has now been thrown into doubt.

All new schemes take years to bed down. It is almost impossible to predict the minutiae of large projects like the NDIS. Remember that the NDIS is a totally different way of approaching disability support. Instead of one size fits all there will now be tailored packages designed to support the individual to their maximum independence possible. Each package must be individually designed.

For most recipients of the Scheme this will be the very first time someone has asked them what they want their supports to look like. Naturally, this has taken longer for people to visualise and describe than the bureaucrats originally expected. However, no one in the disability community is surprised. In fact we all expected and predicted it.

Nor should anyone be surprised that people who have had very little, if any, vital supports will need more than the anticipated average to get established. This will settle over time, but initially are a lot of people starting from zero at first base.

Trialling the Scheme won’t address the critical shortfall in disability services and supports which was identified by the Productivity Commission. Launching the Scheme, and just getting on with it, is the only way to do this. Of course there will be some changes needed, some tweaking, as things get going. Already launch sites are reporting back to other States about what they are learning and improvements are being made. This will continue for many years until the full Scheme is in place in 2019.

The NDIS isn’t a trial. It can’t be discontinued if its first year or two isn’t perfect. The NDIS is launching and there must be no going back.  

Christina Ryan is the General Manager of Advocacy for Inclusion and the Chair of the Disability Advocacy Network of Australia