Wednesday, 30 March 2022
National Disability Insurance Scheme Amendment (Participant Service Guarantee and Other Measures) Bill 2021; Second Reading
I rise in support of the National Disability Insurance Scheme Amendment (Participant Service Guarantee and Other Measures) Bill 2021. One in five Australians live with a disability, and I remain committed to supporting the NDIS. I believe it is one of our most significant social policies in Australia today. This does not mean the NDIS is perfect; it is far from it. I will speak to those concerns I have later.
The genesis of this bill before us was the 2019 review of the National Disability Insurance Scheme Act commonly known as the Tune review. It recommended changes to the NDIS to remove red tape and improve the experience and outcomes of people living with disability interacting with the NDIS. I have heard from several of my constituents and peak bodies representing people living with disability regarding improvements to the bill. I thank JFA Purple Orange and People with Disability Australia for the engagement in particular. The Australian Federation of Disability Organisations and other organisations identified that there was much to support in this bill, but crucial amendments were sought.
I am therefore pleased that the government's amendments to the bill now place limitations on the proposed powers of the CEO to vary a participant's plan in primary legislation, and move section 14 rule-making powers regarding payments to individuals to category A rules, requiring consultation with states and territories. Concerns re impacts on the eligibility of people with psychosocial disability and other fluctuating, episodic conditions have also, I am informed, been resolved by amendments based on further consultation of peak bodies representing people with a disability.
I must put on the record, though, that this has been a long and drawn-out process, and many people who have an NDIS package were deeply anxious that the original bill would have given extraordinary powers to the CEO, and that the CEO could and possibly would wholesale cut and change plans. I am also aware that the NDIS 2021-22 quarter 2 report shows that the average plan value per participant has dropped by four per cent between 2020 and 2021. Reportedly this means that 34 per cent of participants have seen cuts of more than five per cent of their budgets in the second half of last year. This is 10 per cent more participants who've experienced a cut of such significance during 2019-20.
I've raised concerns with the government on behalf of my constituents regarding proposed independent assessments under the NDIS and was relieved that this was taken off the table. But it never should have been on the table in the first place. I think there's enormous fear in the community every time a piece of NDIS legislation comes into this place. That's because people are seeing salami cuts to their packages over and over again, and I was listening to the speeches of previous members regarding this.
Further, I understand that the Administrative Appeals Tribunal has confirmed that in the seven months between June 2021 and January 2022 this year it received 3,853 applications from participants seeking a review of decisions made by the NDIA. This compares with a far lower amount of 2,160 between June 2020 and June 2021 and, the previous year, 1,780. So, what we're seeing is more and more people with a disability needing to go to the AAT in relation to their NDIS plans, because those plans have been substantially cut or do not fit the purpose. Figures provided by the AAT in response to questions raised in Senate estimates indicate that 17 hearings went before the AAT during the 2019-20 year, compared with 54 hearings in the 2020-21 year and growing to 59 in just a seven-month period to February this year.
I think it's really important that we say very loudly to people with a disability that the NDIS will support them and that they don't have to go through the AAT, because we can't talk to the minister about it until their matter goes through the AAT. And it is causing so much heartbreak, so much anxiety, particularly for families who have children with a disability, where we want to see their whole focus supporting that child to not have to go through the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.
The figures that I mentioned I think raise a very clear picture of an increasingly adversarial system that is difficult for people to navigate. And then we're seeing a rapid increase in legal costs. The Senate estimates Community Affairs Legislation Committee indicated that legal costs in relation to applications to the AAT in the period from 1 July to 31 December 2021 totalled $19.1 million, which for that six-month period exceeded the entire $17.3 million in legal costs for the entire previous financial year. There is clearly an escalation of adversarial action here. And this rapid increase in legal costs does not account for the additional pressure and hardship that applying for and going through the process of challenging the NDIA decision at the AAT places on those at the centre of the NDIS—the people in our community who have a disability and their families.
While we're talking about the NDIS, I must mention one of the NDIS's greatest failings, and that is that it is age discriminatory. This week I heard from Kelvin and Pauline. When cancer lesions damaged Kelvin's spinal cord, he became a paraplegic overnight, at age 67. Pauline says that while she finds caring for her husband Kelvin satisfying they are struggling physically and financially due to the inadequacy of care provided by his level 4 home-care package. That's because Kelvin is 67. If Kelvin was 64 and these lesions caused that disability he would have been able to access an NDIS package, but because he is 67 he cannot. What funds Kelvin has are quickly eroded by administration and management fees, even though they self-manage his aged care. It also took several years for them to find carers who understood the additional needs associated with paraplegia. Pauline and Kelvin say they have not received any respite care for three years, due to a lack of suitable services. What has happened to Kelvin and Pauline could happen to anyone of us or our families. They should not be met with a brick wall because of their age.
We are talking about disabilities that are not part of the natural process of ageing. Earlier this year I tabled a motion to call on the government to either remove the age discrimination against people aged 65 and more that is inherent within the NDIS legislation or to provide equivalent supports through home aged care. As Spinal Life Australia says, disability doesn't discriminate. We must fix this discrimination. It was one of the recommendations of the aged-care royal commission.
In closing, the measures within this bill are a step towards putting people with disability at the centre of decision-making, along with their lives going forward. I support this bill in the House. However, we must not lose sight of the policy purpose set out in the Tune review, which was to improve the experience and outcomes of Australians living with disability in the operation of the NDIS as a whole. Thank you.