Monday, 14 October 2019
National Disability Insurance Agency
Australians listening tonight are probably aware that the National Disability Insurance Scheme is one of the most important social initiatives that this nation has undertaken. Currently there are 300,000 of our fellow Australians signed up to the scheme, and at full rollout it will cater for 460,000 of our fellow Australians who are profoundly and severely disabled. At full rollout the scheme will be allocating and responsible for $22 billion. This is an important scheme, and we should not underestimate how important it is.
Like Medicare and the old age pension, it's a nation-building scheme, a public service and a safety net. Yet the agency responsible for its rollout—the National Disability Insurance Agency—has no leader, has no CEO. It is literally leaderless. It has been without a leader for 167 days. The last CEO of the NDIA resigned on 30 April this year. The government is responsible for appointing a new chief executive officer, but it has failed to do so in the last 167 days. The government NDIS minister, Stuart Robert, has failed to do this for 167 days. Australians are rightly entitled to ask: is 167 days a reasonable time period to leave a multibillion dollar organisation without a leader? Is 167 days a reasonable period of time, when the peak public body for Australians with disability, not surprisingly, is acting like the proverbial headless chook?
Perhaps appointing a good CEO is harder than it looks. Perhaps Minister Robert—welcome back from the Holy Land—has had other things on his plate. Perhaps there are complications which we mere mortals cannot understand. Do they say that this delay is reasonable rather than mindless government neglect? Perhaps we should compare the government's 167-day period of stage fright with other human accomplishments. In July we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission and moon landing. It was a complicated process. Interplanetary travel is quite complex. It's interesting to note that Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin blasted off on 16 July from the Kennedy Space Centre, Florida, and on 19 July Apollo 11 passed behind the moon and fired its service propulsion engine to enter lunar orbit. On 20 July, Aldrin and Armstrong entered the lunar module. On 21 July, Armstrong was the first man to step on the moon. He planted the flag, collected the moon rocks, filmed and broadcast images from the moon, performed scientific experiments and spoke to Richard Nixon. On 24 July they splashed back down to earth. They spent three weeks in quarantine. On 13 August there were tickertape parades in New York and Chicago. Granted, many years went into the preparation, but it took the Americans from blast-off to tickertape parade 29 days. How long has it taken Stuart Robert to find a CEO for the NDIA? 167 days.
But closer to home, Elon Musk, Tesla CEO and colourful entrepreneur, pledged to build a giant battery complex in South Australia and to do it within 100 days or forgo payment entirely. If only the government would do this. The world's largest lithium-ion battery was shipped to Australia, set up, connected to the power grid, connected to a substation, connected to a wind farm, tested and made operational. Thirty thousand homes were powered in little over an hour. This feat was done in less than 100 days. How long has it taken Minister Stuart Robert to find a CEO for the National Disability Insurance Agency? 167 days and counting.
In fact, it was 100 days between March and June of 1815 when the former first citizen of France Napoleon escaped from prison in Elba, assembled 600 troops, faced down and recruited a regiment by his personality alone, marched to Paris, recaptured the government, built his army to 280,000, invaded Belgium and, with half of his army, defeated the Prussians. Of course, within that time he lost the battle of Waterloo and was sent to St Helena. It did not end well for our comrade first citizen, but it's a testament to how much you can do in 100 days if you put your mind to it. Then there was FDR's 1933 reconstruction: in less than 100 days there were 15 pieces of legislation passed.
Perhaps it is not reasonable for those waiting for the NDIS and the 300,000 participants in the NDIS and their families to expect a new NDIA CEO to have been appointed. To pick a more familiar analogy: do you think the government would allow a ministerial vacancy to be unfilled by the ranks of ambitious backbenchers for 167 days? I think not. I don't expect this government to have the courage of Armstrong, the patriotic creativity of FDR or the passion of Napoleon, but it would be good if we could find a CEO for an $8 billion organisation in 167 days.