Senate debates

Wednesday, 13 November 2019


National Disability Insurance Scheme Amendment (Streamlined Governance) Bill 2019; Second Reading

7:03 pm

Photo of Deborah O'NeillDeborah O'Neill (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

This is a very, very important debate to have around the NDIS and its rollout because, frankly, this government has failed in its task to implement the NDIS. When I was making my comments earlier in the day—I am continuing those this evening as we return to the bill—I was making the point that the government has made a great song and dance about $4.6 billion which was underspent on the delivery of services to people with disabilities. The government have collared that money, put it across the books into their column and used it as a substantial part of what they claim is their surplus on the back of people with disability. That tells you everything that you need to know about the shameless behaviour of this government, the pride that they have in doing it and the gross failure and mismanagement that has characterised their rollout of the NDIS. On average, to achieve that goal, they had to short-change participants in the scheme by $20,000 a year—take $20,000 out of their plans in an underspend. And, boy, did they organise that underspend well, providing only a third of the recommended staffing level to properly roll out the NDIS.

Yet Minister Stuart Robert and the NDIA chair, Helen Nugent, have specifically requested a bonus of an additional $166,260 per year for the NDIA's CEO, on top of his already sizeable salary of $554,220. Despite being paid for the job, he wants extras for doing such a good job of cutting the services and funds to people with disability. That is what this National-Liberal party coalition government is doing to people with disability.

The NDIS is due to be fully rolled out in 2020, but it's seriously off-track in many areas. National Disability Services, the peak body for the disability service industry, alleged last year that the NDIS owes $300 million to providers. Yet we have Senator Cash in here at question time saying what a good job they're doing in terms of getting money out to businesses. There are businesses providing services in remote and regional communities that are going under because this government isn't paying its bills. People are falling through the cracks of the NDIS. They're being forced to wait months or even years as their claims and disputes are fought out in layers of bureaucracies and tribunals. Indeed, some people have died from complications exacerbated by the failure to provide them with essential needs, including things you would think could be provided, such as a wheelchair that was the right size. People have died waiting. But the government saved $4.6 billion, and they have a surplus, they say. Well, that surplus is no comfort to people who are burying those they loved while this government sits on its hands and doesn't roll this program out properly.

The 2018 Commonwealth Ombudsman review found that a third of all of the complaints that went to the Ombudsman were about delays in the NDIS and its rollout. The review also found that the NDIA had trouble identifying and prioritising the urgent cases, such as when a participant may be at risk of harm or homelessness, and that it simply didn't have a process to correct simple or clear errors and, certainly, didn't do it quickly or carefully. The arbitrary staffing cap decided by this Liberal-National party government was set at 4,000—that's it. It falls far below what's necessary to manage this program with many participants, and it forces the agency to spend millions of dollars on consultants rather than actually build the capacity of the public sector. The government constructed a model of longer waiting times and less access to services for participants, and that has led to a massive backlog of claims. But it's not just the backlog that is the problem; it's what it means for families across this nation that have been mistreated, ignored and disparaged by this government and its failure in the rollout of the NDIS. This bill should be opposed.


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