Senate debates

Wednesday, 15 August 2018


National Disability Insurance Scheme

7:17 pm

Photo of Carol BrownCarol Brown (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Disability and Carers) Share this | | Hansard source

Today I would like to speak about the average staffing level cap on public servants. This blunt instrument, as it is described by the secretary of the Prime Minister's own department, causes unnecessary cost, reliance on external contractors, loss of government knowledge and a consistent failure to deliver critical services. This service delivery failure is something Australians know only too well. We have seen in the most recent NDIS quarterly reporting how only 69 per cent of targets have been met in the quarter to June, resulting in the equivalent of over 56,000 people missing out on the NDIS. The significance of such a failure cannot be overstated. The staffing cap is clearly affecting the NDIS in a negative way, and it rests on the premise that cutting or freezing Public Service jobs is an efficient thing to do. In reality, this way of thinking reflects a disdain for the Public Service and for the employees who implement some of our nation's most important projects. Unfortunately, such disdain has forced a reliance on external contractors in the name of efficiency dividends—and such efficiency dividends clearly don't work.

While the government has cut 15,000 public sector jobs since 2012-13, a National Audit Office report last year revealed that this coincided with a ballooning of the amount spent on external contractors, from $200 million in 2012-13 to more than $700 million in the financial year 2016-17. Perhaps that's why, in a report on NDIS costs last year, the Productivity Commission recommended that the government remove the cap on staff employed directly by the National Disability Insurance Scheme. This recommendation is from the very organisation that helped provide the economic basis for the establishment of the NDIS in the first place.

If we look at the implementation of the NDIS, it's no wonder that this is the conclusion reached by the Productivity Commission. The rollout of the scheme is so far behind that there is not only the equivalent of 56,000 people missing out on the NDIS already but there is also a major backlog of plan reviews. As the most recent NDIS quarterly report shows, there is an increasing stream of complaints as well.

These figures should alarm anyone. Unfortunately, we know that this is not the fault of the NDIA. We know that the organisation has been working hard to implement a monumental reform and that implementation issues can be expected for any project of this size. But, with constraints such as the average staffing level cap placed upon the agency at the same time as the Productivity Commission is estimating the disability workforce will need to 'roughly double over the transition period', how could one expect anything other than major problems to emerge? As I have said, a staffing cap is nothing other than a blunt tool, one that imposes on agencies constraints that need not exist. Scrapping the staffing cap would give the NDIA and other agencies the flexibilities that they need to determine how and when to recruit, where to recruit from and how to meet the needs of people with disabilities most effectively.

As the Secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet put it in December last year:

The question is really does the APS have the capability set it needs to deliver for the challenges Australia faces in the next quarter century?

And in going on to discuss speciality skills, such as data analysis, he asks:

… do we have sufficient capability? Answer: absolutely not.

It's time that the government allowed organisations to build their own capabilities. It's time that they lifted the staffing cap and let the NDIA recruit for itself. That's the only way they'll stop the runaway spending on consultants and contractors. It's the only way they'll help to get the NDIS on schedule. Labor calls on the government to lift the ASL cap immediately. Australians who use critical government services can get the service they need from trained, full-time professionals. Lifting the staffing cap is something this government needs to do for the benefit of all Australians.

Senate adjourned at 19 : 22