16 November 2023

On behalf of the Joint Standing Committee on the National Disability Insurance Scheme, I present the committee's report, incorporating additional comments, entitled Capability and culture of the NDIA.

Report made a parliamentary paper in accordance with standing order 39(e).

Ms COKER: by leave—Through this inquiry, the committee received 206 submissions and held 13 public hearings.

As the only permanent body providing oversight of the NDIS, the committee appreciates the time and effort of people with disabilities and their families who provided written and oral evidence.

I would like to acknowledge the positive life-changing impact the NDIS has had on the lives of so many people with disability—when it works well, it is life-changing.

However, in committee hearings we have often heard the anxiety, frustration and exhaustion of participants, families, carers, and advocates.

The committee calls on the government and the NDIA to learn from these experiences and to take action to improve the NDIS for all participants, their families and carers.

In the report, the committee focuses on the operational processes and procedures of the agency, staff employment and workforce matters, and the impact of the NDIA's culture and capabilities on NDIS applicants and participants.

The report looks at the impact of the NDIA's capability and culture on various groups of people with disability, including women, First Nations people, culturally and linguistically diverse people and LGBTQIA+ people.

The committee places a particular focus on the lived experience of people with disability, the difficulties they face in having their disabilities recognised by the NDIA and accessing reasonable and necessary supports.

The committee also examined the NDIA's approach and assessment of multiple disabilities and recommends the agency assess people according to the totality of their disabilities and no longer require participants to nominate a primary and a secondary disability.

In their evidence, Villamanta Disability Rights Legal Service highlighted the consequences of this approach. They said a participant's primary disability effectively determines which of their impairments will be supported and what level of funding will be provided in their plan. They explained the impacts of this 'cookie-cutter' model. They said:

But people don't come pre-packaged with a primary disability. People come with all sorts of complex situations, and one person with disability A is not the same as another person with disability A. Furthermore … the agency is making their own decisions about what the most important condition is. Regardless of what doctors tell them, regardless of what the participant tells them, and regardless of repeated challenges, they are deciding, 'No, your primary disability is hearing loss and the other conditions don't even count.' That is not what the legislation says, that's not what the case law says and it's not fair or reasonable. It's not how people are.

On the matter of fraudulent practices, the committee received substantial evidence and welcomes the federal government's strong action on deterring, investigating and prosecuting fraud, including the establishment of the Fraud Fusion Taskforce.

In regard to guardianship, respite and accommodation, these are also considered in the report.

In making our recommendation on respite, we recognise the important role it plays in sustaining the participant, the carer and their families.

In her submission, Lynda Lett emphasised its importance:

My husband is my only informal carer and works full time. He requires respite to be able to continue looking after me long term. In nearly 30 years of marriage he has only had a total of 4 weeks respite. He is burnt out and suffering under carer burden. It is reasonable, necessary and value for money to provide my husband with respite—

where it is required—

thereby reducing my need for formal supports otherwise.

The report also highlights the need for effective early intervention and diagnosis of disability, to ensure the best quality of life for the individual.

The committee urges the states, territories and the federal government to work together to better support improvements in early intervention and diagnosis.

I'd like to acknowledge that the Albanese government is recognising the need to lift the capabilities of the NDIA.

And that's why, in the 2023-24 May budget, it included a record $720 million investment into the resources of the NDIA and the scheme.

The committee hopes this report, combined with the recent report of the disability royal commission and the upcoming report of the NDIS review, will set out a path for government and the NDIA to build on the promise of the NDIS, for the benefit of people with disability.

On behalf of the committee, I thank everyone who has written or spoken to the committee during this inquiry.

We appreciate the effort they have made in sharing what can only be considered deeply personal, often frustrating and exhausting experiences.

Please know that we see you, we hear you, and we are making recommendations to make the NDIA more responsive to you.

In closing, may I thank all my colleagues on the NDIS committee and the secretariat for their diligence, their compassion and their hard work. I commend this report to the House.