Yesterday I stood at the National Press Club and addressed, through the magic of television, the Australian people about how the Albanese Government will reform the National Disability Insurance Scheme.
I spoke armed with the knowledge that Australia backs the NDIS in the same way we back Medicare. It is in our DNA to want everyone to get a fair go and if some people need extra help — temporarily or permanently — to enjoy the opportunities that living in this lucky country afford, then we want them to get it.
Aussies are realistic enough to know that one day it could be us or one of our family members who needs that help.
What we won't abide is our most vulnerable citizens being let down by the very scheme that promises to help them live a fulfilled life.
For many, the NDIS is doing what it was designed to do — change the lives of Australians with disability and their families for the better.
But for some of those Australians, it is not living up to its promise. That does not mean we abandon it. It means we take the lessons of the first 10 years to ensure the NDIS is secure and sustainable as a source of world-class, life-changing support.
Successive Liberal governments have overseen the NDIS for most of its decade of existence, and all I can say — politely — about that is, I'm glad a Labor government is back in charge.
For this Government, the driver of reform, of change, of improvement, is never going to be merely a balance sheet. It is always going to be driven by best interests of participants; focusing on inclusion, not segregation. Our systemic reforms will target areas that help drive better outcomes for NDIS participants.
The way we will approach this means improving the experience of people with a disability will have the twofold effect of also reducing waste, inefficiency, and inflationary costs.
If we stop fraud and waste and other unethical behaviour, for example, the money that is meant for participants will get to them. The Fraud Fusion Taskforce the Albanese Government established in October has 38 investigations open with almost $300 million of payments under review.
Our goal is to rebuild the capability of National Disability Insurance Agency workforce, which had been left understaffed and under-skilled. The grassroots NDIS workers are good, decent, dedicated people and I acknowledge their own frustration at the wet blanket management style of the former leadership.
It has left participants to deal with someone who doesn't understand their disability or the supports that will be effective. They want people with specialised skills, because specialisation equals understanding and humanity.
Capability building within the NDIA will assist in another area we want to overhaul as well. That of the annual review, where people with disabilities are forced to prove they are still disabled — that includes amputees, the blind, or those with Down syndrome.
Reviews would still be needed, but we have to break the cycle of stress, cost and fear that accompanies short-term planning.
Another way we can prioritise participant outcomes is to maximise the benefits for participants, not providers, by working to address a wedding tax of sorts on goods and services when they hear the words “National Disability Insurance Scheme”. That can cause prices to miraculously double or triple.
Another area in need of improvement is community and mainstream supports, if Australians with disability are to have the fulfilled life they deserve.
Existing mainstream services such as health, education, and transport need to be more accessible and supportive for people with a disability.
But there also needs to be investment in community-based programs, outside of the NDIS.
Programs that offer sports, arts, hobbies, and practical, capability-building education that fosters independence. And those programs then need to be better integrated in the support mix for NDIS participants.
The States must step up in areas such as housing, education and transport, because the NDIS cannot do this alone. As Australians know, it takes a village to properly support the most vulnerable in our society.
I know there is a real sense of urgency to make the NDIS work for Australians with disability.
Our Government will work with the disability community to design and implement improvements. Public trust and confidence in the scheme will be dependent on these reforms serving the best interests of the participants.
Australians from all walks of life have a remarkable degree of emotional engagement with the NDIS and the lives of Australians with disabilities.
There is a universality and degree of empathy and compassion that is understated by the political class and commentariat. Australians know that how people with disability are treated is indicative of the kind of country we are, or want to be.
This year marks a decade since the inception of the NDIS. It was, and remains, a bold initiative. A big, complex, life-changing piece of economic and social policy.
And it is here to stay. Returning to a pre-NDIS, Dickensian dystopia is not an option. Australians with disability deserve better.
To paraphrase Adam Lindsay Gordon, there are two attributes in this life that serve us well: kindness in another's trouble and courage in your own. I know there will be a strong collective effort from the disability community, advocates and allies, and Australians from all walks of life to get the scheme back on track. And I will be with them every step of the way.