Opinion piece for the West Australian

A few weeks ago, some new research was released that showed the National Disability insurance Scheme (NDIS) is as fundamental to Australians as Medicare.

Melbourne-based research group Redbridge, who undertook the research in 2023, said: “We were consistently struck by the universality and degree of empathy and compassion respondents from all demographic segments exhibited towards people with a disability.”

This was not news to me. Australians who know me know how much I love the NDIS and working with Australians with disability and disability groups.

I was able to help create Scheme before its launch. Then in opposition for 10 years I watched with concern that, despite its life-changing impact, the NDIS was in danger of losing its way.

It has not delivered fully on the original vision.

When I became Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme in June 2022, I warned that ‘the promise of the NDIS has been betrayed. Not yet fatally. But still substantially’.

Too many NDIS participants were not getting the supports they needed, the system as too hard to navigate and some families said the processes were dehumanising.

There was too much fraud, too many criminals infiltrating the scheme and too many third parties were having a lend of the system and making enough money to pay for a second story on their holiday house.

Since I have been Minister, week in and week out, my office is inundated with stories of participants being defrauded and rorted by some dodgy providers or criminal outfits who saw them only as human ATMS.

Despite Australians admiration for the promise of the NDIS, unethical and excessively bureaucratic behaviour stuff does not pass the pub test.

Labor has been in Government now for 676 days and I know we have worked every day with the disability sector to make major reforms already.

We got down to work to start fixing the NDIS, stop the fraud, put people with disability back at the centre of the Scheme and ensure the Scheme will be here for future generation of Australians.

We held the historic Independent NDIS Review, and we have established the Fraud Fusion, Fair Price and Provider Registration taskforces to clamp down on unethical practices and support quality service providers.

Today I introduced legislation into the Australian Parliament to deliver a better Scheme for those that need it most and will contribute towards the NDIS once again being delivered in line with its original intent.

The Getting the NDIS Back on Track Bill 2024 is the next step of NDIS reforms that ensure the Scheme can continue to provide life-changing outcomes for future generation of Australians with disability and to make sure every dollar in the Scheme gets to the participants for whom the scheme was designed.

This bill aims to give participants greater clarity on what they can spend their funds on and in what time period. It will be much clearer what it’s ok to use funding for and what is not.

The bill will make it clearer how long a plan is supposed to last and stop participants being encouraged to spend their plans too quickly by providers.

We don’t want participants being taken for a ride by unscrupulous operators so this legislation allows the National Disability Insurance Agency to step in and work with a participant if there is overspending or signs the person might be being exploited by a third party for their funds.

And it will allow the NDIS watchdog to crackdown on dodgy providers and do its work to keep participants safe.

This bill lays the groundwork to secure the Scheme for the future.

It reflects 22 months’ worth of work. Some think we are going too fast, others think we are going to slow.

This is an evolution not a revolution. It is important and necessary.

The cold reality is if we don’t make the Scheme sustainable, Australians will be worse off. Not taking action is not an option.

Our priority is the best interests of people with disability at the centre of our work on the NDIS and that includes any legislation that is introduced along the way.

We are not going to put change in the too hard basket because people with disability deserve better.

The Government will work with state and territory partners, and across the political divide, to deliver our vision for the NDIS.

At National Cabinet in December, the Prime Minister and Premiers agreed to introduce legislation in the first half of 2024 to make sure every dollar in the NDIS gets through to the participants for whom the scheme was designed.

This first set of legislation will allow us to continue to fix the NDIS for good.

I never doubted for a moment that Aussies’ compassion for others translated into wanting people with disability to have good lives. The NDIS is the proof in the pudding of that.

It has given Australians with disability the opportunity to work, study, live independently and enjoy economic and social participation within our community.

And it has changed the way we view ourselves as a country.

The NDIS represents what’s best about Australia.

It fulfills a sense of collective responsibility – the essence of the fair go – and is integral to our national identity.

Its value is measured in human terms, not economic.

People with disability should have the support they need to participate in the community.

All Australians have the peace of mind of knowing if they or someone they love acquires a significant and permanent disability the NDIS will be there for them.