We’re chasing down the rorts while building a better NDIS

In September 2020, at the height of Covid, when the world’s eyes were glued to the internet, a Twitter user called Mel posted a simple image of the first message she ever received from her partner next to a photo of them embracing.

She tagged the photo with “how it started” and “how it ended”. The simple tweet went viral and sparked a billion internet memes of people showing “how it started versus how it’s going”.

The meme has been used by former first lady Michelle Obama and even the Collingwood Football Club.

This week marks two years since I became Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme and Government Services. If I was going to use this meme to illustrate how we started and how we are going on the NDIS, I would compare a picture of an empty block of land next to a house under construction.

In the past two years, the Albanese government, states and territories, the National Disability Insurance Agency and the disability sector have embarked on the big task of getting the NDIS back on track.

After Labor won government in 2022, I discovered the NDIS was headed in the wrong direction – it was growing too big, too fast and without proper guide ropes in place.

Since then, I have spent every single day working with participants and their advocates rebuilding the scheme. I knew we didn’t have a minute to wait.

It was too important and we found out along the way that, whatever our differences, most Australians feel as fiercely protective of the NDIS as we do of Medicare. We’re proud of these world-leading social policies.

Within weeks we were getting NDIS participants out of hospital and back home, after steep delays that saw people fit for discharge languishing in hospitals and beds being blocked for acute patients.

Back then, it was estimated in Victoria that a person with profound and severe disabilities who was eligible for the NDIS and was medically fit to be moved from hospital was on average waiting an additional 160 days to leave. This week that figure, nationally, remains steady at just over 25 days, which is a testament to the great work the federal, state and territory governments can do together.

We quickly refreshed the NDIA leadership, putting in more people with lived experience of disability on the board than in its history, led by the inimitable Kurt Fearnley.

We launched the landmark independent review into the NDIS, led by Bruce Bonyhady and Lisa Paul, which delivered its final report last December and will help define its future.

We also quickly established the Fraud Fusion Taskforce to weed out rorts and fraud that had been allowed to fester. This comprises 19 government agencies working together to stop criminals from defrauding the scheme. Since late 2022, it has investigated more than $1bn in payments and led to dozens of criminals being jailed and dodgy providers and workers banned.

We’re also stopping the price gouging that sees some people supplying disability services and equipment charge more when they know the customer has government funding.

I’ve worked with Assistant Minister for Competition, Andrew Leigh, and Gina Cass-Gottlieb from the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission, to see what action we can take to put an end to these unfair practices.

I recently wrote to NDIS participants informing them the government is establishing a Fair Pricing Taskforce, chaired by the ACCC and including the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission and the National Disability Insurance Agency.

We have also upgraded the NDIS rules to make it clear overcharging is prohibited, and we have further legal changes planned to robustly prohibit and punish such practices.

We also heavily invested in the NDIA, the agency behind it all, to equip it with the right resources to do its job to support people with disability.

Every day of the past two years, the Albanese government has been focused on working with people with disability, their families and carers and the disability community to identify what we collectively need to do to make the NDIS stronger.

The states and territories have joined our push, committing to a sustainability framework in April last year, and before Christmas committing to jointly build additional services outside the NDIS for other Australians with disability.

This week, the Getting the NDIS Back on Track Bill is before the parliament as we continue to ensure every dollar gets through to those for whom it was intended and protect the scheme for future generations.

This legislation is the next step in addressing priority recommendations from the NDIS review and helping to return the NDIS to its original intent.

Priority reforms are focused on access, plans and budget-setting, and quality and safety; these will allow us to work with people with disability and the sector to create an early intervention pathway to best meet the needs of children from birth.

It will allow us to improve how NDIS participant budgets are set, making them flexible and providing clearer information on how they can be spent.

It will also bolster the powers of the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission to protect participants from illegal and unethical conduct. And it will help us to stamp out unscrupulous operators who have been rorting the NDIS for years.

The legislation creates the scaffolding needed to start the journey of making the NDIS stronger and better for all.

The NDIS Review called for a transition. The proposed changes to the legislation are the start of the journey. These changes will not happen overnight, but the taps have been left on full pelt for too long.

From there we have work to do with people with disability, the sector and states and territories to make Australia the most accessible and innovative nation in the world.

We need to make Australia more inclusive in our jobs, schools, health systems, justice, housing, public transport and leadership.

Aussies with disabilities and the people who love them are sick of waiting, delays and excuses. Life is not a dress rehearsal. There’s been a five-year Disability Royal Commission and the 12-month NDIS review.

Some people want us to wait again, to tolerate second-best outcomes. They throw their hands in the air and say: “It’s all too hard.”

After almost two decades of working closely with people with disability, I feel I can say, we can’t and we won’t.