NDIS Amendment (Getting the NDIS Back on Track No. 1) Bill 2024 – Second Reading Speech

That this bill be now read a second time.

Before the National Disability Insurance Scheme was rolled out a decade ago, people with disability were too often unseen and unheard. Pushed into the shadows.

Australians with disability suffered what was called by some ‘the misery lottery’. Disability support was patchy across the country. Depending on your postcode, you might be lucky enough to get some funding to help support you. Otherwise, you may live a life of uncertainty and quite often poverty.

That is why I introduced legislation into the Parliament today to secure the future of the NDIS.

In 2009 the Labor Government commissioned a report to help us develop the National Disability Strategy.

The report was titled ‘Shut Out’ and what was uncovered through the consultation phase was ‘intensely moving and profoundly shocking’.

It painted a picture of people with disability isolated and alone. Their lives a constant struggle for resources and support.

An article written about the report at the time said:

“Where once they were shut in, now people with a disability find themselves shut out. Shut out of housing, employment, education, health care, recreation and sport. Shut out of kindergartens, schools, shopping centres and community groups. Shut out of our way of life. This segregation is a national disgrace”.

It was clear we needed a whole system of disability support, with the NDIS for people with the most complex support needs.

We could no longer let a person’s postcode or financial situation dictate whether they won the disability support lottery.

In its 10 year history, the National Disability Insurance Scheme has fundamentally changed Australia.

The NDIS represents what’s best about this country.

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.

And we all benefit from building a more inclusive and accessible world.

This was a story of successful political change driven by Australians with disability who demanded more control over their destiny.

We can never – must never – return to the days before the NDIS.

Through the NDIS, we have changed the way we view ourselves.

It reflects who we want to be as a nation.

Australians do not see people with a disability as ‘other’.

They are family, friends, work mates, school mates, and neighbours.

Any one of us, to be honest.

Treating our fellow Australians with disabilities as second-class citizens – too hard, too costly – reflects an image of ourselves that we don’t recognise or like.

But despite its life-changing impact, the NDIS is 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’.

While the NDIS has changed hundreds of thousands of lives for the better, it is not working well for everyone.

Participants have spoken of how every interaction with the NDIS has become a battle.

They have voiced their frustration at having to prove, year after year, that they are still blind or still have Down syndrome.

This was a Scheme that I – along with thousands of passionate champions of the cause – worked tirelessly to set up.

Too often, before the NDIS, people with disability were treated as second class citizens – out of sight, out of mind.

We said never again.

Never again would Australians with disability be forgotten.

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

We promised to make the NDIS a priority and not penalise people with disability for wanting to live fulfilled lives.

We promised to put more people with disability on the NDIS board and conduct a root and branch review of the Scheme.

We promised to make the Scheme sustainable so that future generations of Australians with disability have an NDIS to access.

We made a promise to ensure every dollar was going to the people for whom it was intended – NDIS participants.

And we promised to restore trust in the Scheme.

Within days of taking on the role of NDIS Minister, the work began in earnest.

We now have more people with lived experience on the NDIS board in the entire history of the Scheme.

We have also appointed the first Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander board member.

We are getting more people with disability discharged from hospital, instead of waiting in beds when they are medically fit to go home.

We have slashed the legacy appeals cases that were languishing in long queues at the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.

We have established a partnership between the National Disability Insurance Agency and the First Peoples Disability Network to collaborate on a new NDIS First Nations Strategy and action plan.

We have established the Inklings pilot with Telethon Kids Institute, to help children showing early signs of autism.

Early intervention is one of the key principles of the NDIS, and the world-leading Inklings programs takes us from a “wait and see” to “identify and act” approach.

Neurodivergent babies will still be neurodivergent and may require support.

But early intervention is crucial for a life with less reliance on supports later on and the chance for a child to flourish.

We also promised to make the Scheme safer for people with disability, and to tackle fraud, waste and overcharging so that every dollar goes towards a better outcome for the participant, not someone trying to make a quick, dirty buck.

We’re coming at this challenge from a number of angles.

In its first year, the Fraud Fusion Taskforce investigated more than 100 cases involving more than $1 billion of NDIS funding.

Michael Phelan, a former director of the Australian Institute of Criminology, and decorated former police officer, is now the acting Commissioner of the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission.

The Commission will feature in a new taskforce alongside the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission and the NDIA to weed out those charging more for equipment and services simply because you have an NDIS funding package.

This is wrong and it is a breach of federal law and we have upgraded the NDIS rules to make it clear than an NDIS “wedding tax” is not on.

And to service providers who are complaining about my campaign on price gouging…

…putting unfair treatment by a minority of service providers in the too hard basket undermines the reputation of the many very good and dedicated service providers.

Ignoring price gouging and unethical conduct is a betrayal of ndis participants and Aussie taxpayers and jeopardises the credibility and social licence of the NDIS.

Further legal changes are coming to more strongly prohibit and punish such practices.

But while this Government has achieved an enormous amount in a short period of time, there is much more to do.

An independent NDIS Review panel undertook some of the most extensive consultation with the Australian community in the history of the Commonwealth, to set a new course for the NDIS.

The Review’s final report, released publicly on 7 December 2023, makes 26 recommendations and 139 supporting actions to Government…

…all based on what the Panel heard from more than 10,000 people and organisations, and what they read in almost 4000 submissions.

National Cabinet considered the final report and, as part of an initial response, agreed that the Commonwealth would work with state and territory governments to implement legislative and other changes.

I acknowledge the incredible goodwill of State Premiers and Territory Chief Ministers in agreeing to work as one for Australians with disability.

I applaud their commitment last December to finance additional disability services outside the NDIS program – the “foundational supports” we speak of – on a 50-50 funding model, so we can meet an agreed growth rate target of 8% from 1 July 2026.

Australians with disability are relying on us to make good on our promises.

There is an urgency about these reforms.

We have had almost 10 years of delay on the NDIS working or all Australians with disability and the Review Panel has told us that the process of reform will take years.

Australians with disability should not be kept waiting a day longer.

The Albanese Government is committed to engaging and consulting with people with disability, their families, carers, representative organisations, service providers, unions, and the broader community.

This bill will enable new and expanded rule and instrument making powers.

The legislative approach taken is so we can establish an enabling architecture for rules and future reforms, and restore the original intent and integrity of the Scheme.

These Rules together with all legislative instruments provided for in the Bill, will be developed with all states and territories following genuine consultation with the disability community.

Collaboration with the disability sector on design is essential.

This is the clarion call from the NDIS Review Panel.

It will be complemented by design and development of the foundational supports to assist people with a disability, including those outside the NDIS.

This has also been agreed by all governments.

The legislation is only the first step in this process, there remains an enormous amount of work to do together to implement the reforms.

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

And we will continue to engage with participants, their families, carers, and disability representative organisations to ensure this blueprint for the future reflects their contributions.

This Bill I present today is the next part of our journey towards an improved NDIS.

It is the first step in responding to the NDIS Review findings, and to the disability community who gave so generously of themselves in sharing their experiences and insights.

And I want to take a moment to talk directly to the 660,000 Australians who are NDIS participants, to their families, carers and guardians.

I know that even much needed – much wanted – change produces anxiety.

Talk of any change will probably cause some nervousness, but I want to reassure you that we are going to work with you to make sure we get it right.

The Scheme will continue to grow.

Changes will be for the better of the participant.

A critical element of design and development following passage of this Bill will be a person-centred model for needs assessment.

This will deliver consistency and equity for planning decisions.

Access to the NDIS should not depend on how rich you are or who you know.

This change will not take effect until design is done and new rules are made – transition will take time.

Importantly, agreement by all governments means the NDIS will become just one part of a larger ecosystem of supports rather than the only lifeboat in the ocean.

Before I talk about what is in the bill, I want to flag that there are going to be some very technical bits.

I am here to explain its intent in plain language so people with disability, their families, and their disability organisations understand what is changing and when it will be changing.

What we have to do is reform the National Disability Insurance Scheme Act of 2013 (NDIS Act) and we have four goals:

  • that the NDIS provide a better experience for participants
  • that the Scheme be restored to its original intent to support people with significant and permanent disability
  • that the Scheme be equitable
  • and that the Scheme be sustainable.

The bill has two parts.

One section lays the foundations for implementing key Review recommendations, particularly those around planning and budget setting.

I want to go through some of that with you.

Once you are in the scheme, you will get a plan based on your support needs.

What we all want is a more dignified, person-centred process that assesses needs to determine a consistent, accurate and fair budget.

And that the budget can be spent flexibly.

This starts with a needs assessment that will work on with the disability sector to make sure we get it right.

And I want to be clear. Reasonable and necessary remains the core basis on which your support needs are met through the Scheme.

This bill proposes no changes to this ‘Reasonable and necessary’ core operating principle of the Scheme.

But, your needs assessment will look at your support needs as a whole – and we won’t distinguish between primary and secondary disabilities any longer.

If over time your support needs change, because of a significant change in your function, your information can be updated with a new support needs assessment.

The result will be a budget for disability supports that are fit for you; that reflects the support needs for your disability.

You can spend this budget flexibly in line with your own support needs – because you know them best.

But everyone will need to manage their NDIS budget, just as we do our household budget.

We will be clear about what supports can and can’t be funded by the NDIS to help you make informed choices and have confidence you are using your NDIS funds within what is allowed.

How these changes will be implemented will be developed with people with disability and the disability sector – this will take time to get right.

The legislation is the start of delivering our vision – it is not an end in itself.

Until the rules and legislative instruments are made, the current planning rules apply so there is no change.

Flexible budgets and a whole-of-person approach will increase the ability of participants to exercise true choice and control, and to best realise their full social and economic participation in society.

Overall, the changes to budget-setting aim to provide participants greater clarity and transparency, fairer and more consistent decision making, and improved participant satisfaction.

Creating this budget framework aligns with the original intent of the NDIS to support people with permanent and significant disability as part of a larger landscape of supports outside of the NDIS.

We will also make sure we get expert advice on selection and use of any tools, so the process is transparent.

These were all areas highlighted by the NDIS review as critical for improvement.

But before those things can be introduced, there is a lot of work needs to happen collaboratively with people with disability families and their representative organisations and state and territory governments.

There are therefore some operational changes that need to be made.

This is the second section of the bill.

I know people can feel anxious when we talk about scheme sustainability.

And some media commentary can still unfairly targeted people with disability in a way that is stigmatising and deeply unfair.

And to meet some of the rumours head-on:

  1. Psychosocial disability is still included in the NDIS
  2. Autism is still recognised as a disability.
  3. At the same time, we need to have an honest conversation about the Scheme.

It cannot keep growing at the same rate it is now.

It can and will keep growing, just not at the 16% it has in the last few years.

The Disability Reform Ministerial Council is on the record as saying that ‘without timely action to improve outcomes for people with disability, the NDIS is projected to grow to more than 1 million participants and cost up to $100 billion a year by 2032’.

Costs continue to grow without fairness, rigour and control over this critical investment by the Australian people.

We have to take steps to get it back on track.

So that’s what we are doing with this bill.

Some operational changes to improve things can happen soon after the legislation is signed by the Governor General.

One is the definition of NDIS Supports.

The legislation will link the definition of ‘NDIS supports’ to your rights under the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

This is the first time parts of the UN convention have been incorporated into NDIS laws.

Another relates to the provision of information gathering for eligibility reassessment. We will work with the disability community on operating guidance on this matter.

It is important for the CEO to have the ability to request and receive information on whether participants meet the access criteria including the residence requirements, the disability requirements, or the early intervention requirements.

This will not result in people having to ‘re-prove’ their disability, but will allow the CEO to determine a participant is receiving the most appropriate supports.

The process will take into account difficulties in accessing information.

But participants or their nominee will need to communicate with the Agency in the way that works best for you.

Another change that will be able to happen pretty quickly is with plan management arrangements where there is a risk for that participant, including financial risk.

And I want to make it clear the Agency has responsibilities here too and will be required to be consistent in its operations with the legislation and the rules.

So that’s just a few of the things that you may see happen early on.

But I stress, those directly impacted by key decisions about the Scheme will continue to play a central role in developing the detail and implementation of the reforms.

The review stuff, on the other hand, will take time.

There are two reasons for this.

One is that it has to be done in collaboration with people with disability.

Consultation on the early intervention pathway is crucial and there will be no changes until that work is done together.

And the second is that the review was very clear about the sequence of events.

Particularly about building the ecosystem of supports.

That’s why we need to begin the work of foundational supports before some of these other elements will be introduced.

States and territories will play an important role here, consistent with the National Cabinet agreement last year.

The Bill also includes amendments to quality and safeguarding, providing greater flexibility for the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commissioner in exercising compliance powers and building on our comprehensive fraud reforms.

These changes will boost the Commission’s ability to undertake compliance action.

The majority of providers are good, decent, hard-working people and I put on record my gratitude for the quality services they supply with care, compassion and professionalism.

But we cannot ignore the people who are trying to harm the NDIS and participants and I will not abide it.

And while these measures are immediate, they are not the end of the story.

We will consider more work on quality and safety once we have the report of the NDIS Provider and Worker Registration Taskforce, led by trusted lawyer and disability advocate, Natalie Wade.

Both the NDIS Review and the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability made recommendations on the scope and powers of the Commission, and these are still being considered by the Government.

We need to make sure we understand the various interactions between the recommendations of both reports before we consider taking action.

This I’ve outlined today will require a national coordinated effort, across all governments, and from each and every one of us as members of the community.

These reforms will not happen overnight – there will be a significant piece of work to design this pathway and I am once again asking for the help of the disability sector.

I say to our colleagues in state and territory governments today as we table this bill, that we do so to be transparent.

This reform process has been in the making since we commissioned the NDIS Review some 18 months ago.

Some think we’re going too fast, some think we’re going to slow.

I just want the best we can do for Australians with disability.

I acknowledge the questions and concerns of my colleagues in the states and will genuinely want to work to resolve issues and allay fears.

There is no arrogance or hubris with the introduction of this bill.

This is, in the government’s best judgement, the time to start this stage of the reform process.

And is in line with National Cabinet agreement to introduce legislation in the first part of the year.

We’re delivering on that promise.

I can only imagine that there will be some anxiety about the changes within the disability sector.

But the NDIS is not working the way it should and is not working well for many people.

This is our chance to make it right.

If you have a significant and permanent disability, which has quite an impact on your functioning, you will be in the scheme.

If you have a developmental delay, which could be supported by another means of support other than an individual package, you will get what you need.

For me, this is all about what the people need, not about trying to fit them around a process.

We cannot allow people to be excluded from all that this great Australian life has to offer because of a disability.

We should be proud of the NDIS.

Along with Medicare, there is no better use of taxpayers’ money.

The NDIS enables Australians, regardless of their level of ability, to lead the most fulfilling life possible.

A life of independence and dignity.

A life of contribution to the community.

A life of improved health and personal safety.

A life of connection to others.

It unlocks the great potential of Australians with disability – and their families – and enables them to participate in the life of our country on their own terms.

The NDIS is not perfect, but it’s not broken.

We can make it fairer, more transparent, more compassionate and more accountable to those it supports.

It’s still young – growing and learning.

And it is here to stay.

The NDIS has changed the lives of hundreds of thousands of Australians with disability – and their families.

I want it to keep changing hundreds of thousands lives, long after I have left this place.

I implore this Parliament to rise to the occasion to secure the future of the Scheme – not just for Australians with disability but all Australians.

I will leave you as I began – with a quote from the Shut Out report.

These words come from an anonymous submission:

“Disability is characterised by desire for positive change and striving for emancipation and flourishing. It is seen every day amongst people living with disability.

It is active hope.

We desire a place within the community.

This place is not just somewhere to lay down our heads, but a place which brings comfort and support with daily living, friendship, meaningful work, exciting recreation, spiritual renewal, relationships in which we can be ourselves freely with others.

And out of this, great things may flourish.”

I commend this bill to the House.