JOHANNA NICHOLSON: The new Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme says she understands there’s anger and concern in the sector around proposed changes, but she’s ready to listen.
FAUZIAH IBRAHIM: In an interview with disability affairs reporter Nas Campanella, Linda Reynolds says she wants to fix the issues participants have with the NDIS. Ms Reynolds has again apologised for her comments about Brittany Higgins and says she’s assisting the Australian Federal Police investigation.
NAS CAMPANELLA: Linda Reynolds, thank you so much for speaking to me today. You have just returned recently from some personal leave and started in a new portfolio. Can I ask: how are you?
LINDA REYNOLDS: Look, thank you, and I am very well. I’ve had great medical support, and I’ve had great support from my boss, the Prime Minister. And I’ve been back at work now for six weeks and it has been an extraordinary six weeks now as the Minister for Government Services and also as the Minister for the NDIS. So thank you for asking, but I am well and I am really loving and feeling very privileged to be in this new job.
NAS CAMPANELLA: And where are you at with the investigation into- or assisting the AFP with its investigation into Brittany Higgins’ allegations?
LINDA REYNOLDS: Well, I’ve provided the AFP with a statement this week and I’m ready to provide whatever other support that they require.
NAS CAMPANELLA: This week the Federal Budget allocated an additional $13.2 billion over four years to the National Disability Insurance Scheme, and you are being accused of catastrophizing over claims of the scheme blowing out. What’s your response to that?
LINDA REYNOLDS: Well, my first responsibility as the Minister for the NDIS at quite a pivotal time for this scheme is to make sure that this scheme endures, not only for the 450,000 Australians who are now participants in the scheme, but also for the 80,000 who we think are still to join the scheme. So, to make sure that this scheme endures. And to endure it has to be financially sustainable and we have to find a way for sustainable growth for the scheme. So, for me, it’s all about the participants and making sure that this scheme endures.
NAS CAMPANELLA: You’ve talked about sustainability. Some people in the disability community are worried that they either won’t get onto the scheme at all, or if they’re already in the scheme, that their plans will be cut. What do you say to them?
LINDA REYNOLDS: There is no plan to indiscriminately cut or to cap plans. But what we do need to do is introduce, for example, independent assessments. Because in the last six weeks we’ve been consulting extensively with participants, with their families, with their providers and with a wide range of stakeholders, and it is very clear to me that, apart from putting the program on a sustainable growth trajectory, we have to make the scheme far better for participants themselves. So, what I’ve heard so far is that, under the current legislation, which was introduced in 2013 and hasn’t really been significantly changed since then, is that there’s a number of unintended consequences. So, what participants have been telling me is that going for an annual assessment every year and having somebody from the NDIA going through line by line and having to adjust their plans line by line is unpleasant. And I think it’s probably not necessary, so one of the things I’d like to do this year is introduce legislation that increases the time between reassessments by the NDIA. But also, if we’ve got independent assessments in, we can then make sure that there’s equity in the packages between participants.
NAS CAMPANELLA: You’ve just talked there about independent assessments, and when you first got into the role you put a pause on the introduction. Is it an actual pause, though?
LINDA REYNOLDS: It is a pause. Independent assessments were always anticipated, and in fact they’re in the original legislation. They’re common and, in fact, I think just about all insurance schemes have an independent assessment process to provide that consistency and fairness in packages of support, and that was in the legislation. And I think it is one of the deficiencies that we don’t yet have that in place to actually determine what is reasonable and necessary.
NAS CAMPANELLA: The disability community says it wants to work with you on this. The relationship between the former Minister Stuart Robert and the disability community was broken. What are you doing to repair that relationship?
LINDA REYNOLDS: Well, I certainly wouldn’t characterise it that way, and my predecessor made a lot of significant changes and a lot of important changes for the scheme and was incredibly passionate about the scheme. But I certainly did- I’ve spent six weeks so far and I’ve got a number of weeks still of consultations to do. But it was very clear that there’s a lot of people in the disability sector who are angry and who are concerned. So, my role is to listen, and I’ve heard a lot, but then to work through with the sector on how we fixed it.
NAS CAMPANELLA: And speaking of relationships and rebuilding, you have apologised for calling Brittany Higgins a lying cow. But how are you looking to restore trust in you with the wider community?
LINDA REYNOLDS: Well, as I said, I’ve given a statement to the AFP. I have apologised publicly and privately to Brittany and I wish her nothing but the best. I shouldn’t have said the comments I did and I’m sorry for that, and I have apologised most sincerely.
NAS CAMPANELLA: Linda Reynolds, I wish you all the best with your new portfolio and thank you for speaking with me today.
LINDA REYNOLDS: You’re most welcome, any time, thank you.