Mornings, ABC Radio Perth

E&OE

NADIA MITSOPOULOS:

Now, late on Friday afternoon, the Minster responsible for the National Disability Insurance Scheme dumped a proposal to introduce independent assessments into the NDIS. The decision followed a lengthy meeting with state disability ministers and mounting opposition from people in the disability community that the change would leave them worse off. Now, these are people who are fearful. They were stressed, they were worried about their future, they were worried about their financial security. And we talked a lot about this on this program. We had, of course, the NDIS Forum on this issue and scores of you have been calling this program over the last 12 months, and even Russ' last year, to talk about your concerns. So how do you greet this news and what is the alternative? Does there need to be another system? The Government thinks yes. It's promising to co-design a new system with people from the disability community. Have a listen and then let me know. 1300-222-720. Because the question is what is still on the table in regard to changes to the NDIS because the Government is still determined to rein in spiralling costs. 

Now, the plan today was for the NDIS Minister, Linda Reynolds, to come into the studio and take your calls. Unfortunately, meetings have got in the way of that. But I did manage to speak to her a little earlier this morning. 

[Excerpt]

LINDA REYNOLDS:

Good morning, Nadia. 

NADIA MITSOPOULOS:

What was it that finally convinced you to dump the proposal to have independent assessors?

LINDA REYNOLDS:

Well, it was really listening to the voices of so many Australians across the nation that really convinced me, the first few days that I became Minister three months ago, that there was a real issue here that needed to be addressed. And listening to people who rang into your program like Carol, Tom, and Sarah, and hearing their stories and their voice, convinced me that I needed to listen and I also needed to act. So, Nadia, this scheme itself is- it's a wonderful, wonderful, scheme. There is nothing like it anywhere else in the world. But it's not a program of the Federal Government. This is a true program of our Federation. So, any solutions to the issues that confront the NDIA now have to be done listening to the voices of the participants and those who love them, but also of the state and territory governments. So, last week I called an extraordinary meeting of state and territory disability ministers and we agreed that IAs should not proceed as they are currently trialled. But that we're going back and we'll work together with the community to develop a new, fairer system. 

NADIA MITSOPOULOS:

Okay. So, what does that mean then? I understand you have to go back to the drawing board. So, for the time being, the same system stays in place. Is that right?

LINDA REYNOLDS:

No. No, no, not at- So, the current system, yes, there's no change to the current system. But, we all acknowledge the current system needs change, is not perfect. And it's very unfair. So, if you're in Kununurra, for example, or anywhere in regional Western Australia, chances are- or the very high probability is that you will get a lower package than someone in Perth. And, that is not fair and that was not consistent with the idea of this scheme. So-

NADIA MITSOPOULOS:

Why does someone in Kununurra get a lower package than someone in Perth, with the same condition?

LINDA REYNOLDS:

Well, because there is no consistent form of assessment. So, everybody has to go in and advocate for themselves and if you don't have access to the right specialists, or if you don't have the ability to advocate for yourself, then you are very likely to get a lesser package than somebody who's in a capital city, like Perth, who can get better access to medical reports that they need. So, that's one of the key reasons for a new assessment process. That is, to make sure that everybody going into the scheme starts off in an equal position. 

NADIA MITSOPOULOS:

Have you got an alternative model in mind? Have you seen anything that would work? To give you the outcome that you want, but not using independent assessors. I mean, what's the alternative here?

LINDA REYNOLDS:

Well, that's what we're having a look at now. So, the state and territory ministers have agreed that we will work together to find a new method of assessment, and one that has the participant and their interests at the centre. A lot of work's been done by the independent advisory council who are people with lived experience of disability. And they've done a lot of work over the last month to start having a look at how we would change our approach. So we've listened and we've acted and we'll come up with something that deals with people's concerns.

NADIA MITSOPOULOS:

Are you still committed to only having an assessment every few years rather than every year?

LINDA REYNOLDS:    

Absolutely. One of the things I've heard loud and clear is the process of having annual assessments where people have to sort of do combat, basically, with the agency to retain their packages and keep proving their disability is absolutely, I think, the wrong approach. So we do need a system where once you've been diagnosed or assessed, we agree on a much- a longer term package and you can then focus on achieving your life goals, not having to keep coming back and proving your disability every year.

NADIA MITSOPOULOS:

On ABC Radio Perth in WA, I'm speaking this morning to the Minister for the NDIS, Linda Reynolds. Have a listen to what she has to say. On Friday afternoon, she decided to abolish the proposal of independent assessors. Listen to what she has to say. Then tell me what you think. 1300-222-720. Under this new system, you've created 400 personas or profiles where participants are put in a box that most closely aligns with their situation. Is that something that is still on the table? Will you persist with that?

LINDA REYNOLDS:

Well, as I've said, independent assessments, as we've trialled it, will not be proceeding. So what we're doing is we're now having a look to see how we make this a fairer system and one that has the participant at the centre of the planning process. So if you do need-

NADIA MITSOPOULOS:

[Talks over] But does that mean you won't have the- but does that mean you're also abolishing these profiles as a starting point?

LINDA REYNOLDS:

Well, we're starting afresh, Nadia. So, again, we will work through with the sector and work through how we best achieve a fairer outcome for people. And we've got a lot of work to do to get to that point, but the most important thing is that, you know, three months ago I announced a pause on these reforms so that I could listen. I've listened, I've heard, and we've now acted. But wonderfully, we've done it together as a nation. We've done it as- in agreement, in full agreement, multipartisan agreement between Labor, Liberal and Green ministers. So, this is a scheme of our federation and we are dealing with the issue as a federation, and I think that's a really wonderful thing.

NADIA MITSOPOULOS:

The disability sector says they'd like to co-design any changes. Will you allow that to happen?

LINDA REYNOLDS:

Absolutely. Yes.

NADIA MITSOPOULOS:

Do you believe there are providers that are profiting from the NDIS?

LINDA REYNOLDS:

Well, one of the things that I've heard very clearly is that this scheme is open for fraud. We have a fraud taskforce with the AFP, and clearly, there are people ripping off this scheme. I've had a lot of reports of unscrupulous providers who are gouging and charging people well over the market value for their services. So, yes, I think that there is a problem there, and I'll have more to say about that in the next couple of weeks about what more we're going to do. So I did discuss this with the state and territory ministers and we've agreed more needs to be done. So I'm now looking at what legislation I can bring in over the next few months to crack down on unscrupulous providers.

NADIA MITSOPOULOS:

Can you give us an indication of what that may look like? Are you talking about putting caps- you know, caps on the amount that they can charge for certain things, for instance?

LINDA REYNOLDS:

Well, we're looking- everything's on the table. Everything is on the table for us to consider. So the first thing is, is having a look at how do we track how people's money is being spent, because at the moment, the NDIA doesn't have visibility on the money that's being spent by individuals in some of their packages, particularly in self-managed packages. So we need the NDIA to be able to pay the bills so they can see what individual providers are doing, and we can start having a look at where that fraud is occurring.

NADIA MITSOPOULOS: 

A couple of other matters, Minister. The NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission is investigating the death of Jeff Barker. He was on the NDIS. He has severe- he had severe bipolar and type 1 diabetes. He was found unconscious in his home in the South West. He died in hospital. Daily welfare checks weren't being carried out, at his request, but the concern of the family is that he shouldn't have been- that his providers should have been able to override his decision because he wasn't in a fit state, if you like, to be in a position to say: look, you don't need to come and see me every day. I mean, they feel that that the NDIS has failed him. Do you think it has?

LINDA REYNOLDS:

Look, can I, first of all, express my condolences to Mr Barker's family? I can't overstate- I really cannot overstate my commitment to ensuring protections and safeguards or NDIS participants. In this case, I am limited in what I can say because there is ongoing investigations by the West Australian Police coronial inquiry, and also, the family have asked the Quality and Safeguards Commission to investigate. So we are investigating. But participant vulnerability is exactly the reason we established the NDIS Quality and Safeguard Commission so that we've got nationally consistent regulation. Now, I have introduced a bill which is currently before the Federal Parliament to strengthen the power of the Commission to protect NDIS participants, to learn from the lessons of current inquiries, but most importantly, to help prevent such tragedies in the future.

So, while I can't comment on this particular case because of the inquiries, I do want to make sure that we have a system that learns from past issues, but also that we can make this as safe as possible for participants.

NADIA MITSOPOULOS:

And finally, National Cabinet on Friday accepted a recommendation for mandatory COVID vaccines for disability sector workers. Will that definitely happen? And if so, when?

LINDA REYNOLDS:

Well, this is an issue for National Cabinet. I'm, obviously as the Minister for the NDIS, I'm very supportive of mandatory vaccination for disability workers. Currently, it's sitting at just under 38 per cent. So, nearly 40,000 registered disability workers have had- at least had their first jab. But given that they are working with such vulnerable people, I think that it is very important, and I'd encourage every disability worker listening to your show today to go and get vaccinated. So National Cabinet will conti- so they did agree last week to encourage residential disability support workers to have their COVID-19 vaccination as soon as possible, and they will then look further at whether states and territories then make it mandatory.

NADIA MITSOPOULOS:

Minister, thank you so much for your time.

LINDA REYNOLDS:

Thank you very much, Nadia, and thanks for shining a light on this important issue.

[End of excerpt]

NADIA MITSOPOULOS:

And that was the Minister for the NDIS, Linda Reynolds, speaking to me.