Disability scheme assessment change paused

Rebecca Gredley
(Australian Associated Press)

 

Australia’s disability minister is promising to review feedback before introducing independent assessments to the national support scheme.

National Disability Support Scheme minister Linda Reynolds will meet with her state and territory counterparts on Thursday, with the planned changes high on the agenda.

While Senator Reynolds said she would look closely at feedback before drafting laws to lock in the rollout, the long-term cost of the scheme was a key concern.

“It was established as – and continues to be – an insurance scheme,” she said.

“Any future reforms must continue to deliver on the promise of the NDIS: to provide people with a permanent and significant disability with true choice and control over a flexible support package to achieve their goals.

“And this is what independent assessments are designed to do. I’ll be closely assessing the independent assessment trial outcomes before any enabling legislation is taken forward.

“The purpose of the trial is to understand what is working and what needs to be improved.”

Her predecessor Stuart Robert was concerned people with deeper pockets were receiving more support than those accessing the scheme from lower socio-economic areas.

The changes would result in NDIS participants undergoing a three-hour assessment by a government-approved doctor to decide what level of help they need.

Independent assessments would also be required for people having their plans reviewed, with concerns the government would use them as a cost-cutting measure to reduce how much support people receive.

Funding for the scheme is split between the federal and state governments, worth approximately $94 billion over four years.

Disability groups have welcomed the pause but want more details.

“A privatised assessment system where a person with disability’s future would be determined by a tick-a-box assessment with a stranger over a few hours was not the NDIS thousands of Australians fought for,” the groups said in a statement.

“We stand ready to work with the government to develop a system that is sustainable and fair for the almost 450,000 Australians with disability who rely on it.”

Labor’s NDIS spokesman Bill Shorten is pleased the independent assessments will be delayed but thinks it should not even be considered.

“What this anti-disability monster of a plan really needs is a stake through the heart,” he said.

Senator Reynolds’ office recently had to defend the independence of a review into the scheme, conducted by retired public servant David Tune.

Documents obtained under Freedom of Information laws showed the government inserted an entire chapter on introducing independent assessments and made substantial changes to the rest of the review.

A spokesman for Senator Reynolds said the government respected Mr Tune’s independence at all stages.

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