|From: Australian Financial Review Weekend
6 March 2016
Article by Laura Tingle
The Turnbull government has made a bid for effective control of the National Disability Insurance Scheme – a move that would allow it to rein in its scope and cost – after successfully pushing out the board that has overseen the founding of the scheme.
At the same time, it has won agreement from the states for the board of the NDIS to be expanded by three places – a move that could give it effective immediate control over the scheme ahead of the federal budget and the currently planned massive scaling up of operations in July .
In papers presented to a meeting of federal and state disability ministers on Friday, the federal government has put forward a detailed proposal to “simplify” the management of the scheme, which in fact would allow it to change key definitions of who is eligible for support, and to give directions to the agency that runs the scheme.
This is despite the fact that state governments currently are the more significant funders of the NDIS.
The proposal, which was opposed by all states and territories, would, for example, mean that in future the federal government could define – without consultation – who can be covered by the scheme, what can be included in participant’s care plans, and what constitutes “reasonable and necessary support”.
The “reasonable and necessary support” definition does not only affect what services are available to disabled people, but has knock-on effects to the states as services cut out of the NDIS have to be picked up across other state support systems including health, education, public housing and prisons.
CHANGES TO DEFINITIONS
Until now, changes to these definitions – which have already been negotiated between the various levels of government – required full or majority agreement by jurisdictions, as a safeguard to maintain the integrity of the scheme
The papers propose that the NDIS Act would be amended “so that the Commonwealth Minister may give directions, make appointments and make rules in consultation with the states but without the need for agreement”.
Canberra insists that it is not seeking “to make changes to governance that would change the scheme’s purpose or design, or that would undermine a [state or territory’s] ability to agree decisions that affect its NDIS implementation and mainstream services”.
Having met blanket opposition to the proposal, federal Social Services Minister Christian Porter indicated he would seek to implement the change via legislation.
The proposal emerged as Canberra scored a significant win at the meeting in its long quest to replace the existing board of the NDIS after the ministers’ meeting supported a federal proposal for half of the existing board’s terms to be extended by six months beyond their current June 30 expiry, and for the other half of the board to have their terms extended by 12 months.
While Mr Porter insists he will consult with the states about who replaces the existing board, many jurisdictions believe that the process he has set up effectively gives control of the appointments to Canberra because Mr Porter will be responsible for drawing up the list of candidates.
Those board directors whose terms will be extended until the end of 2016 include the chairman of the NDIS – and the man regarded as the father of the scheme – businessman Bruce Bonyhady.
‘CUMBERSOME’ CURRENT PROCESS
The federal government says the current process “is cumbersome and is also complicated by differences in the levels of agreement required from jurisdictions.
“With planning for the national implementation of the NDIS under way, the ability of NDIS governance arrangements to enable responsive delivery and agile decision-making will be critical for success.”
Victorian Disabilities Minister Martin Foley said “people with disabilities will see this move as backing off the national consensus to end their segregation and chance for an ordinary life”.
“It is an attempt to make people with disabilities wear the long-term cost of the Turnbull government’s revenue problems.