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History repeating in lacklustre NDIS regime

  • 01 October 2019


The latest underspend of the NDIS budget has reached the eye-popping amount of $4.6 billion. Four point bloody six billion dollars not getting to disabled people around the country. This was an increase from last year, when the total amount not spent on disabled people hit $2.5 billion. This is getting worse, not better.

Every single one of these dollars is a dollar not getting to disabled people. Every single dollar represents change not being delivered. Every single dollar is a door being closed, a phone call not being answered, a disabled person not getting what they need.

The National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA), instead of being the driver of change for disabled people across Australia, is in danger of becoming an echo of the previous system of underfunded service providers focused on making sure those pesky disabled people don't get anything much at all.

Why is there such a big underspend? There are many drivers, but a couple stand out. The first is fears that the costs of the NDIS will swallow the entire federal budget. Moving disability supports from the hidden, fragmented state and territory schemes, to a highly visible national one, brought a focus on how much our supports cost that hadn't existed before. Each year, the federal budget process gets far more attention than the equivalent state budgets, and so the federalised costs of disability suddenly appear huge.

These fears mean the focus of the NDIS is on getting disabled people to prove, over and over again, that they need what they need, rather than allowing us focus on how to live a good life, with access to what we need to do that. Reports, costing thousands of dollars to disabled people, are required for every bit of equipment and the NDIA fights disabled people over small amounts, scared of setting any kind of precedent such as people getting access to such luxuries as help to swallow, or transport to see friends, which non-disabled people can do every day.

This fear of the cost of the NDIS means that it is often talked about as the '$22b NDIS'. The Productivity Commission was asked to look at this whole question in 2017 and found that NDIS costs were tracking as per the original estimates.

But these costs aren't the whole picture. There isn't 22 billion new dollars suddenly being spent on fancy and unneeded disability supports such as yoga and ponies. Instead, existing