NONE of the problems with the Hunter’s trial of the National Disability Insurance Scheme were ‘‘insurmountable’’ but they would require the various parties to work together, a federal report on the scheme has found.
A multi-party federal standing committee on the NDIS took evidence in Newcastle in May and made similar visits to Geelong and Tasmania, where other trials of the NDIS are under way.
The committee said it was ‘‘not established to inquire into the case for having the NDIS’’ but to focus on its ‘‘implementation and administration’’.
In the report, the committee points to successes it found at the three trial sites, but says the scheme’s success is ‘‘not guaranteed’’. Describing the NDIS as the biggest welfare reform since Medicare in the 1980s, the report says its ‘‘reasonable criticism’’ is not an attack on the NDIS but an ‘‘opportunity to improve’’ it.
Making 17 recommendations, the committee said it was concerned about the number of NDIS plans that ‘‘appear not to have been activated’’ and the ‘‘gaps in service’’ identified at each trial site.
The committee said a ‘‘workforce strategy’’ should be developed to meet a shortage of disability sector workers that was predicted to worsen.
On the Newcastle trial, the report said 2720 people had applied for funding at the nine-month mark of March 31. Of these, 2042 were accepted as eligible and 1724 had funding plans.
The committee noted the 461 applicants deemed ineligible was the highest percentage of the three trial sites.
‘‘The committee understands that the inclusion of people with mental health illnesses into the NDIS has yet to be settled and remains a matter of immediate and significant concern for the National Disability Insurance Agency and federal and state governments,’’ the report said.
While the committee said the closure of the Stockton Centre was ‘‘not a consequence of the NDIS’’, its members accepted evidence on the closure because most of the residents of Stockton and similar residential properties at Tomaree and Kanangra (Morisset) are being joined to the NDIS.
On the cost of care packages being negotiated under the system, the committee said price bands suggested by the National Disability Insurance Agency were recommendations, not limits, and people should be made aware of the ‘‘no disadvantage’’ rule that meant nobody should go backwards with funding.
The Public Service Association’s Paul James, whose union represents most of the 14,000 NSW public servants facing unemployment because of the NDIS, said the report painted ‘‘a more optimistic picture’’ than the one presented at the Newcastle hearings.
By IAN KIRKWOOD
GRAHAM Burgess is a determined man.
As the Newcastle Herald recently reported, he walked across the Nullarbor Plain at the start of this year, pulling a 180-kilogram cart behind him.
At 73, he has a list of trekking achievements that would put most people half his age to shame, and it appears he applies the same determination to other aspects of life, especially where his son, Stuart, is concerned.
Stuart, 51, lives in a state government group home at Belmont, which his father described as ‘‘a magnificent set-up, a benchmark for the sort of design that allows someone with a disability to go to and stay forever’’.
But he said the National Disability Insurance Scheme, along with the state government’s decision to ‘‘give away’’ or close its disability assets by 2018, had threatened that expectation.
In general, Mr Burgess feared the NDIS would become a Trojan horse for big multi-national for-profit ‘‘care’’ companies, who he said would undercut the non-profit sector that most people thought of as providing disability care. Right now, he feared that residents of at least some group homes – including his son’s – were being signed up for NDIS packages without proper independent representation.
He said the sort of care his son and others received, including regular visits from a psychiatrist, was threatened by the NDIS because the pricing being built into the system would rule out the use of expensive specialists.
Mr Burgess said a campaign by the Public Service Association to keep the Stockton Centre open and oppose the privatisation of state disability services was ‘‘not simply about jobs’’.
‘‘I have a social conscience and seek the truth behind the lines being put forward by the government on the NDIS,’’ Mr Burgess said.
‘‘The PSA’s actions are ... about the people for whom they have cared for, in some cases for decades on end. I urge the people of Newcastle to rise up against this tragedy of farce being foisted upon the community.’’