Prof Bruce Bonyhady is Executive Chair and Director of the Melbourne Disability Institute, an inter-disciplinary research institute at the University of Melbourne, and was the inaugural chair of the NDIA from 2013 to 2016. As one of the original architects of the NDIS, Prof Bonyhady still holds true to the founding principles, which are becoming somewhat lost in the face of a very challenging implementation schedule. Prof Bonyhady spoke at a recent CBB event for disability service providers in South Australia. Here are his recommended actions that governments should take in order to get back on track and deliver the NDIS sustainably, many of which are aligned to the conclusions of the Productivity Commission Review of NDIS Costs, published late last year.
- Make sure adequate support is available for those who are not eligible for the NDIS. Prof Bonyhady warns that for those that don’t qualify for NDIS services, there is a risk of them falling off a cliff. State governments are responding very differently to meeting the needs of those that sit outside the NDIS, with a risk that the NDIS becomes ‘an oasis in the desert’. ILC activity (information, linkages and capacity building) will be a waste of effort if there are no services for people to link to. The logical – and damaging – consequence is that people will try to exaggerate their level of functional impairment in order to access services or become more disabled.
- NDIA staff caps should be lifted. The restrictions on the number of staff that can be directly employed by the NDIA is short-sighted. One of the biggest challenges facing the NDIS is effective planning and any short-term savings on staff and planning time will be overwhelmed by the costs of reviews, AT appeals and an upward bias in plan costs, as any under-resourcing in participant plans will be challenged while over-resourcing will be accepted.
- Fix the IT system. The NDIS portal continues to be an ongoing challenge for all who engage with it. It has been developed by Centrelink, which has many competing priorities and so it needs to be properly funded and given clear KPIs. There needs to be a much stronger ecosystem around Agency IT system to support engagement and integration. The lack of straight through processing is causing enormous inefficiencies and imposing an unnecessary burden on service providers, participants and families.
- The NDIA should release its data. This very much reflects our view at CBB that the NDIA is stifling innovation and investment in new or additional services by withholding data around the NDIS – particularly on service demand. Providers simply don’t have the information about who is choosing what services, and where, to inform decision making about service development.
- Funding for NDIS should be legislated. The full funding for the NDIS should be enshrined in legislation. Over the five years since the NDIS started, plan utilisation is at 66%, so the overall spend is significantly less than the original government expectations. Prof Bonyhady advocates for underspent funds to be assigned to fix the current challenges quickly and any further surplus should be available as a contingency for future use to deliver the NDIS sustainably in line with the original vision.
- The voluntary aspirational target of the building industry, which was set in 2008, for all new dwellings to be accessible by 2020 has failed totally. There now needs to be mandatory minimum accessibility targets as a matter of urgency, set through the Australian Building Code. Livable Housing Australia has set standards and a minimum of 5 per cent of all new dwellings should be at Platinum Standard.
- Effective market stewardship remains a major challenge, in part because the accountability is unclear between the Commonwealth and State and territory governments and the NDIA. Price signals are causing perverse behaviours and current pricing is a constraint on the delivery of key services.
CBB provides business consulting services to disability providers dealing with the realities of NDIS transition. For further information about how to deliver the NDIS sustainably, please contact CBB.