Planned changes to how Australians gain access to disability support will “blow up” the national scheme, a key architect of the original program has warned.
The Morrison government has long been urged by Australians with disabilities, their carers and advocates to abandon.
It would not only change how decisions are made for people set to receive support, but would alter how much support Australians already on NDIS plans receive.
Newly minted NDIS Minister Linda Reynolds has promised to consult with the sector and assess feedback on independent assessments before locking them in.
Melbourne Disability Institute director Bruce Bonyhady – who helped design the NDIS – has urged the government to immediately stop trials of the independent assessments, which he refers to as “robo-planning”.
“Independent assessments are not independent,” he told a parliamentary inquiry on Friday.
“Robo-planning will blow up the NDIS. And it will also blow up the vision for this scheme to be there for all Australians.”
Professor Bonyhady said the change would tear up the social contract at the heart of the NDIS, which is that individualised support is available for all Australians who have a disability.
He warned of anxiety and anger among people with disability. Trust between the community and the National Disability Insurance Agency, which runs the NDIS, has reached new lows.
“Which is extraordinary given that the NDIA exists for one purpose and one purpose only – to serve people with disability, their families and carers,” Prof Bonyhady said.
“The trials should therefore be abandoned immediately, before they cause further needless stress.”
Among his main concerns is that the NDIA wants to ensure decisions made by independent planners cannot be appealed.
“With no transparency, robo-planning could be used to exclude participants, cut plans or change the NDIS eligibility criteria,” Prof Bonyhady said.
“And the NDIA would not be able to be held to account for such actions.”
The changes would result in NDIS participants undergoing assessments from government-approved doctors 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.
Children and Young People with Disability Australia chief Mary Sayers said the NDIS was as critical as Medicare.
“The independent assessments reform proposed by the NDIA not only fails to address existing implementation issues, but it will reinforce and exacerbate existing inequalities and create new ones,” she said.
“After Australia has taken so many steps towards providing more dignified and appropriate supports for people with disability, the introduction of independent assessments under the NDIS is one giant leap backwards.”
The government has defended introducing the assessments, saying they are a more transparent and equitable way of gauging a person’s capacity that would support fairer decisions about NDIS access.
Former NDIS minister Stuart Robertthat “the beauty” of independent assessments was that “no one’s questioning your disability”.
An NDIA spokesperson told SBS News earlier this week consultation on independent assessments “has involved ongoing discussion with peak bodies over the last two years and direct engagement with participants and their families”.
Functional assessments “have always been a part of the NDIS” and further consultation on the changes are underway, the spokesperson said.
Additional reporting by Evan Young.