Essential to getting NDIS right

Photo: Damjan Janevski

OPINION by Senator Matt Canavan

It’s a fitting time for Dylan Alcott to be named Australian of the Year at a time when the Australian Government is investing record amounts in caring for the disabled.

Dylan Alcott was paraplegic for the first few weeks of his life after undergoing surgery to remove a tumor in his spinal cord. Dylan has won gold medals in wheelchair basketball and tennis. This week, Dylan had the well-deserved honor of being just one of 10 ‘ordinary’ Australians to be officially invited to the Queen’s funeral.

Dylan is inspirational, but so are almost all of the people with disabilities you meet. Last week I attended the Beach Day Out at Emu Park. Originally started by Livingstone Shire Council over 10 years ago, the Beach Day Out is now organized by a local committee to bring together people with disabilities and service providers from across central Queensland. People can have a fun day at the beach while connecting to available services.

I met so many inspirational people including Morgan Stevenson who gave an inspirational keynote address on overcoming disability and anxiety over the last few years. Those who care for people with disabilities are equally inspirational and give much of their lives to help others.

So it was right that for the past decade we have been helping people with a disability and their carers through the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). The NDIS provides financial resources for people with disabilities to improve their quality of life, including through support with education and job search. The NDIS now supports over 500,000 Australians.

The NDIS was created by the Gillard Labor government in 2013 and fully developed under the former coalition government. You don’t hear much about the NDIS because it has political support from all sides and the media tends to focus on issues where there is competition.

That’s not to say there aren’t challenges with the NDIS. Like any new government program, it had initial problems with bureaucracy and delays. Much of this has been ironed out, but debate remains over the extent of support that can be provided and eligibility.

The NDIS was created in 2011 by the Productivity Commission. At that time, the Australian governments (state and federal) provided around US$7 billion in funding for disabled people. The Productivity Commission recommended the establishment of the NDIS, estimating that it should cost about $15 billion (including existing support).

That turned out to be a massive underestimate. The last budget estimated that the NDIS would cost over $45 billion annually by 2025. By then, NDIS will cost us more than Medicare.

We should adequately fund services for those of us who have to bear the tremendous cost of living with a disability. Any one of us could be affected by a disability at any time, so it is right that we pool the risks of such an outcome for all.

But it is also true that we need to spend public money wisely and there have been numerous reports of abuse of the NDIS system. Even the new Labor government has promised to crack down on “cowboys” who rip off the NDIS.

Now that the NDIS is in place we need to make sure it works efficiently or it will waste a lot of money and limit the services that benefit the people who need it.

Inspiration from people with disabilities helped get the NDIS off the ground, but we now also need the sweat of hardworking accountants to ensure it survives over the long term.

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