Australia’s Shining Light

Picture shows a person walking to a tunnel of light.

Linda Reynolds, Minister for the NDIS, was on TV today. She was being interviewed about the NDIS. The basics of what she said was that the NDIS is bloody expensive and we gotta stop spending so much on it. Yeah, you know people with a disability, bugger em, they are expensive folk. Lets feed em three times a week and take em to the park once month. That’ll do. Cos otherwise Australia is gonna bleed, and we cant have that. Can we?

In the same breath Reynolds said that Australia was a world leader in disability support. The scheme was brilliant she said. It’s a scheme that no other country in the world has. We disabled are so lucky to live here – But apparently the Govmint has a responsibility to the Australian tax payer … Gotta spend less so that those bloody corporate tax cuts can be paid.

So, the NDIS is world leading? Well it would and should be. I am a great fan of the concept. I want it to work, I really do. But it won’t work if people keep calling it a cost and not realise that it is an investment that reaps benefits. Not just moral benefits, but financial as well. Most of all it cant be world leading when it employs strategies, processes and people that are so bizarre, Monty Python couldn’t make them up.

Today I read an article about Western Australian lawyer, Tom Monks. Mr Monks is an amputee. He lost both legs in an accident when he was two years old. Long time ago! Monks was able to be accepted as an NDIS participant easily, but like for so many others, getting what he needs from the NDIS is an arduous adventure.

So last year, because of COVID, Monks didn’t spend as much of his package as he normally would. This was common for lots of people with a disability during Covid. Monk claims that at his review he was told bluntly that the NDIS would take some money away cos, clearly, he didn’t need it.

First thing the NDIS did was take away his travel allowance. Didn’t spend much of it so obviously not needed. Apparently Monks was told he has a wife, so she can take him everywhere. Monks is a wheelchair user and needs accessible taxis. It’s an expensive business. But you know, following Reynolds dictum, gotta watch the pennies, so this has gotta go!

It gets worse. They took away his wheelchair maintenance. They took away his physiotherapy and pain management budget which allow him to maintain function. So like many other people with a disability, Monks had to do a review to try and get back his funding. Three months on, god knows how many NDIA person hours , Monks had to prove he had no legs and indeed was in need of the stuff that they took away.

Maybe they thought his legs would grow back, who knows? They are a world leading scheme after all, they must know what they are doing. (As a footnote, Centrelink told Mr Monks he wasn’t disabled enough and asked him if his amputation was permanent – I wouldn’t put it past the NDIS to do the same.)

You think that was bad? Well the Guardian printed a story of a young girl who had one of the NDIS’s much vaunted Independent assessments. You can read about the Girl who uses wheelchair deemed to have no mobility concerns by NDIS independent assessment.

Girl in question, Eliza, lives with an intellectual disability and physical disabilities. She apparently has brittle bones and can break her bones easily. When her condition is at its worse she requires the use of a wheelchair. One might think, like Monks, that the needs are obvious. But Eliza and her family had to wait 16 weeks for the assessors report … Thats four months or one third of a year.

Some how, in a way that only an NDIS process and worker can do, young Eliza was deemed to have no mobility issues, none! As Eliza’s mother said, “I would imagine if I’m asking for a new wheelchair for Eliza because she grows out of the current one, they’re going to look at the independent assessment, and it says she doesn’t have any mobility issues,” Of course the NDIS claim that one answer does not make up their assessment, and that the mobility needs would have been captured in other areas of the assessment. You reckon? Nah, the NDIS have form, this is something they will latch onto to save money. They really are that bad.

And you know, none of this surprises me at all! I worked there and I can tell you I still have nightmares about some of the decisions that the NDIS made to save money. I once planned for a participant who had a genetic condition that led to multiple disabilities, – learning and physical. The girls first plan was pretty good. There was funding for physical needs, cognitive needs. personal care and so on. The parents were lovely, I loved visiting them.

A year on was review time. We got reports and recommendations from therapist and put forward a proposal. On the system there were multiple reports from the past indicating the girl has different disabilities. We put in the scheduled review expecting everything to be approved without issues. We were shocked when the girls funding was cut in half.

The parents were beside themselves. I got straight onto the delegate that had made the decision. “Well”, said the delegate, “… the system says she has an intellectual disability and none of the other disabilities are listed, so we removed that funding.”

I was livid. I reminded them that there were many reports that were stored on the CRM and that these reports list all of the girls disabilities and needs. These reports outline all of the girls therapy and care needs. I asked the delegate if she had actually read them. She had, apparently, but because only intellectual disability is listed s a disability on the system the delegate decided, in her infinity non-wisdom, that these needs were not valid.

Six months it took to get the other disabilities listed for this girl. SIX MONTHS. They made the family get all new diagnostic reports and refused to consider the information that was at their disposal in the system. Six months the family struggled for – SIX MONTHS – Because of a heartless delegate on a power trip!!!

I am sure that none of this surprises anyone. I assist a few deaf people with the NDIS. I help them with reviews and represent them. I send emails with the reviews that clearly state that I am deaf, to email and not call. Inevitably two or three times a week I will get a call that tells me “number not listed”. I know it is the NDIS because the NDIS do not want their numbers traced lest they get harassed by irate NDIS participants (True story) So you cant call them back.

The NDIS will continue to ring me for a week or so and then they will send me n email that says, “… tried to call you, please call us back!” Im sure readers feel my pain and frustration. We really should not be surprised given that Hearing Australia, our largest provider of hearing aids and hearing services, ring up their deaf participants for appointments. I wonder if they still call out names in the waiting room and then cross out the client as a non-attendee because they didn’t hear their name called. (Yes this has happened.)

So NDIS, the world leading scheme of disability experts providing supports that no other country does. The only scheme of its type in the world says Minister Reynolds. THE ONLY SCHEME OF ITS TYPE IN THE WORLD!! All I can say to that claim is – Well thank fuck for that!