Saving the NDIS

Image is a black and white photo of a lady. She is showing signs of great distress. One hand covers half her face. It seems she has insurmountable worries and concerns.

For six weeks I watched on in horror. I watched on as Albo seemingly couldn’t remember the most basic of details. I mean every person and their dog knew the unemployment rate was 4%. We know its now 3.9%. Frydenberg reminded us daily, multiple times. ScoMo smirked as he read out the rate at 4%. This seemingly confirming the Liberals as the greatest economic managers known to man. Forget a trillion dollars of debt, 4% unemployment is what it is all about. If Australia needed any proof that the Liberals were gods gift to Australia, ScoMo, 4% unemployment and his smirk were all the proof that they needed.

So the very first question that aspiring PM to be, Albo, was asked was the unemployment rate. I mean its like an episode of Chaser. First question – What did Humpty fall off ? – a) a stall b) a ball c) the mall or d) a wall. That simple. And he muffed it. ” It’s 5, no 5.4 – Sorry I don’t know what it is.” I screamed at the TV – “It’s 4 you NUMPTY!! Oh god, I held my head in my hands because another three years of ScoMo was sending me to New Zealand.

If Albo had lost because of his inability to get across such minute detail it would have been a tragedy for Australia. Don’t get me wrong, the press behaved appallingly towards Albo. Their bias was disgusting. But Albo needed to be across his brief. That he often wasn’t caused heart palpations across the nation, I am sure. Thankfully, ScoMo was so on the nose that Albo could probably have sung songs and danced at his press conferences and still won. But god, he didnt help himself.

I am pretty sure Albo will make a great PM, but as a campaigner he left a lot to be desired. But he won and now Labor can begin the task of saving the NDIS. That is going to be a job and a half.

Just last week I received a message from a mother who has a daughter with cerebral palsy. So that the daughter can remain independent and pain free she needs extensive therapies. The NDIS want to cut back on the therapies because they are not convinced that the daughter cannot have her needs met by other means, including surgery.

Indeed, the mother had been advised by her LAC to have a letter written by her doctor that states, and this is a direct quote, “Nothing cures cerebral palsy ….” Oh yes, rather than fund and continue successful therapies that are assisting her daughter to build muscle strength, manage pain and maintain independence, the mother needs to prove to the NDIS that cerebral palsy cannot be cured. Supposedly, this will convince the NDIS to maintain the therapies at the level that is required. Fuck!

It has gotten to the point that I literally hate the NDIS now. They have become so pig-headed, so hell bent on cutting cost, so hell bent on controlling people with a disability that they are literally making the lives of people with a disability a living hell. As review times come for plans I am hearing stories of plans just being turned over, without consultation or review meetings. Plans are being set up for two years. The first participants hear about it is through email or the mail. They are often shocked that their plans were cut or rolled over without any consideration to any new or important needs that may arise through a proper review. It is a disgrace. I am hearing these types of stories daily.

For myself, I assist a few deaf people with their AAT appeals. Originally I did this as part of a side business that I had and received some payment for it. Now, I just do it voluntarily. Basically, I provide advice as to the process of appealing and then assist with collating the evidence that is required to argue the case.

I sometimes represent these people at their hearings. The first step is that the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) try to resolve the issue with the NDIS and the participant. The NDIS send qualified lawyers to these hearings to argue their case. Most people with a disability represent themselves, because they cannot afford a lawyer or do not qualify for any legal assistance. They can try to get advocates to represent them, but waiting lists are so long that many miss out.

What I do is help participants to put forward their arguments and gather the evidence that they require. Usually what happens is that the NDIS lawyers steadfastly refuse to give any ground. This might be over a number of months. If resolution cannot be agreed then it usually falls to the AAT to look at all evidence and give a ruling.

This is where it gets hairy. Because when it gets to this point the lawyers and participant have to submit a Hearing Certificate. The Hearing Certificate basically outlines what evidence will be submitted, which witness will provide evidence, who will be cross examined and so on. It is a very legal and intimidating process.

If you are a lawyer, like the well paid NDIS lawyers, it is your bread and butter. (Many who are subcontracted by the way, at great expense.) If you are a participant it is very much a WTF moment and very scary. Imagine representing yourself and being asked which one of the NDIS witnesses you want to cross examine. It’s crazy.

You have to remember these people representing themselves are parents or kids with a disability or people with a disability. Many have low incomes, low education and perhaps even some cognitive and processing issues. As an advocate I have had to support and advise deaf people who may have low literacy and even language deprivation. It is fair to say that the whole AAT process is not weighted in favour of people with a disability. Especially if they cannot get any kind of representation.

But this is what is happening everyday through the NDIS. The stress and lack of dignity that is directed at people with a disability by the NDIS is a national disgrace. The pig-headed attitude to cut the cost of plans is literally sending people with a disability and their families over the edge. Talk of suicide and giving up is not uncommon.

This is what Labor must fix. An integral part of the Labor plan is to ensure that people with a disability who take on the NDIS have adequate representation. According to Labor they will, “Increase advocacy funding: Labor will double existing support for disability advocacy, investing an additional $10 million over four years and match existing provider advocacy funding for AAT appeals.”

This is great. Representation is much needed BUT – I would much rather that they fix the planning process so that the need for appeals and constant reviews is minimised. I accept that planners will sometimes get it wrong and the avenue for appeal and review must always be there. It just should not be happening to the extent it is now. Part of the solution is increasing staffing of the NDIS with personnel that understand disability and the needs of people with a disability. This is currently, sadly lacking!

A big part of ensuring knowledge of disability will be Labor weeding out the deadwood within the NDIS. A crucial strategy needs to be placing people with a disability in management and decision making roles to a far higher degree than they are now. People with a disability must be in CONTROL!!

So get going Bill Shorten. There is not a minute to spare. People with a disability are being hurt by the very scheme that was established to make their lives better.

That is the Liberals and Australia’s great shame!

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