Dear Bill

Image is of Bill Shorten and an NDIS campaigner. He is wearing a suit and a red tie. He is sitting next to the campaigner who is wearing a white T-shirt with the slogan of which Defend NDIS can be read.

Welcome back Bill. I think most of us in the disability community have been hoping, praying, screaming and demanding for your return to the helm of the NDIS. A succession of Liberal Ministers proved to be pretty clueless, even heartless. We even had one accusing people with a disability of wasting millions on prostitutes, remember that one? Linda Reynolds tried hard but ultimately wasted $41 million on legal fees trying to claw back money from people with disabilities who had received sub-standard and inadequate plans. Nine years of Liberal cluelessness, it wasn’t a great time. I really mean it when I say welcome back!

And what a task you have. It’s a mess isn’t it? I note that one of your first media releases was about going after corrupt service providers. Service providers who are overcharging and are sometimes negligent. It’s a good move and I support this. I particularly hope that you can improve the standards of care and accountability so that cases like Anne-Marie Smith never happen again. I note two directors of that company have been arrested. I am not after revenge, I just want people with a disability treated fairly and kept safe.

You know what Bill? People with a disability are not innocent either. Some are corrupt and abuse their plans. Not on yachts and prostitutes, mind you, but they spend their plans on inappropriate things. They get gardeners and cleaners in through their core, even though they have no such need for these services.

There was one really appalling case that I hope was reported. In this case a “service provider” took a spa off the hands of an NDIS client. (Yes you read that right.) The client was chucking it out. “The service provider” asked if they could have it. So they took it home and found that it didn’t fit. To get rid of it they asked the client if they could charge them three hours of service to pay for a rubbish removal company to remove it. Allegedly, they got the rubbish removalist to take it away, paid for it and then charged the client a few hours to cover the cost of the removalist. Yep, this sort of corrupt behaviour happens, I hope you can clean it up.

I am really pleased that you are looking at advocacy for clients so that they can be assisted at all levels of the NDIS process and not just for reviews and appeals. I am pleased that you have recognised that navigating the NDIS and getting a fair go is hard for many people. It is hard, stressful and often traumatic. Advocacy is often needed at initial planning meetings and scheduled reviews. Currently, this isn’t funded. It needs to be so that NDIS participants get help to understand and develop plans that best meet their needs. This sort of funded advocacy cannot come soon enough.

You know Bill, there are funded advocates that assist with unscheduled reviews and AAT appeals. The agencies that provide this service are swamped. They have huge waiting lists and often have to deny support. AAT appeals are the worst. Imagine being a participant trying to win an AAT appeal without support. They have to deal with qualified and highly paid NDIS lawyers, many who are subcontracted. It is intimidating and stressful.

AAT cases go on for a very long time too. The NDIA are unwavering and attempts at conciliation between participant and NDIA, more often than not, hit a brick wall. It ends up as a Directions Hearing. It’s laughable because the participant is then expected to fill in a “Hearing Certificate”. In this certificate they have to outline who their witness are and which of the NDIA witnesses they want “CROSS EXAMINE”. Yup, your every day participant, many without representation, are expected to navigate this. I am sure that you will agree that this is incredibly unfair. The extra funding for advocates cannot come soon enough.

But Bill, despite all of the above, the biggest problem that you have is the NDIA workforce. Hard working as they are, there are way too many that don’t understand disability. There are way too many that are gathering information and developing plans who really do not understand the issues and needs of disability. They rely on algorithms on computers to spit out plans that are often incredibly inadequate. Far too often, these plans come back for reviews.

This highlights the next problem. The reviews are often overseen by delegates and executives who also do not understand disability. The reviews are denied and they end up as AAT appeals that take months and months. There is a reason reviews and appeals went up 400%, its because way too many people in decision making roles have no clue as to what they are doing.

Do you know what that means? It means hours of people time, millions in resources, millions in legal fees and it all adds up to waste. $41 million in legal fees probably pales into insignificance to the amount of time and money wasted internally because inexperienced delegates, LACS and management are developing plans that do not meet the needs of participants. That’s a 400% increase Bill. That is time and money wasted.

The worst thing though, Bill, is the stress and trauma that all of this causes people with a disability. The stress of appealing. The stress of receiving inadequate plans. The trauma at receiving a plan that has been so drastically cut that the participant can barely function. This is happening everyday Bill. It is not just trauma, it is outright abuse.

I cannot emphasise enough just how important fixing the workforce issue is. It’s not just getting more people in to deal with the demand, its getting people in that know what they are doing. This means that more people with a disability need to be at management and executive level. More people with a disability need to be in decision making roles. More people that “GET IT” need to be employed. To my mind, that is your biggest priority!

Thanks for listening Bill. As I said, I am so glad that you are back. The NDIS is a world leading scheme. When it works, its fantastic. But, when it doesn’t it can cause great harm to people with a disability. I can confirm that thoughts of suicide and suicide attempts have happened because of decisions that are made by the NDIA. It’s just wrong.

Good luck Bill, give me a buzz if I can help.

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