SPEECH TO THE NATIONAL DISABILITY SERVICES CONFERENCE

It really is a great pleasure to be here today –

To be among friends whose work is driven by their values.

I want to start by congratulating Chris Tanti, your new CEO, on his appointment.

Chris, you have taken charge of an important organisation at a time of great change.

I have every confidence you will be able to seize the opportunities, confront the challenges and advocate strongly on behalf of the sector –

Just as Ken Baker has done for 18 years.

Today I also want to pay tribute to Ken’s service.

Through your leadership, you have made a very significant contribution to the sector and to national policy development.

I wasn’t in the federal parliament at the time – but I know you played a critical role in campaigning for the NDIS.

Working with Jenny Macklin and so many others from across the sector to campaign for long-term improvement to the old, broken system of disability supports.

Thank you. I know your expertise and experience will be missed.

And I join with everyone here today in wishing you the very best for the future.

I also acknowledge Jenny Macklin, who has worked so tirelessly on Labor policy for over two decades – with compassion and effectiveness.

As you know, she will retire from the Parliament at the next election. She has left very big shoes to fill.

I don’t want to speak for too long today – because I want to allow time hear from you.

My appointment to this portfolio is still relatively recent and in my short time, I have already seen two ministers opposite – and you have seen five in as many years!

I will work towards a strong relationship with the sector, and while we might not always agree, I can tell you that I value your experience and insights.

I also want to assure you that advocacy is something I think is critically important – and something Labor values.

Advocacy is vital for good policy development and essential for effective implementation.

It’s not something government should be afraid of – quite the opposite.

NDS, along with people with disability, representative organisations, families, carers, the workforce and others –

All have an important role to play as advocates in improving the roll-out of the NDIS.

The NDIS has now been up and running in some areas for more than five years.

Over 63,000 people who were not previously receiving support now have access to the NDIS.

For many people it is changing their lives.

And for many, the scheme is working well.

In the NDS Report today Monique Cardon from Fairhaven has outlined just two such examples.

In one instance a man from Point Clare was able to access Co-ordination of Support money to get his forklift licence.

He already knew how to drive a forklift –

And, because of the NDIS, he was able to get support to have the questions on the drivers licence test properly communicated to him.

The second case was similar –

With support through the NDIS a man from Tuggerah was able to organise driving lessons, and support for a drivers licence test.

He is now on his Ps.

Every day, the NDIS is giving many Australians more choice, more control and more options in their lives.

There is strong support across the parliament and in the community for the NDIS – and there is enormous dedication to making it work.

That is something we all have a responsibility to maintain.

But we also have a responsibility to work together and address the very serious issues facing the scheme’s roll out.

For many Members of Parliament that I speak to, difficulties with the NDIS are the number one issue people contact our offices about.

It’s not hard data or robust empirical research.

But it’s a very good indication of what is going on for people in the community.

Your organisations are of course experiencing these issues first-hand, and that is reflected in the results of the NDS Report which has been released today.

Three in four providers have indicated that NDIS systems and processes are not working well.

And 80 per cent of you think the NDIS policy environment is uncertain.

Transition problems are to be expected for a scheme of this size, but much more needs to be done to build trust and genuine partnerships with your organisations.

It will not be possible to deliver on the promise of the NDIS in the long term without a viable, sustainable and innovative sector.

If Labor is fortunate enough to be elected at the next election, fixing the NDIS will be a critical priority.

There are several key issues I think need to be addressed as a matter of urgency.

Almost everyone I speak to about the NDIS is frazzled by their experience dealing with the scheme.

It has become bogged down in bureaucracy, red tape and complexity.

Problems have been papered over with layers and layers of bureaucracy.

This is driving people with disability and their families to distraction.

NDIA staff are working hard every day – but in many cases their hands are tied by rigid systems and processes.

While there are some signs of improvement, it is still too hard for people to get clear and consistent answers to fundamental questions about how the scheme will work for them –

To speak to decision makers –

Or even comment on a copy of their plan before it is finalised.

And when mistakes are made – as they inevitably will be – it can be difficult to get them fixed.

Reviews can take months.

Recently a parent of a terminally ill baby with a degenerative condition had Registered Nurse support suddenly withdrawn at an unscheduled review.

The baby’s mother raised the issue as a matter of urgency with the hospital, and with the NDIA – but to no avail.

It was not until this case was brought up in Senate Estimates that the required supports, which were incorrectly removed from the plan, were re-instated.

It should not be this hard to get a simple omission in the planning process fixed.

And when this occurs – it is your services that are left to deal with the confusion and service gaps.

Of course, many of the NDIA service issues relate to the unnecessary staff cap that was placed on the agency in the 2014 Horror Budget.

There simply are not enough staff to do the work that is needed.

The Productivity Commission recognised this – and Labor recognises it too.

Which is why we have committed to removing the staffing cap.

And we will prioritise the work that needs to be done to fix the maligned IT system.

Labor would also work with the sector, advocates and people with disability to reduce red tape and bureaucracy.

Another area that needs improvement is planning.

In recent months the NDIA has trialled a new planning pathway, and the initial feedback is positive. I would be very keen to know what you think.

Further significant improvements in the training of planners and consistency are needed.

I recently met with a man in my electorate office who was recovering from a stroke.

At a planning meeting in hospital he was promised 17 hours of physio per week.

But upon discharge, he discovered his plan only contained funding for 1.5 hours a week. Now he is going through the appeal process.

This isn’t how the planning should work.

Practical changes like doing away with annual reviews for people who don’t need them should be examined.

Along with a bigger role for advocacy.

Including the option for participants to have more choice over who helps them build their plan.

Planning isn’t something that should be done to people with disability.

Building a plan should be done by and with people with disability.

People shouldn’t be told what to do by the Agency or a LAC, people should be supported to find out what is possible –

And then fit it into a plan.

This is critical to achieving the choice and innovation that was promised by the NDIS.

Life is very different in remote parts of Australia.

And I think we also need to acknowledge that an effective NDIS should be delivered very differently in Tennant Creek and Thornbury.

It is a fantasy to think a pure market approach will deliver services in these areas.

Government and the NDIA need to take much more responsibility for correctly identifying disability in remote Australia, particularly in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities –

Bringing people into the scheme –

Working out flexible ways to deliver supports –

And partnering with local communities to build sustainable models of service delivery that are based on local employment and economic development.

This will require careful, long-term workforce planning and the consideration of different funding models. Including block funding and a realistic assessment of costs.

The NDIS is a huge opportunity for jobs and economic development in remote communities – an opportunity we can’t afford to miss.

I am pleased to see that today’s NDS Report has identified this issue – and the need for a different approach in remote areas.

Utilisation rates in the scheme are currently far too low.

For the scheme to date, almost half of all people are using less than 50 per cent of their plans.

This means people are missing out on the supports they need.

And with more people coming into the scheme every week, demand for services will continue to grow.

And it will be a big challenge to meet that demand.

Particularly when we still do not have a comprehensive workforce strategy, or a plan for skills.

And sector stewardship seems to be focused on responding to serious market failure, rather than pro-active planning and capacity building in the first place.

Critically, the right kind of skilled, values-driven and committed workers need to be attracted to the sector.

And this will only be possible if good jobs, with security, training opportunities and decent pay are on offer.

People need to see working in the NDIS as a career, not just another gig on the way to a better job.

They need to be able to get mortgages and plan for the future.

Ensuring good quality jobs is absolutely critical to the success of the NDIS.

Government also needs to do more in partnership with you, to promote the wonderful opportunities on offer – as well as the diversity of roles in the disability sector.

I acknowledge that pricing is the number one operational issue for the sector – it’s very clear in your survey.

And I have spoken to many providers who feel that even after the pricing review and the recent increases in some prices –

That quality is being compromised and the future of some services threatened.

From opposition I can’t commit to specific changes – that is the role of the NDIA and its board at present.

But I can say that that if I have the privilege of serving as Minister I will take a collaborative and consultative approach on pricing.

I recognise that service costs vary across the country, and that Tasmania is very different to Sydney.

It’s important that pricing is guided by ensuring that quality services can be delivered over the long term.

As the roll-out has progressed, there hasn’t been enough attention on the gaps between the NDIS and mainstream services – particularly state health, corrections and education systems.

There are simply too many gaps – and too many arguments over who is responsible.

The Productivity Commission is currently reviewing the National Disability Agreement.

Like you, I am keenly awaiting the findings.

But at this stage I can’t see how interactions with state services, and services for those who are not eligible for the NDIS can be co-ordinated and guaranteed without a new agreement.

Briefly, I would also like to mention Labor’s commitment to a Royal Commission into violence and abuse against people with disability.

We know it will come at a time when people with disability, advocates and the sector are working through the roll-out of the NDIS.

But we must confront issues of violence, abuse and neglect head on

– and make the necessary changes to protect people into the future at the soonest opportunity.

Lastly – and very importantly – I want to reset the relationship with the sector.

Listen to your expertise.

Hear your concerns about the roll-out.

And genuinely partner with you to deliver on the promise of the NDIS for people with disability.

Because you do incredibly valuable work.

And if we work together, every issue I have raised today can be addressed – I am sure of it.

The NDIS is a big, bold reform.

It’s a critical part of our national social infrastructure.

And I am always impressed by the commitment in the sector and the community to making it work.

Australians believe in it – despite the problems with the rollout.

By working together, we can overcome these problems.

None of them are insurmountable.

This is the spirit in which I have offered my comment today.

It’s up to all of us to deliver on the promise of the NDIS.