What do a Train and SDA Have in Common?

Once upon a time, Australia had the opportunity to create a truly visionary National system. A system that allowed for seamless and consistent operations across all states and territories. However, the states had parochial attitudes, ill-informed advice and a lack of national focus. Consequently, this system fell victim to blinkered views at the expense of national and social interest.

I am, of course, referring to Australia’s railway system. At least to the railway system as it stands today.

Over 100 years ago, when railways across Australia were in their initial stage of development, the various states decided to build railways with different distances between the tracks. Queensland built a narrow gauge, NSW a standard gauge and Victoria a broad gauge. As the years progressed, these decisions caused enormous problems. It has cost billions of dollars in re-work to try to turn the state based systems into a connected national system.

The parallels between this colossal failure as a nation and the emerging approaches to the NDIS are quite disturbing.

In Specialist Disability Accommodation (SDA), we are witnessing unsettling examples of state based decision making that will have both an immediate and longer-term impact of the program.

Queensland

The Queensland Government, via the Department of Housing and Public Works (DHPW), has recently informed housing providers that, at this time, a decision has been made not to transition any of their “public and community housing dwellings owned or funded by the department” to be used as SDA. As a consequence, any existing disability accommodation providers who received government funding for the development (be that land or capital assistance) should not seek to register these dwellings as existing SDA.

This position will have a dramatic and immediate impact on many of the existing housing providers within Queensland. Effectively, it will result in there being no SDA within Queensland for many years to come. Moreover, many existing tenants could face homelessness when current providers go broke and shut their doors.

New South Wales

The New South Wales government, via the Department of Family and Community Services (FACS), is currently negotiating to lease all existing disability accommodation to external organisations. They will become the SDA provider, be responsible for maintaining the properties and tenancies, but will return the majority (90%) of income from the properties to the state. Consequently, much of the existing group home stock will fall within the “in-kind” definition of the SDA Rule. They will, therefore, be the first option for SDA recipients seeking housing.

DSC has recently conducted a review of the proposed agreements between the NSW Government and potential SDA Providers. 

Victoria

The award for the most complex and divergent position on SDA goes to *drumroll*: Victoria! The Victorian Government plans to register as an SDA provider. As they currently control over 75% of the state’s disability accommodation, they will automatically become the state’s largest SDA provider. However, not content with this alone, the state will also be the central source for vacancy advertisement for all SDA, unless a private owner opts out of this system.

Victoria has also recently released a collaboration agreement that outlines a very confusing and convoluted relationship between the SDA and Supported Independent Living (SIL).

The refreshed management within the NDIA needs to recognise the developing issues within the SDA market and take urgent and decisive action to ensure that the divergence is contained and reversed. SDA delivery across Australia is drastically lagging behind demand. Without some clear and decisive intervention this position could only get worse. We have the opportunity to avoid another national embarrassment, but it requires immediate action.