NDIS: A Plane With No Pilot

The NDIS is a world leading approach to support for people with disability, exceptional in its principles and intentions. Unfortunately, during its early implementation we are seeing a mass of teething problems, even more than we could have expected. The Scheme’s roll out has been likened to a plane being built in flight, we called it a Shitstorm.

Current problems range from the ongoing IT mess and poor sector readiness to widespread misinformation and an increasing number of bad individual planning outcomes. CALD, ATSI and rural & remote areas are getting a really crappy deal and the NDIA’s ability to respond may have hit rock bottom with the recent exit of so many senior staff (it must be a pretty unhappy place to work). You know things are really bad when some families are now telling us they do not want to “join” the NDIS. That would be funny, except that it’s not.

We need leadership that can show integrity, admit to the problems and give all those families reason to believe that things will get better. The NDIS is so important to so many people, it’s infuriating when all we get is self interested politicians looking to cover their arses or score points. There is a screaming absence of true national leadership in this time of trouble.

The plane has hit turbulence, the toilets do not flush and just when we thought things were pretty bad, it’s become clear that the plane has no pilot.

Bill Shorten showed leadership in the conception and early development of the NDIS. In his budget reply speech last night he said the NDIS was an “article of faith” for Labor and those that used it “would always be supported”. But when given the chance to guarantee the future of the NDIS by supporting the increase to the Medicare levy, Shorten decided to use his moment as yet another opportunity for political divisiveness and point scoring. He said he would only support the levy on higher income earners, when he had previously supported it on all, when the levy was first introduced by Labor. He of all people knows this is an insurance scheme and everyone should be paying for their potential futures.

Was Jenny Macklin squirming on the benches behind Shorten as he stumbled his way through his backflip? He is playing wedge politics and has in one fell swoop demolished much of the kudos Labor garnered for building the scheme. He now deserves to be remembered as the first politician to play true partisan politics with the NDIS.

At the end of last year, the Libs forced the outspoken leader Bruce Bonyhady out of the NDIA chair role. We have yet to hear anything from the new chair (do you even know her name?) about anything in the Scheme, yet she has been in the role for four and a half months. For families and providers that has been an incredibly difficult period and she has said nothing about the mess and how they are going to fix it. So if she will not take leadership, who will? The Minister responsible for the NDIS perhaps?

Minister Porter has been handed the opportunity to lead the biggest social change of his generation. Few politicians will ever have an opportunity to leave such a significant legacy. Yet, when it all hit the fan with the Portal and the mess got humungous, what did he do? Minister Porter brought in very expensive consultants to look for blame. Very unsurprisingly, those well paid consultants did not lay any blame at the feet of the Minister responsible for all the key Portal decisions. Porter has become known for taking no responsibility for anything that is going wrong. He is certainly not showing the leadership this Scheme needs. Dodging bullets may be Porter’s only legacy at this rate.

DSC is working with thousands of people and providers in the NDIS and we always acknowledge both the problems and the huge opportunities of this scheme. We have consistently seen that when we take this approach, people stop complaining, breathe a sigh of relief and begin moving forward to support the scheme to work.

At a pivotal time like this, leadership that takes responsibility is vital. Naming and owning the problems is not a threat, it’s the first step towards solutions. People in the disability sector have very highly developed BS detectors. The NDIA and politicians must stop telling people how wonderful everything is. Trying to silence discourse about the problems just does not work.

Now, more than ever, the NDIS needs leadership. Leadership that takes responsibility, is honest about the problems, works with us to fix them and ensures the scheme is funded to reach its potential.