SA Blinks First! A New Rollout Schedule Announced

A small but vital announcement came out of South Australia last week with the State publicising their decision to slow down the process of transitioning people to the NDIS. Under the old schedule, all existing State and Commonwealth clients were to be settled into the NDIS with approved Plans by June 30. As we rolled into May, it must have become apparent that things were not going to plan. Under the revised timeline, all State and Commonwealth clients will have their access determined by June 30 and approved Plans by December 31. Altogether, buying the Government and the Agency that little bit more time.

It was only a matter of time before we saw an announcement like this; it was merely a matter of which State would blink first. Last year, the Productivity Commission basically begged (in as much as a public research body can beg) governments and NDIA to slow down the rollout. They noted that as of June 2017, the NDIA was approving 165 Plans a day. To meet the Bilateral Estimates they would need to approve 500 Plans a day. Short of the Agency hiring a team of bureaucratic Supermen, this target is basically impossible. Participants and service providers have already expressed their concern that the NDIA is focusing too much on the quantity of Plans approved and not enough on the quality. Supposing it was even possible to increase the speed of Plan approval by 300%, this could only aggravate the quality problem.

It was the Commission's view that during the crucial period of transition when the structure of the NDIS will be formed, the speed of the rollout was compromising the Scheme's objectives. Unfortunately, decision-makers did not take this news well. The then Social Services Minister, Christian Porter instantly announced that the government planned to stick to the original timetable, despite not disputing any of the report's findings. Evidently, delays in the NDIS was not a headline that the government wanted.

It may not be the announcement that Australians want to hear, but it is a decision that is necessary for NDIS participants and the future of the Scheme. Some future NDIS participants in SA will undoubtedly be frustrated to have to wait even longer to get their NDIS Plan, particularly those creeping towards 65. However, a poor quality first Plan has the potential to compromise the participant's whole future with the Scheme. Moreover, we only get the opportunity to roll out the NDIS once. There is a lot to be said for slowing down and doing it right.

In many ways, this was the decision that SA had to make. Bilateral Estimates predicted that by July, there would be close to 26,000 NDIS participants in the State. As of December 2017, 15,000 South Australians had approved plans. Nevertheless, the SA government does deserve some credit for making the brave (albeit somewhat obvious) decision. With the new precedent in play, hopefully, we will soon start to see other States making the choice to put quality first.