Time for NDIS critics to show their cards

| March 8, 2016

There have been comments from the business sector that the rollout of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) should be slowed down. President of People with Disability Australia, Craig Wallace, says if the Business Council of Australia really thinks that Australians with disability and families shouldn’t get reasonable and necessary support, it should have the courage and integrity to say so.

Monday’s Australian included an opinion piece from Jennifer Westacott, CEO of the Business Council of Australia, about the rollout of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). Ms Westacott calls on us to slow down and get the NDIS right from the outset

The NDIS is a big national rollout and we are all paying for it in one way or another so there is nothing wrong with a prominent business leader having an opinion about the scheme.

But I do take issue with the blizzard of confected panic about the NDIS before the trials are even concluded. Australians have invested a lot in the NDIS so it should concern us all that the rollout seems to be surrounded by a welter of worried chatter, speculation and comment – much of it by people without disability or direct knowledge of the scheme.

To be fair, neither Ms Westacott nor I are actuaries for the NDIS and working under the hood of the scheme.

So we are both reliant on facts from those who are, and what they report is this:

Firstly, both the Government and the schemes administrators tell us that the NDIS is being delivered on time and within budget including in the latest quarterly report on its progress.

That report to December 2015 shows a steady increase in the number of participants with approved individual plans – with 22, 281 plans now in place, up 2,253 from the previous quarter.

Those of us in the know actually expected the costs of initial plans to be fairly high due to a backlog of demand for once in a decade supports and services. Replacing a whole wheelchair with postural seating is more expensive than doing repair work or an upgrade.

Yet in the most recent quarter we are told the cost of the average plan was $35,450 which is well within the expected full scheme average of $38,600.

This figure doesn’t include the devolution of some large residences – another cost that can be expected to go down.

On a rating scale of -2 to +2 the average of satisfaction with the scheme is +1.6.

I’m not sure what the NBN rollout would get but I’d be surprised to see that level of satisfaction about the network.

It’s hard to think of any other program that’s been subject to a similar critique mid-rollout while getting ticks in all the key parameters around cost, customer satisfaction and take up.

Ms Westacott is on record lecturing public servants about the need to innovate and adopt risk management approaches.[1]  She said, “There should be much greater public promotion of the innovation underway in the APS”.

Well, a perfect example is right under her nose. The NDIS is establishing a whole new business model for delivering person-centred disability support drawing heavily on commercial insurance practice.

And it is fiscally responsible.

The nominal budget for the NDIS, when it is fully up and running, is far less than PricewaterhouseCoopers estimated the Government would eventually spend if the costs continued to spiral as they did under the old welfare scheme – by 8 per cent a year without any effective way to manage costs or meet people’s needs.

The NDIA, which is managing the implementation, openly says it is building a sophisticated actuarial system to understand the lifetime outcomes and costs of all participants.  It’s arguably more than the accountability tests we apply to other expenditures – including to business assistance or industry bailouts which rarely look beyond the horizon of regional job losses.

NDIS sustainability is constantly measured by calculating the total expected future costs. Unlike the welfare system of the past this allows the Agency to adjust as necessary and to make prudent investment decisions that reduce long term costs for the broader community and maximise lifetime opportunities for the participants.

This is all done with unprecedented transparency. Quarterly reports are posted to the NDIA website. There is a welter of information organised into a series of point in time dashboards providing many ways to delve into it. One can only imagine a similar transparency applied to other areas, like politician’s expenses or locations at a point in time.

Much of this transparency is driven by the joint governance and control of the Board by the States, Territories and Commonwealth. The Commonwealth is hardly known for transparency in other programs and expenditures when left entirely to its own devices. That is why we should be worried by reports that the Commonwealth is working to seize control of the entire governance of the scheme.

The NDIS should be being lauded by the BCA and other business leaders for its extraordinary success in early trial and implementation of an innovative way to deliver to people with disability and their families – a core mission for Government.

The Productivity Commission rigorously calculated the full cost of the NDIS of $22 billion pa.

Recently the BCA faced visceral criticism close to home from none other than Michael Kroger for failing to show its cards on the GST and influence public debate.

Likewise if the BCA really thinks that reasonable and necessary support should not be provided to Australians with disability and families, they should have the honesty, courage and integrity to say so, and not snipe at an innovative new model for delivering support, which mirrors what they have been asking the public sector to do.

[1] ANZOG 6 August 2014