News and opinions on disability
and inclusion

Crikey, it’s the National Disability Insurance Scheme!

Australia has embarked on an ambitious reform of its disability support services. The government is bringing in a new system called the National Disability Insurance Scheme. The scheme is starting to hit its stride, having survived recent budget cuts. 13,646 people are now eligible for the scheme and 11,029 people have an approved plan in seven trial sites across the country. So far, $565 million Australian dollars of support have been allocated to people under the scheme. The scheme is due to be rolled out nationally starting in 2016.

Say what you like about Australians, they do not do things by halves. The then Prime Minister in 2012, described the scheme as the greatest change to Australian social policy in a generation and compared it to the minimum wage, public health care and superannuation. Even allowing for a politician’s natural tendency to exaggerate, the scheme is big in scope and intent.

I want to say two important disclaimers before talking more about the scheme. First, funding for disability services in Australia is different from New Zealand, particular because Australia has two levels of government, State and Federal.

Second, it is always important to be careful when looking at overseas initiatives, context matters. Sometimes people get a bit too excited and forget that initiatives from overseas may not be suitable for New Zealand and if suitable still need to be heavily adapted to meet our needs. We have our own unique history, people, geography and culture, even within New Zealand services and supports have to be carefully crafted to meet local needs.

Disclaimers out of the way, it can be worthwhile looking at, and learning from, what other countries are doing. The National Disability Insurance Scheme has broad similarities to the ACC funding model, Individualised Funding and person-centred planning, which is how we operate.

The scheme involves people going through a planning process to set their own goals; they are then given funding to achieve those goals and can shop around with that funding to find suitable providers.

All the parts of the scheme can be found, more or less, in New Zealand, but not as a coherent whole. The funding looks more generous in Australia because it is based on an insurance and investment model. There also looks to be more flexibility in how funding may be used.

That is a broad, and a bit dry, overview of the scheme. I cannot really tell you if the scheme is making a difference because that really depends on how disabled people and their families are finding the scheme. There are some interesting initiatives underway to help provide that voice.

People with Disability Australia is using a process it calls a Citizens’ Jury to create a national scorecard for the scheme. Twelve Jurors have been selected randomly from the Australian population, including people with disabilities, to hear evidence from disabled people using the scheme and advocates. Other people can write in evidence too. The jurors will then score the scheme in a scorecard due in April.

The Citizens’ Jury certainly sounds more interesting and exciting than the standard reference group, consumer forum or review. I am looking forward to the scorecard.

Overall, there is still a long way to go for the National Disability Insurance Scheme and it is too early to judge its success or otherwise There is, however, plenty of things to learn, good and bad, from how the scheme is affecting people’s lives.

Leave a Reply