I had an interesting telephone conversation a few days ago with The Honourable Jenny Macklin MP, Shadow Minister for Families and Social Services. Ms Macklin was the Minister responsible for the introduction of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) in 2011, so when her staff canvassed me to see if I was available to discuss the WA NDIS issue with her, I was intrigued! What issue?, I thought.
The previous Friday, I was one of the 500 people in attendance at the NDS International Day of People with Disability Lunch at Crown Perth where The Honourable Donna Faragher MLC, WA’s Minister for Disability Services, announced that the State and Commonwealth Governments had reached in-principle agreement on the roll-out of a nationally consistent NDIS that will be locally-administered in WA. The announcement was greeted with loud applause and a palpable sense of relief amongst the many disability sector representatives present.
On speaking with Ms Macklin, she expressed her interest in understanding our reaction to the announcement. As I explained to Ms Macklin, there are three key aspects of the WA NDIS that many of us in this state believe make it a better system for Western Australia:
The NDIS Market Approach Statement of Opportunity and Intent states that over time, a vibrant, multi-faceted, open and competitive marketplace will operate sustainably to deliver the needs of individuals and is a key foundation of scheme sustainability and value. A competitive marketplace already exists in WA, with providers free to determine their hourly rates within a prescribed funding envelope for each cluster of services.
Disability Services Organisations (DSOs) establish their own pricing models based on the costs associated with providing appropriate levels of support, training and investment to maintain quality standards and remain viable into the future unlike the NDIS where prices are set.
As outlined in the 11 agreed elements under a future WA-delivered NDIS model, WA will be responsible for managing the upfront cash flow risks in delivery of the WA-delivered NDIS model. The federal NDIS model of payment in arrears for services delivered has been devastating for some organisations in the eastern states, especially with the glitch to the NDIS MyPlace Portal implementation in July 2016, during which time some participants and providers were unable to access payments for eight weeks. Unfortunately, many not-for-profits lack the cash reserves to support cash flow during a period of transition to payment in arrears, which means that the sector on the whole could suffer tremendously from the collapse of organisations that are doing great work but currently lack the necessary degree of business resources.
The continuation of funding in advance under WA NDIS at least for the foreseeable future will enable DSOs to prepare for a future where funding may be in arrears and/or consider partnerships within the sector that will ensure that the individuals they support continue to receive services.
For more than two decades, a key strength of the WA disability sector has been the localised planning model that encourages and fosters relationships between individuals, Disability Services Commission (DSC) Local Coordinators and service providers.
Under WA NDIS, this model will continue to flourish, in comparison to the centralised NDIS planning model that does not appear to recognise the value of collaboration and the benefits that DSOs provide in developing an understanding of an individuals objectives, challenges and needs.
Ms Macklin was instrumental in the success of the negotiations that resulted in a nation-wide agreement on the NDIS, so it is not surprising that she would want to understand why WA wants to go its own way with WA NDIS.
And therein lies the conundrum of perception versus reality. Successive Commonwealth Governments have shown bipartisan support for what is undoubtedly a remarkable scheme based on choice and control for people with disability, on a scale not seen anywhere else in the world. However, the disability sector in WA is already world-leading and some elements of the NDIS, while an advancement for people living with disability in other Australian jurisdictions, would be a retrograde step in WA.
It’s not that we want a different NDIS in WA; we want a better NDIS. And we think WA NDIS has the capacity to deliver.