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Indigenous Communities Missing Out On National Disability Insurance Scheme In Australia

Labor's Bill Shorten will map out his vision as an inquiry hears the program is culturally inappropriate for Indigenous people.

CANBERRA, Australia — The disability support scheme must be culturally appropriate otherwise Indigenous Australians will miss out, a parliamentary inquiry has been warned.

The cautionary note comes as the Australian Labor Party’s spokesman for the National Disability Insurance Scheme Bill Shorten prepares to map out his vision for the program’s future.

Shorten, who was integral in setting up the National Disability Insurance Scheme, will address the National Press Club in Canberra on April 28.

The National Disability Insurance Scheme is a scheme of the Australian Government that funds cost associated with disability. The scheme was legislated in 2013 and went into full operation in 2020.

National Disability Insurance Scheme Minister Linda Reynolds’ first move in the role was to put the rollout on hold until feedback from trials was considered. (Mick Tsikas/AAP Image)

A parliamentary inquiry is looking at proposed changes to the scheme, including the introduction of mandatory independent assessments for people trying to access support.

The change would mean a team of government-approved experts conducting interviews for people seeking a National Disability Insurance Scheme plan, and reviewing those who are already getting help.

As part of a study into fetal alcohol spectrum disorder in conjunction with the Marninwarntikura Women’s Resource Centre — an Aboriginal-controlled organization in Western Australia’s Fitzroy Valley — the University of Sydney’s Lauren Rice has been trialing the appropriateness of National Disability Insurance Scheme assessment questions on Indigenous families.

The organization supports Fitzroy Valley women & their families by encouraging safety and well-being and fostering leadership and financial independence. They also provide activities, mentoring, support, access to culturally sensitive and respectful services, and advocacy.

“While this measure works well in Sydney, it is completely culturally inappropriate for use in Aboriginal communities,” Rice informed the inquiry on April 27.

The National Disability Insurance Scheme is a scheme of the Australian Government that funds cost associated with disability. (Mick Tsikas/AAP Image)

The questions are so culturally inappropriate that people are screened as not having a disability despite their diagnosis.

Rice said independent assessments would only widen inequity in the scheme and not improve it as the government hopes.

“The only way to create true equity is for the government to invest in the development of culturally appropriate tools for use in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities,” she said.

The National Disability Insurance Scheme entitles people with a “permanent and significant” disability (under the age of 65), to full funding for any “reasonable and necessary” support needs to be related to their disability (subject to certain restrictions). Funding is allocated to the individual, and the individual or their guardian chooses which providers supply the funded goods and services (subject to certain restrictions).

The scheme is entirely publicly funded: recipients do not purchase or contribute to an insurance policy. The scheme is not means-tested.

The word ‘insurance’ refers to the scheme’s use of proactive insurance principles to manage long-term financial sustainability, and that it aims to ‘insure’ any citizen will have costs covered in the event they are born with or acquire a disability.

(Edited by Vaibhav Vishwanath Pawar and Ritaban Misra.)

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