Australian Companies In Lurch Over Disability Changes
SYDNEY — The eight companies chosen to do independent assessments for Australia’s disability support scheme have been told there is no start date for their work, as questions linger about the program.
The Morrison government has halted introducing draft laws that would lock in independent assessments for people wanting to access the National Disability Insurance Scheme.
The independent assessments, which are done instead of a participant’s regular doctor, would also be used to review the plans of everyone already on the scheme.
Eight companies have already been awarded contracts to conduct them and would share in AUD 339 million ($261.62 million) depending on how many assessments they do.
National Disability Insurance Agency boss Martin Hoffman says the companies are on a standing panel and have been told there is no start date.
“We will advise them when there is, or if there is, when we get to that point,” he told a parliamentary inquiry on May 4.
“Until we issue a work order there is no work to be provided.
“We will not issue a work order for any services until the process, including the legislation, is complete.”
Australians with disabilities and their carers have also been concerned they will not be able to appeal decisions made by the independent assessors.
Decisions made by the National Disability Insurance Agency can be appealed through the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.
The independent assessments cannot be directly appealed, but participants could include them in their case against the National Disability Insurance Agency’s decisions.
“An independent assessment itself is not a decision,” Hoffman said.
“It is information, it is an assessment, it is data that goes into making a decision.
“That decision is reviewable, is appealable, always was and remains so.”
Hoffman acknowledged the independent assessments plan had caused fear and concern in the community.
Community consultation had evidently not been sufficient or appropriate, he said.
Hoffman said participants were getting more money as part of their packages than before, with those posing sustainability problems as the scheme continues to grow.
He wants the scheme to fairly assess how much participants get for support, and for them to be able to use the money flexibly.
The inquiry is one of many being held by a parliamentary committee keeping tabs on the scheme.
It is looking specifically at independent assessments in its latest round of hearings across the country.
National Disability Insurance Scheme Minister Linda Reynolds on May 3 told a separate inquiry independent assessments would continue in “some form”, with the pause in place to determine how they would operate.
She retweeted a post by Inclusion Australia that said ‘The Minister welcomed the 5 Terms of Engagement for people with disability, families and the community and committed to ongoing deep engagement. A promising first step.’
The National Disability Insurance Scheme tweeted ‘Workplaces benefit from diversity and inclusion. The Australian Government is developing a National Disability Employment Strategy to address the barriers to work for people with disability.’
(Edited by Vaibhav Vishwanath Pawar and Praveen Pramod Tewari)