The dual trial of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) in Western Australia has ended with a bilateral agreement signed on February 1 by the WA state and federal governments.
The WA model got the guernsey and will be locally run and administered. Starting in July, it will be rolled out to an estimated 39,000 people over the next three years. WA will pay all the administration and operating costs but governance responsibilities will be shared nationally.
The WA government in collaboration with the Disability Services Commission has waged a long campaign to ensure the NDIS is locally run and delivered. They argued that disability services would be better delivered by people based in WA who knew their communities.
A new WA NDIS authority will be governed by an independent board to be comprised of four state appointees and a further three will be appointed on the recommendation of the Commonwealth minister of disability services.
Is this a win? It remains to be seen. Disability rights activists have raised concerns that people with disability in WA may be disadvantaged by a WA NDIS.
At a public meeting, titled the Great NDIS in WA Q&A, held in Thornlie on January 29, questions were raised about why the government has refused to release the report that evaluated the two trials. Labor’s attempt to access the reports under Freedom of Information legislation have been unsuccessful. People with disability and their supporters are understandably asking why.
The rhetoric surrounding the introduction of the scheme has been about giving choice and control to people with disability. “Why, then,” asked disability rights activist Sam Connor, “can’t we see the evaluation?
“We’ve been told we’re going to get the best bits of both schemes, so we’re saying show us your best bits — put them on the table so we can actually know what is proposed and have some input on what is going to work for us and what isn’t.”
Greens candidate for North Metropolitan in the coming state election, Alison Xamon, asserted that the state Disability Services Commission has no understanding of co-design with those who will be utilising services. “They need to reconsider their approach,” she said, “otherwise I am very concerned that we will end up with a second-rate system in WA.”
Xamon also expressed concerns about an apparent lack of consultation with Aboriginal communities and an inadequate inclusion of people with psycho-social disability.
Nihal Ismail from the Ethnic Disability Advocacy Centre raised concerns that nothing had been done on working with culturally and linguistically diverse communities in WA. Similar concerns were raised about people with disability living in regional areas.
Family members raised concerns about the lack of transparency — saying it was causing a lot of fear. They are concerned that the new system will not be up to scratch and that local coordinators will be unable to cope with the weight of planning and administration.
Disability rights activists have been saying for some time now that a locally administered NDIS must be able to deliver complete national consistency around key elements such as eligibility and access to supports. They are told it is going to be better than the national scheme. But that has not necessarily been the experience, and without seeing the evaluation report it is impossible to judge.
At the close of the meeting, disability rights activists unfurled a banner calling on the Director General of the Disability Services Commission in WA to release the evaluation report. While this will not guarantee “choice and control” for people with disability — as has been promised from the outset — transparent decision making would be a good start.
Better still would be a genuine process of engaging people with disability in the design and running of the scheme.
[Janet Parker is a member of Socialist Alliance and works in the disability mentoring program for a non-government service provider.]