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Apr 10, 2012
James O'Brien

Explainer: The National Disability Insurance Scheme

From The Sunday Age on 8 April 2012:

A YOUNG woman in Queensland who suffered a spinal injury in a diving accident at her local pool spent nine years in legal action against the council and the pool lessee, lost, and relies on her ageing parents for 24-hour care.

A single mother in Wodonga worries endlessly about her son, 18, born with a chromosomal abnormality that caused intellectual disability and severe physical impairments. As an adult, his days at a wonderful local school are over, meaning that unless she can somehow find the money, his regular sessions with speech and occupational therapists will end. Local day programs are overstretched, as is the respite care she desperately needs.

A family with a daughter, 4, born with cerebral palsy, moved from Queensland to Victoria and were shocked at the difference in support services. ”In Melbourne service levels vary from the eastern suburbs to the western suburbs. As we live in Keilor, we are ineligible for additional services that friends living in the eastern suburbs receive. This level of inequity is beyond absurd – it borders on discrimination.”

These stories of heartbreak, despair and – most strikingly – of love and dedication were told to the Productivity Commission as it researched what it found to be Australia’s ”underfunded, unfair, fragmented and inefficient” disability support system.

Two ageing sisters who have cared for their intellectually disabled brother since their mother died 21 years ago detail their frustrations with the system, as does a man whose mental illness has left him unable to work and forced him to live in a caravan as he battles authorities for assistance.

Parents bemoan the wait for a wheelchair for their children, others lament the time it takes to get an appointment for early intervention services for toddlers diagnosed with autism.

The then parliamentary secretary for disabilities Bill Shorten told the commission: ”It has been said to me that the best thing to do for someone who has fallen off the roof of their home and suffered a spinal injury, is to bundle them into the car and drive it into the nearest lamp post.

That grim piece of gallows humour reflects the sad truth that getting adequate compensation for a person with a serious injury is still a lottery. State borders, the whim of the courts, and the cause of the injury play a far greater role than need, fairness or justice.”

The Productivity Commission agreed with the lottery analogy, noting that serious disability can happen to anyone – ”a simple fall can lead to quadriplegia, and an illness to severe brain damage”. It found the level of support for Australians with serious disabilities varied dramatically depending on how and in which state the disability occurred.

The commission recommended Australia set up a National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), along the lines of Medicare, to provide coverage for people with a serious disability. The commission’s report and recommendations were well received, with broad agreement across the major parties and state and federal politics that Australia’s system of looking after people with disabilities is a mess and reform is urgently required.

The Gillard government has committed to the NDIS, but is yet to announce how much money will be dedicated to it and how many people will be covered. The federal opposition has talked about needing to have a strong budget surplus before the disability insurance scheme can be funded, although Opposition Leader Tony Abbott wrote in a recent opinion piece: ”The Coalition intends to work constructively with the government to implement the NDIS as quickly as possible.”

Disability support services currently cost more than $7 billion a year, with $2.3 billion from the federal government and about $4.7 billion from states and territories. Commonwealth and state disability ministers and treasurers are discussing how to share the cost of a new system. It is estimated that, properly funded, the NDIS would cost $13.5 billion a year, almost double current spending.


  • As a speech pathologist who graduated in 1976 and has worked in three different Australian states, I can vouch for the frequently unfair and inadequate provision of services for disabled people. Assistance often varies according to factors such as where people live, but also, more importantly, how well a carer or parent (or they themselves even) can push their case for services. Thus, the articulate and knowledgeable stand a better chance than those who are not. But even the most capable people are thwarted, frustrated and stressed by the amount of time, energy and convoluted hoops they must jump through in order to get help.

    I thoroughly recommend the NDIS and optimistically look forward to a system that works for all Australians where ever they live and whatever the level of advocacy they enjoy.

  • Can someone explain all this in laymens terms?, what does it mean for mental health and Phsyical disabilities? is it seperate from DSP.

  • I would like to know what the NDIS scheme is offering to people with disabilities? It has not yet been clearly defined and set into place….it just sounds good,but how do you know whats being offered exactly?.The NDIS Scheme needs to cover all degrees and aspects of an acquired disability…It needs to support people with a disability beyond funding and support services again does anyone know what they are….Are we covering ALL basic human rights?…,housing,health and employment,cultures-indigenous/toristrait islanders? The severity of the disability,assessments and accessabilty to obtain services? Is it going to be that easy,are ALL individuals with a disability going to be accepted under the NDIS no matter how they acquired there disability,is this going to be catergorised or a some going to slip through the cracks? The NDIS is a very controversial and I pray that we are not being mislead,there is no room for false hope.

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