News | 26 September 2022

NDIS Minister Bill Shorten’s announcement on the new NDIA CEO, Board Chair and Board Members

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Photo from press conference at Parliament House showing left to right: NDIA Board Member Jim Minto, NDIA Board Chair Kurt Fearnley, NDIS Minister Bill Shorten, NDIS Board member Maryanne Diamond, NDIA CEO Rebecca Falkingham - who is not easily visible, she is behind Dr Graeme Innes (with his Guide Dog).

Today Minister for the NDIS Bill Shorten has announced five new people who will all play important roles in running the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) – a new CEO, a new Board Chair, and three new Board Members. They start on Monday, October 17, 2022. Find the details from the announcement right here…

Here’s a very quick summary for now, but check back in later for more information.

Who was announced for leadership positions at the National Disability Insurance Agency?

📌 New NDIA Board Chair

  • Kurt Fearnley AO

📌 New NDIA Board Members

  • Dr Graeme Innes AM
  • Ms Maryanne Diamond AO
  • Dr Denis Napthine AO


  • Rebecca Falkingham PSM

Congratulations Kurt, Graeme, Maryanne, Denis, and Rebecca! We look forward to helping you turn things around for the next era of our NDIS. We’ll be right here working hard to make it easier for you all to hear from and speak to our huge community of people with disability, families, and all who support us. Welcome!

ABC News transcript

Did you miss the press conference on ABC News? We’ll try and get the video to share here, but if we can’t you can still read the transcript below. The transcript has some mistakes in it, but it is close to what the TV captions read.

Ros Childs, ABC News:

We take you live to Canberra where the Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme, Bill Shorten, is speaking.

NDIS Minister Bill Shorten MP:

… appointing Mr Kurt Fearnley as the new chair of the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

Along with Kurt Fearnley, I’m really pleased that we’re announcing Mr Graham Innes, Ms Marie Diamond and Dr Dennis Napthine as Directors.

I’m pleased to announce after an open recruitment process, Ms Rebecca Falkington has been selected as the new CEO.

Kurt Fearnley needs little introduction to Australians. They have watched him on TV as a magnificent Paralympian. I first met him at the Beijing Paralympics. I have to say I got to meet him again in 2009 when he was due to attend an event where I was the junior minister. Unfortunately, Jetstar wouldn’t let him take his own wheelchair on the plane. Kurt was a formidable advocate on that day. He stands up for Australians. His contribution in the disability sector, the sporting sector, and his general leadership and advocacy in our community makes him an exceptionally qualified new Chair of the National Disability Insurance Scheme. This is the first time a person with disability has actually been appointed to Chair of the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

I’m also pleased to announce that with Graham Innes, a former human rights commissioner, Chancellor of CQU, and Ms Mary Anne Diamond, we now have five of the directors and chair that are people with disability, the highest number the scheme’s ever had.

I’m also pleased that Denis Napthine, after I asked him to step down as Chair, so then I could put in Kurt Fearnley, I did feel that Denis Napthine had much to contribute, so I’m pleased he accepted my invitation to come back on the board as a director. I also acknowledge in all of this that the work of the acting chair, Jim Minto, it’s been excellent work and we’ve been very busy in the time since getting elected and therefore I acknowledge his work and that of the acting CEO, Ms Lisa Studderdt.

As a result of the recruitment process run by the Board with the assistance of the Australian Public Service Commission and the Department of Social Services, I’m pleased to say that Ms Rebecca Falkingham was the stand-out candidate. The new positions will take effect from 17 October.”

This is an opportunity for the National Disability Insurance Scheme to have reinvigorated leadership following the change of government in May. The process to get such a qualified and competent leadership coming in to the scheme is very exciting and I think we’ll see results in terms of better rebuilding of trust between people — between people on the scheme and the scheme itself. But Australians and Australian taxpayers will be confident the scheme will be returning to its original objectives of providing greater choice and control and value for money for the scheme’s commitments. I might just now briefly ask Kurt Fearnley to say some words and we’re happy to take questions. Other to you, Kurt.

Kurt Fearnley:

Thank you, Minister. I might be hiding behind the fluffy mikes if we don’t sort that out. Thanks, mate.

Well, I am – I’m really excited to take on his role. I think it’s important that the participants of the NDIS get to see themselves in this organisation and trust with the organisation itself is – is a visceral thing. The scheme cannot be a success without trust and that is built over a period of time.

I – it’s been eight years since I was an independent advisor throughout the rollout. And being a part of the conversation of lobbying to get the NDIA, the hope within the community of what it would mean to people with disabilities is still there.

It’s felt – that’s one thing I do know about the community of people with disabilities, they are filled with hope. The scheme itself – I can’t wait to get to know the people within the organisation. To get to know those that are building the NDIA, it’s an honour the Minister would see me fit to take on this role. And I can’t wait to join the Board with, well, with two other voices behind me, of people with disabilities, who have another fresh take on what this organisation can be.

I started in governance roles in 2006. I got a phone call from the Dean of my university who took a risk on a young teacher, just leaving university, to introducing me to the privilege and also the responsibility when you enter into these roles. It’s been 16 years of working various capacities, director roles, advisory committees, but the single greatest role that I have ever even considered is the one that is right here today.

To potentially see people with disabilities look at the scheme and see themselves as Chair, as a chunk of the Board, I think that’s an exciting time.

I look forward to working with the executive, with Rebecca, and the Board already, and with the Minister, to make sure the NDIA continues to be what we lobbied for all along.

A purveyor of disability rights, which are human rights, and also to have that conversation that is more than the single line item about how much good that this can do to the country and it’s not – it’s not a matter of if this is a success, we need the NDIA to be a success for the country to be what we believe it is.

I’m excited again. This is not even day one. This is the first – 17 days, 20 days until it starts? But… I can’t wait for day one and I, like I said, I’m really looking forward to getting to know the organisation again. It’s so different than when I left it.

But the hope, I think that I had, while we were lobbying for it, the hope I had as an independent advisor, is still there. It hasn’t changed. The country needs an NDIS that’s trusted, that is efficient, that is effective, and I hope that I can play a part in that.

Have I spoken too long?

Minister Shorten:

No. You’re going to get lots of opportunities. Are there any questions for Kurt, myself, any other members?


Do you mind if I ask, are you an NDIS participant yourself, if so, do you mind me asking what’s your experience with the scheme?

Kurt Fearnley:

It’s a complicated answer. I am not a participant myself. I remember having conversations with the late Stella Young and we went back and forth about the life I live is a great life. And the need for services that the NDIS provided, I wanted to be able to advocate for it from the other side of the scheme.

Actually, I regret that choice. I wish I was a member of the scheme. I do have family within the scheme that I won’t elaborate on too much because that’s their story. But, as of today, no, I’m not a member – personally, I’m not a member of the scheme. That’s the thing about disability – there are so many – so many stories around disability that will not be members of the scheme. Will not be participants of the scheme.

We don’t – we aren’t a cover-all for disability, disability is complex and disability is varied and disability has many, many stories to tell. I have worked in the organisation as the independent – on the Independent Advisory Council and I have worked on the governing board of a service provider for the last two years as well. But not a participant.


Kurt, you used the phrase trust, I think the Minister used it as well. There’s a sense that under the previous government the disability community had lost trust and faith in the NDIA. In your new position, how do you go about rebuilding that trust and do you think that trust broke under the previous administration?

Kurt Fearnley:

I won’t make comment on the previous administration. I will make comment that… Trust is critical for the scheme to succeed. Trust allows people to take risks. Risks is where there’s opportunity. But also this is – the relationship between a participant and the scheme is something that is so important and so – it is allowing them to be them. I will do everything within my power to engage with the people who I have fought alongside, who I have engaged with, for the last decade, when it came to the advocacy of the scheme.

We’re also bringing not just my voice, but we’re also bringing Marianne and Graham, who bring a depth of experience to the organisation at the board level, whether it be their advocacy role, or Marianne’s experience of working within the NDIS itself.

Over the last couple of years I – I always missed – I always wanted to hear one thing and that is hearing people from this position talk to people with disabilities and say you’re worth it. That everything this – all the bumps and bruises and all the fights and all the hard yards that they are doing, as advocates for themselves and their families, but also – this organisation can be what we believe – can be what we believe it to be.

For now, I just need to take a breath. Get to know the organisation. And to, I guess, with the guys behind me and also Rebecca, sit down and really understand where we’re at and bring with us our hopes of where it can go to.


Mr Shorten, Mitchry lawyers are proposing a class action against the Commonwealth, challenging the exclusion of applicants aged 65 and over to the NDIS. Can you respond to the suggestion that the age barrier is discriminatory, and Mr Innes, do you think more needs to be done to lift the quality of disability support to seniors to an NDIS standard?

Minister Shorten:

We haven’t seen the details of the proposed class action so I cannot comment specifically on that.

In terms of the issue that we have, the NDIS for people up to 65, and then a different scheme, aged care, for those over 65. There’s people in the community who say that the quality of disability care after the age of 65 is inferior to the quality of disability care before 65. I think they have a point. The NDIS was originally set up between 2010 and 2013 to fill what was a gap at that time. As we were campaigning to create the NDIS from 2007 onwards, we saw aspects of the aged care system back then superior to disability care. Problem is there’s been nine years of coalition government since then, and despite the challenges of the NDIS, the tables have turned a bit. Aged care and parts of its operation have fallen into a rut and NDIS, despite all the challenges, is still a scheme which looks better for people in aged care than what they have.

The scheme was designed [unclear] 65. I think there’s a challenge for disability care for people over 65. Whether or not the solution is an NDIS, which would be very expensive, or an improvement to the quality of disability care in aged care, that will be a matter for the whole of the government to talk through. I may pass over the Graeme Innes. If you step to your right a bit. Come across a bit more, mate.

Graeme Innes:

I haven’t got a lot more to add to the minister’s answer. In legal terms. I don’t think there’s discrimination because the law specifically provided for that in the NDIA Act and the various discrimination acts. But the minister’s commented on what the – you know, what the situation is for people as of now. And there’s various cause for that. I’ll be pleased to have conversations with my colleagues on the board and with broader government to see how that may be addressed.


So you agree the quality of disability support in aged care has fallen behind the NDIS in some respects or…?

Graeme Innes:

There’s aspects of aged care which have. But, you know, I need to get much more across both areas, again, it’s eight years since I have work in that discrimination field and specifically on the scheme and in aged care.


Em Rusciano gave a passionate speech about her ADHD diagnosis and her struggle to access treatment. She wants ADHD to be on the list of primary conditions supported by the NDIS. Are you going to look at potentially expanding the list of conditions that are on that list?

Minister Shorten:

I saw Em’s contribution and it was powerful. I asked the agency to give me more advice about diagnosis with ADHD in terms of eligibility for NDIS. There are tens of thousands of people who are on the scheme who are diagnosed with autism as their primary condition. Neurodivergence is an area where the eligibility requirements are not always clear and they depend on individual circumstances.


To Paul’s question, you mentioned it would be very expensive to include over 65s on the NDIS. Have you been briefed on what the exact cost would be?

Minister Shorten:

No, that’s just me using my common sense.


You have previously described Denis Napthine as chair of the NDIS a disgrace, but now he’s been appointed to the board. I was wondering if you have more information on your change of heart.

Minister Shorten:

I think the previous government rushed the appointment of a chair. He came on four days before the writs were issued. It would’ve been far more prudential of the previous government, not to put him in that invidious position, but also to have seen if it was possible to have

found a way of waiting until the election which was only a month later. Having said that, I also believe the scheme requires bipartisan support. I think we’ve got an outstanding chair of the scheme now. And I think you can tell even for you who are seasoned and hard bitten members of the very tough Canberra press gallery, you don’t always get to hear someone like Kurt speak here. And he’s impressive. So I don’t think – I don’t think there would be a single Australian who think it’s a bad appointment. Having said that, I’m keen to make sure that people who have got experience in government, in his own case, he’s – he and his wife have raised a son with disabilities and he was the Liberal Premier who helped negotiate the transfer of the NDIS agreement in 2013. The way I would want to see the NDIS run is to be a broad church where people feel include, not excluded.

Ros Childs, ABC News:

That was the Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme, Bill Shorten, announcing new appointments to the NDIA.

Kurt Fearnley is the new chair of the agency, and new board directors were also named. They’re Graeme Innes And Maryanne Diamond, who used to be the world president of the world blind union, and Denis Napthine, who resigned from his role as chair in July this year. We heard Kurt Fearnley saying he wants to build trust in the agency and in the scheme.


Join the conversation