Last month we asked you what you most wanted to ask our pollies this federal election.
And we were flooded with questions – more than 200 in fact.
So we took the most common and we headed to Canberra to get some answers.
We booked interviews with Minister for Families and Social Services Paul Fletcher, Shadow Minister for Families and Social Services Linda Burney and Greens spokesperson on Disability Services Jordon Steele-John.
And keeping in the spirit of multi-partisanship we asked all three the same questions – so you could see and hear for yourself what the major parties have planned when it comes to the NDIS.
We will release each video over the coming weeks.
First up is Minister for Families and Social Services Paul Fletcher. We sat down with the Minister just after the budget – so in addition to your great questions we also had a chance to ask him a couple of things about the budget we thought you might like to know.
We recorded the whole interview here so you can watch it exactly how it went down – we have not made any edits, other than to tidy things up a bit (for example at the end of the video there was a problem with the camera that we had to fix). That’s so you can watch and make up your own mind.
Have a look and see what you think, then read on for our summary below:
Minister Fletcher mentioned a lot of things during this chat, so we’ve pulled together his main points below so you can get a quick overview.
1. What are you going to do to make the system more responsive and quicker?
“We want to get the first steps right because the plan is the absolute core of your NDIS experience,” said Minister Fletcher.
“We are working hard to improve the end-to-end process through things like the specialist participant pathways. We want to get people into the NDIS as quick as possible and onto their plans as quick as possible so they can start getting the supports that the NDIS provides.”
2. How can you make the system more flexible and more person friendly?
“We’ve done quite a lot of work to respond to this issue about how to make the NDIS more tailored to the individual experience,” said Minister Fletcher, who mentioned the introduction of specialist participant pathways including for kids and for people with complex needs or a psychosocial disability.
“I think the changes that we’ve made are very much about getting to the core of the problem, so that as people engage with the NDIS they feel they’re getting a caring response, but also a response that is based on an understanding of their circumstances.”
3. How will you ensure that there is adequate understanding of complex needs when assessing NDIS applications? What’s being done to provide LAC’s and planners with more training?
“We’ve got terrific staff in the NDIS, people drawn from a range of backgrounds… and there is a lot of work put in to the training process. The Agency has revamped the training process in the last few months,” Minister Fletcher said.
4. What can you do to make sure there is more consistency and fairness in the system?
“Consistency is important and it’s always going to be something that requires a lot of work when you have so many decisions to make,” said the Minister.
“It’s about training, experience, the organisation of the NDIA overall, and the Local Area Coordinators getting better at the job,” he continued. “What we don’t want to see is two people with virtually identical circumstances getting quite different plans. So we’ve done a lot of work standardising that… We’ve made significant progress there, but I’ll be the first to say there will always be an effort needed to achieve a consistency of plans.”
5. When will the NDIS adequately fund transport so participants can actually use their funded community access?
“As you know there are three levels of transport funding that are typically included in a plan,” the Minister said.
“There is also some scope for flexibility particularly when you’re self-managed. And inevitably we find out a bit from experience … what’s the optimal mix?
“It’s a bit of learning by doing.
“The states and territories have a significant role here as the providers of public transport … Some of this is very much within the spectrum of the NDIS and some of it goes beyond.”
6. Why are second and subsequent plans are being cut? What are you going to do to make sure the NDIS is fair?
“I know this is an issue that people raise quite often with me and my colleagues,” said Minister Fletcher.
“If you look at the overall numbers what it shows is that 37% of plans at the moment are increasing on the previous level of the plan and a little under one third are the same. A little under one third are declining. So there’s no overall pattern of total dollars going into a plan reducing – in fact to the contrary.
“The underlying issue is making sure the plans are consistent across people in the same circumstances, and the plans are appropriate to meet the needs of an NDIS participant.”
7. What are you going to do to make sure unpaid carers get the support they need so they can keep providing care?
“The role of families and carers in the lives of people with disabilities… is critical and it’s a very tough job,” said the Minister.
“We did announce in this year’s Budget $84 million of additional funding for carers… which takes funding to over $500 million, which includes funding for additional respite opportunities.”
8. What do you plan to do about creating more housing for people with disability?
“It’s certainly been something that’s been a significant focus for me since I’ve been in the portfolio,” said Minister Fletcher. “At the moment there’s around 11,000 people that are supported through Specialist Disability Accommodation. That’ll reach about 28,000 when we get to full scheme.”
“The level of interest in providing specialist disability accommodation is strong and growing,” he said. “Our commitment is that if you are in residential aged care now and you want to move out into the community we’ll commit that if you’re under 45, that’ll be available to you by 2022. And for anybody under 65 that’ll be available for you by 2025… It’s not a one time way to address this problem, we’ve also said by 2025 we want to reduce the number of young people going into aged care by 50% as well.”
9. What are you going to do to make sure the people who aren’t eligible for the NDIS get the support they need?
“We’ve got a National Disability Strategy that we’ve kicked off some early work on,” said Minister Fletcher.
“There are existing programs, existing Commonwealth programs and State and Territory programs for people who aren’t eligible for the NDIS but clearly need to continue to be supported. So we’ve got a continuing program to support those people.”
10. Why is it that advocacy is so poorly supported and what will you do to address it?
“There is in fact quite significant Commonwealth support for advocacy because it is important,” said the Minister. “We have announced some increases [to advocacy funding]. Advocacy funding is important because we recognise it’s an important part of the overall process.”
11. Why isn’t it possible to invest the NDIS underspend back into the scheme to get it working the way we all want it to?
“You can have confidence that the Scheme will continue to be fully funded and the supports you need to get funded once you get your plan, the money is there,” said Minister Fletcher.
“So people in the scheme and people aiming to get into the scheme should have confidence. There is a lot of money being spent. It’s going up every year and we continue to be on track to achieve 460,000 people.”
So what do you think?
As we said we’ll be putting the same questions to Greens Senator Jordon Steele-John and the Shadow Minister for Families and Social Services, Linda Burney MP so you can hear what all the major parties have to say.
In the meantime, don’t miss your chance to have your say this election campaign. You can check out what we are up to by heading to our election page.
And get involved by signing up for the National Day of Action on May 3 here.