Cancel the contracts, Shorten dares NDIS

·2-min read

The minister responsible for Australia's disability support scheme has been dared to scrap $339 million worth of contracts that would lock in controversial changes to the program.

Labor's spokesman for the National Disability Insurance Scheme Bill Shorten is sceptical about the government's decision to halt the rollout of independent assessments.

Eight companies have already been awarded contracts to conduct them.

NDIS Minister Linda Reynolds' first act in the role was to put the rollout on hold until feedback from trials was considered.

"She should cancel the contracts," Mr Shorten told the National Press Club in Canberra on Wednesday.

The planned change has been widely panned by Australians with disabilities, their families and carers.

It would mean a team of government-approved experts conduct interviews for people seeking an NDIS plan rather than their usual doctor.

All existing NDIS plans would also be reviewed.

Mr Shorten, who was integral to the NDIS being set up, said multiple issues needed to be fixed such as workforce shortages, red tape for providers and delays on invoices being paid.

The NDIS watchdog should be more proactive and Australians with disability should hold senior positions within the scheme's agencies, he said.

"Sadly, it is not overstating things in 2021 to say that NDIS participants are dying in their homes due to agency neglect and a sleepy watchdog that has not properly been put to work," Mr Shorten said.

"It is not overstating things to say that those in charge at a ministerial and agency level have been more concerned with data points than people."

A parliamentary inquiry looking at the proposed changes is hearing from disability groups around the country.

The inquiry will write a report including recommendations for government on whether the independent assessments should continue.

The National Disability Insurance Agency, which runs the NDIS, has been quick to publish statements after each public hearing in defence of independent assessments.

"They will be fairer and more consistent, and result in participants having more flexibility in their plan budgets to choose the supports they need to live their lives," a statement published on Tuesday said.

Earlier, the inquiry heard from Western Australia-based groups, who warned the NDIS must be culturally appropriate otherwise Indigenous Australians will miss out.

The University of Sydney's Lauren Rice has been trialling the appropriateness of NDIS assessment questions on Indigenous families as part of a study into fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.

"While this measure works well in Sydney, it is completely culturally inappropriate for use in Aboriginal communities," Dr Rice told the inquiry.

The questions are so culturally inappropriate that people are screened as not having a disability despite their diagnosis.

Dr Rice said independent assessments would only widen inequity in the scheme and not improve it as the government hopes.