20 December 2015

In defence of the NDIS

I think the NDIS is one of the great nation-building initiatives, and said so here in response to what I thought was an ill-considered attempt to talk it down.

I gave examples where tinkering scuppered policy outcomes, and have worked on public-sector projects where short-sighted, rapidly changing objectives increased costs and depressed outcomes (and depressed good people trying to make the bloody thing work). Yale Stephens at Red/Blue probably doesn't have that experience and was hypnotised by the figure of $24b, which admittedly is a biggie. Anyway, pop over to his blog and see what you reckon in what are apparently Contesting Assertions.


  1. Jesus, I'm impressed you managed to read to the end. Any writing that repeatedly uses the term "fellow travellers" to refer to the left as well as fairfax isn't worth the electrons propping it up.

    1. I started reading and bailed out after 2 paragraphs. The author began with the debt and deficit disaster screed and then demonstrated that he regards everything bar the furthest right wing end of the Murdoch press as being left wing biased. Ergo his point of view is almost certainly completely irrelevant and not worth the electrons, you might as well respond to the infamous Hacka in the Fairfax comments.

  2. The NDIS is a bit of a mess as a policy, because the left nowadays can't convince treasury or productivity commissions to fix any social ill save by creating a ridiculous neoliberal Rube Goldberg machine. Hence superannuation instead of social security, PPPs instead of direct borrowing and the NDIS instead of the simple, efficient, no-fault insurance or national injury insurance scheme ala New Zealand that Whitlam and Woodhouse wanted in the first damn place. Get rid of all the stupid overhead and save the taxpayer a billion dollars or so - or more. This waste is all justified as reducing waste.

    That said, the NDIS is better than nothing.

  3. Reads a lot like an anti-Labor polemic, dressed up as a discussion about policy. Possibly hasn't moved on from the writing style learned as a Young Lib? Appreciated your directing him towards discussion of actual policy, particularly of this policy.

  4. That's a truly astonishing torrent of crap, and I'm amazed you actually thought it worthy of a response, let alone such a carefully prepared and well written one.

    Particularly notable in both the original and the response to your comment were the repeated party-political diatribes, including the suggestion that Labor was trying to cook the books in the last part of Gillard's rule so that the subsequent Liberal government would suffer. I seem to recall a certain Liberal opposition leader promising to support just about all those policies and funding commitments, and then acting all surprised to find that, oh my god! policy commitments cost money! Considering the charter of budget honesty (born from the loins of one Peter Costello) they hardly had a leg to stand on there . . .

    I won't venture to comment on the actual value of the policies developed during those halcyon days, when the PM was actually standing up at press conferences telling the press gallery they were full of shit . . . Such glorious memories, even taking into account the way things ended.

    Is this what passes for serious policy debate among Liberal/Conservative thinkers at the moment? Normally I only see this level of thinking on my (progressive/left loony) side of politics from rusted on supporters who haven't devoted much blood flow to the higher functioning sections of their brains for a few decades. If this is the best the Liberals have on their side I feel like there might be a real chance for Turnbull to fall at the first hurdle . . .

  5. Reading you has sustained me through so grim years - knowing it wasn't just me. This was a classic piece of Elder-ing against a particularly obnoxious git. Thank you.

    1. When I type in "Andrew " to Google the first option is (sadly) "Andrew Bolt" but the second is "Andrew Elder".

  6. Having read your comment, Andrew, about potential cost blowouts to the NDIS, there are two areas that concern me here: the needs of people with mental illness, and family carers of people with disability, whether or not those people are in the Scheme.

    PWMI talk about 'a journey to recovery.' This is at odds with the NDIS, which provides services to people with permanent disability. Indeed, PWMI will be required to demonstrate their illness is permanent in nature in order to even get a look-in; that sounds to me like a roadblock rather than a road to recovery. I don't know to what extent the cost of mental health services was considered when the NDIS was developed, but initial observations were that PWMI weren't being found eligible for assistance under the NDIS. This is slowly changing, and more PWMI now seem to be on board. The currently government-funded services in the mental health sector are doing a lot to 'coach' PWMI to say and do 'the right things' when they go along to their initial assessment, but it would be comforting to know that the National Disability Insurance Agency itself were aware of the problem, and doing something about it. Provision of services under the NDIS to PWMI will cause a significant cost blowout.

    The other group is carers. Many parents care for their adult children with disability 24/7, and would have it no other way. But many are older, and fear what will happen to their child or children once they are too old to care for them (it is here that the NDIS provides some benefit of assurance for the carer; but that is only after they are incapacitated themselves, or dead).

    There are currently government services for carers that are independent of the circumstances of the care recipient. The carer receives an assessment of their needs, and services are provided to meet those needs. Most of these services, however, are being 'cashed out' to the NDIS. In other words, it was assumed by government that carers' needs would be met in the plans for the care recipients. Of course, this has not been happening. Carers themselves get no direct benefit from the NDIS; there is some respite effect from additional services being provided to the care recipient, but no NDIS support plan for a PWD is required to take the needs and wellbeing of the carer (in their own right) into consideration. This is also slowly changing, thanks to the various State and Territory Carers Association, as well as Carers Australia. But it is also an additional cost.

  7. Part 3 (sorry).

    My point is that tinkering is essential to make the NDIS work. I don't agree with Stephens that you are talking 'policy purity' but surely you acknowledge that some tinkering, even if it results in better outcomes, is necessary? Or by tinkering, do you mean meddling of a political nature?

    I guess the other option would have been for government to continue to fund services for mental illness and carers outside of the NDIS. But would that have compromised the outcomes for the Scheme, I wonder?

    I'd be interested in your opinion. I work in the disability/mental illness sector (which might be obvious!).

  8. Most of the commentary about NDIS has come from people who know very little about disability or the transformation agenda in disability support that is known internationally as the 'personalisation' agenda. This agenda is largely unknown to Australian politicians, policy makers and think tanks, who by and large remain locked in a provider-centred approach to social policy and service delivery, rather than a person-centred or consumer-centred approach. Both Liberal and Labor governments are immersed in provider-centred thinking and practice.

    NDIS is an ill-conceived reform. It was designed by four bureaucrats and consultants, and then imposed without consultation by the disability sector of service providers, consultants and academics. A handful of people with disabilities and a large number of families of people with disabilities warned that the scheme was ill-conceived, costly, and highly bureaucratic, but these warnings were ignored by the disability industry and the political class. Despite having managed a dysfunctional disability system for decades, service providers and the political class adopted a 'reform' in which the same people responsible for the dysfunction were assigned $22bn a year to 'fix' it. This was, in short, a money-grab on an organised scale we have rarely witnessed in Australian history.

    NDIS is misguided because it ignores the low-key, inexpensive innovations in disability support already underway across Australia towards personalisation of disability supports. Instead of supporting and extending these innovations, it began with the creation of a brand new statutory authority and worked downwards. This is the standard model of top-down social reform in Australia. Rather than strengthening and supporting actual innovations on the ground, it began with a bureaucracy, a billion dollar budget, and a sector of pulsating vested interests. Having commenced in July 2013, NDIS to date has spent 82% of its budget on operating costs and 18% on people with disabilities.

    This is an excessively centralised, bureaucratic and costly approach to reforming disability. It was conceived by bureaucrats and consultants, and is being implemented by bureaucrats and consultants, at vast and unnecessary cost to the taxpayers.

    The political class and the political media have swallowed NDIS because they know very little about the field and fear that any critical scrutiny of it will be perceived as 'lack of empathy for the disabled'. Political correctness is a curious and very costly phenomenon. NDIS should be the subject of critical scrutiny every bit as much as the NBN, but it is not. We have a failed and discredited political class in Australia and a weak culture of critical public debate.

    Disclosure: Vern Hughes is the parent of two sons in their 20s with disabilities who are recipients of the Disability Support Pension.

  9. For the NDIS to work it needs more scrutiny. Disability enterprises need to be self sustaining, other wise they just viewed as day activities not a place of genuine work.