Eye-opening Kimberley trip lays bare changes needed to NDIS for Minister

Linda ReynoldsBroome Advertiser
Minister for Defence Linda Reynolds during Question Time in the Senate chamber at Parliament House in Canberra, Wednesday, February 17, 2021. (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas) NO ARCHIVING
Camera IconMinister for Defence Linda Reynolds during Question Time in the Senate chamber at Parliament House in Canberra, Wednesday, February 17, 2021. (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas) NO ARCHIVING Credit: AAPIMAGE

There are always certain memories that stick in your mind from a road trip.

My listening tour to the Kimberley two weeks ago was full of highlights — friendly and authentic people who care deeply about their towns and communities, lived experiences and voices with important lessons, and the resilience of communities that emerge from such a unique geography.

But there were moments of deep frustration for me, too.

I cannot forget an NDIS participant in her 40s who has found herself with no option but to reside in an aged care facility despite having a substantial NDIS package designed to provide her with greater choice and control and the disability supports she needs as a quadriplegic.

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Since coming to this portfolio six months ago, it has become clear to me that the NDIS can work so much better for people and their families — especially in regional and remote areas like the Kimberley, where it is always difficult to source a wide range of services and supports.

I stress that the limitations are not the fault of the hardworking NDIA staff I met, or of the carers or service providers who support them.

The scheme’s limitations are due to the fact that it has experienced no significant change since it began eight years ago.

The legislation needs to change now, to learn from the lived experience of the scheme, particularly in regional and remote communities, to keep up with demand and to ensure that it is sustainable for many generations to come no matter where you live.

Last month, I released some proposed changes to the NDIS legislation for public comment.

They were the result of months of consultation with disability groups, NDIS participants, their providers, carers and families.

Listening to their concerns and experiences helped to shape the changes which, I believe, will benefit regional and remote NDIS service delivery.

The public consultation period for those changes finished last Thursday and I look forward to receiving the feedback this week.

One of the aims of the proposed changes is to help to deliver better services in thin markets and remote communities, like the Kimberley, by increasing ways for service providers to meet the needs of NDIS participants.

Currently, people can struggle to get the services their packages are designed to fund or to find support workers.

A number of measures are already under way to improve the lives of Indigenous NDIS participants who make up a large percentage of people in the Kimberley who need NDIS support.

Next month the NDIA begins updating the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Engagement Strategy, alongside Indigenous stakeholders.

The Morrison government is investing $5.9 million in the NDIS Ready project to increase the number of Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations registered to deliver NDIS services and a new program has been launched to increase Indigenous participation in the care sector.

However, the NDIS is for all Australians with a significant and permanent disability and supporting them is a shared responsibility between States and Territories and the Federal Government.

The NDIA continues to monitor remote and very remote markets across Australia and, where necessary, intervene with temporary adjustments to price controls to ensure that NDIS participants receive the quality and breadth of services they deserve.

We can, and must, do more. I, for one, look forward to seeing the lives of NDIS participants throughout the scheme improve.

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