Govt scraps NDIS ‘robo-planning’ after states revolt

Denham Sadler
Senior Reporter

The federal government has scrapped plans to introduce NDIS independent assessments – dubbed “robo-planning” by critics – after a complete lack of support from the states and territories.

Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) Linda Reynolds met with her state and territory counterparts on Friday to discuss the plan to introduce independent assessments, which would have seen contracted assessors conducting reviews of individuals rather than their existing specialists.

This information would have then been fed into an algorithm comprising 400 “personas” to determine a funding budget for the individual.

This plan was widely criticised by disability groups, legal organisations, a key architect of the NDIS, and the federal Opposition for being a cost-cutting measure that would see people with disability receiving less support.

There were also significant concerns that it would be a repeat of the robodebt scandal, which led to a $1.7 billion class action lawsuit settlement, because of the use of automation and algorithms.

Following the meeting with the states and territories, Ms Reynolds announced that the government would not be going ahead with the planned changes due to a lack of support.

“The governance structure of the NDIS, with shared control by the Commonwealth, states and territories requires a multi-partisan approach. After eight years of operations, now is the time to take the lessons of the lived experience and turn those lessons into a better NDIS,” Ms Reynolds said.

“Importantly, all Ministers agreed to work in partnership with those with lived disability experience on the design of a person-centred model. A model that will deliver consistency and equity of both access and planning outcomes.”

Former NDIS Technology Authority chief Marie Johnson welcomed the backdown from the government, but said that there had already been significant damage done due to the process and trials of independent assessments.

“It’s a really big political backdown from the Commonwealth, but there is a sense that trust has been lost by the community in the NDIS,” Ms Johnson told InnovationAus.

“The disability community is not reform resistant at all – the disability community created the NDIS, so reform is what it is all about. There’s a sense that what the government had proposed was not done with co-design with the community.”

It comes after a long-running campaign by disability advocates and organisations against the independent assessments.

Shadow NDIS minister Bill Shorten said it is a “big win” for those campaigning against the assessments and cuts to the scheme.

“Independent assessments have now been rejected by experts, the government’s own advisory council, Labor, the states and territories, the Disability Discrimination Commissioner, support workers and, most importantly, NDIS participants and their families,” Mr Shorten said.

“This has been a botched plan from the get-go. The government has failed to prosecute its case and must now go back to the drawing board and work with the state and territories, and listen to the experts and NDIS participants in good faith. This is a huge win for the opponents of the NDIS cuts, but more work needs to be done to protect the NDIS from the Morrison government’s attacks.”

Despite “pausing” the plan earlier this year, the government has remained committed to introducing Independent Assessments by the end of the year, until hitting the roadblock delivered by the states.

The National Disability Insurance Agency released further information on the plan last month, detailing the 400 “personas” that would be deciding the funding package, centred around the type of disability, age and other factors.

Concerns were raised that the plan was based around a “cookie-cutter” algorithm, with NDIS architect Bruce Bonyhady coining the term “robo-planning” and saying it would “blow up” the scheme if implemented.

But Ms Johnson said she’s concerned that the NDIS will continue with the use of technology and algorithms in the scheme.

“I have no trust that those will stop. The fundamental problems with the NDIS systems and processes need to be fixed first, before anything is laid over the top of it,” she said.

“I have no confidence that the algorithm work will stop. There has been two years of work on this – I can’t see that any of that will be thrown out, although it should be.”

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