The federal government is still committed to introducing NDIS independent assessments, dubbed by many as “robo-planning”, despite recently “pausing” the rollout of the highly controversial scheme.
The government is planning to introduce mandatory independent assessments for those accessing the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) or trying to access the scheme. The program would see contracted assessors interviewing NDIS applicants and then determining how much support they need, instead of using individuals’ existing specialists.
The assessments have been slammed as a cost-cutting measure from the federal government and one which will see individuals with a disability receiving less funding.
The independent assessments have also been branded as “robo-planning” by several people, including a key architect of the NDIS, due to the use of an algorithm to determine the funding an individual will receive, and an emphasis on uniform funding rather than an individualised scheme as intended.
Following widespread criticism, NDIS minister Linda Reynolds, who was recently appointed in the role, put the rollout of the independent assessments on “pause” and promised to more widely consult with stakeholders.
But at a Senate Estimates spillover hearing on Monday afternoon, Ms Reynolds, in her first public appearance since taking on the new ministerial role, recommitted to the introduction of independent assessments, making it clear the rollout had been delayed rather than reconsidered.
“I have at no time said that we won’t proceed with independent assessments in some form. I have had very, very little feedback that people don’t agree about the need for some form of independent assessments. Most of the feedback I’ve heard to date is not actually about the need to have them at all because that is something that has been long known,” Ms Reynolds said.
“I’ve been very, very clear that it is imperative for all of the reasons we have said that we go ahead with some form of functional independent assessments. What form they take is very much the subject of consultation.”
Ms Reynolds attempted to position the policy reform as an effort to make the NDIS more fair and transparent and lead to more consistent decisions.
“If you can find other ways that would achieve the same results for fairness and consistency and for all of the other factors that went into independent assessments being written into the scheme many years ago, then I’d be very happy to hear them. But nobody has come up with any better alternatives,” she said.
Greens Senator Jordon Steele-John replied that the “entire disability community” is united against the independent assessments. Senator Steele-John labelled the trial of the independent assessments as an “absolute debacle” and questioned why the government wasn’t considering the scrapping of independent assessments as a potential outcome of the planned consultation.
In a lengthy opening statement, Ms Reynolds focused on the ballooning costs of the NDIS and the need to ensure that it is “sustainable”, laying the groundwork for the introduction of the cost-cutting measure.
She also said that there have been issues because those working at the NDIA are “human” and are inclined to say yes to a funding request, also paving the way for the introduction of a more automated scheme such as the independent assessments.
Last month Bruce Bonyhady, a key architect of the NDIS, slammed these independent assessments, saying they are akin to “robo-planning” and will “blow-up” the scheme.
“With no transparency, robo-planning could be used to exclude participants, cut plans or change the NDIS eligibility criteria. And the NDIA would not be able to be held to account for such actions. The fact that robo-planning has reached the current stage of implementation is a disgrace. It should have been stopped long before now,” Mr Bonyhady said in April.
Shadow government services minister Bill Shorten last week called for the government to scrap the independent assessments entirely, saying it was in a “mad rush” to turn the NDIS into a “human-free robo-system”.
“They are robo-planning from the government who brought us robodebt and, as with robodebt, robo-planning is based on flawed mathematical algorithms,” Mr Shorten said.
“It has been constructed in a black box and the disability community fear it and detest it legitimately. Those currently in charge of the scheme see people with disability as numbers on a page, data in a system, a cost to be reduced.”