NDIS tech still in ‘infancy’, nearly 10 years later

Denham Sadler
National Affairs Editor

The tech system underpinning the National Disability Insurance Scheme is still in its “infancy” despite being launched nearly a decade ago, and this was compounded by the agency being “plagued by the scourge of labour hire”, the public sector union says.

In a submission to the inquiry into the capability of the Australian Public Service, the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) raised alarm with rampant use of labour hire stuff within the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA), and its underinvestment in ICT, to the detriment of those accessing the scheme and the agency’s own employees.

Up until late last year, the NDIA relied mostly on Services Australia for tech services. An internal ICT support team has now been established in the agency, but this transition is still ongoing, and this unit typically acts simply as an intermediary between the NDIA and Services Australia, the CPSU said.

The NDIA also still relies on parts of its ICT framework outsourced to Serco.

We’re all getting old here

“The NDIA has been in operation since 2013, however their ICT infrastructure is still in its infancy. Delays in ICT response rates and job completion also inevitably have an effect on productivity,” the CPSU submission said.

“Owing to the small size of their ICT department, the agency often relies on tech savvy workers on an ad hoc basis to assist with local IT matters. Unfortunately, NDIA workers with a disability feel that the agency’s ICT services is one of many areas in which the organisation continues to fail them.”

Improvements need to be made to this internal tech team in order to assist workers at the NDIA with a disability, the submission said.

“The experience of people with disabilities in particular demonstrates that the agency’s approach is still lacking,” the CPSU said.

“Increasing direct access to an internal NDIA ICT team would help the agency better support its own staff. This in turn would help staff who identify with having a disability, and those who do not, to service the needs of hundreds of thousands of participants nationwide.”

There are particular issues in the NDIA around staff who need to use assistive technology, CPSU deputy secretary Beth Vincent-Pietsch said during a public hearing for the inquiry on Wednesday.

“The NDIA should be a model employee for people with disability but many staff continue to experience added pressures, particularly in relation to assistive technology, and the NDIA refuses to make adjustments to KPIs to acknowledge the extra time it takes to use these technologies,” Ms Vincent-Pietsch said.

The union also criticised the use of labour hire staff and contractors at the NDIA, with insecure workers making up more than a quarter of the NDIA’s total workforce of 8700 people.

“From its inception, the NDIA has been plagued by the scourge of labour hire. The NDIS was designed to be fully funded with an initial estimate of 10,595 public service staff in 2018-19 to properly deliver the NDIS. But in its first budget it fell victim to the Coalition government’s staffing cap,” it said.

“This initial decision set the NDIA up from the start to be an agency destined to struggle with what is cynically labelled a blended workforce. In reality, this is a staffing model designed to make it as difficult as possible for an agency to succeed. It is a model that works against the APS capability we should be striving to achieve.

“Until it is completely removed and overall staffing numbers lifted, the full potential of the agency and the NDIS as a whole will not be reached.”

There have been ongoing concerns around the implementation of new technologies around the NDIS, particularly with recent plans to introduce Independent Assessments to the scheme, dubbed by critics as “robo-planning”. These plans were recently scrapped by the federal government after a revolt by state and territory governments.

The CPSU also raised the alarm over the tech systems at the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission (ACQSC), saying that staff there are still working between two IT platforms, leading to the creation of workplace silos.

“I haven’t been able to access any information or reports about providers except what is on our website because I am not in complaints or compliance. I should have access to information about providers, because it is important for my role as a quality assessor,” an ACQSC worker said, as quoted by the CPSU.

“The whole comms system is not fit for purpose…the system breaks down and it stops the CRG from doing our job.”

The ACQSC also does not have a phone system, the CPSU said, and relies on Microsoft Teams, leading to calls freezing and dropping out.

The Commission is also being hampered by a reliance on labour hire staff, with 27 per cent of its total workforce being labour hires.

“If the Coalition government continues with its policy of staffing caps and misguided ICT, and a general underinvestment in building future APS capability, a sector that is already struggling is at serious risk of not meeting the needs of its constituency or the rightful expectations of the broader community,” the CPSU submission said.

“The Commission is moving towards a predominantly privatised workforce, making a mockery of the claims of the Coalition government that labour hire is only used for short-term work or to meet a specific skills shortage, and that these arrangements are of a financial benefit to the Commonwealth.”

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