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Community Affairs Legislation Committee
National Disability Insurance Scheme Savings Fund Special Account Bill 2016

JENKINSON, Ms Samantha, Executive Director, People with Disabilities (Western Australia) Inc

SANDS, Ms Therese, Director, Disabled People's Organisations Australian


Evidence was taken via teleconference—

CHAIR: Can you confirm that information on parliamentary privilege and the protection of witnesses and evidence has been provided to you?

Ms Jenkinson : Yes.

Ms Sands : Yes.

CHAIR: I invite you to make an opening statement, after which we will go to questions.

Ms Jenkinson : I am happy to start. I emailed a copy of the statement last night, so I am not sure whether people have got it. Thank you very much to the members of the committee for inviting us to give evidence today on the inquiry into the NDIS Savings Fund Special Account Bill—there are always such long names for these things!

This is just a brief statement in support of our submission and our position that we do not support the bill. In our submission we made the following statements—that PWDWA does not see the necessity for the bill; therefore we would recommend that the bill is not enacted. We would recommend that the bill, should it proceed, needs further accountability, such as oversight by the Joint Standing Committee on the NDIS, and some form of parliamentary agreement on where credits for the funds are obtained. We recommend that the Social Services portfolio is not seen as the main source of funding and savings and recommend that the Disability Care Australia funds should be used for all NDIS funds. But we support the recommendation that any fund that has been set up to hold money for the NDIS should not allow funds to be used for anything other than the NDIS.

In our statements, essentially the first question that came to us was: why is this bill required? Our understanding is that there is already an account set up to fund the NDIS. So, if it requires changes to increase the variety of sources that can put credits into that account, then why not amend the legislation? We do not understand why multiple legislative instruments are required for what should be the same purpose. We think that to be able to put underspends and savings from the NDIS back into the NDIS fund again should be part of the original fund that was set up or a change made to that fund for that to be able to happen.

Our second and third statements are really our main concern—that this legislation is geared towards a fund based on bringing in money from savings in a particular portfolio. As an advocacy organisation, we have seen a sharp increase in advocacy cases related to people being reassessed for the disability support pension as a direct result of a direction to cut that budget and review people previously accepted onto the DSP, and that change occurred in July 2016. It was certainly seen by the community as a way to make savings with the Social Services portfolio for the NDIS and has put incredible stress on a group of people who are already disadvantaged. I have listed some of the case studies that we are currently experiencing through our advocacy; I do not know if you would like me to read them all out separately. I will read the first two, but they are there in writing for you.

Client X has been on the DSP for a period of 15 years due to chronic lower back injury, which restricts her movement and gives her severe pain. Doctors have advised her that it would be extremely risky to perform an operation. The client has depression, as recognised by her GP. She had her DSP removed by Centrelink in June 2016. Centrelink referred to the social security tables and the reassessment that was then put forward, and the client's job capacity assessment, which indicated that the client had not provided sufficient and appropriate evidence that her conditions are fully diagnosed, treated and stabilised. So we have been working with that client to gain appropriate medical documentation for Centrelink to consider, in appealing the removal of her DSP. This case and many others highlight that, actually, there was sufficient evidence given at a previous point in time, so now there is a disadvantage being incurred to them because they are having to re-find evidence for disabilities that have been in place for many years, and there has not been change.

There is a number of case studies there, which I have provided. For us, it is concerning that these people are being disadvantaged and are going through a lot of stress, as well as Centrelink spending a lot of extra money on having to do reassessments, which is all about trying to scrape together some savings within the Social Services portfolio. We think that the dividend from the support the NDIS provides in terms of more people participating socially and economically, which is what the NDIS is about, is not going to happen in a six-month period, or even a three-year election cycle period. It is a long-term gain, so I do not think you can expect to have those short-term gains.

We are also very concerned that there are groups of people who are considered more able to get support than others, which perpetuates the myth of the undeserving poor. This is particularly relevant given that income support and disability support are two very separate needs that address different issues for people, and people are feeling they are being punished by one in order to be able to get the other. We do not think that sort of competition between programs under one portfolio whose purpose is to provide a social security net is appropriate. We think it is inappropriate. We are also very concerned about monitoring and oversight of this legislation, given that it is controlled by one minister. We do not know whether that is something which is common practice or not, but we do not think it shows accountability and decision-making and, again, it also emphasises that the savings should come from within the one portfolio area.

We are supportive of the submission by Young People in Nursing Homes Alliance, which references the original Productivity Commission document that states that the cost of supporting people from year to year through the NDIS should be viewed with a core funding responsibility of government and met from claims on general government revenue. The Productivity Commission talked about proposing several options, but they were focused on the option of directing payments from consolidated revenue into a National Disability Insurance premium fund using an agreed formula entrenched in legislation. So we would see, again, that if the DisabilityCare Australia Fund—which is the fund which has already been set up—needed to be amended to include a legislated formula that would lock in tax revenue to meet annual liabilities, rather than any battle through budget processes, that would be the way to go.

If this bill were introduced, we believe there would need to be substantial amendment made to ensure that it was independent of any one minister, that credits and savings could come through a formula agreed that took money from general consolidated revenue, as recommended by the Productivity Commission, that is a percentage of gross domestic product. We think it is important that the NDIS is funded appropriately, and that money for the NDIS into the future is quarantined. However, we do not see that this bill actually contributes to that end goal. It does not contribute to that goal because it is not independent, it is subject to budgetary cycles and it is relying on pushing for savings within the same portfolio area.

Thank you for letting us make this statement.

CHAIR: Is that a statement on behalf of both of you or, Ms Sands, did you have an opening statement?

Ms Jenkinson : I think Ms Sands has another statement.

CHAIR: Ms Sands, would you like to provide your opening statement.

Ms Sands : I would like to thank the committee for inviting Disabled People's Organisations Australia, known as DPO Australia, to provide evidence today in support of our submission to this inquiry. DPO Australia is an alliance of national disabled peoples organisations, which are organisations that are constituted, led and governed by people with disability. We are made up of people with Disability Australia, Women with Disabilities Australia, First Peoples Disability Network Australia and the National Ethnic Disability Alliance.

DPO Australia does not support the NDIS Savings Fund Special Account Bill 2016. We certainly agree that it is essential that the NDIS is properly, adequately and sustainably funded into the future, but we argue that the proposed NDIS Savings Fund Special Account is not the correct way to achieve this. In fact, we are very concerned that the proposed NDIS Savings Fund Special Account will undermine the integrity of the NDIS and its clear intent is to give effect to the human rights of people with disability as stipulated in the object and principles of the NDIS Act 2013.

Our key concerns are outlined in our submission but, briefly, I will highlight the key points. Firstly, the bill was proposed by government without consultation, so there was no public consultation with people with disability or their representative organisations either about the need for additional Commonwealth savings for the NDIS or an approach to financially sustain the NDIS into the future that does not result in unnecessary trade-offs between disability support and social security, yet such consultation and engagement is an obligation under article 4.3 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which underpins the NDIS. That is clearly stated in the objects and principles of the act. The bill provides the minister for social services with significant control over identifying savings and distributing funds, and this undermines the shared responsibility arrangements between jurisdictions and the neutrality and independence of the NDIA structure. I think in a way it is a regressive step—it sees us moving back to an NDIS which is more a disability support program area of one minister and department as opposed to a universal independent scheme for all Australians.

As a discretionary funding mechanism the proposed NDIS Savings Fund Special Account is highly likely to undermine funding stability. NDIS funding will be determined by the policy priorities of the government of the day and highly likely to justify cuts and savings measures that target essential human services and welfare and, as Ms Jenkinson pointed out, put a personal face to how that is affecting people with disability on the ground. It will result in trade-offs and false economies between disability support and social security support. It will link NDIS funding to political debate in the budget cycle, resulting in ongoing unease and annual angst about existing programs and services that may be cut. It will potentially create resentment against people with disability from the community and other stakeholders who may lose funding to the NDIS, and it will potentially create false dichotomies and resentment between groups of people with disability—the deserving NDIS eligible group where savings are going to support them and the undeserving welfare recipients who will perhaps have funding cuts made against their benefits.

Income support and specialist disability support are different but complementary. There are complementary aspects of support for people with disability to be able to participate fully in the economic, social, cultural, civil and political life of Australia. Both income support and specialist disability support are critical measures to progress rights for people with disability, as outlined in the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Creating trade-offs between income support and disability support is counterproductive, short-sighted and does not promote the human rights objectives of the NDIS. It is unconscionable to shift people on low incomes, including people with disabilities, further into poverty in order to create savings for the NDIS. Ultimately we are unclear as to why an additional special account needs to be established when the DisabilityCare Australia Fund already exists to secure funding for the NDIS. The DisabilityCare Australia Fund could be adapted as required to ensure shared governance arrangements, genuine independence for the NDIS and funding certainty that is removed from the budget cycle and political debate. In this regard, and as other submissions to this inquiry highlight, as well as the points made by Mr Jenkinson in the opening statement, we refer the committee to the original Productivity Commission recommendations regarding NDIS funding. We ask the committee to not support the bill.

Senator SIEWERT: Were neither of your organisations consulted?

Ms Sands : No, we were not consulted at all. In fact, the first we knew of it was when it was first proposed during the May budget period. We were also aware that many other organisations had not heard of it, in our contact through our networks.

Senator SIEWERT: So none of your members had heard of it?

Ms Sands : No.

Senator SIEWERT: Mr Jenkinson?

Ms Jenkinson : Again, no, we had not heard about it. I guess we were concerned, as well, that on the face of it it sounds like a lovely name but lots of people do not necessarily understand what the consequences of it might be. It was really not until we received the request to put into the Senate inquiry that I really looked in depth at it.

Senator SIEWERT: You touched on the issue, as others have this morning, of people on DSP and re-evaluating people against the new criteria. Are you aware how many people who have been reassessed and dropped off DSP onto Newstart also have secured NDIS packages?

Ms Jenkinson : I would not be able to give those figures. I know we have had a significant increase, as in a tripling of advocacy cases relating to that. We know that the Welfare Rights association are completely full. However, because of the trial sites being in such distinct areas it is very difficult to tell, but certainly most of the people that we would directly work with would be people who would be eligible for NDIS.

Ms Sands : We also probably could not give you exact figures in relation to that. We are certainly receiving lots of concerning calls and inquiries from people with disability through our members. There is great concern about the reassessments of people eligible for the NDIS but not having been assessed for their packages, not having received their packages but been reassessed and placed onto Newstart. I could not give you exact figures on that.

Senator SIEWERT: I will ask the department. Can I take from your answer that there are people you consider eligible for NDIS who have been dropped to Newstart?

Ms Sands : Yes.

Ms Jenkinson : Yes.

Senator SIEWERT: Are there any who currently have a package who have been dropped onto Newstart?

Ms Sands : None that I am aware of. I cannot make any conclusion from that necessarily.

Ms Jenkinson : Again, not that we are aware of but the trial sites are in quite specific geographic areas so it is difficult to know.

Senator SIEWERT: Do I understand from your submissions and your comments that you would be supportive of ensuring that unspent funds do not go back to consolidated revenue—you feel that the better avenue would be through the DisabilityCare account?

Ms Jenkinson : Certainly any unspent funds from the NDIA we believe should go back into the NDIA fund for future use. I think that is reasonable, particularly during these earlier stages when we are trying to build up towards a broader rollout.

Ms Sands : We agree with that. We think it should be quarantined to the NDIS.

Senator SIEWERT: I am sure some of my colleagues on the committee will ask whether you think there is a funding shortfall. I already know you do not support taking funds from savings in the social security portfolio, but you would support it coming from consolidated revenue, being just a straight allocation that is not dependent on finding savings?

Ms Jenkinson : Yes, that is correct.

Ms Sands : Yes, that is correct. We would refer back to the original Productivity Commission recommendations which specifically said that saving should not be part of the annual budget cycle and should not be through savings from other program areas. It should come from consolidated revenue.

Senator KAKOSCHKE-MOORE: There has been some discussion this morning in relation to the transparency of the operations of the fund. I think it was Ms Jenkinson who suggested that there should be some ongoing oversight by the joint parliamentary standing committee on the NDIS.

Ms Jenkinson : Yes, I did. I will be completely honest with you. I am not privy to all the mechanisms that are used in parliament, but certainly, if the bill went through, it should not be under the control of one minister for decisions.

Senator KAKOSCHKE-MOORE: In the bill, the first time a review of the operation of the fund will take place is 2027. What is your view on that? Do you think reviews need to be held more often?

Ms Sands : In our submission, we say that the 10-year review period is too long. If the bill were to go through—and I have to say that this would be our last-resort position, I suppose—we would want some kind of amendment that would ensure that there would be a review period at a much earlier time; say, even three to five years. We are not really at full rollout yet and, through implementation, a number of issues are being identified. Groups of people are being identified who perhaps have never received disability supports before. It seems that we need to work with continuous improvement—reviewing, looking at what we have and making changes as required—to effectively and genuinely roll out the NDIS as it is meant to be rolled out. A 10-year review period is far too long to assess a savings fund.

Ms Jenkinson : I would agree that, if it were to go ahead, there should be a review at a much earlier stage. That is important. There is the point I made about change over time to any dividend that might be received from the NDIS, in terms of people being able to participate more economically et cetera. It is going to take a long time. To check that this is not having what we are already potentially seeing as unintended consequences and disadvantage to other groups, or potentially the same group in other areas of their life which will impact on the long-term dividend that we are hoping to get, you would need to review it at a much earlier stage than 10 years. So I would also support what Ms Sands said.

CHAIR: A lot has been said about the other savings measures that have been brought about to fund what this special account is set up to do. Before I ask this, I note that the bill does not deal with those specific savings measures. Just on the points that have been made by both of you with regard to the savings measures to fund what this account will be set up to do if the bill passes, would it not be the case that those savings may well be made regardless of whether this account is set up, as a government decision to fund the government's obligations under the NDIS, and the funds from those savings could go into DCAF instead of the special account?

Ms Jenkinson : That may very well be the case. Our issue is that the explanatory memorandum points to this and the fact that it is being controlled by the Social Services portfolio. It specifically talks about savings coming from within that portfolio to start with, and we think that that is essentially paving the way for this being all about cuts, whereas obviously there are processes that happen within government and decisions that are made more broadly for many reasons. If savings were made which go into consolidated revenue that then are part of the percentage that should go into the NDIS, so be it. We would advocate around those particular areas as required.

CHAIR: I did note that DPOA's written submission quotes the minister saying:

… "over future budgets, to identify savings from existing programs and set aside those savings to assist in meeting the Commonwealth's future financial commitments to the NDIS".

But I did have a look at the minister's second reading speech, and three paragraphs down it refers to the ability to find savings from any portfolio, not merely Social Services. Now, I take your point with regard to the savings having been found from this portfolio to start with, but I think it is important to acknowledge the statement made by the minister in his speech:

That approach will ensure that many areas of government contribute to supporting people with disability.

I presume you saw that as well before you provided your submissions.

Ms Sands : Yes, we did note that. But I think that is where our point that, yes, it may well come from Social Services comes into play. It may come from other portfolio areas—Human Services, Veterans Affairs, Health or wherever. But I think our point, then, is that, if those savings are seen to be contributing to the NDIS and the savings actually create an adverse impact for certain groups of people, those other groups of people may develop resentment towards people with disability, with a view that they are somehow having to give up a particular service or a particular benefit that they may receive from a portfolio area for the purpose of the NDIS and people with disability.

I think we would concur with Ms Jenkinson's point that the linking of the fund to savings through political decisions and the budget cycle is problematic and was recommended against by the Productivity Commission. These are issues that are real. There were budget savings outlined for the 2016-17 budget that were specifically earmarked for this fund. Part of that was the reassessments and the energy supplement removals, and there was also the backdating for the carer allowance and a couple of other things. There were comments made just anecdotally or informally to us about people saying, 'Well, we're already giving up enough for the NDIS. We don't see why we have to continue to do so.' So I think this resentment could be very real, and savings for the NDIS really should not be the catalyst for that kind of potential community disharmony.

CHAIR: I understand. Just in closing, though, I suppose you do appreciate that a government has many competing priorities. Sometimes tough decisions are made on the funding for very, very worthy programs, and you cannot please everyone. That is the only comment I would make on that. If there are no further questions from other senators, I thank you both, Ms Sands and Ms Jenkinson, for your time today. We really appreciate your submission and what you have had to say to us.

Ms Jenkinson : Thank you very much.

Ms Sands : Thank you.