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Joint Standing Committee on the National Disability Insurance Scheme

CHRISTIAN, Mr James, Group Manager, Disability, Employment and Carers Group, Department of Social Services

HARTLAND, Dr Nick, Group Manager, National Disability Insurance Scheme Group, Department of Social Services

PRATT, Mr Finn, Secretary, Department of Social Services

RILEY, Mr John, Branch Manager, Disability Employment Taskforce, Department of Social Services


CHAIR: Welcome. Information on parliamentary privilege and the protection of witnesses and evidence has been provided to you. I remind witnesses that the Senate has resolved that an officer of a department of the Commonwealth or of a state shall not be asked to give opinions on matters of policy and shall be given reasonable opportunity to refer questions asked of the officer to superior officers or to a minister. This resolution prohibits only questions asking for opinions on matters of policy and does not preclude questions asking for explanations of policies or factual questions about when and how policies were adopted. I now invite you to make a short opening statement. At the conclusion of your remarks I will invite members of the committee to put questions to you.

Mr Pratt : In terms of an opening statement, I do not actually have much to add to what Minister Fifield has run through rather comprehensively. There are two things I would like to note however. One is that we are obviously in the midst of quite sensitive negotiations with the states and territories on a range of matters, housing being a particularly topical one at the moment. On the one hand I do not wish to risk verballing our state colleagues in terms of things we might say or suggest might be their motivations, and so we will be very careful about that. On the other hand, we also do not want to negatively affect the Commonwealth's negotiating position with the states and territories, where we are very much looking to try to maximise the benefit of the NDIS for the individuals as opposed to, potentially, dealing with what are inevitably issues around funding and who pays for what.

The second thing is that there are a number of things that have been discussed at the last Disability Reform Council meeting which the Commonwealth and the jurisdictions were not able to agree on, so we have been commissioned to do further work with the states and territories and report back to them. I suspect some of that might have given rise to a suggestion that we would respond to the Senate estimates committee in September. Naturally, Senator Siewert, it is not the intention of the department to offend the committee in any way. I am sure that, if we intended to do that, you would really know about it, but that is never our objective, of course.

Senator SIEWERT: Thanks for that.

Mr Pratt : There are things which are subject to quite high-level discussions with the states and which we are just not in a position to reveal. Of course, if you wish to go in camera, I am more than happy to share my views on where we are at with different things.

Senator SIEWERT: Can we do that?

CHAIR: Before we do that, let's see if there is anything else we want to put on the record in open forum that could be used in our report. On any of the issues that we have covered off with the minister, is there anything you wish to add to with regard to sector development in particular, the sector fund, utilisation or any of those things we have covered off previously that may be of use in us formulating our report?

Mr Pratt : I will check with Dr Hartland in a moment. I thought Mr Fifield, naturally, covered everything very comprehensively and accurately, so there is certainly nothing I want to add to that.

CHAIR: Just as your previous ministers always were.

Mr Pratt : I had that good fortune.

Ms MACKLIN: I think it might be helpful—it is not being critical of the minister—to talk about what the process is for spending the sector development fund, to be a bit more blunt about it? The disability providers need assistance, and what is the plan for getting the money out the door? This gets raised a lot.

Dr Hartland : At the moment, we are working on scoping up projects in relation to both preparing people and preparing providers in the workforce. The Disability Reform Council has considered an overall strategy because the Commonwealth and the states felt they wanted a map of the areas where priorities should be. They will publish that, we hope, in August or September. They have agreed and just want to review that strategy for publication. In parallel we ware working on projects for which we might now start to commission consultants and others to go work with disability providers. The agency, when it was running the sector development fund, already commissioned the disability support organisations, so they have done some work on preparing people. We will do some work on providers. It will go to things you might imagine such as helping providers prepare business cases and making sure they are ready. We will start to commission that work in the second half of this year.

Ms MACKLIN: That is when the money will actually go out the door to providers. How much do you expect to spend this year?

Dr Hartland : I do not think we have formed our mind about how much we expect to spend this year.

Ms MACKLIN: Surely there must be a profile.

Dr Hartland : We have a profile in the forward estimates, but the exact pattern of the spend will depend on coming back with the detailed projects, so we have not nailed that down—'We're going to spend $20 million on this financial year and $20 million next.' I am not sure that we are looking at grants to providers at this stage. It may well be that a better way to go is to commission firms that can come work with providers to assist them, so it might not be money to providers as such.

CHAIR: I think that is a good idea. You can have the learned process go from one to another. You can find out systemic issues.

Dr Hartland : If you provide individual grants, you tend to get as many different approaches as you have different grants.

CHAIR: And then you have those who miss out and those who do not. If you have service provision that is available and advice that is available, you get governance issues, capital raising, finance and all the rest of it.

Ms MACKLIN: If the secretary is prepared to go in camera—

CHAIR: Before we do, I want to check. Has there been any progress made on this clearing house issue when you are crossing education, health, rehabilitation, mental health issues and who pays for what so that the states and everyone agrees on some way that does not impact negatively upon the participants?

Mr Pratt : You are referring to the escalation process that we have talked about in the past? As we mentioned previously, that is still subject to what we are negotiating into the bilateral agreements for the transition to the full scheme. Dr Hartland can give us an update.

Dr Hartland : I think I told the committee about this before. We have had an exercise where we try to outline the roles and responsibilities of each sector in detail, so it goes to understand where the NDIS might go and we avoid cost shifting, but we are also clear about what we expect of the other sectors. That has been refreshed and is going back up to COAG. In the bilateral agreements, we will have escalation clauses. The NDIA will be charged with working with us and the states to make sure they keep us informed about where there is a gap. Then we will have a process for officials to work together if it is emerging on the ground that the two systems are not working together for individual needs. This will be an area that will need ongoing monitoring. That is probably the best way to put it. I do not think it is an area that is ever going to be perfect and seamless, because it actually is complex. When a demand-driven system butts up against a capped system you are going to get boundary issues that you need to police.

Mr Pratt : But a concept we have discussed before here is that we need a mechanism to rapidly escalate these things where the agency at a local level is having difficulty with a provider, a local government instrumentality or a state government instrumentality of some sort—and there are no doubt genuine disagreements between them as to who will do what. What we will need is to be able to get that resolved very rapidly so that the individual does not get stuck in limbo land forever. I think we are very much on side with the suggestion of this committee for such a device.

CHAIR: You have now had a fair bit of time to absorb what the minister had to say regarding putting together a couple-of-page paper on housing. I would like to put this into our committee report. How long might it take you to pull that together?

Mr Pratt : I do not wish to commit the minister to any particular deadline.

CHAIR: I was committing you, actually.

Mr Pratt : We have been considering these issues for some time. In fact for several years we have been considering a housing policy paper.

CHAIR: You are coming close to—

Mr Pratt : We have of course drafted many variants of things, as has the agency, and we have attempted to agree on these with the states and territories on a number of occasions. Frankly, I suspect we are able to do such a thing relatively rapidly. I note that the minister committed to 'before September'; certainly we will live up to that. We will attempt to do it as quickly as possible. But of course the government needs to be comfortable with what it is going to put on the table and make sure that it is not going to jeopardise the process of trying to agree on things with the states and territories.

CHAIR: We will adjourn the hearing for the moment and go in camera.

Proceedings suspended from 09 : 12 to 09 : 53