The Mercury: NDIS failing too many Tasmanians

NEWS that 21 Tasmanians have died waiting for approved NDIS packages is heartbreaking but not surprising.

The NDIS has been bitterly underfunded by the Morrison Government to the tune of billions of dollars. As well as the underfunding, the NDIS bureaucracy is unresponsive, computer-driven and almost impossible to navigate. Then there is the confusion between people seeking disability support and the organisations responsible for providing it.

On top of that, for people with disabilities who live in the regions, there is a lack of choice that was meant to underpin the NDIS. In the regions it’s effectively “take it or leave it”, and that’s assuming there’s even one provider available.

Beverly and Peter Rubenach, who live near St Marys on the East Coast, have experience of what can happen when the NDIS does not work. They lost their son, Tim, when he was 32. He had been living with severe disabilities and was waiting for the arrival of an approved tilt-bed and motorised wheelchair, but delays meant he never lived to see them.

Beverly and Peter are lovely people who maintain frequent contact with my office. They bravely tell Tim’s story to highlight the consequences of a failing NDIS. They don’t want other families to suffer. It’s time the Government listened.

The experience of the Rubenachs isn’t unique. Across Tasmania and Australia there are families hitting brick walls.

Erin, who lives in Westbury, experienced challenges trying to access the NDIS for herself and her daughter. After months of delays it took my office intervening before both were granted access to support plans.

This isn’t the vision Labor had for the NDIS when we established the scheme.

In 2018 almost three-quarters of NDIS providers reported its systems and processes weren’t working well.

The NDIS was born under the last Labor government with great fanfare and hope.

Early teething problems were to be expected with the birth of a new national apparatus. Labor was heartened when the Liberals said they would back the NDIS and continue with it if they came to government.

But despite public statements from the Liberals that they back the NDIS, the evidence is they are trying to do it on the cheap, with billions of dollars sucked out of what had been budgeted.

Tasmania has about 90,000 people living with disabilities, at the moment, only 7000 of these are receiving support from the NDIS. It is expected, that once fully implemented, around 10,600 Tasmanians will access services through the NDIS leaving a huge cohort of Tasmanians with disabilities ineligible and largely unsupported.

Our regions already miss out when it comes to access government services, few communities have a Centrelink in their region, some don’t even have access to a Service Tasmania, most communities in our regions don’t even have a public transport network.

Tasmania’s budget is expected to face more cut, so it must be asked how does this government plan to provide services and support to those with disabilities who are missing out on the NDIS?

The NDIS needs to be more accessible, it needs to be easier to navigate and, critically, there need to be meaningful human interactions with trained, compassionate staff.

It needs to ensure people living in the regions aren’t missing out, that people who can’t read or write or who may not understand what the NDIS is are not shunted aside. Not everyone is connected to an advocate or can rely on someone to walk them through services. The NDIS needs to have customer service as its driving purpose.

The NDIS is failing my constituents but this government is not listening to the alarm bells. It needs to open its ears, and act.

Brian Mitchell is the federal Labor MP for Lyons.