The man heading the $22 billion National Disability Insurance Scheme “cannot guarantee” that specific levels of autism will remain on a list of conditions that gain automatic entry to the program, just weeks after the agency accidentally published a document that changed access guidelines.
Rob De Luca, the chief executive of the National Disability Insurance Agency, was grilled in Senate estimates yesterday about the mistaken update revealing a secret internal strategy codenamed Project Greenlight, which has existed within the organisation for about two months, aimed at eligibility criteria.
“This is really about how we bring people into the scheme fairly and how we get consistency,” Mr De Luca said. “It’s about making sure the right people get into the scheme, the people that deserve to be in the scheme. When we looked at the variability of the (support) packages, we saw that there is a way to improve that.”
Mr De Luca confirmed the agency was “continuing to work” on Productivity Commission recommendations in October that queried the effectiveness of a system used to streamline entry into the NDIS: lists A and B.
Conditions on list A, which include autism levels two and three, the two most severe levels of the disorder, double amputees and brain injury do not require an individual assessment to gain entry to the NDIS. In short, if a person has anything on that list they will become an NDIS participant.
For conditions on list B, however, a person must show more evidence of how their disability affects them day to day.
Project Greenlight has not been published anywhere on the NDIA website but deputy CEO Michael Francis told the hearing “it is not a secret”. The agency is tendering for the service of allied health contractors who will “check the functional assessments performed by the agency” of people with disabilities, which governs whether they enter the scheme. The Weekend Australian understands the project does not relate specifically to autism and is set up to be much broader, capturing a “wide range of disabilities”.
Mr De Luca regretted the error in publishing the wrong autism guidelines. “I regret that we got ourselves into a position that we shouldn’t have been in and that we caused anxiety to people in the community.”
Mr Francis said the error happened because he signed off on a brief to update the condition lists — mostly to include West Australian programs that would automatically be included in the NDIS — but that a briefing note attached to the update made no mention of changes to autism.
“It did not alert me to any changes of that magnitude,” Mr Francis told the hearing. “It wasn’t in the tracked changes in the document that I could see.”
Mr De Luca said the “rigour of the changes to the operating guidelines were very poor” and admitted that not only had autism been removed but there were spelling and grammatical errors. “The people in the technical advisory team made changes to the (guidelines) without the proper oversight,” he said.
Department of Social Services deputy secretary Michael Lye said the particular “concern” about autism was that the “demand is not well understood.” “Autism relative to other areas … we don’t know as much about it and we have to pay attention.”
Currently, 29 per cent of the 160,000 participants in the NDIS have autism, compared with the Productivity Commission’s estimate of 20 per cent when it first laid out the blueprint in 2011. Mr De Luca expected the proportion to move and be “broadly in line” with initial estimates once the scheme was fully rolled out.