The purge of management at the $22 billion National Disability Insurance Scheme has begun following years of blunders and scandals, with federal minister Christian Porter finalising a list of corporate heavyweights to be brought in to replace the board.
Leaked documents show the list of new appointees — who can be approved by Mr Porter after consultation — will mean the end of the troubled chairmanship of NDIS “grandfather” Bruce Bonyhady at the start of the new year. He will be replaced by Helen Nugent, the chairwoman of credit reference outfit Veda Group.
Though Mr Porter must consult the states on the final make-up of the board, he is not required to listen to them and, in a letter to the states, he declared the list of board appointees, including Optus chairman Paul O’Sullivan, was a fait accompli.
“To that end, should we not be able to reach agreement on any of these appointments, I intend to exercise my powers to appoint the nominees in the above final list after 90 days from the date of this letter (September 30) to ensure there is a fully functioning, high-quality board in place from 1 January 2017,” he wrote.
Four state and territory ministers supported the nomination of Dr Nugent, Mr O’Sullivan and Westpac Western Australia chairman John Langoulant, but the process has sparked the ire of Victorian Disability Minister Martin Foley and threatens to reignite a debate about the federal government’s quest for control of the scheme.
“I note, more broadly, that this approach you have taken to these board appointments, and the changes you have proposed to governance arrangements under the act, suggest that the commonwealth is seeking to centralise control over key decisions affecting the scheme,” Mr Foley wrote in response to the minister.
“Your recent decision to make changes to the organisational structure and executive of the (NDIS agency) without consulting states and territories is further evidence of a mounting trend of centralisation, potentially at the expense of service delivery and accountability to all stakeholders and jurisdictions.”
Mr Porter began consultation with the states about a new board last November, and after eight other instances of changes, discussions and tweaks presented the final list of board members last month.
“While I have noted Victoria’s views about the consultation process for board appointments, given that on two separate and critical points when Victoria was asked to provide nominations and positions, they failed to respond,’’ Mr Porter told The Australian.
Other board members include former top public servant Robyn Kruk, who oversaw the department in charge of Labor’s fatal home insulation scheme.
The NDIS was set up as a shared project in which state and federal governments make key decisions about its future while the federal government bears more of the financial risk when things go wrong.
The Coalition has already had to revisit agreements with South Australia and the ACT because both jurisdictions, together with the former Labor government, underestimated the number of participants in the trial and full scheme.