NDIA Annual Report 2013-2014 overselling itself


The NDIA released its first Annual Report, its NDIS year-one summary. The NDIA must be commended on what it has achieved in its first year of operating the first four NDIS trial sites.

The NDIA can also be commended for its efforts to spread the message that “The long-term economic benefits of the NDIS are estimated to exceed its costs ...”. Reasonable and necessary investment in the future of people affected by disability economically responsible; and cost minimisation strategy that the denies vulnerable people the support they need is fiscal vandalism.

However, the NDIA does seem to be overselling some of its achievements through its reporting. The NDIA's summary (see here) says

  • “satisfaction levels of participants in the trial sites are very high — 94 per cent rated NDIA planning good, or very good”. The context is that only 71% (7,316 of 10,271) of recognised NDIS applicants had completed the planning process, and 84% (8,585) of the recognised applicants were eligible participants. Any participant, that is someone who gets funding from the NDIS, will feel obliged to say the planning was at least “good”. Collecting and reporting this measure is designed deliberately to distort and deceive. It reflects badly on the NDIA and its political masters that they choose to even present spin like this.

  • 11 per cent of [the NDIA's] workforce identified as having disability — compared with around 3 per cent for the Australian Public Service (APS)”. Really? The ABS reports that 18.5% of Australians have a disability (see here – since the rate varies with age, the rate for 18-65yo would be more meaningful), so 11% is not much to boast about … even Westpac, who is the subject of a disability discrimination complaint (see here), apparently achieves 13% employees with disability.

The NDIA reports that 24% (or 26% as reported in the NDIA's June 2014 Quarterly Report?) of its participants have “autism” as their primary disability. Higher than expected ASD numbers appear to have surprised the NDIA: 24% is about 4 times more than the NDIA expected (see here) despite their getting repeated warnings from the ASD community that their estimates were much too low. Autism SA repeated warned the NDIA that it's estimates of the number of children with autism was wrong; but the NDIA ignored warnings … then delayed it's intake program in SA when its intake prediction was so significantly wrong.

Given the NDIA's demonstrated abysmal understanding of autism (poor estimate of numbers, gobbledygook eligibility criteria and reports from the field of erratic/questionable planning quality especially in relation to early intervention for autism/ASD), people affected by autism really cannot be confident that the NDIA's target of $35,000 pa average per participant can deliver on the NDIA's vision, that is “optimising social and economic independence and full participation for people with disability”. The NDIA has not shown how:

  1. the estimated $35,000 pa average NDIS disability package was arrived at nor whether there was any independent review of that estimate;

  2. the NDIA will test whether this level of funding can deliver the NDIA's vision for people with a disability (at present, it appears that the NDIA's actual vision is to achieve an average plan cost of just under $35,000 pa).

In its Annual Report, the NDIA says one of its first lessons is “clearer guidance for planners on eligibility requirements”. While the highly-secretive NDIA's internal eligibility requirements are unknown to us, the public version remains gobbledygook (see here).

It's second lesson “improves the business model” through “increasing emphasis on informal supports”, code for dumping as responsibility back on families as possible. The NDIA “early plans included an over-reliance on formal supports”. The phrase “over-reliance on formal supports” just means plans cost too much or people needed more services than the Productivity Commission's initial estimate. So the NDIA changed, presumably under instruction from the Government and without discernible communication with stakeholders, how it operates away from “reasonable and necessary supports” to affordable according to the NDIA's unilateral $35,000 pa average budget. “Informal supports” is a euphemism for family supports, meaning almost entirely mothers. Inevitably, the NDIS became again a process/system for distributing its politically acceptable budget allocation; it is regressing to “underfunded, unfair, fragmented, and inefficient” … which is how the Productivity Commission describes the existing disability services and supports.

Inside the first year of trials, the NDIS failed: it secretly gave up its attempt to provide reasonable and necessary support for people with disability … and reverted to being underfunded.

The risk is that the only improvement from the NDIS is an increase to the disability budget.

The NDIA's Annual Report says ...

“Changes were made to encourage planners to consider the role of community and mainstream supports as well as formal supports. These changes also reflect the fact that the NDIS is as much about community engagement and access to mainstream services as it is about the provision of funded supports”

There was no discernible change to the NDIA's early intervention policy: from the start, the NDIA “encouraged” planners to expect/require the informal, community and mainstream supports in early intervention … contrary to evidence and expert advice on ASD (see here and here).

People with ASD have a spectrum of experience in community/mainstream settings. There are people with ASD who benefit from better access to or even immersion in community/mainstream settings.

But “community engagement” and “mainstream services” often mean dumping children with ASD into unfunded or under-funded, unprepared and inappropriate situations that are not beneficial, even damaging. Relatively frequent negative experiences with this dumping of children with ASD led the prime champion of Inclusive Education, Lady Warnock, to describe the result as a “disastrous legacy” and withdraw her unilateral support for Inclusion/mainstreaming dogma almost a decade ago (see here). Basically, Inclusion ideology, rampant in the NDIA, ignores/rejects all evidence, expertise or logic/rationale showing a need to prepare many children with ASD adequately for mainstream or “inclusive” settings (numerous links to evidence here).

With current resource levels, most students with ASD can be “included” some of the time, few can be “included” all the time. Under-supported mainstreaming and unsuccessful Inclusion damages some school-age children with ASD. Many children with ASD cannot sustain “total Inclusion”; they need some separation or withdrawal (which are reviled, discouraged, disallowed or just impossible in Inclusive regimes). Without essential/necessary separation many students with ASD experience increasing levels of challenging behaviour, anxiety and/or depression. It's best (ethical) to avoid damaging children with ASD in the first place.

Moderate Inclusionists are people who believe total Inclusion is appropriate for their child. But they do not insist under-resourced Inclusion/mainstreaming is the only allowable option, they may recognise that other choice may be best when the resources needed to deliver Inclusion are not provided/available. Moderates may recognise that some children with ASD need partial Inclusion and some degree of separation for best outcomes.

Hardline Inclusion ideologists and evangelists (Inclusionists) falsely characterise anyone who doesn't accept their Inclusion dogma as despicable one-eyed Segregationists. Inclusionists are wrong about “non-believers”: people who do not accept “total Inclusion” mostly take a more pragmatic approach that aims to meet the specific needs of each individual child with ASD in the least restrictive setting for that child (that is, most non-believers strive for individually maximal inclusion and integration, possibly using reverse integration when appropriate). A non-Inclusionist typically respects the child's essential wishes, expressed either verbally or non-verbally (sometimes referred to as “challenging behaviour”).

[There are diverse opinions on Inclusion in the ASD community: there are both hardline and moderate Inclusionists and a diminishing number of Segregationists. And there is a spectrum of views in between … many of whom are silent as they have experienced personal criticism and denigration from hardline Inclusionists who simply dismiss and ignore actual experiences of others. Respect is due to all opinions that do not result in bad/disrespectful behaviour.]

The NDIA's complete lack of attention to participant safety, protection from abuse and neglect, is a notable feature of the NDIA's Annual Report: only OH&S (worker safety) is mentioned. This is a major fail.