In October, after almost a year of inquiry, the Joint Standing Committee on the NDIS released its final report on a proposal to introduce compulsory independent assessment for NDIS participants.

In its report, the Australian parliamentary committee identified a flawed policy development process at the NDIA, the agency which administers the NDIS, in which a proposal with weak evidence and insufficient community input was allowed to progress to the point of announcement. 

The report went further, saying that at the NDIA, there were systemic insufficiencies of transparency and consultation. 

Under the independent assessments proposal, all new participants would have their functional capacity assessed by government-contracted health professionals who would have no prior relationship with the participant. Independent assessment would also be compulsory for existing participants when their plans were reviewed.

A broad coalition of organisations and community groups campaigned against the proposal, and Minister for the NDIS Linda Reynolds announced in July that she had decided not to proceed with it.

The parliamentary inquiry into the proposal received 400 community submissions, among them one from AQA.

Our submission highlighted the lack of evidence cited in support of the independent assessments proposal, and the absence of effective consultation in its development. We recommended that the NDIA make independent assessment voluntary, not compulsory. We also urged the NDIA to engage more meaningfully with the disability community when considering changes likely to affect it. 

The Joint Standing Committee’s report addressed all our points of concern, and there was a strong resonance between the report’s recommendations and our own.

The verdict

In describing the problems with the policy process that produced the independent assessment proposal, the report emphasizes deficiencies in transparency, in community and expert consultation, in supporting evidence, and in due diligence with respect to testing for the reliability or validity of the proposed tools.

In making the case that inadequate community consultation was a systemic issue at the agency, the report noted that the term “co-design” was not used in any of the the three NDIS Corporate Plans that preceded the plan released this year. It said co-design principles should be at the heart of any major change to the NDIS, and should be written into the NDIS Act. 

On transparency, the report said the committee had asked the NDIA to share financial data underpinning its fears about financial sustainability, but the NDIA had not done so.

AQA’s submission to the inquiry was coordinated by Michael Moriarty, a researcher at AQA with a background in disability policy development and evaluation. 

Michael said he saw the committee’s report as a significant point of leverage for demanding accountability from the NDIA into the future, especially when concerning principles of co-design and transparency. Additionally, he said the campaign against compulsory independent assessment offered important lessons. 

“The sector-wide advocacy effort we saw in response to independent assessments was a real success story,” he said. “It was loud, but it was also well reasoned.

“Don’t give up lightly! They looked like they weren’t going to budge – until they did.”

  • January 19, 2022

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