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The National Disability Insurance Scheme is looking to limit new applicants and the amount allocated to existing users to control a cost blowout. By Rick Morton.

Exclusive: Documents leaked from secretive NDIS taskforce

NDIS Minister Linda Reynolds.
Credit: Alex Ellinghausen / NINE

The National Disability Insurance Scheme has set up a secretive “sustainability action taskforce”, which is instructed to “avoid” a forecast budget overrun by cutting access to the scheme and the level of funding to participants, leaked documents reveal.

An internal memo, marked “sensitive” and obtained by The Saturday Paper, shows that senior agency figures know there will be a “forecast… cost overrun in the 2021-22 financial year… on top of the scheduled increase in annual budget allocation”.

The document, dated April 2021, notes that the Sustainability Action Taskforce (SAT) has been working on “actions we need to take to avoid this forecast overrun”.

In order to do this, the SAT plans to limit both the number of new applicants joining the NDIS and growth of spending on current participants.

The memo provides the clearest evidence yet that a suite of proposed legislative reforms to the NDIS, key among them the introduction of mandatory “independent” assessments, are smokescreens for severe cuts to the scheme’s budget.

“The actions of the SAT will make immediate changes to slow growth in participant numbers, slow growth in spend per participant and strengthen operational discipline,” the memo reads. “We need to act now to ensure we can deliver a better NDIS.”

For further information, the document directs some staff to a “Scheme reform intranet hub”. Details from this reform hub were sent to staff as recently as last week with updated “talking points” regarding the rationale for the changes.

Senator Jordon Steele-John, the Greens’ disability spokesperson, told The Saturday Paper that this leaked document is “the smoking gun”.

“It reveals the government’s real intention with these reforms is to kick disabled people off our NDIS,” he said on Tuesday. “In addition, from the very beginning of the Morrison government trying to force these changes upon disabled people we said very clearly, ‘We can see exactly what you are doing because you feel disabled people are a burden on government finances’.

“And every single time the Morrison government looked us in the eye and said, ‘You are being ridiculous.’ ”

A spokesperson for the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) told The Saturday Paper that “any long-term financial risks will always be a consideration for government”.

“In fact, the NDIS Act requires the scheme to be delivered within the allocated budget, consistent with the agreements between the Commonwealth and states and territories,” the spokesperson said in a statement.

“Therefore, it is important to monitor the scheme’s financial sustainability and, if appropriate, put actions in place to make sure the insurance scheme is targeted to those who need it.

“The [NDIS] Minister [Linda Reynolds] is currently receiving comprehensive briefings and is consulting with all state and territory disability ministers, the disability sector and NDIS participants before any legislative changes are put before the federal parliament.”

On March 5, the NDIA’s chief executive, Martin Hoffman, spoke about the SAT in an update to staff. 

He touched on an issue at the heart of the federal government’s drive to limit cost overruns on the NDIS: how much of this cost burden falls on the federal government.

Essentially, when the NDIS agreements between the Commonwealth and states and territories were first signed, the federal government agreed to pick up 100 per cent of the cost of any budget blowout. States initially signed on for small yearly increases in their contributions. Following renegotiations for full scheme rollout, state and territory cost increases for their share of the NDIS are capped at 4 per cent each year.

In short, there is no upper limit on how much the federal government will have to pay if it does not constrain costs in the scheme. 

“Scheme sustainability is partly about staying within our allocated budget, consistent with the agreements between the Commonwealth and state and territories that sees their funding contributions increasing at a capped rate of 4 per cent per annum,” Hoffman told staff on March 5.

“The SAT will be implementing a range of actions over the next six months to moderate growth and spending.”

Rick Morton is The Saturday Paper’s senior reporter.