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Disability scheme’s tech woes out of NDIA's control: former chairman

Disability scheme’s tech woes out of NDIA's control: former chairman

"There is no excuse for the sort of staff caps we’ve got, the IT system we’ve got." - Bruce Bonyhady

A key architect of the National Disability Insurance Scheme, Bruce Bonyhady said on Monday night that technology issues which have plagued the national scheme are out of the NDIA’s control.

Bonyhady, who is now executive chair and director of the Melbourne Disability Institute, was responding to a question from the audience during last night’s Q&A program that people with disabilities, their families and service providers view the NDIS as a “train wreck waiting to happen.”

In 2016, Bonyhady said the NDIS was a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for people with disabilities”.

“There are a series of things that have happened … that contribute to the situation that we are in today,” Bonyhady said last night. “Most of those I think are outside the control of the NDIA [National Disability Insurance Agency].   

“We have an IT system that is still not fit for purpose. People tell me daily about the troubles they have accessing that system – providers tell me about the problems that they are experiencing.”

He said that the scheme was supposed to provide “an e-market that would enable people to transact quickly, that would enable providers to claim easily and we are just so far from that”.

“We also have a system that has been capped in terms of the number of staff that the agency has. I look at that and ask why? What purpose is it serving? How short-sighted is it?”

Still, Bonyhady said there is now bipartisan support for the NDIS across government and an agreement that the scheme would be fully funded. However, this is not locked in legislation so when an economic downturn does occur, that funding is not secure.

“I’ve argued for a contingency reserve as well. So there are a series of things that need to happen that will secure the future of this scheme.

“There are a series of things that could be done tomorrow that would transform the experience of people using the NDIS. And that would include [fixing] the IT system, that would include having sufficient staff, it would include staff training … and a focus on a market adjustment that needs to happen,” he said.

In 2017, spending on the NDIS was $850 million less than the government’s forecast. This year, Bonyhady said he anticipated that actual spending would be between $1 billion and $1.5 billion under the budget forecast.

“Some of this money needs to be used to fix the system and fix it quickly,” Bonyhady said. “There is no excuse for the sort of staff caps we’ve got, the IT system we’ve got, the lack of tier two support that we’ve got.”

In late 2015, it was expected that government agencies responsible for deploying the NDIS would get access to technologies such as IBM's Watson. Last February, the NDIA recruited actress Cate Blanchett as the voice of Nadia, an online virtual assistant who speaks, writes and chats online and answers common questions about the national disability insurance scheme.

Around 160,000 people are currently registered with the NDIS.

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Tags NDISNational Disability Insurance AgencyNDIAMelbourne Disability Institute

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