Is there no evidence behind the staffing cap for the National Disability Insurance Agency?

By Tiffanie Turnbull and James Lane

The Statement

"There’s no evidence behind the [NDIA] 3000 person staffing cap. They just said ‘oh that sounds like a good number."

Greens senator and disability rights advocate Jordon Steele-John. May 28, 2019.

The Analysis

Greens senator and disability spokesperson Jordon Steele-John has welcomed the coalition government’s appointment of a National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) minister, describing it is a “spasm in a positive direction”. However Senator Steele-John says the government’s top priority should be to remove the National Disability Insurance Agency’s (NDIA) staffing cap to allow the NDIS to meet demand. [1]

AAP FactCheck examined Senator Steele-John’s claim there is no evidence behind the 3000 person staffing cap on the NDIA.

The NDIS was established by the Gillard Labor government in 2013 to “provide about 460,000 Australians aged under 65, who have permanent and significant disability with funding for supports and services”, according to its website. The National Disability Insurance Agency is responsible for implementing the NDIS. [2] [3] [4]

The NDIS has completed its rollout in every state except Western Australia, but only 244,653 of the expected 460,000 Australians are accessing the scheme, according to its website. [5]

The implementation of the NDIS has come under fire from participants and providers for delays and inefficiencies of the service. At the end of 2018, 32,425 NDIS participants had lodged formal complaints with the NDIA, 6.5 per cent of all people who had sought access to the scheme. [6]

A survey conducted by National Disability Services, the sector's peak body, found almost three-quarters of disability service providers said NDIS processes were not working well. [7]

One of the key criticisms of the NDIS is the NDIA staffing cap, which advocates say has created a bottleneck in the agency. In the 2014 budget, the Abbott coalition government introduced a 3000 person cap on direct employees of the NDIA. In 2015, the then Assistant Minister for Social Services, Senator Mitch Fifield, admitted the original plan was to employ about 10,000 staff to run the NDIA. [8] [9]

Since 2015, the cap has fluctuated slightly on several occasions, most recently in August last year when then Social Services Minister Dan Tehan announced the NDIA would be boosted to 3400 by 2020-21. The staffing cap has left the NDIA to outsource work it cannot complete in house, on which it spent $600 million in the 2017-18 financial year. [10] [11]

Senator Steele-John has asked questions about the adequacy of the NDIA staffing cap in Senate estimates on at least two occasions - June 2018 and October 2018. In June 2018 he was told the cap was “provided by government based on the expected growth of the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) and National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).” [12] [13]

Mr Steele-John told AAP FactCheck the answers were essentially “a bureaucratic version of ‘I don’t know’”.

When asked about the rationale to the staffing cap, a spokesperson for new NDIS minister Stuart Robert told AAP FactCheck: “This initial staff allocation for the (NDIA) was based on estimates of demand for resources at that time the scheme commenced.” The spokesperson told AAP FactCheck Senator Steele-John’s claim is “incorrect”, but did not address questions on how the cap was determined.

AAP FactCheck was unable to find evidence suggesting the NDIA cap is adequate but found sources arguing otherwise. In a submission to the 2017 Productivity Commission into the NDIS, the NDIA said implementing the scheme to its full capacity would require 10,000 staff members. In June 2018 NDIS chairman Bruce Bonyhandy said there was “no excuse” for the staffing cap and it was “short-sighted” and didn’t serve a purpose. [14] [15]

In August 2018, Labor committed to removing the staffing cap if elected with Shadow Minister for Community Services Linda Burney stating: “The staff cap is a relic of Tony Abbott’s horror 2014 budget and creates a perverse incentive to rely on contract staff and outsourcing, despite the NDIS being the biggest social reform since Medicare.” Matthew Bowden, co-CEO of People with Disability Australia (PWDA) said people faced waiting times of several months and those “left in limbo” were “at risk of harm and even death". [9] [16]

AAP FactCheck concludes that while Senator Fifield explained why the 10,000 staffing goal wasn’t adopted, there is no evidence as to how the NDIA staffing cap was determined.

The Verdict

  • True - The checkable claim is true.

The References

1. Greens senator Jordon Steele-John. RN Breakfast. ABC. (7mins 40). May 28, 2019: https://abcmedia.akamaized.net/rn/podcast/2019/05/bst_20190528_0736.mp3

2. ‘The National Disability Insurance Scheme: a chronology’. Parliament of Australia. July 13, 2018: https://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/Parliamentary_Departments/Parliamentary_Library/pubs/rp/rp1819/Chronologies/NDIS

3. ‘What is the NDIS?’. NDIS. January 15, 2019: https://www.ndis.gov.au/understanding/what-ndis

4. ‘National Disability Insurance Agency’. Australian Government: https://www.australia.gov.au/directories/australia/ndia

5. ‘The NDIS rollout’. NDIS. April 10, 2019: https://www.ndis.gov.au/understanding/ndis-rollout

6. ‘Report to the COAG Disability Reform Council for Q3 of Y6 Full report’ - page 81. NDIS. March 31, 2019: https://www.ndis.gov.au/about-us/publications/quarterly-reports

7: ‘National Disability Insurance Scheme systems and processes not working well, providers say’, by Lexi Metherell. ABC. November 19, 2018: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-11-19/national-disability-insurance-scheme-service-providers-funding/10509734

8: 14: ‘Labor pledges to scrap NDIS staff cap amid outsourcing concerns’, by Amy Remeikis. The Guardian. August 8, 2018: https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2018/aug/08/labor-pledges-to-scrap-ndis-staff-cap-over-outsourcing-concerns

9: ‘Transcript by Senator the Hon Mitch Fifield, Question without notice’. Australian Government. August 18, 2015: https://formerministers.dss.gov.au/15445/question-without-notice-2/

10. ‘Government Set to Increase NDIA Staff Cap’. by Luke Michael. Pro Bono Australia. August 28, 2018: https://probonoaustralia.com.au/news/2018/08/government-set-increase-ndia-staff-cap/

11. ‘NDIS racks up $600m on consultants and outsourced staff’. by Rick Morton. The Australian. September 28, 2018: https://www.theaustralian.com.au/nation/health/ndis-racks-up-600m-on-consultants-and-outsourced-staff/news-story/076d95ff8ce075318b3a282a56248601

12: ‘Question on notice no. 292’. 2018-19 Budget estimates. Parliament of Australia. June 1, 2018: https://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Senate_Estimates/ca/2018-2019_Budget_estimates

13: ‘Question on notice no. 271’. 2018-19 Supplementary budget estimates. Parliament of Australia. October 24, 2018: https://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Senate_Estimates/ca/2018-19_Supplementary_Budget_estimates

14: ‘NDIA Submission to Productivity Commission Issues Paper on NDIS Costs’ - page 63. NDIS. March 2017: https://www.pc.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0013/216031/sub0161-ndis-costs.pdf

15. ‘NDIS architect says there's 'no excuse' for Government-imposed staffing caps’. ABC. June 26, 2018: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-06-26/ndis-architect-says-no-excuse-for-ndia-staffing-caps/9908494

16. ‘Royal Commission to bring justice for people with disability’. Disabled People’s Organisations Australia. April 3, 2019: http://dpoa.org.au/royal-commission-bring-justice-people-disability/

  • First published May 30, 2019 16:58 AEST