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Labor-led committee raises human rights concerns over NDIS bill as Shorten blasts delays

Minister says more consultation with states would be a ‘circle-jerk’ after Coalition and Greens team up to delay vote on NDIS reforms until late August

By Sarah Basford Canales

June 28, 2024

Credits @FFHR.CZ

A Labor-chaired parliamentary committee has flagged human rights concerns with the Albanese government’s proposed changes to the national disability insurance scheme, warning some aspects may not be “sufficiently flexible” and others not in line with international human rights law.

The NDIS minister, Bill Shorten, used a press conference on Thursday evening to attack the opposition and the Greens after the unlikely alliance teamed up to send the NDIS reform bill back to a committee until early August.

The former Labor leader claimed the delay would cost an estimated $1bn, or about $23m a day, labelling it “obscene, horrific, stupid and arrogant”.

A Labor-majority committee last week recommended parliament pass the government’s NDIS reform bill, while also saying it should offer more details on exactly how changes would affect the disability community.

But a separate committee report released this week has raised human rights concerns about the legislation.

The committee, chaired by the Labor MP Josh Burns, looks at bills to determine whether there are any limitations on human rights, and whether any limitations should be allowed.

Its fifth report of the year included a look at the NDIS proposals, which will clarify what support can be accessed by those on the scheme, change the way participants receive plan budgets and give more powers to the head of the agency in charge of the scheme to curb top-up payments.

The original bill’s explanatory memorandum said the changes would mean participants could no longer pay for items, such as “holidays, groceries, payment of utility bills, online gambling, perfume, cosmetics, standard household appliances and whitegoods” through the scheme.

Though it was later amended to remove specific references, the committee said it still held concerns the proposed changes weren’t flexible enough. It recommended the government tweak the rule to allow undeclared or prohibited supports to be considered if the participant can show it is needed to assist them with their disability.

The committee also raised concerns about the national disability insurance agency head’s ability to request personal information, including sensitive medical information, as well as changes requiring decision-makers to consider the NDIS’s overall financial sustainability for each individual budgets.

“The objective of ensuring the financial sustainability of the NDIS, while important from a policy perspective, may not in itself be sufficient to constitute a legitimate objective for the purposes of international human rights law,” the committee report said.

“There appears to be a risk that the measures could result in the total funding amounts for participants being reduced and consequently fewer supports being provided and, in such cases, would constitute a retrogressive measure.”

The report added there was a risk a “greater weight” may be given to the scheme’s financial status without legislative or other guidance being provided.

Shorten’s office was approached for comment on the report’s findings.

On Thursday night the NDIS minister unveiled a so-called “waste clock” website as he warned “the truth is the scheme is growing too fast”.

“We know that these automatic top-up provisions are being rorted by some unscrupulous service providers,” he said. “And the willingness of some senators to turn away and ignore the problems in front of their face is scandalous.”

Asked whether he would consult again with states and territories, who have very publicly shared their concerns about the bill, Shorten labelled it a “circle jerk”.

Coalition senators have said they were disappointed the Senate has not had more time to scrutinise the legislation while the Greens senator Jordon Steele-John accused Labor of ramping up the messaging on NDIS “rorts” and “cheats” in an effort to “elicit a level of qualified tolerance” for major reforms.

“Just like the previous government proactively dropped stories on so-called ‘dole bludgers’ to undermine the calls for a royal commission into robodebt, it is the view of the Australian Greens that this government is undermining the NDIS in the same way,” Steele-John said.

On Thursday evening, Shorten said Steele-John should “put up, or shut up”.

“I’m not going to be a political doctor, who says to the patient, ‘No, you don’t need to change, nothing needs to change.’ The reality is the scheme is growing too fast. Jordon knows this. People know this,” he said.

In a statement on Thursday night, Steele-John stood by the party’s decision to delay a vote on the bill, accusing Shorten of reducing the disability community’s issues “to zingers, expensive messaging guides and cheap stunts.”

“All this stunt does is demonstrate the speed and severity of the cut that Labor is planning for the NDIS,” the Greens senator said.


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