NDIA boss 'deeply regrets' handling of major reforms

NDIA chief executive Martin Hoffman Picture: Dion Georgopoulos
NDIA chief executive Martin Hoffman Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

The boss of the National Disability Insurance Agency "deeply regrets" the handling of consultation on its controversial independent assessments proposal, as he acknowledged the significant reform had caused "real fear, concern and upset" in the community.

NDIA boss Martin Hoffman made the concession when he fronted the parliamentary inquiry examining the proposed new model on Tuesday.

Mr Hoffman's appearance came a day after NDIS Minister Linda Reynolds confirmed the Morrison government would proceed with independent assessments "in some form", after she completed further consultation with the sector.

Disability groups, health professionals, Labor and the Greens had been highly critical of the government's approach to the proposed change, which would fundamentally alter how participants are assessed for funding under the $22 billion scheme.

A string of decisions made when former NDIA Minister Stuart Robert was at the helm led critics to conclude the government was prepared to ignore widespread opposition and introduce the new assessments process as quickly as possible.

This included the decision to sign contracts with private contractors to deliver the assessments just days after consultation on the model had concluded, and before a trial with participants had been completed or legislation introduced to parliament.

In one of her first acts as NDIS Minister, Senator Reynolds bowed to public pressure and agreed to pause the permanent rollout of independent assessments, allowing her time to await feedback from the trial and consult with the disaffected disability community.

Mr Hoffman began his evidence to the parliamentary committee on Tuesday by apologising for his agency's conduct.

"I understand and acknowledge that the proposals we are discussing here have caused real fear, concern and upset in the disability community," he said.

"I deeply regret that our genuine attempts at communication and consultation have evidently not to date been sufficient or appropriate."

Senator Reynolds this week made clear the government was committed to using private contractors to conduct assessments on participants, rather than allowing them to use reports from their own doctors and other experts.

The new minister, as with her predecessor, believes independent assessments would result in fairer and more consistent decisions.

But Senator Reynolds indicated that the government was open to revising the model which has faced such sharp and widespread opposition.

Mr Hoffman told Tuesday's committee hearing that there were six topics up for debate, including under what circumstances participants might be exempt from an independent assessment.

Options for extra oversight of the results of independent assessments would also be examined, Mr Hoffman said, as he sought to allay fears that participants wouldn't be able to challenge funding decisions under the new model.

The agency boss also clarified the nature of the arrangements with the private contractors picked to run the assessments.

Mr Hoffman said the providers had simply been appointed to a panel, and none would be paid until the new regime started.

Providers had been made aware that no start date had been set, he said.

Labor's NDIS spokesman Bill Shorten last week called on Senator Reynolds to tear up the contracts, which are worth are combined $339 million.

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This story NDIA boss 'deeply regrets' handling of major reforms first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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