It was a pre-election promise from the NSW Government. That was to bring the National Disability Insurance Scheme nearly a year early to the Blue Mountains and Western Sydney. This advanced rollout announced by NSW Premier Mike Baird will give 2000 children under the age of 18 years of age access to early intervention services in September instead of July 2016 as currently scheduled. The NDIS is already available to 3500 participants in the NSW Hunter pilot program and is anticipated to roll out across the rest of NSW from 2016.

F2L invited the Assistant Minister for Social Services, Senator Mitch Fifield, to respond to the implications this early intervention could have on other trial sites.

Q: While the news that an early roll-out of the NDIS for young people living in Western Sydney and the Blue Mountains is welcome it does raise the question of how this can be carried out in such a short time?

The early roll-out of the scheme in Western Sydney will build on the experience of the NDIS trials throughout Australia, including in the Hunter. From July 2015, young people with disability and their families will be able to work with local area coordinators to link with community supports and prepare for their NDIS plan. From September, the NDIA will start the planning process with participants and begin putting their individualised support plans in place.

Q: As this decision makes NSW the first state to implement the NDIS beyond a trial site does this mean that other states will be able to do likewise?  Is this the beginning of a new approach to a faster roll out of the NDIS?

 The early access to the NDIS in the Penrith/Blue Mountains area will help achieve the already agreed timeframes for transition to the full roll out of the NDIS in NSW. The Commonwealth and NSW have committed to having the NDIS operating across NSW by July 2018, as stipulated in the Heads of Agreement for the Full Scheme. Negotiations between the federal and each state government are underway for the rollout of the NDIS in each jurisdiction.

Q: Was there something unique about the proposal for Penrith and the Blue Mountains that made this strategy possible?

 Western Sydney is an area of high need when it comes to early intervention services for children with disability. Rolling out the NDIS earlier will provide much needed help to children and their families and provide further opportunity to test features of the NDIS in advance of the scale-up from 2016.

Q: 2000 young people will be eligible to receive the intervention services – how was this figure reached and how will these people be selected?

 NSW and the Commonwealth have agreed that 2000 people aged 0-17, will transition to the scheme in the Penrith/Blue Mountains area.   This number includes an estimated 1000 existing clients of NSW specialist disability services. It is expected that an additional 1000 existing clients of Commonwealth disability services, existing clients of state services outside of the disability service system, or young people who do not currently receive a service, for example because they have recently acquired a disability, will also be eligible.  Should there be more than 2000 young people eligible for support in the area remaining young people will be prioritised for access to the NDIS from July 2016.

  Q: On a separate issue there is on-going concern that a large group of people with disability will be ‘falling through the cracks.’  This includes those with a moderate degree of illness or who suffer from episodes of illness now receiving casual support but will be excluded once the NDIS is in place. How do you address the disquiet in the community about how these people will be supported?

People with disability who are currently receiving supports but who do not meet the access requirements for the scheme will not be disadvantaged by the introduction of the NDIS.   The Intergovernmental Agreement for the National Disability Insurance Scheme Launch, signed by the Commonwealth and all states and territories, specifically states that the Council of Australian Governments is committed to provide continuity of support to people with disability who are currently receiving services to ensure that they are not disadvantaged in the transition to the new scheme.  Earlier this month the Commonwealth Government announced an extension of funding for a range of Commonwealth programs transitioning to the NDIS. This would ensure continuity of services to people with disability, their families and carers as the transition to the NDIS begins.   Agreements with providers have been extended until 30 June 2016, providing just under $50 million funding to organisations nationwide.

The funding applies to the following programs: Helping Children with Autism, Better Start for Children with Disability, Young Carers Respite and Information Service, Outside School Hours Care for Teenagers with Disability, Respite Support for Carers of Young People with Severe or Profound Disability and National Disability Advocacy Program.

Senator Fifield said the government would extend funding for key support elements of the Children with Autism package and Better Start initiative until June 30, 2016. This applies to all support elements that have not fully transitioned into the NDIS trial sites and are not provided as part of the NDIS. “As these are extensions to current funding agreements, there is no need for providers to re-apply for funds,” he said.

The minister recently made funding assurances to current providers of the National Disability Advocacy Program, with a 12-month extension to all agreements until June 30, 2016. More than 11,500 people received support through the NDAP in 2013-14. “The extension allows advocacy groups to continue supporting people with disability while planning takes place for the future of the NDAP,” he said.

The government has also announced plans to improve job opportunities for people with disability with Senator Fifield declaring the disability employment market was now open for business.

“For the first time ever, all Disability Employment Services are being delivered through competitive contracts by providers who have demonstrated their ability to help people with disability find and keep a job,” he said. Successful non-government organisations started providing disability employment services from last December with previous employee, CRS Australia closing last month.

According to Senator Fifield the non-government sector has shown that it can effectively bring improved employment outcomes for people with disability. The government has been holding ’roundtables’ to garner support in the business community for employment opportunities for job seekers with disability. “Overwhelmingly I have been told that unless the system is built to work for business, it won’t work for people with disability,” he said.