DisabilityCare Australia launches

DisabilityCare Australia, a new scheme for providing support for people with disability, has commenced in locations across Australia. The launch of the scheme, formerly known as the NDIS, is the culmination of years of advocacy from the disability and carers sectors. It builds on work undertaken through the National Disability Strategy, the Productivity Commission, COAG and agreements reached between the Australian and state and territory governments.

This post provides a brief guide to some key aspects of the DisabilityCare Australia launch.

What is DisabilityCare Australia?

DisabilityCare Australia is a major and highly complex reform to the way in which disability support is funded, accessed and provided.

The main component of DisabilityCare Australia will be individualised, long term funding to provide support for people (aged under 65 years) with permanent and significant disability or eligible for early intervention support. Participants in the scheme will meet with DisabilityCare Australia to identify a set of supports agreed as 'reasonable and necessary' to meet their goals. Participants will be provided with funding for these supports and will have choice over how their needs are met (including choice of provider). When DisabilityCare Australia is fully introduced it is expected that around 460,000 Australians will receive support under this component of the scheme.

DisabilityCare Australia also has a broader role in providing information, coordination, referral and funding to assist people with disability (including those not eligible to participate in the main component of the scheme).

For further background, see the Parliamentary Library's Bills Digest for the NDIS legislation.

What is the DisabilityCare Australia launch?

The scheme is being introduced in stages from 1 July 2013 commencing with a pilot phase known as the DisabilityCare Australia launch. This encompasses:
  • South Australia, where support will be provided to 1,600 children aged up to five years (with an additional 3,400 to be included when all children aged up to 14 years participate from 1 July 2015) 
  • Tasmania, where support will be provided to 1,000 young people aged 15-24 years 
  • Newcastle, New South Wales, where support will be provided to 3,000 people aged up to 65 years (with 7,000 to be added with the inclusion of Lake Macquarie in 2014 and Maitland in 2015) and 
  • the Barwon region of Victoria, where support will be provided to 4,000 people aged up to 65 years (with 500 participants added in both 2014 and 2015).
The launch will commence in the Australian Capital Territory (2,500 participants aged up to 65 years) and the Barkly region of the Northern Territory (100 participants aged up to 65 years) from 1 July 2014.

There is no launch site in Queensland (though the full scheme will be rolled out there in 2019) or Western Australia, which is yet to reach agreement with the Commonwealth on the introduction of the scheme. The full scheme is to be introduced in all states and territories except (unless an agreement is reached) Western Australia from 1 July 2019.

Objectives of the launch

According to the DisabilityCare Australia website, the scheme is being launched in stages 'because it’s a big change, and we want to get it right and make it sustainable'. People with disability and service providers will be encouraged to be innovative in their thinking about the kinds of services that might be accessed.

An important part of 'getting it right' will be the use of the launch stage is to test the effectiveness of the scheme in supporting particular sub-groups (e.g. based on age and geographic location) of people with disability.

For example, 15-24 year olds in Tasmania were selected because this group 'is seen as particularly high risk as they make the transition from adolescence to adulthood'; while the younger group of children was chosen in South Australia 'to assess the effectiveness of early intervention processes, and because of the potential
benefits to individual children in terms of reduced lifelong support needs' (see the Statement of Compatibility with Human Rights for the NDIS legislation, p. 9).

A formal evaluation of the DisabilityCare Australia launch, to be conducted by the National Institute of Labour Studies (Flinders University), is intended to provide 'insight into what works and what refinements might needed to the scheme'.

Broader issues

Apart from matters relating to the particular groups of people with disability in launch locations, some broader questions that may be clarified by the launch include:
  • who specifically will receive support and what specific supports will they receive? 
  • to what extent will disability service providers be capable of meeting the increased demand for support? Will small providers be able to adapt or will the scheme be dominated by large providers? Will there be enough disability care workers to provide support? 
  • will the system provide sufficient support for innovative and flexible approaches to service design? 
  • are the projected costs realistic? 
  • will there be sufficient monitoring and other protections in place for participants? 
  • will the complaints and appeals process for the scheme be sufficient? 
The introduction of DisabilityCare Australia has raised expectations about the extent, standard and distribution of support to people with disability. It will undoubtedly be transformative but complex and, most likely for some, disappointingly short of expectations.

The launch of the scheme provides the first opportunity to observe the transformation of disability support in Australia but also the 'messy reality' of implementation, with all its inevitable political and policy implications.


Flagpost is a blog on current issues of interest to members of the Australian Parliament

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