Refugee Council of Australia
Parliament House, Canberra

Submission into the implementation of the national disability insurance scheme in NSW

Our key concerns

The National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) is a fundamental shift in disability funding and services policy, which aspires to shift choice and control toward people with a disability and their families through person-centred planning and individualised plans. To be eligible for the NDIS, a person must be an Australian or holder of a Permanent Visa or a Protected Special Category Visa, aged under 65 years. As such, refugees on permanent humanitarian visas are eligible for the NDIS, while people seeking asylum and those on temporary protection visas (typically Temporary Protection Visas (TPVs) and Safe Haven Enterprise Visas (SHEVs)) are not.

As Advance Diversity Services has noted, recent developments in the NDIS could improve access for culturally and linguistically diverse communities. However, there are still significant barriers to participation which need to be addressed before the program is finalised.

The National Ethnic Disability Alliance (NEDA) estimates 21.9% of NDIS participants should come from a culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) background. However, in 2018 only 7% of participants are classified as CALD. Therefore, there is certainly a “substantial accessibility gap”.

People with a disability face barriers that hinder their quality of social participation. This is compounded for those with a disability from a refugee background as they face “cumulative disadvantage” as a result of experiencing further marginalisation through exclusion and discrimination. The challenges that are inherent in the nature of the NDIS itself, and the existing barriers to accessing this service, need to be acknowledged and considered by the Australian Government to ensure a more inclusive NDIS. A greater understanding of the discrimination faced by people with a disability from refugee backgrounds in their access to disability services will ensure better rates of participation and more positive outcomes for this disadvantaged cohort.

The premise of the NDIS is that individuals with disability have the right to participate in the community and pursue their identified goals. Those who are eligible to access the NDIS now have much more choice, with a person-centred approach being at the heart of the NDIS. Indeed, “choice” may be an unfamiliar concept for some community members, especially those who come from more community or collectivist focused cultures. A disability service program that is individually tailored requires that people with a disability are fully aware of what services they are eligible for, and how to use these services to improve their quality of life. While choice is vital, and reflects the social model of disability emphasised in Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, adequate support must be provided for users to be able to make a fully informed choice. For refugees and humanitarian entrants to be able to make a fully informed choice, they will need extra support, including appropriate access to professional interpreters, and sufficient casework support to help them navigate the NDIS and other mainstream services.

Service Coordination is one service type that can assist people who are not able to purchase services without support. Newly arrived refugees rarely have English soon after arrival, and none have an understanding of disability support services that are available near their local LGA, or whether they have multilingual staff. Without Support Coordination, the person will be notified about their plan by mail in English. This is highly problematic for people who do not speak English. One service provider reported that they found an unopened approved Plan during a home visit: the client was waiting for needed services without knowing they had the funding available to use them. As well as the delay to needed services, this delay could have a long-term impact on future plans: if the package is only partially spent, it could be argued it was not needed and could be reduced in the following year’s plan.

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