Linda Reynolds hits back at Bill Shorten's NDIS attack

New NDIS Minister Linda Reynolds. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong
New NDIS Minister Linda Reynolds. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong

NDIS Minister Linda Reynolds has accused Bill Shorten of running a scare campaign targeting Australia's most vulnerable people, after the former Labor leader launched a vicious attack on the Morrison government's approach to the disability scheme.

Mr Shorten, now Labor's NDIS spokesman, used an address to the National Press Club on Wednesday to argue the scheme was "poorly run" and "under attack" from a government he claimed didn't believe in the disability safety net.

He claimed participants had died because of neglect from providers, the National Disability Insurance Agency and a "sleepy watchdog", referencing three recent cases to support his argument. The government's use of contractors also came under fire.

Mr Shorten used the speech to challenge Senator Reynolds to abandon the proposed model of independent assessments for participants, and "call off" the agency's new cost-cutting taskforce.

In a statement, Senator Reynolds did not respond directly to Mr Shorten's attacks or list of demands.

But she said it was "disappointing that Bill Shorten has mounted a scare campaign targeting Australia's most vulnerable people".

She said the government's commitment to the scheme was "stronger than ever". The NDIS now supports more than 432,000 participants, with the federal government's contribution this financial year exceeding $11 billion.

"Since coming to government in 2013, the Coalition has led the implementation of this world first scheme and has always funded reasonable and necessary supports to participants who meet the eligibility criteria," she said.

In making the case for reform, Senator Reynolds said the scheme's continued growth meant it needed to make decisions to ensure the NDIS was "fair, and the best it can be, for generations to come".

Senator Reynolds and her agency's boss, Martin Hoffman, will on Friday meet with disability advocacy groups, peak organizations and service providers as part of a fresh round of consultation on the controversial independent assessments proposal.

Fierce and sustained political pressure and opposition from the disability community prompted Senator Reynolds to pause the permanent rollout of independent assessments, pending further consultation and feedback from an ongoing trial.

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She has however reiterated the government remains committed to the new system, which would require all participants to undergo functional assessments by government-appointed firms rather than be allowed to use reports from their own medical professionals.

Senator Reynolds' commitment to genuine consultation has been called into question, after her agency took the unusual step of publishing statements defending the changes after they were heavily criticized at a parliamentary inquiry.

In one of the statements, the agency said that while it welcomed discussion on proposed changes it was important that "misinformation or direct statements were addressed".

A spokesman for Senator Reynolds said the agency would "continue to release information to ensure informed discussion".

"The minister has made it clear she will extensively consult on the proposed reforms and she is," the spokesman said.

"She has also said she will wait for the conclusion of the independent assessment trials before finalising legislation that would implement them."

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This story 'Scare campaign': Reynolds hits back at Shorten's NDIS attack first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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