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PC News - May 2019

Review of the National Disability Agreement

A recent Productivity Commission study found that a new National Disability Agreement between Australian governments is needed to ensure the wellbeing of people with disability, and their families and carers.

In 2008, the Australian and State and Territory Governments agreed on a new framework for federal financial relations, to provide a foundation for collaboration on policy and service delivery, and to facilitate the implementation of reforms in areas of national importance. The centrepiece of this arrangement was the establishment of six National Agreements covering disability, education, health, housing, Indigenous reform, and skills and workforce development.

The Australian Government has asked the Productivity Commission to review nationally significant sector-wide agreements, beginning with the National Disability Agreement (NDA). The Commission was asked to consider the relevance of the agreement in the context of contemporary policy settings and whether it needs updating in light of these.

The NDA is a high-level agreement between the Australian and State and Territory Governments that commenced in 2009. Its purpose is threefold: to promote cooperation (by stating the objective of disability policy, the outcomes and outputs to be achieved, and high-level reforms and policy directions); enhance accountability (through a performance reporting framework); and clarify roles and responsibilities of governments in order to improve outcomes for people with disability, their families and carers.

The context has changed and the current NDA is outdated

The disability policy landscape has changed markedly since the NDA commenced a decade ago, and much of what is in it is now outdated. In particular, it does not reflect the seismic changes that have occurred with the implementation of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), or the endorsement of the National Disability Strategy 2010-2020 (NDS). Some study participants argued that the focus on the NDIS has taken all of the ‘oxygen out of the sector’ with limited attention placed on achieving better outcomes for people with disability not covered by the NDIS – there are approximately 4.3 million people in Australia living with a disability; of those, about 475 000 are expected to receive supports through the NDIS.

The current agreement no longer serves its purpose, has a weak influence on policy, and its performance targets show no progress in improving the wellbeing of people with disability. A new, reinvigorated NDA that improves the lives of all people with disability is needed, and should be agreed by the start of 2020.

A cohesive architecture for disability policy

The original purpose of the NDA is still relevant today. But the NDA is now one of several policies and agreements that seek to enhance the quality of life for people with disability, their families and carers. The multitude of different agreements, strategies and plans currently in place are causing unnecessary complexity and confusion.

The Commission has proposed a new architecture for disability policy in Australia to unify the various agreements, strategies and policies relating to disability. Under this revised architecture, a new NDA would provide the overarching agreement, with the NDS and NDIS forming elements within that (figure 1).

As the overarching agreement, the new NDA should reconfirm the aspirational objective for disability policy in Australia – that ‘people with disability and their carers have an enhanced quality of life and participate as valued members of the community’. There should also be a single set of outcomes across the NDA and the NDS, and as the overarching document, these should sit within the NDA. The current NDS outcomes should be adopted in the new NDA, as well as an outcome relating to families and carers.

Figure 1: A revised disability architecture

  • This figure depicts a revised architecture for disability policy arranged in a hierarchy with the Intergovernmental Agreement for Federal Financial Relations at the top. Underneath sit all six National Agreements, including the National Disability Agreement. Beneath the National Disability Agreement sit the NDIS arrangements (which include intergovernmental agreements as well as the NDIS act and rules) and five schedules. Those five schedules are the National Disability Strategy, surface interface arrangements, performance indicators, a data strategy, and policy and program evaluation. Connected to these schedules are the State and Territory disability plans

The new NDA would be reoriented away from a service delivery focus, and towards a person-centred approach that has at its core the individual needs, rights and aspirations of people with disability, as well as the needs of their carers and families (figure 2). This is consistent with the goals of the NDIS.

Under the new architecture, the NDS would continue to play the essential role of articulating policy actions, with these actions explicitly linked to the new NDA’s outcomes. The NDIS and its bilateral agreements and legislation would remain separate from the NDA, but the NDA should be clear that it covers all people with disability, including NDIS participants.

Figure 2: A person centred National Disability Agreement

  • The performance indicator and targets of the new NDA should be person-centric. The six outcomes of the NDS, plus an additional outcome for carers, map to sub-outcomes, which are in turn associated with performance indicators and areas of policy evaluation. Not every sub-outcome need have a performance indicator associated with it; some sub-outcomes may be more amenable to policy evaluation

Clarifying the roles and responsibilities of governments in the NDA

Clearly defined roles and responsibilities are fundamental for achieving accountability to the community and for ensuring that adequate supports are available for all people with disability and their carers.

With the changes in the disability policy landscape over the past decade, the roles and responsibilities in the NDA are now out of date. In particular, many study participants raised concerns about gaps in services for people with disability and carers, including in relation to advocacy, carers, support for people with psychosocial disabilities, and at the interface between the NDIS and mainstream service systems.

To more comprehensively identify service gaps and assign responsibility for addressing them, a ‘gap analysis’ – which involves identifying community needs and government objectives, and assessing them against the services that are available or planned – should be conducted as a matter of urgency.

The new NDA should also acknowledge that all governments – Australian, State, Territory and Local – share responsibility for ensuring their mainstream services make reasonable adjustments so that they are accessible, inclusive and culturally responsive in meeting the needs of all people with disability, particularly those with complex needs who may need differentiated support.

An improved performance reporting framework

The NDA’s current performance reporting mechanisms are not effective in spurring government and community action. There has been very limited progress against the NDA’s outcomes and performance metrics, with most indicators and benchmarks showing no significant change since 2009 (figure 3). It is unlikely that the performance targets in the NDA will be met.

The key elements of the Commission’s proposed framework for new indicators are:

  • person-centred outcome areas (that specify what outcomes are being sought for people with disability and carers)
  • performance indicators, which measure progress against each of the outcomes, and (if desired) the specification of a quantitative target for priority performance indicators
  • high quality data for measuring performance indicators
  • a statement of policy actions (in the NDS) that are explicitly linked to each outcome area
  • rigorous evaluation of policy actions, which can play an important role in performance reporting by providing a more fulsome picture of how people with disability are affected by government policy
  • a public reporting process that outlines what is reported and how often, and by whom.

The influence and profile of performance reporting for the NDA would be strengthened by tabling a ‘National Disability Report’ in the Australian Parliament biennially, similar to the Prime Minister’s annual report to Parliament on ‘Closing the Gap’ for Indigenous people. The National Disability Report would assess progress (both quantitatively and qualitatively) against the outcomes of the new NDA, and include findings from policy evaluation.

Figure 3: Progress towards the NDA’s performance targets

  • Left side graph: Progress against the first performance benchmark is measured by the labour force participation rate for people with disability. Performance is not on track to meet the 2018 target of a 5 percentage point increase from 2009 levels. Labour force participation for all people declined by roughly four percentage points from approximately sixty per cent from 2009 to 2012 and then increased by around two percentage points 2012 to 2015. This same trend was evident for men over the same time period. However for women, the participation rate was roughly constant at approximately forty nine per cent from 2009 to 2012 and then increase marginally from 2012 to 2015. Right side graph: Progress against the second performance benchmark is measured by proportion of people with disability who report a need for more assistance. Performance is not on track to meet the 2018 target of a 5 percentage point decrease from 2009 levels. The need for formal assistance has increase from roughly thirty two per cent to thirty four per cent from 2009 to 2012, and then to approximately thirty five per cent in 2015.

Review of the National Disability Agreement

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