OPINION

Building the NDIS for regional Australia

SPOTLIGHT: A new Regional Australia Institute report highlights the unique NDIS challenges being faced in regional areas.
SPOTLIGHT: A new Regional Australia Institute report highlights the unique NDIS challenges being faced in regional areas.

The National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) could be considered Australia's largest social reform since the introduction of Medicare. It completely transforms disability services to a market-based system with personalised levels of funding moving from the federal government directly to people with permanent and significant disability.

It is also widely reported to be one of the largest job creation opportunities in Australian history.

In May 2018, the Australian Financial Review reported that the NDIS was "becoming an economic factor in its own right", particularly in regional areas.

The national roll-out began on July 1, 2016 and is nearing completion by 2020.

As we approach this milestone, the Regional Australia Institute has been reviewing the impact and implementation of the NDIS, with our focus well and truly on the regions and what it means to local economies in our towns and cities - as well the service standards for those living with a disability outside our capital cities.

While the architects of the NDIS billed it as a scheme to replace a fragmented "one-size-fits all" service with an empowering model of user choice and control, it does pose a unique set of challenges for those living in regional Australia.

On paper, this scheme is designed to provide clients with choice, as well as an opportunity for providers to grow viable businesses.

But when geography and client demand in regional centres are thrown into the mix, it places many in regional Australia at the forefront of service delivery gaps.

When geography and client demand in regional centres are thrown into the mix, it places many in regional Australia at the forefront of service delivery gaps.

Already, the challenges associated with "thin-markets" has been recognised by key national bodies, prompting a number of reviews to date. These reviews have recognised by all levels of government, as well as those who work within and depend on the disability sector.

Across regional Australia, government, local communities and services providers have been working to respond to these challenges.

The Regional Australia Institute has conducted a review of these responses.

Our latest report - Building the NDIS in Regional Australia - provides an overview of the key "policy tools" that have been implemented or considered as the NDIS rolls out across the country. This report serves to bring to attention the unique challenges faced by regional Australia. It seeks to prompt debate about how best to ensure that regional people with disabilities are afforded the same degree of agency and standard of care as those living in our cities.

Since its introduction, we've seen a number of programs implemented across regional areas which are designed to start building the workforce required to support the NDIS.

Demand in regional Australia will only grow as time goes on and we need to ensure we have the workforce to meet that demand.

Improving access to technology and data tools is also helping to improve workforce planning and assist with tele-health and remote care.

We know regional communities want to work with government to improve the NDIS and take advantage of the economic opportunities it can bring.

Later this month, the Regional Australia Institute will make it easier for regional stakeholders to do business in the nation's capital, with the official opening of our Regional Australia Hub.

Housed in our office just a few blocks from Parliament House, the hub is an event and co-working space available for anyone coming to Canberra.

This is an exciting initiative the Regional Australia Institute is extremely proud of, and will be unveiled by deputy prime minister Michael McCormack on November 28.

Our next piece of work associated with the NDIS will include profiles of regional Australian communities and organisations that are using innovative ways to respond to the challenges (and also to harness some of the opportunities) that the NDIS presents.

Dr Kim Houghton is co-chief executive of the Regional Australia Institute.

To keep up to date with Regional Australia Institute's work on the NDIS, visit www.regionalaustralia.org.au and subscribe to the monthly newsletter. Building the NDIS in Regional Australia is now available on the website.