The disability policy environment

The disability policy environment has been significantly reviewed and changed in recent years, especially in relation to service delivery. This includes:

Common themes running through these changes and review recommendations include:

  • the accessibility of mainstream services for people with disability
  • the quality and safety of services in specialist and mainstream service settings
  • the readiness of the market and workforce to deliver support services
  • acknowledgment that specialist disability support services, such as those delivered through the NDIS, are only one part of a broader and interacting system of supports (see Person-centred reporting framework for examples of broader system components)
  • recognition that improving the wellbeing of people with disability and their carers requires collaboration across multiple sectors and stakeholders, with responses that meet the needs of all people with disability, including, but not limited to, those accessing the NDIS (Figure 1)
  • the need to strengthen performance frameworks and reporting to more meaningfully measure progress in key wellbeing measures and the limitations of current data in supporting such measures.

Figure 1: Key disability segments in the Australian population

Figure 1 is a Venn diagram which shows that the Australian population is around 23 million people and around 4.3 million people have disability. Of these 4.3 million Australians around 1.4 million have severe or profound disability, they may access specialist and/or mainstream services. Around 760,000 people receive the Disability Support Pension each year and around 460,000 people aged under 65 will be part NDIS when it is fully rolled out.

Note: People with disability may access specialist and/or mainstream services.
*Of the 4.3 million people with disability, around 1.4 million have severe or profound disability.
DSP = Disability Support Pension
NDIS = National Disability Insurance Scheme

United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

Australia ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD) in 2008. Its purpose is to ‘promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities, and to promote respect for their inherent dignity’ (UN 2006).

The National Disability Strategy is the main mechanism for the implementation of the UN CRPD in Australia. Its principles are also reflected in the Australian Human Rights Commission Act 1986 and in the mechanisms for the delivery of services to people with disability (such as the NDA and NDIS).

National Disability Strategy

The National Disability Strategy (NDS) 2010–2020 is the mechanism under which the principles underpinning the UN CRPD are incorporated into policies and programs in Australia (DSS 2011).

The NDS covers all people with disability, irrespective of whether they need or use specialist disability services. In particular, the strategy is intended to drive improvements in access to mainstream services, to promote a more inclusive approach to the design of policies and programs, and to ensure that all people with disability can participate and fulfil their potential as equal citizens.

A new NDS to go beyond 2020 is being developed in consultation with stakeholders.

National Disability Insurance Scheme

In 2010, the Australian Government asked the PC to carry out a public inquiry into a long-term disability care and support scheme. In July 2012, in response to the inquiry’s final report, the Australian Government introduced the NDIS.

The NDIS fundamentally changes the way disability supports are provided and is widely regarded as a once-in-a-generation reform. Its key principles focus on improved outcomes for people with disability, their families and carers, driven by participant choice and control (NDIA 2018).

The NDIS provides ‘reasonable and necessary supports’ to help people with ‘significant and permanent’ disability. It is based on an insurance model, and each individual seeking access is assessed against common criteria. Eligible individuals receive a funding package to buy the supports identified in their individualised plan.

The NDIS has been progressively implemented by the NDIA from 2013. At full implementation, it is expected to provide services to about 460,000 Australians aged under 65 (PC 2019).

NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission

The NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission (NDIS Commission) is an independent agency established in July 2018 to improve the quality and safety of NDIS supports and services.

The NDIS Commission started operations in:

  • New South Wales and South Australia on 1 July 2018
  • Australian Capital Territory, Northern Territory, Queensland, Tasmania and Victoria on 1 July 2019.

It will operate in Western Australia from 1 July 2020.

Once fully operational, the NDIS Commission will be a single, national registration and regulatory system for NDIS providers that will set a consistent approach to quality.

National Disability Agreement

The NDA was first agreed by all states and territories and the Australian Government in 2008. It replaced earlier iterations of Australian Government and state and territory agreements for providing disability services.

The NDA sets out the roles and responsibilities for funding and providing specialist services. It is one of a series of agreements between the Australian and state and territory governments covering major areas like health, education and housing. These agreements provide a framework and measurement approach for tracking progress of agreed performance indicators.

In 2018, the PC conducted a review into the NDA, releasing a study report in early 2019. Key findings included that:

  • the NDA is no longer fit-for-purpose, with no apparent progress in improving outcomes for people with disability
  • a revised NDA should have an overarching agreement for all aspects of disability policy, not just the provision of specialist disability services
  • specialist disability services are not the only services people with disability require
  • issues exist in the interface between specialist and mainstream services
  • a gap analysis is needed for greater clarity around roles and responsibilities in delivering services to people with disability (PC 2019).

Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability

On April 5 2019, the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability was announced. Its terms of reference cover what should be done to:

  • prevent, and better protect, people with disability from experiencing violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation
  • achieve best practice in reporting and investigating of, and responding to violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation
  • promote a more inclusive society that supports the independence of people with disability and their right to live free from violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation.

The Commission covers all forms of violence against, and abuse, neglect and exploitation of, people with disability, in all settings and contexts.


PC (Productivity Commission) 2019. Review of the National Disability Agreement: Productivity Commission study report, January 2019. Canberra.

NDIA (National Disability Insurance Agency) 2018. National Disability Insurance Agency Annual Report 2017–18. NDIA. Geelong.