The disability policy environment

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

Common themes running through these changes 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 ABOUT.3)
  • 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 ABOUT.3: Key disability cohorts in the Australian population

Diagram shows population of Australia (26.5 million), people with disability (4.4 million), DSP recipients (770,000) and NDIS participants (610,000).

*Of the 4.4 million people with disability, around 1.4 million have severe or profound disability.

DSP = Disability Support Pension

NDIS = National Disability Insurance Scheme

People with disability estimates are as at 2018. DSP recipients, NDIS participants and Australia population are as at 30 June 2023.

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 2008).

Australia's Disability Strategy will play an important role in protecting, promoting and realising the human rights of people with disability in line with Australia's commitments under the UN CRPD. The principles of the UN CRPD 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 NDIS).

Australia's Disability Strategy 2021–2031

The Strategy is Australia's national disability policy framework. It sets out a plan for continuing to improve the lives of people with disability in Australia over the 10 years to 2031. The Strategy was launched on 3 December 2021 and builds on its predecessor, the National Disability Strategy 2010–2020.

The Strategy helps to protect, promote and realise the human rights of people with disability in line with Australia's commitments under the UN CRPD.

The Strategy covers all people with disability, irrespective of whether they need or use specialist disability services. In particular, the Strategy is intended to provide national leadership towards greater inclusion of people with disability, to guide activity across all areas of public policy to be inclusive and responsive to people with disability, to drive mainstream services and systems to improve outcomes for people with disability, and to engage, inform and involve the whole community in achieving a more inclusive society.

The Strategy and its supporting documents are available on the Disability Gateway website. The AIHW regularly reports on the progress of the Strategy via a dedicated website Reporting on Australia's Disability Strategy 2021–2031.

National Disability Insurance Scheme

In 2010, the Australian Government asked the Productivity Commission 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 (PC 2011), the Australian Government introduced the NDIS.

The introduction of the NDIS was a fundamental shift in the way Australians with significant and permanent disability access supports. It is founded in insurance principles to provide eligible Australians who have permanent and significant disability with the reasonable and necessary supports they need (NDIA 2020).

The NDIS was introduced in trial sites in 2013, and has been progressively rolled out across Australia from July 2016. From 1 July 2020, the NDIS has been made available to all eligible Australians, no matter where they live (Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme 2020). The National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) estimates that, by 30 June 2033, the number of the NDIS participants will exceed 1 million (NDIA 2023). People with disability are directly funded under the NDIS, as distinct from the previous system of block funding to agencies and community organisations that provided disability support services under the National Disability Agreement (NDIA 2020).

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.

On establishment, the jurisdiction of the NDIS Commission was New South Wales and South Australia. On 1 July 2019, the NDIS Commission's jurisdiction expanded to cover Queensland, Victoria, Tasmania, the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory. The NDIS Commission achieved full national coverage on 1 December 2020 when Western Australia transitioned to its jurisdiction. The NDIS Commission replaced the disparate and varied state and territory regulatory arrangements and established a single national regulator responsible for provider registration, complaints, reportable incidents, oversight of behaviour support and compliance and enforcement. States and territories retain responsibility for implementing NDIS worker screening, the authorisation of restrictive practices and community visitor schemes.

National Disability Data Asset

The Australian, state and territory governments are working together with the disability community to design the National Disability Data Asset. The disability data asset went through 2 years of development and testing called the Pilot. The Pilot tested how to best link data to understand outcomes for people with disability, while protecting people's privacy. The Pilot was delivered jointly by the Australian Government and the governments of the Australian Capital Territory, New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and Queensland. The Pilot provided new insights into how people with disability interact with government services and programs.

The National Disability Data Asset will provide more information about the outcomes, experiences and needs of people with disability by linking de-identified information. This information will help improve programs and services. When complete, the National Disability Data Asset will be used to:

  • provide a more complete picture of the programs and services used by people with disability
  • help governments improve these programs and services
  • share information about how opportunities and outcomes could be improved
  • improve reporting on outcomes for people with disability under Australia's Disability Strategy 2021–2031.

Australian National Data Integration Infrastructure

The AIHW and the ABS are developing the underlying technical and governance infrastructure that will deliver the National Disability Data Asset. This infrastructure system is known as the Australian National Data Integration Infrastructure (ANDII). The ANDII refers to the national linkage and integration infrastructure. This includes a national spine and linkage model. It also includes data governance and streamlined data sharing arrangements. Subject to future agreements, the underlying infrastructure could be used to create other specific data assets on other important policy issues.

The ANDII builds on recent government reforms, including the Data Availability and Transparency Act 2022 and the Intergovernmental agreement on data sharing between the Australian and state and territory governments. The ANDII will streamline the approach and reduce the time required to build and access integrated datasets.

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

The Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability (Royal Commission) was established in April 2019. The Royal Commission investigated:

  • preventing and better protecting people with disability from experiencing violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation
  • achieving best practice in reporting and investigating and responding to violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation of people with disability
  • promoting a more inclusive society that supports people with disability to be independent and live free from violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation.

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

The Royal Commission gathered information through research, public hearings, listening to people's personal experiences, submissions, private sessions, and other forums.

The Royal Commission's Final Report was delivered to the Australian Government on 29 September 2023 (DRC 2023). In this report, the Royal Commission recommended how to improve laws, policies, structures and practices to ensure a more inclusive and just society.