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

Figure ABOUT.3: Key disability segments in the Australian population
Venn diagram showing: the Australian population is around 25 million people; of which around 4.4 million people have disability, of which around 1.4 million have severe or profound disability. The diagram also shows, of people with disability, around 750,000 receive the Disability Support Pension and around 460,000 aged under 65 will participate in the NDIS when it is fully rolled out; some DSP recipients are also NDIS participants.

*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
Note: People with disability may access specialist and/or mainstream services.

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 2021–31

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.

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, 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 a 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 2025, the NDIS will provide around 670,000 Australians (633,000 aged under 65) with funding for supports and services (NDIA 2021). 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 replaces the disparate and varied state and territory regulatory arrangements and establishes 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

Between April 2020 and December 2021, the New South Wales, Victorian, South Australian, Queensland and Australian Capital Territory governments worked together with the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, the Department of Social Services, the NDIA, the AIHW and the ABS to pilot test the development of a National Disability Data Asset (NDDA). The pilot brought together data from a range of domains relevant to people with disability, their families and carers, such as health and wellbeing; learning and skills; the justice system, safety and rights; personal and community support; inclusion and accessibility; and economic security.

The pilot phase, which concluded as scheduled on 31 December 2021, demonstrated value for government, academic and community use, including options for information-sharing, research, and wider public reporting.

In December 2021, the Australian Government announced funding of $40 million to further develop the NDDA. Decisions from governments are being sought about further work to establish an enduring NDDA, and (if agreed) how the next phase of development will progress.

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

On 5 April 2019, the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability was established. The Disability Royal Commission will investigate:

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

The interim report of the Commission was published on 30 October 2020. The report included examination of the data available on people with disability in Australia and identification of the gaps in that data, and detailed 6 areas related to addressing the data gaps which the Commission will focus on over the next 2 years (Disability Royal Commission 2020).

The Commission will deliver a final report to the Australian Government by 29 September 2023. In this report, the Royal Commission will recommend how to improve laws, policies, structures and practices to ensure a more inclusive and just society.