Stuart Robert pledges more action to meet the needs of culturally diverse communities

Minister for Government Services Stuart Robert. Source: AAP

The Minister for the NDIS has vowed to do more to help culturally diverse communities break down the barriers which hinder them from accessing the health scheme.

Action to help the NDIS meet the needs of culturally diverse and Indigenous communities has been pledged as part of an overhaul of the major health scheme.

The National Disability Insurance Scheme Minister Stuart Robert fronted the National Press Club on Thursday to outline his framework for finalising the scheme's rollout - and secure its long term future.

It is aiming to provide services for half a million Australians over the next five years – but concerns remain over delivery within culturally diverse, Indigenous and remote communities.

Minister for Government Services Stuart Robert at the National Press Club in Canberra, Thursday, November 14, 2019. (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas) NO ARCHIVING
Stuart Robert outlined his framework for finalising the

Mr Robert has conceded some participants' personal accounts have been telling.

“I’ve heard firsthand that a person’s experience of the NDIS is often determined by where they live, their education, socioeconomic status and their support networks,” he told the National Press Club.

“No more is this clearly evident that in rural and remote areas, for Indigenous Australians, people from culturally and linguistically diverse communities and those with mental health challenges.”

The growth of the NDIS has been described as “staggering” by the Minister in charge. Its number of participants has increased from around 30,000 in 2016 to 310,000 now.

Alongside this, a dramatic surge in demand on the workforce behind its delivery is estimated to see their numbers almost double.

“It is expected that the NDIS will require an additional 90,000 workers over the next five years,” Mr Robert said.

Of the 26,688 people who signed up to the scheme in the last quarter, 6.5 percent identified as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander – up from 5.8 percent.

Eleven and a half percent identified as Culturally and Linguistically Diverse, up from 8.4%.

But this figure is still well below the estimated 20 percent expected to be in need within these communities.

Disability advocates warning there remains an underutilisation of the NDIS among culturally diverse people who have a disability.

Settlement Services International's Karen Bevan told SBS News their disability services still engage with people who don’t know the NDIS exists.

“Even with an increase in participation rates for culturally diverse communities... there are still a really significant number of people and their families not getting the services and support they need,” she said.  

"We’re still seeing just over half the number ... we would expect [to see] accessing the NDIS."

The NDIS is expected to service half a million people within the next five years.
The NDIS is expected to service half a million people within the next five years.

To address this the Federal government is spending an additional $20 million over two years to expand so-called community connectors programs.

Mr Robert insisting the scheme is beginning to see an increase in the “diversity of participants” entering the NDIS.

The Government will continue to support the NDIA in rolling out strategies to engage these groups of people," he said.

“Existing community connectors in remote settings will be expanded, new community connectors for CALD and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in urban and rural settings will be established.”

His framework to secure the scheme's future will aim to improve access and quality decision making, increase engagement, improve the use of technology, sustainable finances, and long term outcomes.

The minister said average wait times for those receiving plans on the NDIS had been cut to 48 days - but recognised the challenges that remain.

“Current inconsistent assessment processes have resulted in inconsistent decisions and a large number of participants requesting reviews of access and funding decisions,” Mr Robert said.

“It has also led to anxiety and fear.”

Ms Bevan said the time to take action towards improving participation rates and engagement with CALD communities is now.

“The scheme can actually deliver really significant changes for people when we can make sure that they are not blocked from access through cultural and language barriers,” she said.

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