Taking life from ordinary to extraordinary
That’s how Des Lee, Regional Manager NDIS Queensland North, defines the National Insurance Disability Scheme. With over a decade’s experience in community services (including housing, indigenous affairs, child safety and disability services to name a few), he would know.
With the recent opening of the NDIS regional office in Townsville, we thought we’d sit down with the man behind the wheel(s) of NDIS north Queensland.
Congratulations on the new NDIS Regional Hub office opening in Townsville! How far has NDIS come since the scheme was first introduced?
The growth of NDIS has been phenomenal. This office started in March 2016 with three people and a vision. Now, we’re a team of 140 people, across Cairns, Townsville, down to Mackay, Rockhampton and Gladstone, out to Mount Isa, and many places in between. The rollout is in progress, and Townsville was the first regional hub to open in Queensland, so it has really been the proving ground for NDIS in Queensland. Cairns is due to open 1 July 2018 – we’re tendering for Partners at the moment and we’re looking to engage staff early 2018.
NDIS means a lot of different things to a lot of people. How do you define the NDIS?
NDIS is about choice and control. Our participants now have the freedom to choose the service provider they will use to provide their daily supports, unlike the previous system where funds were allocated directly to the provider and people had no real choice. With the NDIS every Australian is covered – no matter if you have an accident, have a child born with a disability or develop a disability over time, you’re automatically insured. Typically, people would look after their families and support themselves because of the shortfall in funding – with NDIS every person that falls under the scheme is entitled to support. It places everyone on an even playing field.
How is NDIS different to the previous disability support services?
The level of funding and investment is not capped – we are finally getting a scheme where we can afford to give people the level of reasonable care they need, and can look at their long-term goals for independence. It’s not just stop-gap measures; it’s looking at each individual’s goals and aspirations for the long term and working with them to achieve those aspirations. That might include aids and equipment, assistance with daily activities or household duties, providing alternative care – whatever it takes to bridge the gap and give them their independence.
What has been the greatest challenge in rolling out the NDIS across North Queensland?
The most important part of, and the biggest challenge with, the NDIS is ensuring equity of access for everyone, particularly those people who have not previously received funding and support. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in remote communities, like Doomadgee, Normanton and Mornington, have largely missed out under the previous system, simply due to lack of resources and inaccessibility. Under the NDIS, Local Area Coordinators will be responsible for certain regions, they will be local residents, they will know the families, they will actively work to ensure that families receive the support they need. It is their job to connect people to the scheme and any other supports in their community. For a lot of people in those remote communities this will be the first time they have had any formal disability support, so it is an education process as well. We need to build an understanding of the NDIS in the community from the ground up.
What has been the impact of the NDIS so far?
Far more people with disabilities are enjoying their independence. I go to The Strand each weekend and I see the diversity of people enjoying this beautiful location – that is the NDIS at work. We have received postcards from elderly parent carers, enjoying their first holiday since the birth of their son who is now adult aged, because they could access another primary carer – that is the NDIS. During an information session with Torres Strait elders, a mother stood up and cried while she explained how the scheme had changed the life of her and her son – this is the impact of NDIS. Every day we hear amazing stories of how this scheme has changed people’s lives – and it’s only the beginning.
More people now have the support they need to get out into the community; and that’s not just good for them, it’s good for everyone.