On the National Disability Insurance Scheme website, there is a a page called “on the record, dedicated, it says, to correcting “any inaccuracies in media and public reporting on the NDIS”. As you would expect of a major project such as this, the roll out of the NDIS has been subject to a great deal of scrutiny — The Australian‘s Social Affairs editor Rick Morton, in particularly, has covered the program extensively.

And yet the on the record page only has a single item, dedicated to the recent “Mind the Gap” report compiled by the University of Sydney University and Community Mental Health Australia. The report consulted with stakeholders in the mental health sector and concluded that people with a psychosocial disability are having significant difficulties accessing the NDIS.

The response from the NDIS is detailed, and stinging. While applauding the “organisations on the ground” and recognising the challenges and uncertainties they face, it singles out the Sydney Uni researchers, saying: 

The [National Disability Insurance Agency] is disappointed that academics from an institution as respected as Sydney University have produced an unbalanced report based on factually incorrect data that does not recognise work that is already underway by the NDIA.

Report author, Associate Professor Jennifer Smith- Merry said the research team had been surprised by the response, compared to the relative silence on other NDIS reporting.

“It was designed as a stakeholder exercise, aimed at the experiences of mental health practitioners on the ground, rather than as a research project,” she said. “If it had been a full research report, the methodology may have been different.” 

On the record states that “researchers did not consult with the NDIA”, adding that “if their facts had been checked with the NDIA, the broadly accepted academic commitment to factual accuracy and objectivity might have been more readily upheld”.

However, Smith-Merry said  — and the quietly released University of Sydney response reiterates — that an invitation was extended to the NDIA chair, Helen Nugent, when the project commenced. There had been no contact from the NDIA to the University of Sydney research team since the report was released, she said.

Smith-Merry also said that the feedback on the report has not been universally negative, either from the NDIA or government.

“Both myself and Amanda [Bresnan, of Community Mental Health Australia] have had very positive interactions with some parts of the NDIA about the report,” she said. “[And] we’ve had very constructive meetings with Greg Hunt’s office.” 

We asked the NDIA why they were so focused on one university report, why there were inconsistencies between their accounts of whether the NDIA had been consulted and whether the NDIA had been in contact with the report compilers, either at University of Sydney or Community Mental Health Australia, since the report was delivered. They didn’t respond before deadline.

“The report comes from a place of really supporting the NDIS, of wanting to see it succeed,” Smith-Merry said. ” We’re very committed to working constructively with the NDIA for the good of recipients.”

Peter Fray

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