The disability watchdog is hiring just five or six new permanent inspectors despite the body coming under fire in a recent inquiry and gaining a large boost in funding and resourcing.
In September, National Disability Insurance Scheme Minister Stuart Robert announced the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission would gain 100 more staff and $92.9 million in funding over four years to expand its compliance and investigative capacity.
The disability watchdog is hiring up to six new inspectors, out of 100 new staff.Credit:Alamy
The announcement came after it was revealed the commission issued just one fine in the past two years – to a banned service provider after its client, Ann Marie Smith, died from severe septic shock, organ failure, severe pressure sores, malnutrition and issues related to her cerebral palsy.
On Thursday, NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commissioner Graeme Head told Senate estimates the commission’s staff levels will grow to 350 thanks to the funding injection.
But Greens senator Jordon Steele-John said he did not understand how having less than 30 inspectors was a smart move, given the sheer number of complains and investigations the commission was dealing with.
In the two years to June 2020 the watchdog fielded more than 8000 complaints. Of those, 47 per cent resulted in no further action, 42 per cent resulted in advice or assistance and 11 per cent ended in a resolution process.
It currently has 221 investigations under way, and 21 investigators.
“I find it really difficult to understand how … you would have sat down and gone, ‘one of our core functions is to be able to have an investigative capacity to follow up complaints, let’s put less than 10 per cent of our workforce on that’,” Senator Steele-John said.
Mr Head said the complaint figures include matters that were outside the scope of the commission, and those inspectors only formed part of the team that conducted inquiries at the commission.
“In a complex matter you may have our lead investigator, or you may have one or more locally based investigators as well as compliance staff,” he said.
“So, in a sense, each investigation involves both dedicated specialist investigation resources as well as other resources.”
Of the 100 new staff members the commission was recruiting, 27 will handle complaints, 40 will focus on reportable incidents and five will join the commission’s legal team.
In September, a Senate committee heard complaints were falling through the cracks with reportable incident staff responsible for between 80 and 120 cases at one time, while complaints staff manage between 40 and 60 matters each.
In that committee inquiry a solicitor with the Intellectual Disability Rights Service, Tim Chate, detailed abuse inflicted on a wheelchair-using disability client that passed with no consequences.
“A lot of abuse and neglect goes unreported,” Mr Chate told the hearing, saying complaints tended to be “resolved in favour of the service provider”.
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Rachel Clun is a federal political reporter at The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, covering health.