The National Disability Insurance Scheme is "poorly run" and "under attack", Labor's Bill Shorten has declared as he pressured the Morrison government to rip up contracts and abandon its highly controversial independent assessments plan.
The former opposition leader and now Labor NDIS spokesman used a speech to the National Press Club on Wednesday to frame his plan to "protect" and "revive" the $22 billion scheme after what he described as eight years of "vandalism" from Coalition governments.
He also laid down the gauntlet to new NDIS Minister Linda Reynolds, saying she had a chance at "political redemption" if she dumped her predecessor Stuart Robert's controversial plans for the scheme.
In his address, Mr Shorten reaffirmed Labor's promise to lift a "stultifying" staffing cap on the agency in charge of the scheme, as he attacked the government's "big consultancy cronyism" which saw contractors paid almost $290 million in 2019.
He said a Labor government would put people with a disability at the centre of decision making on the future of the NDIS, including in senior roles and on the board of the NDIA, and fund independent advocates to help people enter the scheme and navigate its "tortuous red tape".
Labor would also strengthen the disability watchdog, Mr Shorten said, as he declared that no more participants should be allowed to die "through neglect in abandoned squalor or due to bureaucratic indifference".
Mr Shorten said the new measures could be funded with the scheme's existing budget. Savings could be found by cracking down on people defrauding the scheme, demand quicker decisions from the agency and watchdog and avoiding costly appeals in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.
"The agency running the scheme has to be a market steward and leader not just delegating all problems to the market," he said
"The NDIS is being poorly run, it is under attack and Australians with disability are suffering."
Mr Shorten said Senator Reynolds could restore trust in the disability community and rebuild a reputation tarnished by her handling of the Brittany Higgins scandal if he she acted on his list of five demands.
Top of the list was ripping up the $339 million worth of contracts already signed with eight contractors to deliver the controversial independent assessments program.
Senator Reynolds paused the permanent rollout of the new system amid a fierce backlash, but Mr Shorten wants her to go further and dump the proposal in its current form and go back to the drawing board.
He also urged the new Minister to "call off" the NDIA's new cost-saving taskforce, publish the number of fraud investors within the agency and develop a plan to stop further preventable deaths of NDIS participants.
"Only when the minister has met these five basic benchmarks will people with disability know they are not being targeted and be assured there is not a plan to dismantle the NDIS," he said.
The Canberra Times invited Senator Reynolds to respond to Mr Shorten's speech.
The National Disability Insurance Agency has published two lengthy statements in the past week defending independent assessments, after it was roundly criticised by witnesses at a parliamentary inquiry examining the proposal.
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