As a person living with disability, a full time carer and father, Mr River Night is not shy from what he sees needs to happen to change and shape the disability sector in Australia after almost 30 years of experience.
“Along with my Co-founder Mike Clark, we delivered the largest event in Australia’s history for the NDIS and Disability sector in Australia recently. I was overwhelmed with the enthusiasm and support we saw from people with disability and good provides in getting rid of these ‘shonky businesses’, rallying together to work on how we safeguard ourselves in a sector that is in deep need of better regulation and a brush fire to clean out the bad eggs”, said River.
“Living with disability and not being neurotypical, perhaps I walk forward when I should slow down and hesitate according to our cultural push to avoid talking about disability and diversity even when it impacts more than 4.4 Million Australians.
“What truly makes me sad is that after10 years of NDIS we are still asking for things as simple as being treated as a human being by its processes.
I have worked across government and many organisations in the last 30 years, taught in youth detention centres where 70% or more of the young people have a disability or mental health diagnosis, forensic centres where we lock away adults behind perspex and metal doors without charges living in indefinite limbo, served on National Boards, worked with Child Safety, Public Guardian and Justice, community based programs, transition services, taught tafe students and within special education settings and had the privilege of delivering hundreds of media items of coverage Nationally on disability.
“Many Austrlian’s wont even realise that the latest of our events saw over 8600 people attending over 2 days, 240+ organisations and agencies, with over 21 Million social media posts being seen over the lead up. Even with that huge support I am still struggling to get our leaders on board to action what we have been crying out for in the sector for long.
“3 years ago I reached a point where I said enough is enough. I was done with the business model only stands with pamphlets approach, where people felt uncomfortable and wanted to get in and out of expos as fast as possible. I know from my own experience I need space and I need room to stop and think, I need fun stuff for the whole family and options to ask questions and get support navigating NDIS. I needed to connect personally and I needed to feel like I was part of a community event that had a purpose bigger than 2 days of stalls. Mike and I aligned and I took my personal experience of disability and my professional experience, listened to the thousands of Australian’s I had been working with who told me the same thing. We launched the first of our events in Brisbane 3 years ago. With little lead up and no funding, grants or help we delivered the largest event Australia had ever seen and the energy from the sector moved it forward to the rest of Australia, involving advocacy groups and sector leaders. I could say to other people living with disability like myself, come and get involved and lets do something great.
“As a person with a disability I was able to shape the event with people living with disability for us all. I have connected with tens of thousands of people and thousands of providers and had a chance to advocate nationally with reforms which cannot wait.
“The disability sector does not need a Royal Commission to find what is wrong. We all know it, we all live it. We have been yelling it from the rooftops for decades. Ask any provider and person in the sector and they will give you a list of things that need fixing. If you want stories of horrific abuse and neglect ask any of us that have worked in the sector for more than 5 minutes. Saying the Commission is needed to find problems so we have to wait for recommendations is offensive to the thousands of us raising daily catastrophic issues to government and regulators already with too many example of inaction.
“The Royal Commission exposes the sector to the rest of Australia. Many Australians will show their care through outpourings of sympathy when they see the horror stories and our politicians will commit publicly to reviews and recommendations. Meanwhile this has been going on for decades and with the 10 year anniversary of NDIS a lot of us are asking, at what point will practical safeguards be organised, the millions stripped from Advocacy groups when NDIS started, returned and the federal agency responsible do better than 3 months to have a simple conversation on the phone when a provider needs support to get it right, let alone being able to sit in the same room as a NDIS planner that is making decisions about a person’s life.
“Many months ago I contacted the Minister’s office, Mr Bill Shorten, the NDIS national team, provider support, provider payments and the enquiry team. I asked for a simple conversation with a front line NDIS delegate to review a matter that would potentially impact hundreds of thousands of NDIS participants and thousands of service providers nationally due to the misalignment of the awards and the payment guidelines NDIS provides. The impact of this will be huge on the sector, however, most people have not identified this yet. I wished to confirm that the major funding issue I identified that would either cripple some service providers or see a short fall in annual funding for many participants was correct. It was. However, it took almost 4 months just to get one staff member from NDIS to simply talk on the phone for 15 minutes.This human response was so unachievable for a massive agency and not one staff member had capacity to just email and make a time for months. Amazingly it didn’t end up being a front line staff member but the head of a National team because my request for a simple phone call escalated amongst several complaints processes and multiple departments. I kept explaining I wasn't looking for a complaints process, just a simple conversation to check something about the way providers should be claiming correctly. When it takes that long to have a simple conversation about an extremely important matter and the only person available is an executive who is extremely busy, it highlights just how ineffectual the agency is in dealing with basic matters. I emailed weekly for months just to get one human interaction on the phone It happened because I simply would not stop asking.I hate to think how hard it is for mums and dads, people with disability and the community in general that don’t have my tenacity. The reason it was so hard was that I asked for a human to human conversation that we can arrange instead of a random, blocked number phone call that always just by luck occurred when I was in a meeting already or using the toilet. That is because NDIS refuses to email you back with an email that you can reply to directly to connect with a person, unless you are extremely lucky to get a great NDIS delegate who gives you their email.
“The NDIS Review and Royal Commission have been asking what is wrong and what needs fixing. The agencies already know and so do the service providers. The Minster knows and there is plenty of evidence out there already. While I applaud the work of the Commission and review it feels like another opportunity to stall urgent changes. 10 years is long enough to work out issues. The biggest problems have occurred in the last 3 years with the centralising and dehumanising of processes, taking local contacts and relationships away and using the same scaling up methodology of machine based car manufacturing for a human, individual based assessment and planning setting, where changes are announced and consultation takes the form of secret chats and post implementation information sessions to inform instead of consult.
“If we don’t get back to basics urgently using common best practice and human approaches to human services, NDIS will be the next robodebt with its push for standardised decision making for individual situations, automation for plans worth hundreds of thousands of dollars and lack of diligence, transparency, checks and balances.
“The federal police and people in jackets raiding the criminal organisations is a nice visual but that is only for the extreme end. We want people checking on our community. The Community Visitor programs that exist to provide independent checks on people in supported settings where service providers are often the only stakeholder people see, is the one and only front line defense and those programs have had their capacity to visit and check on people restrained and put on hold with NDIS. We currently have ‘the honor system’ as our safeguard. If I had one wish that could be granted immediately it would be to send these independent agencies in to visit every person in out of home supported accommodation regularly as we used to, to catch the shonky practices and make sure all providers know someone is watching and someone is checking holding to account providers and NDIS.