Independent review into circumstances relating to death of Ms Ann-Marie Smith

The NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commissioner, Mr Graeme Head AO, has today released the report from the independent review commissioned by the Commissioner in response to the tragic death of National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) participant, Ms Ann-Marie Smith, in South Australia. The ‘Robertson Review’ was conducted by former Federal Court Judge, the Hon Alan Robertson SC.

Ms Smith’s death remains subject to a criminal investigation by South Australia Police, which has resulted in a charge of manslaughter against her former carer.

The Robertson Review examined the adequacy of the regulation of the supports and services provided to Ms Smith and the action taken by the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission (NDIS Commission) in the exercise of its regulatory functions.

Mr Robertson did not identify any significant failings in the NDIS Commission’s performance of its functions. Mr Robertson also made a number of broader observations for legislative and policy changes to better support vulnerable or at-risk NDIS participants.

Minister Robert said he shared the deep distress and concern felt across the Australian community in response to the death of Ms Smith.

‘The Government has already taken action to strengthen systems and processes to bolster support for vulnerable or at-risk NDIS participants,’ Minister Robert said.

‘Since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak, the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) has reached out to around 70,000 participants who have been identified as being at greater risk, not just to coronavirus but to the impacts of the pandemic, including isolation.

‘Proactive outreach activities to ‘check-in’ on NDIS participants will be a key feature of the NDIS going forward.’

A number of Mr Robertson’s observations go to improved information sharing between the NDIA and the NDIS Commission, as well as with state and territory governments. In recognising this, the NDIA and NDIS Commission have already agreed a memorandum of understanding and a range of Operational Protocols that provide for improved two-way exchange of information.

Minister Robert said this is already assisting the NDIA in identifying vulnerable or at-risk participants who may require more regular check-ins, and providing the NDIS Commission with enhanced information to monitor and investigate NDIS provider practices and processes.

A number of the observations involve responsibilities of state and territory governments outside of the NDIS, such as child protection, public guardian or law enforcement. At their meeting in July 2020, disability Ministers agreed to a project to improve the identification and support for vulnerable or at-risk people with disability. This project is ongoing and is due to be finalised in by the end of 2020.

‘I welcome state and territory Governments’ commitment to reducing the risks for people with disability, and look forward to continuing our collective work to improve the quality and safety of supports and services accessed by people with disability,’ Minister Robert said.

The Robertson Review has also supported specific legislative changes that build on steps the Government is already taking to strengthen and expand the regulatory framework as a result of feedback from other inquiries, such as the independent review of the NDIS legislation by Mr David Tune AO.

Minister Robert said the Government will consider these changes alongside existing proposed legislative amendments, in close consultation with people with disability and state and territory governments.

‘We currently have a Bill before Parliament to strengthen the banning powers of the NDIS Commission, so that we can prevent unsuitable providers and workers from working with NDIS participants, regardless of whether they are active in the sector or not,’ Minister Robert said.

To support the work of the NDIS Commission, the Morrison Government can today announce it is providing it with approximately 100 more staff and an additional $92.9 million over the next four years.

This follows a scheduled review of the NDIS Commission’s operating budget in early 2020, as was envisaged when the new regulator was announced in the 2017-18 Budget.

‘This additional funding will ensure the NDIS Commission has the resources required to expand into Western Australia (which had not signed up to the national NDIS model in early 2017), carry out its vital role in regulating NDIS providers, improve the quality and safety of NDIS supports and expand its compliance and investigative capacity into disability services.’

‘We will take no chances with the safety of people with disability,’ Minister Robert said.

‘We are committed to ensuring the quality and safeguarding framework we have put in place for NDIS participants is as robust, comprehensive and responsive as it can be.

‘Our work will continue to be informed by this report and the other independent investigations and inquiries underway, including the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability.’

Anyone who has a concern that a support or service provided by an NDIS provider is not, or may not be, safe should report it to the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission on 1800 035 544, or to www.ndiscommission.gov.au/about/complaints

The report from the independent review by Mr Robertson is available at www.ndiscommission.gov.au

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