Miss the Queensland Disability Conference? If you did, you should know that the NDIS was on everyone’s lips. And it probably will be well after the expected national rollout completion in 2019, as we all learn from the NDIS participants and service organisations who are paving the way, and then learn from our own NDIS experiences in due course. But are such lofty phrases such as “NDIS gives you the power to dream” realistic?

We learnt at the Queensland Disability Conference last month in Cairns, that yes, actually, they may be. It was hard to deny the powerful change that the NDIS has made in the lives of NDIS participants Tina Gulino and Rachael Emerson and/or the massive potential that the NDIS brings as “the most significant social reform package in Australia since the introduction of Medicare in 1975” (KPMG 2014).


Tina Gulino – NDIS participant, Geelong, Victoria

Tina was one of the first participants to receive the NDIS plan in the Barwon region in Victoria. With tears in her eyes, Tina told her story of waiting fourteen years for a state funded plan, to now be “one of the lucky ones” to get access to the NDIS first.

“Three years ago, I was barely getting out of my front door. My day consisted of somebody coming in for one and a half hours to get me out of bed, shower me and maybe get breakfast. Then being put back to bed later and being toileted. I still pinch myself when I think what was happening to me before, compared to now under the NDIS,” said Tina.

It was really important to Tina to stay in her own house and remain as independent as possible. Sadly, Tina confessed, “I think I would have put a bullet in myself if I was forced to leave my house and move into a home.”

“Now, my disability supports are not capped anymore. I no longer have to fit into a box. For the first time in years, my family haven’t had to pay for a $23,000… and I’m no longer living in financial debt because of the privilege of living with a disability.”

“I’m now back at work, after stopping many years ago at the age of twenty-seven… I was existing before, not living… Now I don’t have to apologise for who I am… And it feels like I’m contributing to my family and to my community.”


Rachael Emerson – NDIS participant, Townsville, Queensland

Mum of seven, by birth, adoption and foster care, Rachael generously shared her story and that of her adopted daughter Michelle, who was one of the early NDIS recipients in Townsville.

“Before the NDIS, therapists followed and old-style textbook recipe, it seemed… but now they listen and adapt every week, according to Michelle and her wants and needs.”

“Thinking outside the square generates its own enthusiasm. Before, Michelle would cry or fake illness to not go into the therapist’s building. Now, she loves going in.”

“NDIS got us to dream big and to encourage our kids to dream big and chase dreams… instead of being too busy focussing on just getting through the day or the next appointment”.

“It’s refreshing to see that therapists and support agencies are sharing the dream with us now, rather than telling us to ‘just enjoy one day at a time’.”

“For the NDIS, I don’t have too much to criticise, it’s been pretty easy so far. Except the portal hasn’t been working for quite some time, which has impacted the ability to pay for service providers, and we’ve been waiting for two and a half months for approval for equipment that we’ve applied for.”

But thanks to the NDIS, “we now have a speech therapist who comes into our home and teaches the rest of the family, including grandma, to communicate with sign language, which we didn’t have before.”

Rachael remarked that, “the community participation part of NDIS has been the bit that has been the most valuable to me.”

Rachael’s tip: Join the NDIS Facebook page

In conclusion of her keynote, “we have a real sense of hope for the future and are excited about the possibilities.”

Later that day, serving on a panel exploring NDIS opportunities, Rachael shared her observation about how the NDIS is also affecting businesses.

“A lot of people are coming out of the woodwork to provide services. Some of our service providers are now working privately and offering more flexibility than when they were employed by Disability Services,” which Rachael shared as a positive benefit of the NDIS, because now one of their service providers can visit them on Saturdays and is not restricted to the Monday to Friday routine.


Anne Skordis – General Manager, Scheme Transition, National Disability Insurance Agency

As someone very close to the NDIS action, Anne Skordis shared her take on the NDIS rollout to date.

“We, government, make things overly complicated and we needed to make things a bit more accessible and a bit more appropriate for all the difference audiences we have,” Anne said.

“For a number of people who are in supports under existing Queensland Government systems, we will be given people’s names and contact details so that we can contact you and say that we are now ready to have a conversation with you about your access to the NDIS and will set up a time for your planning conversation.’

“We also know certain things that you have gone through, namely various hoops around demonstrating disability to meet requirements for Queensland Government programs… We see that as matching the NDIA Act and meeting the disability requirements, so we are not going to ask you to do that again.”

“One of the things that is good in Queensland, compared to other states, is there’s a mix of new and existing people able to access disability services. What we are going to end up with is that almost double the number of people within Queensland who are currently receiving disability supports, will be able to get support under the NDIS.”

“People will be able to know that they not only have a lifetime of support that is appropriate to them, [but] that support will meet their reasonable and necessary support needs for their whole lifetime,” assured Anne.


Tony Hayes – QLD Deputy-Director, Department of Communities, Child Safety and Disability Services

Tony shared that the March 2016 bilateral agreement with the federal government, which he said “opened the door for a new era”, had actually taken “one and a half years of heavy negotiations”. Tony also went over some of the progress statistics for the national NDIS rollout:

  • 15,000 people in year one
  • 16,000 people in year two
  • 60,000 people in year three

Tony added that 2,000 people were in Queensland’s NDIS-lookalike program, Your Life Your Choice.

When asked how these changes would affect current government jobs in Disability Services, Tony answered, “We are on a very significant change management pathway between now and 2019 to offer the right opportunities and pathways for our people, depending on their background”.


Belinda Drew – CEO, Community Services Industry Alliance

Belinda shared information about WorkAbility QLD – a strategy developed by a consortium of peak bodies in collaboration with key government agencies, to deliver both local and state-wide workforce solutions to build the sector workforce supply and capability to meet demand under the NDIS in Queensland.

Belinda noted, “Right now, we’re constrained by old style rules and requirements [but] some [companies with] these new technologies are able to work their way around this.” She said that “right now, there is uber-style activity in this industry” that needs to be paired with “…conversations about safeguarding the processes that protect people cared for in this industry”.

Interesting statistic: Belinda said that the average age of a carer is 45.


Other speakers

With Geraldine Doogue AO as the day’s Master of Ceremonies, other speakers on the main stage and/or in the workshop sessions in Cairns included:

  • Coralee O’Rourke MP – QLD Minister for Disability Services, Minister for Seniors, and Minister Assisting the Premier on North Queensland
  • Mark McCrindle – futurist, demographer and award-winning social researcher
  • Juliette Wright – founder of GIVIT and recipient of an Australia’s Local Hero Award on Australia Day 2015
  • Paul Calcott – Program Manager, Murri Disability Advisory Network and Aboriginal artist
  • Paul Breen – Productivity Bootcamp
  • Libby Mears – a provider in the NDIS Barwon trial site
  • Shahram Jazan – sharing his story of study and work entry
  • Joel Johnston – Head of Diversity and Pathways, Queensland Rugby
  • Kim Pose – talking about her experiences of engaging and making support workers
  • Maria Wiltshire and Fiona Kennedy – Bespoke Lifestyles
  • Bronwyn Moloney – development worker at Kalpana
  • Mark Scassola – Kalpana resident
  • Anita Speed – carer to her son Dale
  • Julie-Anne Lambourne – CEO, enVizion
  • Barry Hughes – Gulf Cattleman’s Association
  • Peta O’Neill – Service Coordinator, Partners in Recovery, Cairns
  • Linda Sexton – Mutkin Aged Care
  • Chrissy Warren – Local Area Coordinator, Disability Services
  • Janelle Menzies – Yarrabah Aboriginal Shire Council
  • Charles Adams – Manager, Men and Male Health, Wuchopperan Health Services
  • Ethel Charlie and her brother Solomon Charlie – from Darnley Island in the Torres Strait
  • Angelica Mafey-Stumpe – shared her story of work entry in the tourism industry
  • Dale Speed – shared his employment story
  • Simon Wright – General Manager, Disability Support Services, Help Enterprises
  • Shari Lawrence – Associate Director, Impact Investing, Social Ventures Australia
  • Matt McCracken – talked about driving change in his community
  • Anthony Cini – Local Area Coordinator, Disability Services
  • Gary Matthews – shared his hopes for housing for people with a disability
  • Wim van den Herik – Decision-Easy