The federal government’s overhaul of the national disability insurance scheme plans to ban certain forms of support it considers “ordinary living expenses” such as gym memberships, disability-related transport and air conditioners.
A leaked agenda for the next meeting of disability ministers, seen by Guardian Australia, reveals the federal NDIS minister, Linda Reynolds, will seek “in principle” agreement from states and territories for a sweeping overhaul of the scheme.
This includes support for the controversial plan to introduce independent assessments for all applicants and participants. That plan is opposed by federal Labor and the Greens, some state governments, and peak disability organisations.
It sets up a potential showdown on 9 July between the federal government and some states and territories, particularly the Labor-led governments.
The bill does not need the support of the states and territories to be legislated, though their endorsement would probably boost the government’s chances in the Senate.
It comes despite calls from disability advocates for the government to halt the overhaul process entirely, amid particular furore about the assessments plan.
This will require applicants to undergo an interview with an allied health professional contracted by the government, rather than providing evidence obtained from their own treating specialists. Guardian Australia has reported it is likely to lead to reduced funding packages overall.
According to details provided to the states and territories, the government plans to alter the scheme’s “reasonable and necessary” test by referring to a “reasonable and necessary package of funding” rather than individual supports.
An earlier leaked draft of the legislation, first reported by Nine Newspapers, proposed removing “reasonable and necessary” entirely, but this was then ruled out by the government.
Reynolds has previously said she believed the test was unclear and needed reform but disability groups are concerned the move is aimed at cost-cutting.
The government will also clarify which goods and services are to be excluded from funding packages under all circumstances because they are considered “ordinary living expenses”.
Specifically, this would allow the government to prohibit NDIS participants from accessing sex-based services through the scheme, which the high court ruled should not be excluded, though the list of items effectively banned could be larger.
For example, the National Disability Insurance Agency has fought legal battles in an attempt to deny participants access to support such as gym memberships, disability-related transport, assistance animals and air conditioners for people living with multiple sclerosis, among other things.
Mary Sayers, the chief executive of Children and Young People with Disability Australia, said she was worried the proposed changes would undermine the scheme.
Her group is among several that have been calling on the government to halt its reform process, arguing the NDIA, which runs the scheme, had broken the trust of people with disability.
“The NDIS was built on the platform that people need to have control over their lives,” Sayers said.
“But if you start specifying, ‘Oh, well, no, you can’t have this and you can’t have that,’ that is actually undermining the true intent and the true design of the NDIS. It’s just another way of rationing.”
Jordon Steele-John, a Greens senator who lives with cerebral palsy, called on states and territories to take a stand against the changes next week.
“The Morrison government’s agenda from the beginning has been clear; empower the federal government to make it harder to get on the NDIS, and make it more difficult for people to get the support they need,” he said.
“These legislative changes represent the manifestation of that desire. They are crafted with one purpose in mind: to cut the NDIS and kick people off it.”
“That’s why state and territories ministers should go into the room, look the minister in the eye and say: ‘We will not support these changes.’”
The government has increasingly warned the scheme is unsustainable, leveraging budget projections indicating the scheme will cost $40bn by 2024-25.
Labor’s NDIS spokesman, Bill Shorten, this week said the claims were built on “rubbery figures”, while Steele-John said the government had refused to release an official report on scheme sustainability which would show the assumptions for those projections.
According to the agenda, the legislation and rules changes proposed will also include a previously foreshadowed participant service guarantee, which will set waiting times for the agency to make a decision on person’s scheme access and plan.
It will also include a “personalised budget” which the government says will give participants more control over how they spend their funding.
The draft legislation will be put to public consultation before the states and territories will then be asked to give their full support.
Approached for comment, the NDIS minister, Linda Reynolds, said it was “a globally unique scheme that Australians can be proud of”.
“I look forward to my second meeting with state and territory disability ministers next week,” she said.
“There will be many important issues to discuss and to seek to reach agreement on.”
She did not respond to questions about the changes that have been briefed to the states and territories.
“In terms of the detail of the meeting, my preferred approach is to have these discussions directly with my disability minister colleagues,” Reynolds said.