Can you see the disparity here?
We were not alone. It is estimated that in March 2022 there were more than 4,260 Similar cases open in court. The number had quadrupled in the first ten months of the year.
In the same period, from January to October 2022, the NDIA spent a staggering $40 million on legal expenses and would far exceed the expenses of the previous year (2020-2021) when its total spend on internal and external lawyers was $29. ,3 millions.
That’s my money and your money. Taxpayer dollars fight the most vulnerable in our society, often young people who can’t walk, talk, see or speak.
The cost of restoring not only Maddison’s funding to what was “reasonable and adequate”, but restoring funding for all those with disabilities in court, is a pittance compared to what the NDIA has spent in legal fees fighting against us.
In the first part of our action, the court warned me that it would be a slow process; had at the time (early 2022) a staggering 400 percent increase in cases due to NDIA cuts and the system was bending under the weight.
He was not the only one. Legal Aid set up a specialized NDIA appeals team in its civil law division to help people like Maddison, disability retirees whose funds had been demolished. Ironically, Legal Aid was also so overwhelmed that it couldn’t take any more cases, and Maddison’s was turned down. It was a similar situation with two law firms that offered pro bono representation in cases where the defendant was the NDIA.
We were very fortunate that a Legal Aid attorney, while unable to represent Maddison, agreed to guide me through evidence preparation and negotiations, and for this we are forever grateful as well.
With the backing of his advice and the support of a Uniting WA disability advocate, I was back and forth with the NDIA lawyer for most of 2022, and this was interspersed with hearings where the lawyer objected. to me and the conversations were mediated by an AAT recorder. I have provided dozens of financial quotes for services and reports from healthcare professionals such as psychologists, psychiatrists and physical therapists. I provided detailed schedules of how Maddison spent each hour of his day and documented every task he performed and how much help he needed to complete it, from brushing his teeth to doing his buttons.
For its part, the agency looked for loopholes, pounced on them and tried to capitalize.
The NDIA requested not one but two occupational therapy reports even though Maddison’s (prepared by an independent OT) was less than a year old. When I turned down their request to provide a third, a new one that would take months, the agency threatened to order it done anyway.
As I calmly told the lawyer that I felt this was too harsh, I was inside fighting to contain my anger. How did we get to this place as a society, where the agency that “supports a better life” for people with disabilities is threatening to order a vulnerable young woman to undergo tests that are completely unnecessary in the hope that they can save a couple thousand ? dollars on your plan, while spending tens of millions on lawyers?
Every time the NDIA rejected our evidence and request for proper supports it was like a punch in the stomach. Sometimes it seemed so hopeless, the way forward so painful, I thought I would have to give up. But I could not. I knew they just wanted us to leave, but accepting what the agency was offering would ruin our lives.
Gradually, with painstaking slowness, the NDIA returned some of the support we requested. A guardrail here, restoring behavioral supports there, albeit too late to save Maddison’s job. However, in what is most critical to us, the support on a one to one ratio, would not change.
It made sense when I investigated further because I found that we fell into the group that experts describe as “most affected” by the Morrison government’s NDIS slash and burn; those with high support needs who cannot live in group homes.
I have fought her entire life for Maddison to live independently and not in a care facility where she would just wither away. Not only does it go against contemporary models of how people with disabilities should live, but it would be soul destroying for her and me. However, it was clear that the NDIA intended to lock her up in a group home that is not right for her now and may never be.
In early November we had our day in “court” at a conciliation hearing in court and we won. At that meeting we recovered more of his services with the help of our team of advocates and supporters who, like me, spent hours collecting evidence and writing reports.
We can feel the weight lifting.
I am very proud of Maddison and the way she conducted herself at the hearing and supported me in presenting her case. We’ve been told we’re the latest in a spate of similar cases in court, where the previous government’s destruction of the agency forced people with disabilities down this tortuous path.
It may not be illegal, but immoral, unethical it certainly is.
Here we are, after 13 months, an incompetent NDIA gave us what we needed and had in the first place: reasonable and necessary supports. What a waste of time and money at enormous personal cost to both Maddison and me.
We are among the last, but we are not the last. There are still people going to court now.
I want to tell you that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
And tell our political representatives to learn from this terrible mistake and never, ever happen again.
The names of the author and her daughter have been changed for fear of repercussions for speaking out.
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