National Disability Insurance Agency chief departs as Labor prepares to overhaul scheme

National Disability Insurance Agency chief executive Martin Hoffman has agreed to step down as Labor prepares to overhaul the scheme in a changing of the guard welcomed by disability advocates.

National Disability Insurance Scheme Minister Bill Shorten, who strongly criticised Hoffman while in opposition, announced on Wednesday the chief executive had agreed to leave the agency on July 2.

National Disability Insurance Agency chief executive Martin Hoffman has agreed to step down in July.Credit:Joe Armao

“I thank Mr Hoffman for his service and wish him well in his next endeavours,” Shorten said.

Labor has promised to improve the NDIS after recipients claimed their plans had been cut after review, but the agency disputed a cost-cutting drive and said the average plan over 2021 had gone up.

People With Disability Australia President Samantha Connor said she was “unsurprised and pleased” to hear Hoffman would be replaced, describing him as “a gun for hire brought in to claw back funding” from the $30-billion-a year scheme.

Connor said Hoffman’s departure was necessary “for there to be cultural change at the agency” and hopes it would be “a sign of better things to come”, saying more people with disability were needed in the upper echelons of the NDIA management and board.

“I think it would be excellent to have a disabled person at the helm,” she said.

If a suitable chief executive with disability could not be found, Connor said, the role could be structured to share or delegate responsibility to a person with lived experience.

Hoffman said it had been “an absolute privilege to have served in this role for the last three years” and wished NDIS participants, families, carers and providers “all the very best for the future”.

The chief executive’s departure was widely anticipated after Shorten said during the election campaign: “I haven’t spoken to anyone in the disability sector who has a good word to say about Mr Hoffman.”

NDIS Minister Bill Shorten has announced the NDIA chief he criticised before the election is stepping down.Credit:James Brickwood

“You have to question the whole leadership of the NDIS in the last few years,” Shorten said in April, specifically naming Hoffman and the agency’s former chair Helen Nugent.

“They presided over the independent assessments rollout, which would have been a disaster and breached any remaining trust that people with disability had with the government,” he said.

Independent assessments were proposed as a new way of determining the functional level of an individual with disability, which would be used to inform what level of funding that person would receive, instead of relying on evidence from their own specialists.

Former NDIS Minister Linda Reynolds put the reform on hold after widespread backlash.

Labor has promised to establish a new appeals process outside the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, which is facing protracted delays after the number of appeals quadrupled as NDIS recipients complained their packages had been cut through plan reviews. The agency said for participants who were in the scheme over the full 2021 calendar year, there was an increase in the average budget from $51,900 to $57,800.

Shorten also pledged during the election campaign to hire another 380 agency staff and crack down on rorting providers and the agency’s use of consultants and private law firms, which cost $32 million over eight months.

The minister said Hoffman’s replacement would be appointed “in a timely fashion in the coming months” and Lisa Studdert, deputy chief executive in the agency’s markets, government and engagement section, will serve as acting chief executive in the interim.

NDIA Board chair Dr Denis Napthine, a former Liberal premier of Victoria, said the agency “has accepted, with regret” Hoffman’s resignation and commended him “for his stewardship of the scheme through such an important stage of its evolution”.

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