The political repudiation of the changes proposed by the Commonwealth to the national disability insurance scheme by all states and territories were more than just a routine adjustment by the federation.
What exploded on Friday July 9 was an episode of the conjunction of two extremely powerful forces – the algorithms and powers of King Henry VIII – each of which separately erases transparency and accountability.
The “King Henry VIII clauses” are so named because of the uncontrolled power they imply.
When combined, the impact of King Henry VIII’s algorithms and powers on Australian citizens is unfathomable. These two forces are eating away at our democracy.
What exploded was not a fight over “reform”.
You see, the disability community is desperate for reform: after all, it was out of the community that NDIS was created. But reform is needed because NDIS has been accidentally or intentionally diverted from its purpose.
And the community might just know a thing or two about exactly where this reform is needed.
Bright ideas for reform are detailed in more than 300 submissions to the Senate Inquiry into Independent Assessments. And in countless submissions to large numbers of NDIS surveys throughout its short eight-year life. The road to reform is hiding in plain sight.
Fixed on the fallacious doctrine that anything can be automated – apparently including people’s lives and bad processes – the government’s “listening theater” fails to “hear” universal calls for co-design while selective referencing experts and strategic reporting back to the original 2011 Productivity Commission report.
What I and hundreds of thousands of people with disabilities and their families want to know is:
- Why does it take a year to change bank details?
- Why does it take two years for children’s wheelchairs to be approved – a quarter of the time NDIS exists?
- Why are sensitive reports and documents sent to NDIA lost repeatedly?
- Why do we receive plans with highly confidential information from other people?
- Why did NDIS plans allocate funds of $ 2.02 for two years (that’s not a typo)?
- And why during the independent review campaign did people receive multiple spam-like cold call text messages, often re-containing other people’s private information?
How this happens is a garland of unattended mailboxes; no smart workflow; deal with dead ends; manual handling of data and documents outside the system; metastasized non-system databases; dissemination of spreadsheets; and a grotesquely complex website that mocks any notion of accessibility and inclusion.
That this is happening so systemically is evidence of faulty systems and processes at the core.
And stuck on these faulty systems, will be faulty algorithms.
Algorithms based on 400 personas that have not been co-designed, scrutinized, validated or apparently tested. It’s like having an algorithm developed to detect cancer from scans, without the process and algorithm validated by cancer experts.
Algorithms based on a mix of functional capacity assessment tools, for which no evidence was provided by NDIA at Senate committee the validity and safety of these tools when used together.
Algorithms that appear to have been developed without an ethical framework, according to evidence from Senate Estimates.
And as a warning of what could go wrong, the horrible examples algorithm-based funding valuation models used in the United States read like a model for independent NDIS evaluations.
Funding assessments based on US algorithms “hit low-income seniors and people with disabilities in Pennsylvania, Iowa, New York, Maryland, New Jersey, Arkansas, and other states, after algorithms became arbitrators of how their home health care was allocated – replacing the judgments that was primarily made by nurses and social workers.
In Arkansas, “you had people lying in their own garbage. There were people who had bedsores because there was no one to treat them. There were people who were locked up, people who skipped meals. It was just untold human suffering.
The human rights risk of algorithms, especially for people with disabilities, is so severe that Australian Human Rights Commissioner Edward Santow, expressed concerns about the NDIS robotic planning push.
“I am very aware that in the move towards the use of independent assessments in NDIA, there is a risk that some of the mistakes that have been made regarding robo-debts will be made again in this context. . “
This follows the historic Australian Human Rights Commission, Human Rights and Technology Report, calling for a moratorium on the use of algorithms in decision-making.
But the genius of the algorithm is out of the bottle, especially as an accompaniment to the “divine” powers of King Henry VIII – who in the leaked NDIS bill removes the veto power of state governments and territories. The same state and territory governments that are the co-funders of the program.
In an article by Saturday newspaper, Rick Moreton explained that the powers of King Henry VIII give the Commonwealth Minister a new ability “… to make so-called ‘rules’ at any time, which the CEO of the National Disability Insurance Agency must follow when interpreting legislation ”.
These “divine” powers determining rules which will not require the control of the Parliament, will be carried out via opaque algorithms and not controlled by experts in the field.
Indeed, a godlike power creating an algorithm-based funding valuation model that has been shown to harm people.
So the explosive meeting of disability ministers was not just about NDIS reform.
This was the hidden agenda of the Commonwealth’s creation of a new automation and control architecture that will reach out to all service sectors: disability, veterans, elderly care, education and beyond. NDIS has long been the workhorse of this troubling future.
Australian civil society and bureaucracy are tragically ill-equipped for the age of algorithms.
And the powers of King Henry VIII that the government wants to grant itself will take away the rights and abilities of citizens to protect themselves against this dystopian machine-ruled future.
Do you know more? Contact James Riley by email or Signal.