Australia has seen unprecedented change in disability policy over the last decade with the introduction of the National Disability Insurance Scheme and the National Disability Strategy, with a new Strategy due to be released later this year. However, research funding and capacity has not matched the investment in policy. The Audit on Disability Research in Australia revealed significant gaps in research and concluded that the research was often small scale, fragmented, poorly integrated into policy and practice and not fit for purpose. The Audit showed there is a need to rapidly scale up research capacity.
COVID-19 and the 2019/2020 bushfires and floods have thrown up new issues for people with disability, their families and carers which need urgent policy attention. For example, the crises have further challenged the interfaces between disability, health and other sectors such as education and justice. The economic downturn we now face also risks further disadvantaging people with disabilities and their families. It is even more important now to generate evidence to inform current policy responses and preparedness for the future health and economic shocks we will increasingly face.
This is also a time of enormous opportunity as Australia now has some of the best data in the world on which to build disability policy. We have extensive data collected from participants in the National Disability Insurance Scheme and Australia is also investing in the development of an enduring longitudinal National Disability Data Asset, incorporating NDIS data and datasets from multiple levels of government. This is an exciting collaboration which will allow governments to better understand how people with disability are supported through services, payments and programs across multiple service systems.
The Commonwealth Department of Social Services recognises the enormous opportunities presented by research funding and has invested in the establishment of NDRP, to be led by the Melbourne Disability Institute together with a working party, for a two-year period. Longer term investment in disability research will build knowledge, boost service innovation and solve pressing policy problems.