Why we should declare all NDIS fraudsters un-Australian

Sam Kekovich is a bit like the Santa of Australian culture. He only appears once a year, as our lamb ambassador. Some of his ads could be nominated for best short film at the Oscars.

Of course, these ads are a clever marketing ploy, but each Australia Day they do tend to capture an element of Australian life that we can all relate to.

This year, the theme of the ad is people dramatically disappearing in a puff of smoke for doing and saying things that are deemed “un-Australian”.

The man who was banished for eating a meat pie with a knife and fork (the horror!). The shopkeeper who charged him a dollar for the tomato sauce (the injustice!). The bloke who didn’t know the words to Khe Sanh (shakes head in disbelief). All very un-Australian acts.

While we’re good at laughing at ourselves, we are also rightly affronted by acts that strike at the heart of the nation we want to see in the mirror.

Even though it’s a well-worn phrase, we truly believe in the fair go. We believe in equity and inclusion.

We instinctively know when the unwritten, but well understood, social contract has been broken.

Perhaps the greatest breach of this contract is when people intentionally take advantage of the most vulnerable members of our community. It is the textbook definition of unAustralian.

And yet, there are people out there who are exploiting the National Disability Insurance Scheme. That’s right. People are exploiting the scheme that supports Australians with permanent and significant disabilities.

It’s hard to come to terms with the fact there are people who walk among us who are lower than the belly of a snake.

One of my commitments when taking on the role of Minister for the NDIS was to help stop the waste and fraud so that this scheme can be there for generations to come. Like all fair dinkum Australians, I want the money that is meant for people with disability to get to its intended destination.

That’s why the Labor Government established the crime-busting fraud fusion taskforce.

The lack of scrutiny of what I call the unlocked backdoor of the scheme has been exploited by some unscrupulous providers as a weakness to take advantage of. Some providers — the very people entrusted to support our most vulnerable Australians — have sought to make personal gains by virtue of the fact that government agencies were not talking to each other.

Those days should be over.

We now have agencies and departments, including the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission, the National Disability Insurance Agency, the Australian Tax Office, the Australian Federal Police and my other portfolio agency of Services Australia, sharing information to help stop people looking to defraud the NDIS.

And it is starting to reap rewards.

Since Labor took office in May last year, there have been some 12 operations targeting groups and individuals suspected of fraud that have resulted in charges being laid, prison sentences for some offenders, and the seizure of millions of dollars in assets.

One of those cases was Perth-based disability provider, Forward Focused Group, whose director allegedly defrauded the NDIS of $250,000. The investigation resulted in two counts of general dishonesty causing loss and two counts of dealing in proceeds of crime.

Additionally, in relation to this case, the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission took compliance action against six Perth-based entities.

Just last week two Victorian entities were also the focus of the commission, after evidence of falsified and inappropriate claims for payment to the NDIS were established.

Failing to act with honesty, integrity and transparency has a serious adverse effect on NDIS participants’ mental and physical wellbeing.

This investigation has resulted in the two entities being permanently banned from providing NDIS supports and services to people with disability.

Almost all of these bans and investigations have been in association with the Fraud Fusion Taskforce. And this is only the beginning.

So, let it be fair warning to anyone thinking of ripping off the NDIS — forget it.

Australians pay their taxes to fund schemes such as the NDIS and Medicare, and to build roads and schools and hospitals because we subscribe to the idea of contributing for the greater good. We get pretty riled up though when we hear of people trying to play us for mugs. We get even more enraged when they illegitimately take money from a scheme which supports people who are most in need of assistance.

Perhaps if we declare all people looking to defraud the NDIS un-Australian, that behaviour will disappear too.

This opinion piece was first published in The West Australian on Wednesday 25 January 2023.