Could there be a lower act than organised criminals targeting the disability dollar?
Probably not, but it's happening. The Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission found that these crime gangs falsify bookings, inflate invoices and collude with professional facilitators to obtain fraudulent documents to steal from National Disability Insurance Scheme participants.
As the NDIS continues to grow, so will the fraud if we just sit on our hands while the worst kind of crooks steal money from Australians with disability. After a decade of Coalition neglect I, for one, am not prepared for that to continue. On Budget night something significant happened for those Australians who, like me, are sick of seeing the worst of the worst steal precious dollars from some of the most needy and vulnerable. We funded a new Fraud Fusion Taskforce to help fight this scourge for people with disability and Australian taxpayers.
My message to the offenders is clear, if you are stealing from the NDIS, you will be found and you will be prosecuted. The serious nature of the attack on the NDIS will be met with an equally serious response. The taskforce will have authority to use strategic, tactical and operational intelligence from a number of government agencies to crack down on those seeking to take what is not theirs.
The NDIA and Services Australia will lead the taskforce to identify fraud vulnerabilities in the NDIS and other government services. It will use data from sources including the National Disability Insurance Agency, the NDIS Commission, Services Australia, the Australian Tax Office, ACIC and the Australian Federal Police, to name a few. Crooks have relied on government agencies not talking to each other. That ends.
To cover all bases, we'll ensure the NDIA workforce is qualified to scrutinise invoices to ensure their legitimacy and identify if the system is being gamed. Closing off avenues of exploitation at their origin — or to put it in plain English, nipping the criminal schemes in the bud — is the ideal.
Our agencies will work in lockstep for information sharing, identification and response. If we achieve that, organised syndicates and unscrupulous individuals, providers and directors won't be able to evade detection by moving between government programs.
The taskforce will also fix the lack of data that exists about this problem. At the moment we have to rely on research from comparable countries upon which to base our assumptions.
In the UK such research suggests that losses due to fraud, non-compliance and incorrect payments in similar schemes may be up to 10 per cent. Losses of 10 per cent in the NDIS would equate to billions of dollars.
Because the former government has not done fraud-fighting properly for the better part of a decade, we know anecdotally it's a big problem but we don't know how big. We're like an angler that doesn't know the size of the fish they're pursuing until they start reeling it into the boat. But I suspect it's a very big fish indeed. And in the words of Roy Scheider in Jaws we're “gonna need a bigger boat”. That's where the Fraud Fusion Taskforce and particularly the important sharing of Tax Office data, come in.
We have great ambition for the task force. We want to reduce the risk and harm to people with disability receiving supports. We want to detect fraud early, prosecute those who are perpetrating these crimes, and have funds returned to where they rightfully belong.
The initial target of the taskforce will be NDIS fraud but there will be broader detection and prevention benefits for other government agencies. Last week's Budget delivered a total of $137.7 million to better safeguard the NDIS from organised crime, including through the Fraud Fusion Taskforce. We aim to recoup that money and more through the court system.
I said before the election that we would crack down on fraud and we would crack down on waste. We're doing both. We've started addressing avoidable system costs like safely discharging 309 of the 1400 people with disability who are medically fit to leave hospital but have languished, on average, 160 days in a care setting that is not appropriate. That has saved the health system alone some $750,000 a day and freed up hospital beds.
We're putting certainty back into NDIS plan renewal. This will alleviate the pressure on participants to spend money for fear of losing it, and remove perverse incentives for providers to drive up volumes of support. And we're slashing the backlog of 4500 appeals to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. Rejected NDIS applications are the source of much distress for people with disability and their families and a waste of money on lawyers' fees.
Stopping waste and fraud is about making the NDIS fairer and more sustainable so it can serve people with disability today and future generations. Australians back the NDIS. But they expect the money meant to support the person with disability gets to them and is not syphoned off or squandered. I want to make something absolutely clear though. It is not NDIS participants causing problems. We cannot blame victims for the activities of criminals. In the meantime criminals who rort the scheme better look out. The party's over. It's not going to be so easy any more.