The party’s over for crooked NDIS operators

Imagine making $1 million a month.

I can’t, but it sounds like a great deal.

What if I told you someone made a million dollars in one month out of Australian taxpayers?

What if I then told you, it was in fact not legitimate? That this person made a million dollars by defrauding the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

It stretches credibility to claim it was a mistake, or an accounting error, or ignorance of the rules, especially when you learn they allegedly used 50 separate ABNs to charge for fake NDIS services.

This person, who has been linked to a broader criminal network, exploited some of the most vulnerable Australians in our community.

The full-time job of this “provider” was not providing vital services to people with disabilities but finding new ways to charge for the service without actually doing it.

Unfortunately, this is not a one-off incident. That is the reason I set up the fraud fusion taskforce when I became Minister for the NDIS in 2022.

Nine years of previous Coalition government neglect and naivete of the scheme meant crooks and organised crime gangs not only snuck in an open window but were handed the keys to the back door too.

The fraud fusion taskforce brings together 16 government agencies to share information to help ensure dodgy providers don’t evade detection.

In its first year, the taskforce investigated more than 100 cases involving more than $1 billion of NDIS funding.

One of the people I spoke to about setting up the taskforce was then Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission chief, Michael Phelan.

In a media interview at the time, Phelan reminded us that: “This is not a victimless crime. You’ve got to wonder how far down the scumbag scale you get before you start ripping off our most vulnerable people.”

On Wednesday, the decorated former cop, and the man once described as Australia’s most senior criminal intelligence official, took the reins as the interim acting commissioner of the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission.

Phelan’s appointment is a new line of defence in the fight against crooked operators.

It sends an unambiguous message that the party is over for fraudulent providers. No more dodgy NDIS millionaires. No more Australians with disability missing out on the services they are paying for and are entitled to receive.

This is a time of evolution for the Quality and Safeguards Commission.

The Albanese Government has made a record investment in the commission and is supporting its mission to crack down on fraud with a multi-pronged approach to finding and dealing with those who seek to make a quick, easy, dirty buck out of vulnerable people.

I have also worked with Assistant Minister for Competition, Charities and Treasury Dr Andrew Leigh, to end the NDIS “wedding tax”. Unreasonable practices have seen people with disability forced to pay jacked-up prices for essential services, supports and equipment.

We will strengthen legislation to boost the power of the NDIS Commission to take compliance action and ban providers from the NDIS market.

I also recently announced the NDIS provider and worker registration taskforce. This is looking into a potential new regulatory system for providers, because people with disability told the NDIS review the system, with a mix of registered and non-registered providers, was not working.

A new system could mean all providers would need to meet modest minimum standards.

There are more than 150,000 unregistered providers who offer services to NDIS participants, and the vast majority are honest, hardworking people whom participants choose to deliver their care. And I acknowledge the existing registration system can be clunky, costly and mired in red tape.

But unregistered providers operate with little to no visibility of what they provide or even if they deliver the services they charge for. There are also too many whose backgrounds are unknown.

Just recently an unregistered provider in South Australia was banned from the NDIS for two years after impersonating a mental health worker. He was then found to have a criminal history of dishonesty, sexual assault, trespassing and unlicensed firearm charges.

This is not the person you want to come into your home and provide your personal care or that of your family member.

A new system could help stop this from happening.

Crooks are on notice.

The clock is ticking.

The dragnet is closing on you.

All I care about is that every dollar meant for an NDIS participant goes to that person’s care and to reaching their goals, and that families know their loved ones are supported and safe.

This opinion piece was first published in The Nightly on Tuesday 14 March 2024.