NDIS fraudsters put on notice

The National Disability Insurance Scheme has been a hot topic over the past few weeks and I couldn't be happier. A good day for me is when we are talking about the world-leading scheme, warts and all.

A few weeks back, Australians heard firsthand from the head of the fraud fusion task force the Albanese Government established to protect and watch over the NDIS. The Scheme's integrity chief John Dardo told a Senate committee about the extent of fraud and illegal activity his team were seeing and now stopping since it was set up in late 2022.

People were shocked to hear that funding supposed to be used for packages of support for people with permanent and significant disabilities was instead being used to fund criminal activities and to purchase cars, holidays and fraudulent providers withdrawing plan funds from ATMs to buy illicit substances.

Most alarming was that it was Coalition senators, including my predecessor Senator Linda Reynolds, who unabashedly acted as though the NDIS had just appeared overnight and they had never ran the scheme for a decade until 2022. But I wasn't surprised. Even before I took the reins as minister for the NDIS two years ago this month, I knew the scheme was not being properly policed.

Mr Dardo told the committee a particularly peculiar story about a $73,000 car being bought on the scheme.

In the proceeding days the Coalition audaciously tried to use this as a battering ram for how the scheme was in some kind of new crisis.

But the car Mr Dardo was referring to was purchased on a nine-year-old child's NDIS plan in 2021 and was only picked up once Labor was in government in late 2022. Mr Dardo explained the car purchase stemmed directly from an immature payment system.

Until the Albanese Government came into office, only 20 invoices across hundreds of thousands were being checked each day and, unbelievably, between 5pm and 6pm on a given day, if you put in a claim, it was just paid.

We now check thousands of them a day. The fact we know this is because we have invested in the scheme and the task force to catch the crooks and stop NDIS participants being taken advantage of. Ever since Labor was elected, we've invested in a mammoth fraud clean-up job including investing $126.3 million in funding over four years to establish the fraud fusion task force, and in February 2024 the Albanese Government announced funding of $83.9 million to improve the integrity of the NDIS.

So far, the task force has initiated 500 compliance matters, 222 investigations, and 20 prosecutions. Under the last Coalition government, only $231 million in payments were investigated; under Labor, it's several billion dollars in payments. While the scheme is doing amazing things, participants do face confusion, uncertainty and sadly, exploitation.

We do hear some of the bad news stories. For example, some dodgy providers charging for services never delivered, or charging more for support simply because a participant receives NDIS funding.

The very reason we know about these bad actors is because Labor is determined to catch the crooks and clean up the scheme by investing $468.7 million over five years in this year's Budget to support people with disability and get the NDIS back on track.

Plus, we're working with the ACCC and NDIS commission to stop the price gouging.

The NDIS Code of Conduct was amended in December last year, making it illegal for the NDIS providers to charge a higher price for goods for a participant without a reasonable justification.

The good providers, the vast majority, are crying out for us to do something to stop bad providers taking advantage of people with disability.

Families and participants deserve to be protected from unscrupulous operators. What we're doing now to fix the schemeN

But we have changed the system so that structurally, people can't access the back door of the scheme.

The truth with the NDIS is that it's changing lives for the better. We understand it is an investment, not a deficit.

We understand it's creating hundreds of thousands of jobs and careers, small businesses and innovative start-ups.

It's too important not to get right and fix it for the future.

There are some crooks out there and I want them gone, and the Albanese Labor Government is doing everything we can to stop them.

This piece appeared in The West Australian on 24 June 2024