SUBJECTS: NDIS participant housing report, Voice to Parliament.
HAMISH MACDONALD, HOST: While the vast majority of Australians with disability live in their own homes, nearly 20,000 live in group homes across the country. This morning the NDIS watchdog has released disturbing figures, warning that more than 7000 serious incidents in these kinds of residences have taken place over the past four years. The Federal Government says it wants to improve the sector's regulation, monitoring, and introduce new standards. The NDIS Minister, Bill Shorten, joins me now. Good morning to you.
BILL SHORTEN, MINISTER FOR THE NDIS AND GOVERNMENT SERVICES: Good morning, Hamish.
MACDONALD: This seems like an extraordinarily high figure given the total number of people that actually live in these homes.
MINISTER SHORTEN: Yeah, that was my reaction to when the Commission told me about the report and some of the findings. There are some Australians who can't live without- in accommodation without a high level of support. This group of people are particularly vulnerable and that's why this report is important to make sure that they're not getting ignored by the systems and obligations to make sure that they're safe.
MACDONALD: Do we know who is perpetrating these acts?
MINISTER SHORTEN: This is a report done of the seven largest accommodation providers within the NDIS. I should say, some of the organisations did well, some did okay, and some did poorly. Within the context of why it's happening, which is really, I think, at the heart of your questions and what people must be wondering, is that we need to see- clearly, people living in group homes often have less choice and control over their NDIS supports. So there is a negative aptitude and attitude by a small number in the workforce, which is driving a high number of the issues. The interface with health isn't as effective for people living in supportive accommodation as it should be. So I think these are some of the factors which drive it. And also making sure that participants, if they're vulnerable when they're in group homes, are accommodated with people who they can get along with, not people for whom they might be subject to health and safety risks.
MACDONALD: Sure. I would imagine that, though, all of those things you've just described might be quite predictable if you're talking about people in group settings. It shouldn't necessarily, though, lead to instances of abuse or neglect?
MINISTER SHORTEN: No, it shouldn't. You're right. So talking to the Commission as they've been preparing to release this report, I'm supporting changes to regulation and monitoring of supported accommodation. The reality is I was surprised to find, Hamish, that we don't have, I think, updated standards with supported accommodation. I want to rectify this. I also think, again, it shouldn't be news, but unfortunately we seem to be learning the same lessons that we should have already learned. But we've got to be much better at communicating directly with people with disability and supportive accommodation. Otherwise they're vulnerable. If the only people that a person with disabilities communicate- to communicating with is the carer, then that creates a highly vulnerable relationship. Now, I should say many of the workforce are excellent, but where it's not working or where the person with a disability is accommodated with two or three other people, one of whom they're not getting on with or not suitable to live with, then we've got to do much better at educating the individuals in the homes about their rights and making sure that we check in on them.
MACDONALD: I do want to ask you about a few other matters this morning. Do you think the Government is leaving too many blanks to be filled in by others in the debate about a Voice to Parliament?
MINISTER SHORTEN: No, I don't. I think that the Opposition doesn't know how to play the issue, and I would encourage them to look at the merits rather than the politics of this. There is a lot of detail out there. It is frustrating to listen to some in the Opposition who either haven't paid attention to the issue or don't want to. The Referendum Working group includes Ken Wyatt - who was the former Cabinet Minister under the Coalition government - Marcia Langton, Noel Pearson, Megan Davis. They have agreed to key design principles. The Voice would provide independent advice to Parliament and Government. It would be chosen by First Nations people based on the wishes of local communities. They will be accountable and transparent. It'll work alongside existing organisations. It's not going to have a veto or a program delivery function.
MACDONALD: Sure. I mean, you're correct to say that that detail is out there, but doesn't the Opposition Leader, Peter Dutton, have a point when he says, well, we actually don't know whether this government, if the referendum does get up, we don't know what version of that will go into legislation. Isn't that a reasonable point to make and question to ask?
MINISTER SHORTEN: Well, it'll be up to the Parliament to finalise what they legislate. So it's a bit disingenuous of him to say he doesn't know. Because we have the referendum, we agree to the principle of the Voice, then it's legislated. So he'll have plenty of chance to have an input into the legislation. But I think you'll…
MACDONALD: Sure, but can you understand why many voters might want to know what the government will endorse in terms of legislation before they vote on the principle of it?
MINISTER SHORTEN: Oh, listen, I'm not sure I do agree that that is the problem that Mr. Dutton says it is. There has been consultation, there has been- and there continues to be consultation. This is about the Government and the people having a referendum to decide, Do we want to include our First Nations people on the nation's birth certificate? The principle of that. I actually think Mr Dutton's just trying to walk a line between the Conservatives in his party and more progressive, liberal minded people, and he's just delaying the day when he's got to make a decision. He understands full well that this is not a third parliamentary chamber. He understands that this will not be sovereign over the Parliament.
MACDONALD: But for voters…
MINISTER SHORTEN: I'm not sure he's showing the leadership that I hope that we would get in giving principle support to the voice. I mean…
MACDONALD: I suppose I'm asking this, though, on behalf of listeners and voters who might say, look, you know, very interested in this thing about how I'm going to make my mind up with regards to the vote. I do have questions about what it will mean down the track. Where do you tell voters to go to get that information then about how it might look and what its powers will be, what the make up will be, what the ethics oversight would be? What do you tell voters to go and do if they want that information?
MINISTER SHORTEN: Well, I would say to them, first of all, the principle is of what this Voice is about. And it's legitimate to want- for people to ask, you know, what's it about? I would say that the Voice is about improving the lives in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in practical ways. What it's going to do is we've tried different ways of giving greater equality of opportunity to first Australians. The Voice was a proposal which came up through hundreds of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders and people saying that you should consult us about decisions affecting us before you make them. But what the Uluru Statement from the Heart also made very clear is we want to be consulted. You're better off empowering us to be involved in decisions affecting our own lives. But no one said that it's above Parliament. No one is saying that it gives extra sets of rights to people. That's the principle. Then you go to the detail of question that Mr Dutton's sort of trying to confuse the message with in saying that there's secrets or things not seen. And I go back to my earlier answer to you, the Referendum Working Group's a good source to find out where the design principles are up to. So I'd encourage people to do that. And it's those features which I said to you earlier on.
MACDONALD: One other question overnight, the UK has formally committed 14 tanks and other weaponry to the frontlines of Ukraine. We're about to speak to the Ukrainian Ambassador to Australia. Should Australia follow suit? Do we need to actually commit more than what we already have in terms of military hardware?
MINISTER SHORTEN: Australia's been contributing a great deal, I think, outside of NATO's countries. We're the largest contributor to support freedom in Ukraine. That'll be a matter for the Ukrainian government and discussions with the Australian Government and our Defence officials to see what we can do. But it is worth noting, I'm not sure all listeners would be aware that outside of NATO countries, I believe we're the single highest contributor to support freedom in Ukraine against the Russian invasion and its illegal war.
MACDONALD: Bill Shorten, thank you very much for your time and Happy New Year.
MINISTER SHORTEN: Happy New Year to you, Hamish. Happy New Year to the listeners.
MACDONALD: Bill Shorten is the NDIS and Government Services Minister.