Minister Shorten Interview on Sky News with Tom Connell


SUBJECTS: IMF comments on NDIS funding; Robodebt Royal Commission; Reserve bank; interest rates and cost-of-living

TOM CONNELL, HOST: Welcome back. There's been a call from the International Monetary Fund to make the NDIS more sustainable. The Scheme could cost more than $100 Billion a year by the end of the decade. The Government has launched a review of the Scheme, joining me now is Government Services and NDIS Minister Bill Shorten. Thanks for your time.


CONNELL: It was a pretty stark warning. You've spoken about making it more sustainable. You've seemingly ruled out a co-payment which the IMF spoke about. What about more means testing?

SHORTEN: Listen, the IMF's got its place but different, a different language. They seem to say the same solutions for everything. Lower pensions, deregulate the labour market and broad-based consumption tax. So, you know, I guess from their lofty building in New York on the 30th floor or the 100th floor, maybe that looks like the simple solution, but it isn't.

CONNELL: So, no to means testing as well?

SHORTEN: Means testing, we haven't even considered it. It's not even on the menu. I guess the other thing I would make clear here is we don't means test education. We don't means test Medicare. And NDIS is as important and as crucial as that.

CONNELL: I mean, we means test early childhood education, for example, in rebates.

SHORTEN: We don't we don't mean to test negative gearing, do we? So why is it that some of the classical economists, conservative economists, always want to start off with austerity, with the people in the wheelchairs and the white canes? But there is a serious issue of sustainability. I'm not going to get distracted by the IMF's sort of, you know....

CONNELL: Yeah, because you've got this review. So, is it allowed to canvas, will the review sort of have options to make it more sustainable?

SHORTEN: Yes. So, I actually - this is the story of the Scheme and I'll try and do it in 30 seconds. It is changing people's lives. There's 573,000 people on it. It's changing people's lives, but I think it can be run more effectively, more efficiently, more equitably. I actually think good management of the Scheme will deliver a lower cost growth curve. And I think it'll also deliver better outcomes for people.

CONNELL: And so, in terms of the review that's happening, would it theoretically be allowed to present a cost saving measure such as a co-payment and then you, as the politician, make the decision? Are they are they restricted, I guess, by what ideas they can put?

SHORTEN: I don't seriously believe anyone serious looking at the Scheme would propose that particular, you know, New York proposition.

CONNELL: But they're free to propose whatever?

SHORTEN: They’re free to propose whatever. I guess what I'm just saying is I don't think they're going to propose that we import flying saucers to Earth from Mars. So, you know, like, I don't think that's in the realm of sensible proposition, but they're free to say what they want.

CONNELL: They might be watching you and say we better not say that.

SHORTEN: Oh, well, no, these are smart people. They're distinguished disability advocates, researchers, economists. They don't need any swim lane swim lines for me, guide rails from me. They'll work out what is in the best interests of the Scheme. So, let's go back to the real issue. The problem we're trying to solve here, not what we think about some free advice from the other side of the world. What we need to do is to make sure that the Scheme focuses on outcomes. The Scheme looks at how we can help improve the ability of people with profound and severe impairment to participate in the community. I think there are improvements that can be made which will make the experience of the Scheme better for the person in the Scheme, but also make it better for the taxpayer.

CONNELL: Yeah, and I know that can be around, for example, employment outcomes where it's -

SHORTEN: It's employment, but not just but not just that. I think listen, at the heart of it, I think there is fraud from some of the crooks, opportunists - wherever there's a big pile of government money, opportunists come, and I don't think sufficient attention has been paid to preventing that. I also think that there's – we’ve got to make sure the services are evidence based. We've got to make sure that also states and other departments don't just make everything an NDIS matter.

CONNELL: Yes, I know there's a lot out there around the states.

SHORTEN: Yes, so anyway, I think there's things that can be done and I think we can get it back to its proper remit.

CONNELL: Not so-called paying their fair share or paying less as a result. Robodebt. It's been pretty brutal viewing at times. I wonder if a lot of people out there are wondering are they going to actually be consequences for anyone in terms of this Scheme? Is that a is that a possibility? What do you make of that?

SHORTEN: A lot of people think there should be. But listen, I think the Royal Commission's being pretty fearless. We'll leave what the Royal Commission recommends to the Royal Commission. They don't need any help from the parliamentary seats on that question. They'll work out what they think needs to be done. I think some of the Liberals say, oh, we all know Robodebt was wrong, so there's no need to have a Royal Commission. But actually, there's a lot of brand-new evidence coming forward about the true delinquency of the management of the scheme, how the warnings were ignored, how much harm there was,

CONNELL: And they matter because it could have been stopped earlier, while it was an unfair Scheme.

SHORTEN: And that’s the point. So, can governments make mistakes? Yes. But to make the same mistakes illegally for four and a half years? Why?

SHORTEN: So, the ministers are gone. you can't - 


CONNELL: - but you might want to. You can't punish -

SHORTEN: For me, it's not about an individual Minister who didn't do their job. Well, that's obviously important to the citizens who vote for them. How could there be a systemic failure across multiple Ministers, four and a half years, unlawful debt notices against hundreds of thousands of vulnerable citizens and it never got stopped?

CONNELL: What about what about departments? There are people still in jobs.

SHORTEN: Well, that's part of it. Well, again, with individuals, a bit like your, you know, the politicians you mention. We've got to wait till the end of the Royal Commission.

CONNELL: That's the most obvious consequence that could actually come out of this, isn't it, that someone in a department that hasn't done the right thing should no longer have their job?

SHORTEN: That'll be up to the Royal Commission in the findings they make. But I think the most important consequence as it’s emerging is, in all organisations, in politics and government and departments, maybe even here on Sky News, good news gets you promoted. Bad news gets you sidelined. We've got to create a culture where the leadership of organisations and politicians encourage hearing bad news that they need to hear before it becomes worse news. In all organisations, if you tell your boss something that they want to hear, your star rises. You tell your boss something that I want to hear, your star starts to dim. We've got to create a culture in Australian workplaces, where telling bad news is valued even more than telling good news.

CONNELL: Perhaps I need to give more good news. I'm not sure. The RBA, interesting situation. They missed inflation on the way up. Are you worried that they might be tempted to go too hard to avoid inflation keeping high and tip us into a recession?

SHORTEN: It's the Reserve Bank's independent monetary policy has for decades been decided independently of government. So that is an important rule and that's not changing. I am getting a lot of constituents now who borrowed money, they thought it would go for the low rates would go for longer, and they're doing it really hard now. And when banks lend money, they don't just assess on your capacity to pay the interest rate which you are negotiating the house loan on. But they normally put in a buffer of 2 to 300 basis points.

CONNELL: Which we've gone beyond even that.

SHORTEN: That’s it. So, I think there is a lot of hardship. So, a lot of people are coming to me and saying, listen, if inflation's going down, why doesn't - you know, do we have to keep having more and more interest rate rises? I said, that's a matter for the bank. But there's a lot of pain out there at the moment. That's why our government is to the extent that we have levers, trying to relieve inflationary pressure on people with the cheaper childcare, trying to put downward pressure on energy prices, get wages moving in a modest way. Skills, you know, the economic story that we've been talking.

CONNELL: If we do dip into recession, whose fault would it be?

SHORTEN: I don't know if we're going to get to that point, and I'm not going to announce that at this point, but I think that there's several -

CONNELL: Will your government have to carry the can for it, given it would happen sort of a year into your watch.

SHORTEN: Well, I think that what people want from our government is that we put their cost-of-living issues front and centre, which we are. We can't control the war in Ukraine. We can't control the fact that China shut down its economy and is only now coming back to life. Let's be honest, there was a lot of money wasted by our predecessors. Like, we're not talking wasted like they paid too much for a cup of coffee. The previous government, they spent billions. And you know, that's all had an impact on the economy. We've got to fix it up.

CONNELL: So, it’d be a bit of Ukraine to blame, the previous government, and maybe the RBA?

SHORTEN: Listen, I think that let's just work on trying to relieve the pressure and not worry about the history so much because that's done and dusted. We’ve got to learn the lessons.

CONNELL: Minister, thanks for your time today.

SHORTEN: Lovely to chat, Tom.