Minister Shorten Interview on 2GB with Ben Fordham.



BEN FORDHAM, HOST: It's Bill Shorten. He's on the line. Bill, good morning to you.


FORDHAM: The Crime Commission believes that there could be a billion dollars worth of rorting every year in the NDIS. Do you think it could be bigger than that?

SHORTEN: I don't know, but I'm determined to find out. I've obviously met with the Crime Commission since becoming the minister. I think you're right with what you said. The scheme is delivering life changing positive outcomes for a lot of people. But there is a lot of - inappropriate, unfair, and absolutely undesirable. That's happening. We need to make sure that every dollar gets through to the people for whom the scheme was designed. But I do see there's issues with fraud and crime and there's issues also with overservicing and overcharging and, you know, the criminals. We've certainly ramped up our attack on them, I know that there's many investigations underway and there's many payments being investigated. There's been references to the public prosecutor, but we've got to do more of that. I want the criminals to understand that just because this is a government scheme and you're dealing with vulnerable people, your good times are over. We're going to shut, going to shut this crime down.

FORDHAM: You've got a massive issue with people issuing inflated invoices. Here are some of the messages we've received, let me read a few of these. I was asked to do some work for a builder doing some renovations under the NDIS. I was told if it's for the NDIS triple the figure, nobody checks, you just get paid. Another one, my boss is always bragging about being able to charge twice as much for NDIS clients. It's helping him build a second story on his house. Another, I know contractors who normally get $500 for a job when the NDIS is involved - sometimes it's as high as $3,000. So these people are acting within the rules, aren't they?

SHORTEN: When I was in opposition I used to criticise the Coalition for having the welcome mat out for overcharging because they didn't scrutinise the payments invoices. Now I've got into power and looked under the hood. I was wrong. There's not a welcome mat out, there's no back wall to the scheme. So we are right now upgrading the invoicing system, so you can't just simply put an invoice without scrutiny. So that's on the Government to lift the the invoice checking. But can I just talk about your ordinary person here? Just because someone has gone to NDIS package, you shouldn't triple the charge the price limits. You don't have to charge the $190 the chiro can charge, you can charge $90. It's not compulsory to charge the higher level the builder who's putting triple the inflated prices because they think they're dealing with a disabled person on the NDIS. Don't do it. You know, it's very uncool in Australia to park in a disabled car park if you're not disabled. I want to make it as uncool to just do this what I call the wedding tax now, when the young couple go along for their wedding all of a sudden everything costs more because you say you're getting married. Well, there's a wedding tax in the in the NDIS. So yes, the Government's got to scrutinise the system more. But can I just say to those Australians who want to, you know, get the second story on their house by overcharging on the NDIS, you're part of the problem, you're not part of the solution. We don't want you in the scheme if you feel that just because someone's on a package, you can triple the prices.

FORDHAM: I know you just want to sort this out. You don't want to get into the blame game, but you did just mention that the Coalition kind of allowed a lot of this to happen. This scheme was set up by the Labor Party. So, you know, I suppose you need those checks and balances in place from day one, don't you?

SHORTEN: Yeah, the Labor Party set up the scheme and rollout out the first to about 4000 people in May of 2013. Then the electorate booted Labor out about three four months later and it's been nine years of the Coalition. So sure, Labor established the scheme and it was quite partisan support. My point is there hasn't been sufficient rigour examining the invoices, cracking down on the crooks, but we've got to have a conversation. There's a lot of really great service providers out there and the taxpayer actually is pretty decent on NDIS. They're happy to fund the scheme looking after those who are less fortunate. But the taxpayer wants to see, as does the person with a disability, wants to see the money, get to the people for whom it was intended. And you know, in Australia sometimes when there's a government scheme, some of the contractors love to up the rates. They say, oh, the Government can subsidise my margins.

FORDHAM: We are talking to Bill Shorten, the Minister responsible for the NDIS. Bill, we have heard from a doctor who's told us a story about one of his clients spending some of the money that's meant for his care on what he describes as adult services. Have you heard of this before?

SHORTEN: I've heard of one case. Um, there's been, there's hundreds of thousands of transactions submitted. I have heard of this on one case. Um, I don't think that's appropriate. No, I don't support that at all.

FORDHAM: So that'd be the understatement of the century, wouldn't it?

SHORTEN: Oh, yeah. And I've gone on the record. I said this scheme shouldn't be used for that. But on behalf of the 575,000 people on the scheme and the 280,000 kids with disabilities, I do think that is the exception, not the rule.

FORDHAM: Sure, we've now got biker gangs who have been busted ripping off the NDIS. So what? They're now involved in drugs, drive-bys and disability rorts.

SHORTEN: Yeah, I reckon there's truth in that, which is stunning. But I also know that three years ago I said I warned the previous government, I said, you've got a problem with fraud in the scheme and rip offs. We've now created in October, a criminal taskforce - just getting all the agencies talking to each other. The reality is in Australia when you have got government money and government schemes, you do attract the blowflies and the crooks. The long day care, the private, some of the private vocational education, but just to, if there's any of these operators in the NDIS listening to your show this morning, I'll tell them we're getting the tax office to examine the data from the NDIS, we're talking to all the criminal investigation agencies. I know that there is a multiple of tens and tens of investigations. I know that hundreds of millions of dollars in value of payments are under review. I know that there are prosecutions in progress. Now I'm getting pretty regular reports and I just we want to just anyone who's been an early mover thinking they can rip off this scheme. The good times are over and we are going to call you out. I would say to some of your listeners who call in with their complaints for them onto us.

FORDHAM: I'm going to share the phone number in the email as well. I'll just share two more with you. My mate got paid $400 to take someone on the NDIS to the Ed Sheeran concert last week. NDIS paid for the tickets too. Another one here, my wife practically had a $20,000 wheelchair pushed onto her - it's never been used, but when she needed a prosthetic leg, it took months of stuffing around to get it approved. I could go on all day about this. The main thing is Bill Shorten, you're aware of it and you're more motivated than ever to make sure that you can catch the crooks and weed them out of the system.

SHORTEN: I'm aware there's a problem. I'm not dismissing it at all, and also I love the scheme and I know it's life making, life changing benefits for people. And it's just it is literally and the good news doesn't always get the same coverage as the bad news thats life. But I am determined to weed this out.

FORDHAM: How do you characterise the people who do this?

SHORTEN: Well, they're scumbags. Just just don't just just rack off. You're not welcome. Get off my scheme. You're not welcome. If you're inflating your bills, we'll catch you. If you're ripping off people, creating phantom accounts or sending in for services, you haven't delivered. The slack times are over, we're at work now. You know we're in the best possible, it systems, it’s the best scrutiny, right.

FORDHAM: Well, why don't we chat regularly about it and we can update people as we go. And I'll give the phone number in just a moment. And the also the email address as well for people dobbing in people who are committing fraud. Thanks so much for joining us. And let's talk regularly about it. Good on you. Bill Shorten, the Minister for Government Services. He's in charge of the NDIS.