Minister Shorten Interview on the Today Show with Karl Stefanovic.


SUBJECTS: Talks of Neil Mitchell stepping down from 3AW; reports on NDIS cost; airline competition at Australian airports

KARL STRFANOVIC, HOST: Welcome back to the show. The year was 1987. Whitney Houston was rocketing up the charts with this banger, and the handsome young gun newspaper reporter took his first steps into Melbourne's 3AW radio station. There he is right there. It looks like Waylon Jennings. He began by working part time on weekends very soon, making his way up to host of their drive time program. Three years later and the popular host moved over to the morning program, becoming the familiar voice Aussies wake up to, to this day. He's the best in the business, but there is speculation he could soon be stepping down. Here to discuss today's headlines is Minister for Government Services and the NDIS, Bill Shorten and the aforementioned 3AW presenter, Neil Mitchell. Neil, good morning to you, Billy, good morning to you. Neil. Say it ain't so, please.

NEIL MITCHELL, 3AW: Like Daniel Andrews. I don't talk about hypotheticals, but I am sorting through a portfolio of offers and I think you two, we can workshop it here. That's the aforesaid Mr. Andrews wants me as his main spin doctor. Bill Shorten wants me knocking on doors telling everybody that he's better than Albo. The ABC in Melbourne needs a little bit of help. I might have a look at that. And I'm not sure today we've got a Commonwealth Games to run or not, but - what do I do, Bill? Bill, you've got a job for me.

STEFANOVIC: Over to you, Bill.

BILL SHORTEN, MINISTER FOR THE NDIS AND GOVERNMENT SERVICES: Well, I think Dan was planning to get you to run the Commonwealth Games. Listen, Dan Andrews has sent me a text, he said, Bill, don’t do it.

MITCHELL: I’d be a good spin doctor. Am I not dodgy enough?

STEFANOVIC: Neil, just, you have to deny it for us. I mean, we can't have you at the Nine Network here, I mean, I don't know. There's Ray Hadley, Ross Stevenson, I mean, they all look up to you. We can't - it can't be so, my friend. Is it on or not?

MITCHELL: I'll quote you a few things Ray said about me over the years. Management wants me to stay for another 50 years or so.

STEFANOVIC: All right. We'll leave it.

MITCHELL: We're in talks. We're in talks.

STEFANOVIC: Billy, you don't want him to go?

MITCHELL: I'll be here in one form or another.

STEFANOVIC: There you go.

SHORTEN: No, listen, Neil, you stay as long as you want, mate. That's my view.

STEFANOVIC: Let's get on to the NDIS. They’re rising fast, the costs are rising faster than the official figures. Experts claiming the scheme is being treated like a bottomless pit of money. Bill, the NDIS, as we've pointed out many times, has issues, but we all think it's an incredible policy. But it needs work. As you said, it's lost its way. Now your own man says it's become a magic pudding. He says the rising costs are more significant than we're being told. He says the rising costs are even greater than forecast. So, what are they?

SHORTEN: Well, Bruce Bonyhady, that's the fellow who's giving a speech today which has been previewed in The Australian. I've appointed him to do an independent review along with several other experts. They'll give me the report in October. In terms of the scheme, it is true that it's changing lives. I want to reassure all the mums and dads who have got their kids on the NDIS getting ready for special school this morning, the scheme is here to stay. We just want to make sure every dollar gets through to the people for whom the scheme was designed. I think Bruce is right that there are some people who are abusing the scheme and by that I don't necessarily mean participants. There's a lot of rent seekers and ticket clippers. There's overservicing, there's unethical behaviour by a minority of service providers. I am completely confident that we can engineer reforms. We've already started the process. It's had nine years of neglect, but I do think that we can make sure the scheme acts in the best interests of participants, and that's what taxpayers want to hear.

STEFANOVIC: Well, give us the low down on the costs. I mean, I don't think anyone quite knows, do you?

SHORTEN: Well, it's $35 billion - oh, well, it's $35 billion for the last financial year. It's supporting about 600,000 people. What we want to do is moderate the rate of growth of the scheme. We've put in some reforms which are starting to show some green shoots of recovery, but we've got to make sure that, take, for example, little children who have a developmental delay, a sort of non-standard journey at a little age, we want to make sure that the NDIS isn't the only off ramp for them. We want to clamp down on the waste. We want to clamp down on the rorts. Right now, as we speak, there are 44 criminal investigations, another 14in the preparatory stage. 16 of these matters are now in court. I also want to clamp down and just put a big shout out to all the people out there, just because someone has an NDIS package doesn't mean a service provider should charge double or three times what they charge if a person wasn't on the scheme.

STEFANOVIC: Okay. I wanted to get Neil's thoughts on that, but I do want to get to Qantas if we can. Neil, Qantas is in seemingly hot water this morning. The airline accused of blocking competition in Australia as passengers launch a class action over losses during Covid. But more competition you'd have to think, was good for passengers. Neil, what do you think?

MITCHELL: Yeah, obviously competition is good for passengers. Qantas has failed us since the pandemic in my view, and the Government's got to explain its decision on Qatar Airlines. I mean, the more you have in, the more competition you have, presumably the better chance you have of the market, the market doing the right thing by passengers.

STEFANOVIC: Bill, why is the Federal government blocking airlines like Qatar Airways from increasing flights to Australia instead of - I mean, it just looks bad.

SHORTEN: Well, I agree with the principle that competition will hopefully force down the price of airline tickets. And I've been a critic of Qantas in the past, both in some of the things they did during pandemic to the staff. But in terms of when a particular airline applies to get more berths at Australian airports, that's a matter for negotiation. I can understand Qatar being unhappy, but as the Minister for Transport said, this is business as usual. You don't automatically get a slot just because you ask for one.

STEFANOVIC: Okay. I think I have a bit of a different take on this, guys, and want your thoughts on it quickly if we can, just a reminder that five Aussie women are still waiting for justice from Qatar authorities and the airline after being strip searched and violated in the most horrible way in 2020. I think if they want to get things relaxed for them here, they need to sort that out and we need guarantees in the future it won't happen again. Neil?

MITCHELL: Yeah, but hang on, Karl, what about China Airlines? I mean, look what they're doing to Australian citizens in China. What about Emirates? Look what's happening with Emirates and the way, you know, if you’re gay they put you in jail. It's illegal. There are airlines flying into this country and Qantas flying into those countries which have got appalling records on human rights. And you're right about Qatar, but we'll end up banning everybody.

STEFANOVIC: All right. Just finally, Bill?

SHORTEN: We're not going to end up banning everyone. Neil And I just want to say, Neil, as you're contemplating what you do next, maybe Qatar could use you. I thought you were pretty good then.


STEFANOVIC: Guys, thank you so much. Look forward to reading all those -

SHORTEN: You know I’m coming from a good place, Neil [heart sign with hands].

STEFANOVIC: From all those headlines in the paper. Thank you, Neil. Love your work, mate. Don’t go anywhere.

MITCHELL: Have I got a job or not. Bill?

STEFANOVIC: You have, you got a job here.

MITCHELL: Have I got a job?

STEFANOVIC: For as long as you want, my friend.

SHORTEN: Yeah, you have mate. You have. I always need volunteers.

MITCHELL: [throws papers in air]