Minister Shorten Doorstop interview to discuss opening of Darwin Hearing Australia


SUBJECTS: Announcement of NDIS co-participant trial site at Maningrida; eliminating NDIS fraud and over-spending; Labor’s gas policy

BILL SHORTEN, MINISTER FOR THE NDIS AND GIVERNMENT SERVICES: It is a fact that for First Nations people living in remote communities, that whilst they may be eligible for support because of their severe and profound disabilities, they've had a lot of trouble actually accessing it and utilising services in remote communities. So, they're eligible and they have got some modest resource, but they can't spend it to help them with their disability because there's just not enough services. So, one of the challenges we hear in particular is that where you have a number of people in a remote community who might have disability and be on the NDIS, each of them has the ability to get their own service provider, but in reality, you're not going to get 40 different service providers heading out to community. And also, if they are, that's a tremendously inefficient way to do things. So partly through the inspiration of Ngaree Ah Kit and the advocacy of Luke Gosling, the Federal Government's going to trial alternative commissioning for people who are eligible for the NDIS living in remote communities. So, I'm pleased to announce today that one of the two trial sites in Australia will be Maningrida.

And what that means is that for the NDIS participants in that community, we're going to look at ways of pooling some of their resources so that they can get accessible quality services regularly, which is - the whole point of the National Disability Insurance Scheme is to help people with disability be able to have fulfilling meaningful lives. So, new announcement today for the whole of Australia, a new trial site. The trial funding for the two sites collectively is $7.6 million. I expect that as we finalise the delivery of services, that means between 3 and $4 million to be for the Maningrida community but driven by the people of that community, in conjunction with the Territory Government, the people who know best about what's required of the grass roots. Happy to take any questions.

JOURNALIST: Just at that trial site. What will be available for the community?

SHORTEN: Well, I might get my colleague also because she's spoken strongly about this in parliamentary matters, but there's approximately 70 people in the Maningrida community who are eligible for NDIS, but a lot of them can't use their modest packages because we can't get physio, OT, speech pathology, some of the services which in bigger communities get taken for granted. So rather than each individual having an allocation for a certain number of hours of allied health professional service, what we want to do is look at ways in which local organisations can use the 30 or 40 packages which have several hours of support to perhaps hire someone to work in the community from the community, which means that decreases some of the need for the expensive fly in, fly out. But also, what it does is it improves the quality.

I think it's fair to say that one of the challenges of the National Disability Insurance Scheme is that not all service providers are equally good or equally fair dinkum. The very best service providers are just fantastic. They're making massive life changing impacts on people with disabilities. But unfortunately, it is the case that with government money sometimes it attracts the blowflies, the opportunists, and the spivs. And what we want to do by looking at alternative commissioning is decrease the exploitation of vulnerable people, make sure that we can lift standards, but really importantly, there is resources that people are eligible for. Make sure that they get the best possible outcome, so they can have the best possible support. But I know that Ngaree’s campaigned on this issue, so maybe we might get her to tell some of the issues she sees and what we hope we might do by this multi-million-dollar announcement from Maningrida to be done in conjunction with community.

NGAREE AH KIT, NT MINISTER FOR DISABILITIES: Thank you, Bill. Today is just an absolutely fantastic announcement for the Northern Territory. We know that the NDIS, the National Disability Insurance Scheme, has helped thousands of Territorians to live a better quality of life because they've been able to access disability services and many of these people accessing services for the very first time. We understand the urban setting of NDIS, we understand that we sometimes have the ability to walk to get the services that we need. But it's not often the case in remote communities.

Late last year I decided to have a look into how we could get the NDIS working better in remote communities. And so, Maningrida was a trial site that I selected in partnership with the Maningrida community, the NDIS sector, the NDIA and the and the people in the community. So, we're looking at ways of how it works right now and how we can work together to make it better. This multi-million-dollar announcement and the opportunity to do things better from the ground up is exactly what the Territory and what our country needs. So, working with permission of the people in Maningrida and the 73 participants, they have $4 million worth of package and at the moment just over $1 million is being utilised or drawn down. So, there's $3 million there that we have the opportunity to find a way to make sure that we draw down, to give the people the quality of life. So, like Minister Shorten said, it really is a fantastic opportunity to see how we can meet the needs of those living in Maningrida itself.

We hear far too often the stories of people living with disabilities who relocate from their home communities to urban centres to get a better quality of life. So, I really want to thank Manuel Brown, the local member for the area, the Member for Arafura, for his strong advocacy, Luke Gosling, and Marion Scrymgour in Federal Parliament, who continue to work closely with us to make sure that Territorians in our remote communities are never left out in the cold on their own. I want to thank the community of Maningrida, the disability service providers, Molalla Aboriginal Health, even the Council have been on board.

We visited the community in late April as a collective to hear from the people, to hear from the service providers. We had a really good idea of what works and what doesn't, and right now we need to make sure that we can support the community to work together as a collective, to draw down on the services. And like Minister Shorten said, we need to make sure that we no longer individualise the way that they operate, hence the term alternative commissioning. So, really looking forward to working with the community, getting back out to Maningrida, and seeing over the next few years how we can make sure that everybody gets to live the quality of life out there that they deserve.

JOURNALIST: Mr. Shorten, you mentioned the blow flies and spivs. What are you doing to make sure that they are weeded out, particularly when it comes to people delivering services for Indigenous Australians?

SHORTEN: Thanks, Pat. Let me say at the outset the NDIS is changing lives. It's changing hundreds of thousands of lives. But what we are seeing, I guess is the perennial problem when you've got a government package of support, you have some service providers - it's not the people with disability are the problem - but you have some service providers who might try and exploit a vulnerable person to get them to charge false invoices, to over-service or to under service, not deliver quality. And what happens is that the service provider is basically robbing from a person with a disability, which I think is pretty low, incredibly low, in fact. And they're padding their own wallet at the expense of the person with a disability.

So, what we're doing to challenge that is we've set up what's called a Fraud Fusion Taskforce. It didn't exist under the last government, let's call it straight. They just had the back door open to the to the robbers. We've now got 44 criminal investigations underway. 16 of these are now in the courts. We've got another 14 investigations in the preparatory stage. We've put an extra $140 million into the Scheme just to bring the tax office, the police, state, federal, the AFP, the NDIS. We want to say to the charlatans who think there's easy money to be made by ripping off people with disabilities, that your business model is coming to an end and we're absolutely investing in greater scrutiny.

The other thing we're going to do is it’s not just criminal activity, but what I call unethical activity, because I want to say to service providers, not just in the Territory but everywhere, if you charge two prices for the same service, you've got to stop. What I mean by the two prices is this, it's like a wedding tax. Person turns up with an NDIS package, then all of a sudden, the shower chair costs four times that it would cost if you didn't have the package. If you have to cancel a treatment for your precious child, you don't charge 90% cancellation fee to the person on the NDIS and 30% to the person who isn't.

So, we just want to stamp out the double pricing which is going on. And I think people with disability, they get these modest packages. When you overcharge someone or when you rip them off in a fashion, you're actually not stealing from the government, you're stealing from a person with a disability. And that really is unacceptable.

JOURNALIST: How widespread do you think that rorting is?

SHORTEN: The vast bulk of service providers are outstanding. So, it's always one of these difficult issues, when you say there's a problem, do you contaminate everyone who's doing a good job with that sort of “mud sticks”? Or do you say everything's good and then you're sort of ignoring the problem component? I think the problem is more widespread than it should be, but I think the vast bulk of services are doing the right thing. So, I think if we just are truthful, we eliminate the rorts. We just say that that percentage, which is being wasted, exploited, I think we can get to a much better NDIS where the money's going to the people who it's meant to go to. But it's too common, the rorting, but it's not the whole scheme. So don't throw the baby out with the bath water. But let's not ignore a problem. Let's take ownership of it and do really what the LNP should have done for the last nine years and say to the opportunists and crooks, buzz off.

JOURNALIST: Is it true that all you need to become an NDIS provider is an ABN?

SHORTEN: Not quite. But I have to say in some cases that has been the case. One of the big challenges is that there's 600,000 people on the scheme, about 10 to 15, 20% of the people who offer services are registered. But there's a lot of people who are unregistered with the services they deliver. I don't think that a lack of oversight of the unregistered sector is a sustainable future. But that doesn't mean we want to drown people in red tape. You can't take all the unregistered providers out of the system because then you wouldn't have enough services. But I do think we have to have an honest conversation that, based on, if you're delivering a service which has a risk to a vulnerable person, you probably need more scrutiny.

If you're perhaps mowing someone's grass who can't do that, or if you're driving someone to an appointment, you don't need the same level of red tape as you do for someone who's looking after someone with complex needs. Short answer is we can reform it. We can do it. The NDIS sector is going to grow. It's a worthwhile career, working in care and support. Ten years ago, it didn't exist. Now there's over 300,000 people helping over 600,000 people. The disability and care and support sector in Australia is a growing area. It's a great career. I just think now it's time and we're doing that right now, the meeting that Ngaree and I had in the Territory Parliament with other state ministers and Territory ministers. Now it's time to make sure we get the scheme back on track.

JOURNALIST: The Intergenerational Report pointed to the NDIS as something that will be a key cost pressure over the next 40 years. You announced some measures in April, but what are you doing to ensure that the NDIS doesn't put a huge burden on the budget and basically, you know, send us broke if you like?

SHORTEN: Well, first of all the NDIS is an investment, so I understand the question about the rate of cost growth, but I would - I'm going to reframe it. I don't regard money spent on the NDIS on profoundly disabled people as sending the nation broke. I regard that as an investment. Disability is a fact of life. You can get it through the DNA lottery of a non-standard journey from when you're born. You can get it the blink of an eye on a country road. You can get it just through the onset of ageing. Just because a person in Australia has an impairment like these fantastic kids with hearing disease and loss at the early age, we should not write them off. The tyranny of low expectations of Australia's merely because they have an impairment, that's what the NDIS is designed to stop.

But having said that, we want to make sure, and it's been really neglected for the last nine years, it's a good idea. It is changing lives, but the outcomes are too inconsistent. So, the best way we deal with your concern about the rate of growth of cost is run the scheme in the best interests of the participant.

See, it's a sort of - it is really the sweet spot of the NDIS. If every decision is made in the best interests of the person with a disability that eliminates the charlatans, it improves processes, and we focus on outcomes. The rate of growth, it will increase, but it certainly won't be the sort of rate of growth we're seeing now. I also say the Intergenerational Report doesn't just say it's about the NDIS. Defence spending, aged care, health care spending. These are all pressures on the budget, but the NDIS is here to stay under Labor. I believe that if we run it in the best interests of people with disability, we will accommodate and respect the concerns about the rate of cost growth.

But even more importantly, we will say to the little kids who this hearing centre is supporting, or people right around Australia, yes, you have an impairment, but we want to include you in Australian society. So, these people are not a cost but a better run scheme I think, accomplishes better management.

JOURNALIST: The needs of people with disabilities in remote communities can be quite obviously complex and quite costly. Does this mean that the NT will receive needs-based funding for NDIS support services?

SHORTEN: NDIS funding for individuals should be needs based. I totally accept and I should have mentioned Marion Scrymgour who couldn't be with us today, but she and Luke and Senator Malarndirri McCarthy, Ngaree and the Territory MPs, they've been very good at educating me as the new Minister for the NDIS, that what might cost a dollar in the city has a different value here. And so, you've got to be realistic about the costs of delivering services throughout the Territory, which is a unique and lovely part of Australia. So, needs-based, yes. And I think the very fact that we're announcing extra funding to trial in Maningrida says we get that the more that local communities have a say in what happens to the people in their local communities, the better the outcomes will be. But it is certainly needs-based. We are the NDIS is a demand driven program. It's not a capped program, there's not a certain ration and if we run out of money, then no more. But I do think that by listening to community, listening to the people in communities, we can do better than we've done now. So, what you're seeing with this announcement of several million dollars for the trial is saying it takes a community to support a person with a disability. And we're getting, we're just - that's our priority.

JOURNALIST: Can I just ask on a non-NDIS question, when you were Opposition leader, you promised $1.5 billion for gas development, including pipelines in the Northern Territory, do you think, do you still believe that gas plays a big part in the future of the Northern Territory?

SHORTEN: I'm no longer the leader, so I'm not going to start - and we took a series of policies to the 2019 election, which thanks for voting for us. But you know, Anthony and the team have reconfigured their policies. I'm very supportive of what they've done, and do I think the gas is an important baseload source of energy for the transition to a renewable future? Yes, I do.