SUBJECTS: Autism and the NDIS
BEN FORDHAM, 2GB: I wanted to have a quick word, if I can, with Bill Shorten, and I know he's busy this morning, but he's the Minister for the NDIS and we have been saying for some time that if we're going to rein in the cost of the National Disability Insurance Scheme, then we've got to do something about all of these people being diagnosed with autism. The average package funded by the NDIS is about $34,000 a year. It's set to cost taxpayers 42 billion this financial year, by the end of the decade, it'll blow out to almost $90 billion. And look, I know that there are people with severe cases of autism, but we've heard from many people involved in the sector that there are others who are getting funding that maybe they could do without. Bill Shorten is the Minister involved and he's on the line. Morning, Minister.
MINISTER FOR THE NDIS AND GOVERNMENT SERVICES, BILL SHORTEN: Good morning, Ben.
FORDHAM: So, you've decided you're going to make a move when it comes to autism. What are you going to do?
SHORTEN: No, it's not as straightforward as that. We've been reviewing the scheme, as you know. The review is now in. We're meeting with the States to talk about how we can improve the system on disability. It's not so much focusing on a particular diagnosis, but we want to make sure the NDIS isn't the only lifeboat in the ocean. What's happening now is that if you've got a child who's not taking a standard developmental journey when they're a little kid, the only thing you have around is the NDIS. So, we've got to have a conversation with other departments and the school system and everyone else about how do we help kids who might have a delay, but it's not so severe that they need to be on the NDIS.
FORDHAM: And the problem is, we've heard from clinicians who say if they don't get a diagnosis by the age of seven, then they miss out on that support. If they do get the diagnosis by seven, they get the support for life. There are lots of kids with autism going on to the NDIS, but not many who are getting offered after they've received any help.
SHORTEN: Yeah we’ve got to make sure that…. We've got to make sure early intervention works. It's a good idea, when a kid's brain is still forming in the very early years, early intervention has been proven to be pretty useful, but it was never intended that if you have early intervention that you be on the scheme for life. So, as I said, there's a bit of a conversation to be had with the school system, because a lot of parents are desperate, and what happens is if their kids at the school system, in the school system, and they're not developing in a sort of standard way, there's not a lot of support. The other thing is that there are some service providers, and this doesn't just go for autism, it goes generally, who I think sometimes are over servicing and not focusing on outcomes. So, there's challenges also on the service provider side in the scheme. There's a lot of very good people, as you say, and I know, but there are some people, I think, who periodically take advantage of a parent's desperation and are providing services, but not necessarily getting outcomes for the intense services they provide.
FORDHAM: All right, we've got 266,000 people under the age of 18 on the NDIS and out of those, more than half of them are listed under the autism category. Do you see all of those people remaining in a year or two from now? Surely not.
SHORTEN: I don't think the NDIS should be the only scheme to provide support for kids with developmental delay. What we have to do, though, is make sure there's other systems out there because some parents will say, pigs might fly when you say, well, your child doesn't need to be on the NDIS, they could be getting some other help. So, the conversation has got to be about, one, is the help that people are getting actually reasonable and necessary? Does it deliver outcomes? Is it evidence based? And two, does the child need to have an NDIS package to get some support as they're developing in their early years?
FORDHAM: Okay, I guess what families are going to be wondering, are some of them going to be kicked off the NDIS?
SHORTEN: No, not overnight. No, no this is not…
FORDHAM: Not at the moment?
SHORTEN: Anything we do has to be done with people, not to them. So, there'll be a lot of fear and panic because again, I've got to say, quite a lot of the people who you're talking about, are there on the scheme because there is nothing else. We'll walk, we won't run, this will be a transition, it won't be an overnight earthquake. There's other things we can do to improve the scheme, and one of them has got to be clamping down on fraudulent service providers. We've got to make sure that money is not getting wasted, that people aren't being ripped off. We've got to improve the decision making in the scheme so it doesn't make mistakes, which then lead to more trauma. Anyway, it's a big job and we're going to do it with people, not to people, but we're also going to make sure that the scheme is there for the people for whom the scheme was actually designed and that it's sustainable for future generations.
FORDHAM: And just on the people taking advantage on those providers who were selling crystal wands and doing tarot card readings and fortune tellers and everything else. You've taken care of all of that already?
SHORTEN: We are going to make sure that the only supports that people get are those which are reasonable and necessary. If there's no evidentiary base to a service, it has no place in the scheme. I mean, if there's no science to it and if it's just as think you're clearly implying rubbish or junk therapies, they've got no place in the scheme.
FORDHAM: But have you kicked those people off because those revelations were made six months ago?
SHORTEN: We are kicking off a range of service providers, yes, but what I also want is the clarity in the legislation so we're not constantly playing whack a mile where you get rid of one snake oil salesman and another one pops up. So, yes, we are chasing down bad service providers now, but we probably will need to change the legislation to give more clarity so people can't slip between the cracks.
FORDHAM: We appreciate you jumping on the line. I know you've got a busy morning.
SHORTEN: No, thank you Ben.
FORDHAM: Good on you, Bill Shorten the Minister for the NDIS who says we need to jog, not sprint, and you can understand why because you've got lots of families involved and people with disabilities. If you have a look at the numbers around autism, 620,000 Australians receive assistance through the NDIS, 266,000 are under 18 and half of them, or more than half of them, apparently have autism.