Minister Shorten interview on ABC Afternoon Briefing with Greg Jennett


GREG JENNETT, HOST: All right now, a bit like love, I suppose, unrequited payments owed to you can be a sorrowful thing to have to deal with and it turns out the government is custodian of hundreds of millions of dollars it should be able to pay to a large number of Australians, but alas, it cannot. Apparently it is trying, though. NDIS and Government Services Minister Bill Shorten is responsible, and he joins us in the studio now. Welcome back, Minister. We'll get to your medical care situation in a moment, just to pick up on that point made by colleagues today, do you endorse the accusation, are you prepared to repeat the accusation that Peter Dutton protects Paedophiles?

MINISTER FOR THE NDIS AND GOVERNMENT SERVICES, BILL SHORTEN: They're not my words, the issue that's been going on this week is, Mr Dutton and the opposition have launched a very opportunistic and unprincipled attack on the government in the wake of the High Court case. What has happened is that a detainee who was a convicted Paedophile ran a case all the way to the High Court and it has struck down, the High Court, struck down detention of this person and people in similar circumstances. Now, back in the day, when Mr Dutton was immigration Minister, he apparently renewed this convicted paedophile’s visa to stay in Australia and as a result, we've now had this train of events which has led to the government having to fix up the mess after the High Court decision. I do wonder if Mr Dutton these are my words if Mr Dutton had his time again, would he have now done the same things that he did then, now knowing what challenge that's now given to our system?

JENNETT: So, your words are strikingly less controversial or confrontational than those of your colleagues. Do they overreach?

SHORTEN: No, I'm not going to make that, no, I think the opposition has been opportunistic and unprincipled. I think they've scared a lot of people unnecessarily, I think, and I understand my fellow Minister was making the point that rather than cooperate with the legislation we've put in, to fix up the poor laws which they administered, struck down by the court, instead they were very opportunistic and were voting against measures, frankly, which would be stronger deterrent against convicted paedophiles in the community. But let's go to the heart of the matter, the government's fixing up a problem which the High Court exposed based on the poor laws and as all of my colleagues have been saying, Mr Dutton's got tough words, but his action is not tough, and the real point here is, I just wish that when Mr Dutton was Minister for Immigration, he hadn't renewed this person's visa. We wouldn't be in this mess we're in now.

JENNETT: All right, we'll come back to that debate, I'm sure, next week. Let's move on to something that was lost in the thicket of competing news, I think it's fair to say yesterday, people you're urging them to come forward and update their details so they may claim these Medicare benefits that can't be paid into their bank accounts. Has there been any response?

SHORTEN: Yes. What we've done is there's now about $234 million of Medicare rebates, which about 920,000 Australians are eligible for, but because we don't have their current bank account details, we can't give it to them. Now, a lot of it build up under the Coalition, but it's time we tackle this mountain of money which is due to go to people, so, we've now proposed something which hasn't been done before. We're sending messages out to a lot of these people's, myGov accounts, saying, please go online, tell us your new bank details and already in the last day, 10,000 people have been reunited with about half a million dollars, which is very timely with cost living pressures and Christmas.

JENNETT: Okay, so you'd have a high… because you know who they are and you know how to contact them, you'd have a high degree of confidence, would you, that all or most of that money will be returned?

SHORTEN: Yeah, one caveat, of the 920,000, well over nearly 700,000 have got a current myGov account. There's probably another quarter of a million people who don't have a current myGov account. I had a pensioner or a man who's 84 reach out to me from Queensland today and said, hey, I'm not on MyGov and I still want to check if I've got money. Rest assured, you can still ring Medicare, but what we are trying to do is make it as quick as possible for people, and so, for the first time, we're using myGov to send messages. But I've got one caveat here for Scam watch, Greg, no official message from the government will ask you to join a link in the text message. All we are saying is you go on to your MyGov account separately and you go through that process, we're not saying you click a link on a text that comes to you, that's a scam.

JENNETT: Valid warning, and if anyone out there is watching, you get one of those text messages, typically, they're sent in the wee small hours, as far as I can experience with my own phone. Expiry, is there a date on which, if this is not matched up, the government sweeps it off into consumer revenue?

SHORTEN: No, the money's there, we just want to get it to people before Christmas. There's nearly a million people owed $234 million, that's on average about $240 a person, and we'd rather in the pockets of the people and so we're now using our technology to reach out to people. For those who we can only contact by mail, we're sending out letters as well, but please just have a look, update your bank account details, and I know a lot of people don't like to go online to set up a myGov account. Trust me, once you do, things can move more quickly than being on the phone.

JENNETT: Yeah, a bit more demanding. If you're over, say, 85.

SHORTEN: No, I get that, and so there's other ways to check your Medicare.

JENNETT: Understood. Look, before you go, meetings have happened today among caucus members, in fact throughout the week and culminated in some meetings with the Treasurer today. People wanting in the Labor Party to again tackle cost of living with further relief, what might that entail?

SHORTEN: Well, I haven't been part of those meetings. My job is to get the money that we owe people out to people, tick, and the other thing I'm working on at the moment is fixing up the NDIS with the disability community so we can make it sustainable and true to original purpose.

JENNETT: That's a big body of work, stage three tax cuts have come into these conversations yet again, they will have an inflationary effect, won't they? The Treasurer says they're baked into all our forecasts, government forecasts, as they are with the RBA. What is the inflationary effect in, let's say, the first year of stage three tax cuts?

SHORTEN: Tax cuts can be less inflationary than other forms of payment, what we've done so far is $23 billion of targeted payments, the Treasurer and the Prime Minister have been very clear that we've baked in the forecast for the tax cuts. I think it was pleasing, these are only a monthly number, but the CPI came in at 4.9. I see what the OECD has said, I think what would be more immediately useful for a discussion about inflation than the stage three tax cuts is Coles and Woolworths, some of the big companies. I have a nagging concern that they are using the smokescreen of inflation to increase their prices. In other words, you'd almost call it greedflation. I noticed that Choice magazine has given its top Shonky Award for 2023 to Coles and Woolworths.

JENNETT: Has the government got levers to control this? I guess you're calling it greedflation, price gouging, whatever people call it.

SHORTEN: It's great that we live in a world where you've got to tell the top end of town that if you don't have a lever to stop them being greedy they think it's their democratic right to be greedy. I just say to some of the big corporations you have a social licence, people are doing it hard, be part of the solution, not part of the problem. I think that's a more immediate issue. The people who stop me in the street at the moment are not talking about the stage three tax cuts but they are concerned the prices seem to be moving faster than they think is warranted.

JENNETT: I'm sure that's an acute concern for all. Bill Shorten, we've been in the habit of farewelling for the year a bunch of people, I'm not going to do that on this occasion. You've got a big body of work ahead of you with NDIS so there's every possibility we'll talk to you again before I hope so.

SHORTEN: Thanks very much.