Minister Shorten interview on ABC 7.30 with Laura Tingle


SUBJECTS: NDIS review; National Cabinet

LAURA TINGLE: After yesterday’s successful meeting with the states and territories about funding the NDIS, a review into the scheme was released today. Bill Shorten is the Minister for the NDIS. Welcome to the program, Bill Shorten.


TINGLE: The review released today has a huge number of recommendations. But at its heart, a lot of the problems in the NDIS go back to the fact that go back to the financial relationship between the Federal and state governments. The states effectively withdrew from directly providing disability services when the NDIS came along because the Federal Government was picking up the tab. Can you tell us why the new funding deal would give both levels of government reason to make the system work better?

SHORTEN: Absolutely, but I should first say to all those families who might have a family member on the NDIS and people on it: the NDIS is here to stay under Labor. And all of what we're talking about is making it better. The specific issue you go to is the NDIS, when it was established in 2013, saw a 50 per cent contribution from the states and a 50 per cent contribution from the Federal Government. Over the years, the states said that if the scheme costs increase more than 4 per cent per year, they would only increase their contribution by 4 per cent. So whenever it was more expensive than 4 per cent increase, the Commonwealth had to pay. That's led to a situation now where the relative share is 70 per cent Federal and 30 per cent state. To be fair, the states are doing some things in disability, but what was secured by the Prime Minister and the premiers is a commitment by the states which shows their commitment to people with disability, that instead of just increasing by 4 per cent per year of their contribution, they're now going to double that and go up by 8 per cent. In real terms, that means the states are going to provide billions of dollars more to help sustain the NDIS for future generations. That's a win for everyone.

TINGLE: So that's an increase in funding from the states for the NDIS proper.


TINGLE: But then on top of that, you've got this new system which goes back to the original plan, if you like, which was you would have the NDIS and then these other levels of service. And what you've also agreed to is that the Federal Government will meet 50 per cent of the cost of those new so-called foundational services. Is that right? So that there's an incentive for the state governments there as well.

SHORTEN: You almost need a PhD in jargon to understand some of the system, and that's what a lot of people tell me. Essentially, there's about 4.5 million Aussies who report as having a disability. The NDIS was set up to look after the people with the most significant and permanent disabilities, that's about 600,000 people. But there's about another 3.9 million Aussies who have a disability. And the aim of the NDIS wasn't to be the end of the story, the end of the journey, about making Australia more inclusive. Disability can happen to any of us. Birth, the blink of an eye on a country road, sporting or a swimming incident, or just your DNA lottery. The aim is therefore not to allow that to stop people participating and having fulfilling lives. So NDIS, tick, that looks after the most severely and profoundly disabled people. And we've sorted out some of the funding there, although today we want to make it run better and get rid of some of the shonks, make it a more human experience. But the breakthrough of yesterday and in today’s report – we’ve just released a big report we spent a year in the making – is to say that we need to make sure that there are some services for people who are not so disabled that they would be eligible for the NDIS, but still need some help. It could be a psychosocial condition. It could be just providing early intervention for precious kids who are having a non-standard journey as they develop. So that's the aim, and congratulations to the states and the Government, Federally; 50-50. And together over the next two or three years, it won't happen overnight, we're going to work out what that looks like, what the states are doing, where the gaps are, and how we can do this together to create an inclusive Australia.

TINGLE: So how will you ensure that the states actually do start to deliver those services and that they are relatively uniform around the country?

SHORTEN: Well, you're right, that is a key issue. This is not your first rodeo in politics, Laura. So, you know, the states will say we want to make sure the Federal Government do what they say, and we'll say we want to make sure the states do. It starts with goodwill. And the breakthrough at the National Cabinet, a meeting of the Premiers and the Prime Minister, cannot be underestimated. Yesterday, for a moment in time, Federation worked, politics actually worked in this country. So I think there's goodwill. The other thing is the disability community keep us honest. The disability community are up for reforming the NDIS and stopping some of the excessive growth in the scheme, but they want to be convinced that they're not going to be pushed off a cliff and that there's going to be support services to help people with disabilities which wouldn't qualify them for the NDIS, but still need help. They're going to make sure there's a real deal. So goodwill, I think the disability community is pretty important to that. And the other thing is we have no choice. The other little point I should make at the end is what's so great about the states increasing their contribution to the NDIS is that they have more skin in the game to make sure the NDIS doesn't get out of control. So they have now further incentive to work with the Commonwealth to make sure their services outside the system so the NDIS doesn't be the only lifeboat in the ocean which everyone swims to.

TINGLE: So one of the big changes is this foundational services idea that the NDIS will go back to eventually serving people with major physical impairments, while the really big growth area of children with mild autism or developmental issues will be supported in places generally organised by the states like child health, day-care settings and in schools. I know you can't set out now a complete path to how and when that will happen, but can you give people, perhaps particularly anxious parents, an idea what that might look like? Would it be, for example specialist teachers or support workers in schools? I mean, what role will the school system play in this?

SHORTEN: Big issues there. And the first thing to say is everything we do has to be done with people with disability. Like the whole reason we're doing any of this is to make sure that your disability doesn't define who you are and that you get a chance in life. So what we're thinking about doing with kids, and the first thing I should also say is there might be families watching tonight who say: but my child's got a package on the NDIS, will it be okay? I want to say to every one of those parents and to people on the scheme: if you need to be on the scheme, you're going to be on the scheme, okay? This isn't about massive, you know, chopping off. It's about making sure that people are getting the right interventions. We've learnt a lot in the last ten years about early intervention. We've learnt that the earlier we can diagnose a child's development, the more we can give them the support they need. There's great work being done by our universities, the Telethon Institute in Western Australia, but not just them - right around Australia. We've learned that if we – and this goes to the specific examples, what would a foundational support, what would a support outside the scheme, the NDIS, look like? Wouldn't it be good if we had universal screening for developmental delay at an early age? Wouldn't it be good if, just like we have a marvellous maternal and child health network around Australia, you know, when parents have a baby you know, mum and bub, or dad and bub, to be correct, can go and see a maternal child health nurse? They can tell you what to do. What we would like to do is create a similar proposition - we call them navigators, with apologies to William Shakespeare and our use of jargon. But what we want to do is have someone that you can go to. We do the screening, then we go and get advice. That's what we need. And one of the challenges with the NDIS is that we've become very good at providing hours of individual support, but we've almost forgotten the family in that. It takes a family to raise a child. It takes a family to thrive, to help a child. So our foundational supports could be universal screening. It could be the equivalent, a navigator equivalent of a maternal child health nurse. Could also be making sure that our existing childcare programs and inclusion supports are working. The schools are doing a lot. There's a lot of good stuff happening in schools. And we get the school system is under pressure, but we also, over time, need to work out are their interventions we could do where there might be a resource at the school. Where kids don't need hour upon hour of therapy. But wouldn't it be good if you could have more occupational therapists and speech pathologists and psychologists in the school system? But all this detail has to be worked out. Today, what we've said is a direction, not an outcome.

TINGLE: Sure. Well, just finally, because we're out of time.

SHORTEN: [Talks over] Sure, sorry.

TINGLE: As a general thing, do you envisage just as a transition that you'd be seeing people sort of going- new people coming through who need assistance, going to those foundational supports rather than, as you say, people who are already in the NDIS being chopped off, chopped out holus-bolus?

SHORTEN: To be very clear, if your child needs to be on the NDIS, then they'll be on the NDIS. It's not about that. It's about making sure that we can assist with a child's actual needs. We're budgeting, even with all of these reforms, that the scheme in about three years’ time will grow at 8 per cent per year; 8 per cent per year. The number of people on the scheme is going to go up. What we want to do is make it a more humane, less bureaucratic. And we also want to make sure some of the shonky service providers, we clamp down on them. And we're getting real outcomes for the people who matter; Aussies with disabilities.

TINGLE: Thanks for your time tonight.

SHORTEN: Thank you.