Minister Shorten interview on Sky AM Agenda with Laura Jayes



LAURA JAYES, HOST: Welcome back. You're watching AM Agenda. It's been one year, with more than 4000 submissions. The recommendations from a review of the National Disability Insurance Scheme have now been made public. The key recommendations include changing the eligibility rules around the NDIS and establishing more disability support services outside of the scheme itself. The Federal Government will release its full response to the review next year, but for now, Government Services and NDIS Minister Bill Shorten joins me live. Bill Shorten, good to see you. 26 recommendations. In principle, do you support them all? Will you implement them all? Why do you have to wait till next year to say if it's for certain?

BILL SHORTEN, MINISTER FOR THE NDIS AND GOVERNMENT SERVICESHORTEN: Well, can I put it this way? I absolutely support the direction of the review. And we haven't done this review to then do another review into this review to then do a third review later. So, I think this review does outline the directions, the horizon we're going in. But there is detail to flesh out. And so, what we want to do is work on the initial design of some of the ideas in it. We need to just talk to people to make sure there's no unintended consequences. But, you know, the short answer is we're committed to the direction of this review. And the key propositions in it are ones which we embrace.

JAYES: Is one of the key propositions that the National Disability Insurance Scheme needs to return to what it was intended to do, to be this crucial safety net for the profoundly and permanently disabled.

SHORTEN: Exactly Laura. This scheme is changing lives. And I just say to people on the scheme and their families and the people who work with them, that's not going to change. In fact, what we want to do is make sure that every dollar in the scheme is getting through to the people for whom the scheme was designed. But what we also recognise is if it is the only lifeboat in the ocean, then everyone will want to swim to it. But this scheme wasn't designed for every Australian with a disability. So, what we need to do is have the long overdue conversation, how do we make sure that the safety net for people with disability is broader than just for people with the most serious disabilities? And that's the conversation we're having. The Prime Minister was successful, and the Premiers embraced the idea that there was a job to be done over time together, to improve the services for people whose disabilities mightn't qualify them for the NDIS, but they still need some interventions to help get them on the road.

JAYES: Well, where do you draw the line then?

SHORTEN: Well, I think it's with the test in the legislation. It's significant and permanent disability, which impacts on your daily living. Not every disability does that. So, I think what we need to do is to work out how do we provide early intervention supports for kids with mild and developmental delays, rather than just saying it's nothing or the NDIS? I think we need to have a conversation with, how are we making sure that there's support for people who might have episodic mental illness, not so incapacitating that they need fundamental assistance daily with living, but it's got to be more than just a visit, you know, ten Medicare visits or ending up in the emergency ward at a hospital.

JAYES: Indeed. But you're still talking about a pool, a number of people, a significant number of people with profound disability or otherwise, if autism is included. You're talking about, you know, perhaps autism is treated in different body and a different pool of funding. That's not actually saving money across the board, is it?

SHORTEN: Well, it will. But just first there's two points on what you said. But one is really crucial. I say, autism is real. We've become a lot better in the last decade at understanding neurodivergence, how we can make interventions to assist and also not stigmatising it. What we want to do in this debate is move away actually, from the diagnosis to how the diagnosis affects you. And so, if your autism is of a very serious nature, super, you're on the scheme. But when you go to this second issue about if we're going to help people with milder disabilities, do we really save any money? Yes, we do, because frankly, the NDIS is an expensive solution. So, it's appropriate to be a very intensive individual package for people who are most seriously disabled. But you don't necessarily need to use that for people with milder disabilities. I'm optimistic that by - and the other thing, of course, is it's not just eligibility, which is the issue in the scheme. I think there's a lot of waste, a lot of rorting. There's people getting services which are not best practice or evidence based. I think we can do better in the housing propositions. So, I think it is possible, and this is the simple math of the exercise, that we can reduce the growth of the scheme from 16 or 17% to about 8% per year in about three years’ time. And all that money that we would save over the next ten years, to put a portion of that, I stress a portion of that, into effective supports working with the states. And I think that's realistic and common sense.

JAYES: You talk about the rorts, and in a way, they are easier to identify and crack down on. But there seems to be a grey area here which, you know, works within the rules of the NDIS, but it's certainly not in the spirit of it. We have, for example, a lot of viewers here write in, talk about them needing special chairs, for example, a shower chair. Let's just get right to the nitty gritty. That same chair, they say they could buy at Kmart for sometimes a fifth of the price, but because it's under the NDIS scheme, it needs to be approved supplier. So, then it's costing taxpayers sometimes ten times more than what that recipient would have been happy with. How do you sort that out?

SHORTEN: Well, I think there seems to be a great Australian tradition since the Rum Corps in the New South Wales colony, that if it's government money, everyone feels they're entitled to put their hand into the piggy bank. And this wedding tax phenomena you describe where an object which is not related to the NDIS is charged at one price. But as soon as you put the magic word NDIS in front of the object, it becomes much more expensive. We are going to move in the new year, and we're doing the consultation now, to outlaw that practice. I got a text the other day from –

JAYES: How do you do that?

SHORTEN: Well, by an ACCC regulation, which specifically makes it illegal and by an ACCC regulation which would require product sellers and service providers to keep their records so that if we hear of two prices happening, we can immediately reverse the onus, and the supplier has to prove to us they're not selling it at two different prices. So, look, to be honest, I'm all over this and I really want to go hard. This is what we call the wedding tax phenomenon, where, you know, you never want to tell a supplier that you're getting married or that this is for a wedding because the price goes up.

JAYES: Yeah, it's a really good and accurate term, actually. Okay. So, let's talk about just this kind of umbrella savings goal that you have to move down to 8%. What is the bulk of that work? What's the bulk of the savings? Where are they made over the next three years?

SHORTEN: Well, they'll be made through a variety of ways. I don't want to sort of do the laundry list, but we'll do some. But crackdown on unethical behaviour, and that's everything from chasing crooks out to stopping inappropriate service provision and price gouging. We want to make the operation of the National Disability Insurance Agency more efficient. One thing which sends people to distraction and beyond, it's very painful is, if you're blind or if you're a quadriplegic or if your child has down syndrome. Why annually are we asking you to tell us if your if your family member or you are still blind, quadriplegic or have down syndrome? So, we think better administration of the scheme will deliver savings. We also are reviewing how we're working - one of the most cost intensive areas, because not everyone gets the same package, it depends on their impairment - is housing. For some people who need care and housing, that's a, you know, that's an expensive proposition. But what we're seeing is not great outcomes for participants. And we're seeing quite expensive propositions that are being built. And we want to put the supported independent living process in the garage, look under the bonnet to see what is driving this cost pressure and then tackle that. We're also, as I said through these reforms, are going to look at eligibility. We want to make sure that when people are getting services funded, that they're reasonable and necessary based on evidence. I used in a speech I gave at the National Press Club yesterday, crystal therapy and dolphin therapy. Like, I'm not getting into the science of it, but that's not something we should be funding under the scheme.

JAYES: Hmm, crystal therapy. What's that?

SHORTEN: Yeah. Well, I don't know, but. Well, I do know, but - I don't want to get into an argument with the crystal therapy brigade, but I just that's not something that should be funded under the NDIS.

JAYES: And dolphin therapy. Is that swimming with dolphins?


JAYES: Okay.

SHORTEN: And that's a good thing to do. Again, I don't want to – I’m pro dolphin, but -

JAYES: Was that happening a lot under the NDIS?

SHORTEN: No, not a lot. But I used that as an example that people shouldn't be asking for that. You know, I do like dolphins, and I think they're great, but I'm, I'm not going to um, get it funded under the NDIS. That's all.

JAYES: Okay. That's fair enough. I like dolphins too. And look, just before I let you go, I want to give a shout out to a lot of viewers that we have here that are actually on the NDIS, and they've been calling out saying, I'm getting this service, I shouldn't be. I want someone that is more profoundly disabled to get it. So, is there a way for, you know, those people to give back?

SHORTEN: Well, yeah there is. Don't claim the service. Don't claim it. You don't have to spend the money. But again, I just want to say to both participants in their families and people who have nothing to do with the NDIS. This scheme is changing lives. It is an investment in people where we're pretty much - we should be proud as Australians that we're generous to those who have a disability in this scheme, but we do need to make it there for future generations. I have got no doubt that we can have a fantastic scheme, but part of the strategy will be to make sure there's some services outside the scheme, which are less intensive, for people whose needs aren't as great. And I do want to put this special shout out to parents with kids who are on the scheme. If you're worried, oh, does this mean we lose it? If your child needs to be on the scheme and needs these supports, that isn't going to change. But we do need to make sure this scheme is there for future generations. And in big part, that's by making sure that there's some more modest help for those outside the scheme. And that's where we're headed. And that'll be a good thing for the nation and for any of us who might one day need it.

JAYES: Minister Shorten, good to talk to you about this. It's super important. Thanks so much.

SHORTEN: Thank you very much for your interest. Laura. Have a nice day.

JAYES: You too.