Minister Shorten interview on 2GB Mornings with Ray Hadley


RAY HADLEY, HOST: How have you gone with getting the rorters, Bill?

MINISTER FOR THE NDIS & GOVERNMENT SERVICES, BILL SHORTEN: Well we're underway. We've doubled the number of investigations. Criminal investigations. The amount of money which has been paid, which we're now investigating for fraud, has increased fourfold. So over the last year, we've investigated $1 billion worth of payments. There's several people yesterday, uh, have been charged, arrested. There's been prosecutions. But that's one aspect playing, if you like, whack a mole, where through increased resources, better use of, uh, data and detection, we're cracking down on some of the scoundrels. But what we also need to do is have the overdue conversation about the actual design of the scheme. And the scheme is designed in a way where there's about 15% of the service providers - that's people who provide services to people on the NDIS - are what we call registered, but 85% are not. And the problem with this is that we don't have the same line of sight. There's a lack of accountability. Many of these unregistered service providers are brilliant folk. Okay. You don't want to tar everyone on the same brush, but I just can't see how any longer we can sustain an argument which says that you can have two different currencies in the one system, and I mean, you wouldn't allow that in business, you wouldn't allow it. Some people have to pay workers comp and others don't.

HADLEY: Just don't understand because I read the story this morning when I was preparing to talk to you about the fact that we have - and did you say 85%?

SHORTEN: Of service providers are unregistered? A lot of the bigger ones, not by dollars. A lot of the 15% are the bigger providers, but there's literally tens of thousands of businesses supplying NDIS services, which they submit invoices to the NDIA to be paid. And we don't have the same accountability and line of sight. Well, it's not a sustainable proposition.

HADLEY: Isn’t that a recipe for disaster? I mean, and we're not suggesting these unregistered people would break the law, but by crikey, it means we don't have a check and balance to make sure that they aren't rorting the system.

SHORTEN: That's right. So we commissioned a review when I got in. We got some of the best experts in Australia, including leading people with disabilities, because it's not about doing things to people, it's about with them. And they've come back and we released this report yesterday and they've said that what you need to move to is a graduated system of registration. I mean, if you’re Jim's Mowers and you go in, got a contract to cut the lawn of someone who's profoundly disabled, you don't have to be registered in the same way as if you're administering around the clock clinical care to someone in a house. But everyone needs to be - we need to have a line of sight on everyone.

HADLEY: Well, I'm glad you mentioned Jim's Mowers. And this is not about Jim’s Mowers, because it's one that I use anecdotally, and I think I've told you about it before. I get a note from someone on the Central Coast of New South Wales. There are two able-bodied sons involved, dad’s on the NDIS, and there's a bloke - a lawn mowing bloke. Comes around and they're fantastic people. They, you know, do their job and mow the lawns and all that. So they've been mowing the lawn for these two houses next door to each other. So they're still mowing the lawn and copping 100 bucks for the one next door. But the old mate on the NDIS, with the two able-bodied sons sitting on the veranda watching the bloke mow the lawn, he's getting 200 or 250 because it's on the NDIS. You know -

SHORTEN: Well, there’s some good news -

HADLEY: Yeah. Go on. Keep going.

SHORTEN: It is ridiculous. Like misery, misery loves company. So I'll give you another story back which really frustrated me. Someone sent me a picture of what's called a protein meal shake. Sounds like - that in itself sounds interesting, but, um, then the words appear in front of it, an NDIS protein meal shake and an “I love NDIS” sticker. There's not two types of protein meal shakes. I mean, I don't take any to be honest, but there's no magical difference except the label. And that's what you're really saying. So I'm going to have some good news next week. Um, I've asked the ACCC, which is the competition regulator and I've gone to my own National Disability Insurance Agency and we've overhauled the leadership there. There's some good people there now, including Kurt Fearnley. Um, and what I've asked them to do is we've got to make it illegal that you can charge two prices for the same service when the higher price is the NDIS price. If it's the same service, pay the same price. And this wedding tax notion, and maybe it's been around as long as the Rum Corps, that somehow if there's government money, everyone's entitled to have a lick of it. That is not right, because you're actually taking money from taxpayers and from people with disabilities. They can't simply just replace the money you overcharge them on.

HADLEY: Yeah. You see, one of the things - and this is not germane to your government - I had these discussions with Scott Morrison and various ministers, and it doesn't matter if it's at the NDIS or what it is, as soon as you put some money on the table. And we saw this, of course, with, um, you know, the pink batts and the building education revolution, where outdoor covered learning areas that were normally built with money attracted by the P&C or the P&F, cost 250 grand. The minute the government paid for it, they're worth $1.5 or $2 million. You know.

SHORTEN: It is - it's a great Australian tradition, but it's not one which I support, and but we're not helpless. I'm working towards creating a bespoke law which will make this illegal. I mean, it's not enough to say it's a problem. We've got to find ways to stamp it out. And I know I can in this area.

HADLEY: Okay. What do you do with these, um, children with mild autism and others with, you know, special needs or developmental concerns? Um, and the states are now involved. I noticed that after discussion with the states that they're going to carry a bit more of the, the baggage, so to speak. And so look, you don't want to be a narc and say we're not going to help people because there but for the grace of God go, you, me and everyone else. If you've got a child with special needs, crikey, you need some help because you're a special person looking after that child. But there's got to be some sort of line drawn, surely?

SHORTEN: Well, that's what we're doing. And it hasn't been drawn for 9 years. Um, again, we're very much I say this to parents who've got kids on the Scheme. If your child's non-verbal 4 or 5, 6, you're desperately trying to work out what to do. If your child needs to be on the NDIS and needs the intense supports of the NDIS, you’ll still keep getting it. But what hasn't existed in the past is, um, less intensive, less expensive options for kids whose needs aren't as great. I don't blame parents trying to get on the NDIS, because if that's the only lifeboat in the ocean, you swim to it. So what we're really doing is we're going to build some other boats for people to go to. It's just about the child's needs. If the child really needs to be on the Scheme, I'll fight tooth and nail to have them on the Scheme. But if a child needs milder support, well then we've got to give some options between 0 and 100.

HADLEY: Sure. I mean, at the end of the day, just if I can go back because I'm still reeling from this 85%, um, you know, who are in the system unregistered. I mean, do you think that if you if you reduce the number of unregistered, you'll reduce the number of rorts? Because once they're registered, it's a bit hard to rort, I would think.

SHORTEN: Well, no, not every registered provider fulfils the standard -

HADLEY: Oh really?

SHORTEN: So you’ve constantly got to be vigilant. But yes. Someone famous once said that you can't change what you don't measure. And how on earth, if we don't measure what's going on in the unregistered sector, how can we ever get better quality for people with disability? There are some – I get why it sort of happened in the past, so I'm not being too partisan. You know, they needed to bulk it up and get people supplying services. Well, that is happening. And in some parts of Australia you can't get any services. So I understand that. I also understand some people complaining how long it takes to get registered, and that they think that some of the registration issues are bureaucratic red tape BS. So that's on us to fix that too. But you can't get taxpayer money providing support to people with, you know, high needs and not be accountable.

HADLEY: You've had some important portfolios in various governments. Would this be your most challenging? Because it just seems harder than Chinese arithmetic to sort it all out.

SHORTEN: It's probably the most important thing I'm going to do. Um, because at the end of the day, we're actually leading the world. Before the NDIS the only way you could get looked after is through charity fundraising for the wheelchair or a place to live. Or today had to be worse than yesterday, and tomorrow had to be a complete crisis to get something. So as a nation, we should be a bit proud of ourselves. Disability can happen at birth. It can happen in the blink of an eye on a country road, playing football, in the surf, or it can just happen through your particular DNA lottery. So as you said, could be any of us. But what we now need is we've had this scheme for 19 years. It is growing, the costs are growing too much. We need to straighten that up. And I think we can. And people with disability, they're good people. They're just - you shouldn't be judged by your disability and all this is just another version of the fair go. But we've just got to make sure that it's reasonable. And we're not being had taken a lend of.

HADLEY: Well, I'll say this with sincerity. It's nice to talk to a minister who's across his brief, because every time I talk to you, you're across your brief. I wish you and your family a merry Christmas and a prosperous 2024 and we'll talk next year.

SHORTEN: Likewise to you, your family and your listeners.

HADLEY: Thanks, Bill. All the best.