Minister Shorten interview on ABC Insiders with David Speers


DAVID SPEERS, HOST: Bill Shorten, welcome to the programme.


SPEERS: So, let's go straight to the heart of some of those concerns. Can you give a guarantee that no one will be moved off the NDIS until at least those support services, those alternative support services, are in place?

SHORTEN: We will make sure that the package as a whole is implemented, we've got to go through and look at each recommendation. Right now, you could have your funding changed, so no one can say to anyone right now that nothing will ever change in their package, but as a result of these changes, we just want to make sure that every child who needs support in Australia is getting it. That's not happening now, at the moment, there's two options, there's sort of, you're either in the NDIS or there's not a lot outside it and the whole aim of this scheme, the way we make the NDIS here to stay for the future, is that we just don't treat the only off ramp when a child is diagnosed with a developmental delay, the NDIS, we want to make sure that it's not one size fits all. Can I go straight to your key point about parents listening today? They fought hard to get a package. If your child needs the NDIS supports, that's what they will get, but if your child doesn't need that level of intensive intervention, now there'll be more choices.

SPEERS: And I've heard you make that comment, I guess a lot of families would argue they do need that NDIS support. So, just back to the question, to be clear, those who would, under the existing scheme, be on the NDIS, you're not going to be moved off until you've got those alternatives there?

SHORTEN: We've said that as we implement these reforms, it's got to be done concurrently with building out supports beyond the NDIS. The secret of this, and it's not really a secret, the secret of this plan is that the best way to secure the future of the NDIS and the service it offers participants is to make sure it's not the only lifeboat in the ocean.

SPEERS: So, the foundational supports this new system outside the NBIS, this is for people with developmental delays, you've said so called mild autism. What do those supports look like? Can you explain to families what they can expect?

SHORTEN: Roughly in Australia, there's about four and a half million people who would say they have a report, they have a disability, about 600,000 of those people are on the scheme, but it's a bit of a lottery for the other 3.9 million Aussies with disabilities, what support they get. What the review said is that we need to develop foundational supports that could be for people with psychosocial disabilities, that could be access to community mental health clinics for precious children as they are born and grow and start their journeys, if some of their kids are taking nonstandard journeys, it's the creation of a disability version of a maternal and child health nurse. Wouldn't it be good in this country, just as we do with vaccinations and early screening for our hearing loss and vision if we could also have universal screening for our developmental delays, and that way we can then work out what the options are, and sometimes the option doesn't have to be hour upon hour of sort of intensive therapy, it could be teaching parents how to raise kids with developmental delays.

SPEERS: Just on that, is it your plan to screen every infant, say, at six months old?

SHORTEN: I can't put the age group because I’m not, you know, a clever medical researcher, but there's been amazing breakthroughs in Australia. In this country, we've got some of the best child paediatrician researchers anywhere in the world and I certainly do have the view that eventually we want to arrive at universal screening.

SPEERS: Okay, and then when you get to the school setting, just to be clear, every primary school, every high school would have some sort of support for kids with those developmental delays?

SHORTEN: Well, I say this very clearly. The states run our school system. It was amazing, the progress we made this week, I know it's very easy to chuck rocks at the political process and I guess that's the bread and butter of shows like insiders, but there was something quite remarkable where the Prime Minister and the Premiers just stepped up. The Prime Minister and the Premiers said they'd know, they'd want to do more in care and schools, but I hastened to say the Commonwealth doesn't know everything, so we need to work with the states in their school settings and childcare and kindergarten. What we saw on Wednesday, and again, the review on Thursday, is that the nation, and it was Liberal premiers and Labor premiers, I know that in this case, Mr. Dutton and the opposition are pretty open to what we're talking about, they want to see the detail. But the nation's political leaders said, we recognise that to raise a child with a disability, it's going to take all of us, not just the NDIS.

SPEERS: Which is great, but coming back to what's going to happen in the schools, because again, families want to know this, this foundational support system, the Commonwealth is going to be covering 50% of it. Will there be foundational supports in every school or will you have to shop around for the right school?

SHORTEN: We'll have to work with the States to work out what that looks like, but you can talk to, there's plenty of teachers probably watching this show, and if not, everyone knows a teacher, where they're saying that they need more support to help with kids with developmental delays. What we saw is not the final outcome, but we saw the Premiers and the Prime Minister, both sides of the political fence say, yep, we think this is a priority and I think that's a great development.

SPEERS: Okay. It's hard to work out the cost of what this foundational support system will be while you're working out whether it's going to be in every school or not.

SHORTEN: Yeah, I can't tell you what every specific invoice will be in five years’ time, and I don't think that's realistic. But what I do know is that, and one of the people on the couch before was saying, oh, the costs of the scheme. We have said that in about three years we can get to an 8% target. So, we haven't banked savings prematurely. We're giving ourselves a bit of time to make sure the scheme is there for future generations.

SPEERS: Three years to get to 8%, but it's going to take you five years to make these changes? How does that work? 

SHORTEN: Some of them. Well, no, I think some of the changes, they don't all arrive in year five, day 365, but if you read the report as we go through it, we are making sure that certainly for the first couple of years we've got to change legislation, but we've got to work with people with disability to work out the wrinkles, see what works, what doesn't work. There is work going on, there are green shoots of supports outside the system, the other thing we're going to do, which we haven't really spoken about much, is I think quite a bit of the money in the scheme will be saved just by getting rid of the shonks and the rorts. And I think everyone has a story on one hand of how NDIS is changing lives, on the other hand, one of the minority of service providers having a lend of the system, overcharging under servicing.

SPEERS: And I want to come back to that, but just another big question a lot of people will have is assessments. Who's going to decide whether you are on the NDIS or not? At the moment, your doctor does. What's the plan now?

SHORTEN: Well, first principle we've said is it shouldn't be diagnosis alone. The aim of the scheme was to understand a person's disability and see how it affects their daily living. That second part is important, the functional outcomes of the disability. The National Disability Insurance Agency, which has been underfunded in the past, is now going to receive more resources and those decisions have already been made about resourcing them. We would get allied health professionals, people trained in disability, to do the assessment supervised by the agency.

SPEERS: So it is an independent assessment?

SHORTEN: Well, I think when the only thing in common with the previous government's proposition is the word assessment, the quality of what we're doing and the nature of it's very different. One, we would be getting people who were directly accredited with the agency to do it. Two, it wouldn't be a quick and dirty 20 minutes interview, as was budgeted by the previous government, or half an hour, and then three, what we would also do is then sit down with the person after the assessment, and the thing is, the assessment might say, hey, you probably don't need the full orchestra of the NDIS, but here's some other advice and other places to go.

SPEERS: Yeah, but this is still a big shift. If you've got complex needs and you trust your doctor who knows your situation, can you still use them?

SHORTEN: That's certainly relevant, relevant, absolutely.

SPEERS: Who makes the call? Is it still someone independently?

SHORTEN: The agency makes the call, but we will use, obviously, the evidence provided by people and they're treating people, they already know the kids. One of the changes that we were introducing is we want the person making the decision to meet the person about whom the decisions is made. In this sort of Byzantine structure that we've inherited, sometimes people were making decisions about other disabled people, never meeting them. 

SPEERS: In opposition you railed against what the coalition proposed, you said this would be assessments with a stranger. So, you're saying they won't be a stranger, they'll spend a bit of time…

SHORTEN: Well, they might even meet them. Not might, they will meet them. The other thing is, under the previous Government’s proposal, and as I want their support for the legislation, I'm not going to bag them too much, but I will say that it seemed to us on the external as half an hour, in and out, 20 minutes, bang, quick and dirty. If this assessment takes a lot longer, it takes a lot longer. The other thing that we want to do is we want to help… the scheme is in danger sometimes of becoming a two class scheme. If you're from a wealthy professional family in the middle of the big cities, you can afford the reports, but there's a lot of people out there who don't have access to the same resources. So, one of the propositions is that the agency would pay for the assessment so that there's no economic barrier to people at least investigating their rights.

SPEERS: On the providers, you want to ban the use of unregistered providers, you mentioned earlier, trying to get rid of the shonks and the rorters. Not all of them are bad eggs, though?

SHORTEN: No, many are great.

SPEERS: And the vast bulk of providers are unregistered. A lot of participants prefer to use them, they like the choice and control. Why do they need to go and how quickly will that happen?

SHORTEN: The report says it'll take about two years to create a registration system because we have to talk to everyone to begin with, but for people who are not familiar with NDIS world, in the second quarter of this year, there were 154,000 service providers getting payments for delivering NDIS services who are not registered and 16,000 who are. We don't have a line of sight, as you correctly observe we want to make sure that people on the scheme have choice of control over picking their independent support workers if they want, and we don't want that to change. But I think it is reasonable, in fact, I know it's reasonable because I see all the scandals and the rorts and at least some of them, and we want to find the rest of them. You can't have two currencies in one system. The idea that we have no line of sight to see what the invoice is for and what people are doing and how you can check people out, that's not a sustainable option. It may have worked as the scheme was being bulked up to bring people in, but I want to say to a lot of unregistered providers to try and work out what this means. One, the proposal in the report isn't one size fits all. The way, that you measure a giant not for profit charity delivering disability services compared to a sole trader, that's not what we're looking at. It'd be registration based on risk.

SPEERS: I mentioned. Just on another matter, I mentioned Anne Connolly's story earlier about what's going on at the NDIS Safeguards Commission. The Commissioner accused by her deputy of scapegoating him for her own blunder. Do you have confidence in the commission?

SHORTEN: We think the commission needs to step up, that's not a comment on the Commissioner. The Safeguards Commission was set up in 2017 by, I think, Mr. Turnbull and a bit of a reaction to us calling for the Disability Royal Commission, but it didn't get a lot of support so we've doubled their funding and put in extra people. Clearly this particular case I can't comment on, but I'm the first Minister out of the ten NDIS Ministers or nine that have been, to issue a specific direction to the commission about moving from a sort of educative role to an active compliance role.

SPEERS: Just a final one on another matter too, Bill Shorten, the fallout from the High Court ruling on immigration detainees, would you have handled things any differently?

SHORTEN: No, I think when you look at it, I mean, now we're out of the sort of hot house of Parliament. The High Court out of the blue makes a decision on November the 8th, that for 20 years, I guess we're grateful to be in government, but the whole time of the Liberals this law didn't get challenged. We get in, it's challenged and it's found not to be substantiated. High Court makes a decision on November the 8th. Clare O'Neil and Andrew Giles within one month have created preventative detention laws, got community supervision orders, we've got the ability to have electronic tags and we've also changed the visa conditions. I mean, the High Court didn't even give its reasons for the decision. That had to sort of hurry up, I guess the High Court's got its job to do, but it just sort of tossed this giant problem demolishing the system and within one month the Albanese Government’s resolved it.

SPEERS: It sounds like you're critical of the High Court there.

SHORTEN: They've got their job to do, but then we live in the real world and we've got to actually work out what to do and I think my colleagues really, when you think about it, considering all the...

SPEERS: Are you saying they should have had their reasons ready to go when they announced the decision?

SHORTEN: The universe does, I'm not High Court judge. The universe doesn't grant you know, reruns of a month ago, but it would have helped, I suspect, but anyway, that's them. That's their prerogative.

SPEERS: Bill Shorten a very Merry Christmas, hope you get a good break. Thanks for joining us this morning.

SHORTEN: Same to you and your panel participants, thank you. 

SPEERS: All right, thank you very much.