Minister Shorten doorstop interview


MINISTER FOR THE NDIS AND GOVERNMENT SERVICES, BILL SHORTEN: Good morning, everybody. It's some really great news as we approach Christmas for hundreds of thousands of people on the NDIS. Labor is going to outlaw the wedding tax, which currently applies to people with disabilities on the NDIS. What I mean is that in Australia right now, if you say you're on the NDIS, everything from aluminium shower chairs to wheelchairs to going to the physio costs more because some service providers think that if you're on an NDIS package, they can rip you off and charge you more than if you weren't on the NDIS package. So from the middle of next week we're outlawing the wedding tax. Not only is it immoral to rip off people with disability when you're a service provider from the middle of next week, it's going to become illegal. If you are ripping people off by charging disabled people more for services which you don't charge the same amount for to other people. This is going to be against the law from the middle of next week, and we're going to keep chasing until you stop doing it.

SHORTEN: Thank you. 

JOURNALIST: Bill, what sort of criminal penalties could people face if they do this?

SHORTEN: Well, what we see at the moment is that it's unethical. It's immoral, but it's not illegal to rip people off with disabilities. People with disabilities and their families are sick and tired of being told that when you put the word NDIS in front of anything, all of a sudden it gives the green light for service providers to charge more to people. Um, there'll be fines. We're going to require also service providers to keep financial records. It's going to you know, we want to make ripping off disabled people with overcharging for services as unpopular as parking in a disabled car spot. You just shouldn't do it. It's unethical. But now we're going to give the legal back-up so that people with disabilities don't get ripped off. They don't see their money being siphoned off by greedy service providers who just see them as cheap and easy targets to rob.

JOURNALIST: How widespread is this practice?

SHORTEN: Well, I've been monitoring this now since becoming the Minister. It is shockingly widespread that if you tell a service provider that you have an NDIS package, all of a sudden the price for everything goes up. It's a bit like, the same story goes for when a young couple tells someone that they're getting a quote for their wedding. All of a sudden the price goes up. If you're a person with a disability and you tell people that you've got a NDIS package, everything for the services to your kids, to equipment you might buy, even stuff like cancellation fees. When you have an NDIS package, people say, when you have to cancel appointment, they'll charge you the full 100% to cancelled the appointment. Even if it's a week out, it's much more widespread than it should be. Most service providers are good people, but there are some service providers who see a person with a disability on the NDIS as a human ATM, and they keep trying to take money off them.

JOURNALIST: And how will it work with the task force? Will they be-- are there already sort of service providers in that, that are in the sights of the government that they'll go after, or will be relying on NDIS participants to report them? What's the process?

SHORTEN: What we're effectively going to do is for 630,000 people on the NDIS, we're basically making them each a deputy, and they're each going to know what the rules are. And every one of 630,000 people on the NDIS will all of a sudden become empowered to report the rip offs. In the past, people complain about the rip offs, but nothing happens. Now we're saying if you complain about the rip offs, we're going to stop them full stop.

JOURNALIST: And so this is coming in from next week. Is this already legislation that's passed?

SHORTEN: This is some things we can do from next week. We've been out consulting with the states, further rules to strengthen the legislation. We'll have to get bipartisan support, which I'm confident we will receive. And we've also got to keep consulting people with disability. But the long and the short is that today the Labor Government federally is saying no more wedding tax being levied on people with disability. As soon as the service provider knows they have an NDIS package. It's exciting. It's long overdue. All of a sudden, 630,000 people are going to go from being treated as human ATMs to sheriffs, making sure that the robbers can't take their money and we will be backing them up 110%.

JOURNALIST: That was everything I had to ask. Thank you. 

NICOLE LEE: So my name is Nicole Lee, and I'm the president of People with Disability Australia, and I've been on the NDIS since it was first rolled out in Victoria. So I was one of the initial participants that came out in, I think, around 2016, 2017 as the NDIS rolled out across the state. So one of the first tranche that got bought into the Scheme. So I've been on the NDIS for quite a long time now. 

JOURNALIST: And so in terms of the type of, assistance you've received through the NDIS, have you noticed a change in the prices over the years? How have you encountered providers jacking up their prices unreasonably? 

NICOLE LEE: Well, yeah, over the years, like, I honestly expected the prices to actually get better and the prices to be more competitive. This was meant to be a consumer driven market. We were meant to be able to use our funds more frugally, um, choose what services we wanted to use. And if a service was overcharging or a service wasn't actually delivering very well, then we could take that money and we could go elsewhere. Except that hasn't been how it's how it's worked out. The market has actually been driving consumers for far too long now. And for something like I have, you know, a service that comes around and mows my lawns and does my gardening. This isn't a very sophisticated service. They're just mowing the lawn. But if they know I'm an NDIS participant, I get charged more for that service than what a regular person does for coming around to mow my lawns. I'm sick of being seen as a rolling dollar sign. I'm sick of being seen as somebody's cash cow. And all disabled people are, you know, we haven't grown up with very privileged lives. We've grown up in poverty and we live in poverty. So to watch other people overcharge us and consistently do that without a care, without any conscience, you know, this really hurts. So to see these laws come in, this is a really, really big win for the disability community. We want our NDIS sustainable and we want services that work for us and with us, and we want to see our workers protected and supported and earn the money that they deserve, and not these services that are taking a middleman cut and that are taking us for a ride. 

JOURNALIST: And what impact does that have on you? And your ability to access services if the prices are increased?

NICOLE LEE: Well, it means that we've got less bang for buck with our money. So when the prices increased, you know, we don't get as much value for money out of our out of our plans. And what we want to do is maximize how we use our funds. You know, we don't want to be ripped off. We live frugally and we want to be able to do that with our NDIS packages. So if we get value for money, we will get value for money. And we can't do that if services are consistently overcharging us on a regular basis and not actually allowing us to have that value for money, and that impact is that, you know, a lot of us, our funds will run out. We have to then go and adjust our plans, and then we have to go and ask for more money. Um, and we shouldn't have to be doing that, you know, if we've got the right amount of money in our plans and people are actually giving us value for money and not overcharging us, then we shouldn't have to be going and saying, hang on, I ran out of funds. But that's because all of these services, you know, took a little bit of, you know, off the top.

JOURNALIST: What sort of support do you rely on the NDIS for? And is there anything that you've had to miss out on because prices have been too high?

NICOLE LEE: There's services that I've had come into my house that I've had to say I didn't want them to come back. I've been overcharged for things like gardening, like really, really overcharged in, you know, quite, I think criminal ways. But I rely on personal support. Plus, you know, home, sorry, personal support plus help around the home as well. So I've been very lucky in that my supports that I've been able to find are very well trusted. I use a lot of word of mouth, and I've been very well protected with a lot of the supports I've had, but that's not the same for a lot of people and a lot of people where the market is thin, where they don't have choice, and you can't just say to one service, I don't want you to come back when there's no other services available. Well, that's where people are really in very, very difficult situations. And if you push back on a service, then you end up with no service because there's nobody else available. So it creates a lot of tension and a lot of risk for people with disability around making sure they get the services they need when they need them, especially when the services are dictating to disabled people what they need and when they need it, versus us saying to them what we need and how we need it.

JOURNALIST: Thank you so much. That's great.