Minister Shorten interview on the Today Show with Sylvia Jeffreys


SUBJECTS: NDIS Price Gouging; Chinese Trade

SYLVIA JEFFREYS, HOST: The Federal Government has slammed the door shut on dodgy providers ripping off the National Disability Insurance Scheme by inflating prices. Those found guilty of manipulating the system could face huge fines and in some cases, criminal penalties. Let's bring in NDIS Minister Bill Shorten from Melbourne with more. Bill, good morning to you, how prolific is fraud and price gouging in the NDIS?

MINISTER FOR THE NDIS AND GOVERNMENT SERVICES, BILL SHORTEN: It's far too common, unethical conduct where some service providers inflate prices to rip off people with disabilities on the NDIS. It's almost like a wedding tax, you know, when a young couple go along, they never want to tell the caterers that they're getting married because all of a sudden the price goes up. Well, this is what's happening on steroids in the NDIS, I mean, don't get me wrong, there's a lot of great service providers, but some service providers think that once someone's on the NDIS, they have a god given right to bump up the cost of equipment or cancellation fees for services, or indeed, just the price of services.

JEFFREYS: It's like a wedding tax, but in this case, they're taking advantage of the most vulnerable in the community, which is as low as it gets. What will these new laws allow you to do to crack down on that behavior?

SHORTEN: Well, several things. First of all, and it shouldn't have taken as long as it has, but there you go, I've now got the ACCC, who are the competition watchdog, now working with the people responsible for running the NDIS, the NDIA agency and the Safeguards Commission, so, they're going to compare information. What it's going to do is allow the ability to make service providers keep their pricing data. So, in other words, at the moment, it costs about half a million dollars to prove in the federal court if someone's been ripping someone off. We're going to reverse the onus and make sure the data is there so that if you've been caught selling a wheelchair to someone on the scheme for $25,000, but yet, for people not on the scheme, they might sell it for $18,000, we can just get the data straight away and you've got to keep that data. The other thing, which is a big problem, is, even with cancellation of our services, you might go to a physio normally, Sylvia, and there might be a 25% cancellation fee or, if you give them enough notice, zero. Because of what happens with the NDIS is people think that people with disabilities have got these gold plated lifestyles, which they really don't, if you have to cancel an appointment and you're on the NDIS, they'll charge you 90% of the actual session. So, civil penalties, potentially criminal penalties, but we just want to let the balloon out. We want to let the balloon down gently, this idea that you can overcharge people with disabilities just stops.

JEFFREYS: Well, the balloon has been blowing out at a rapid rate, so something had to be done, didn't it? It’s going to cost $6.7 million on top of everything, though, over four years to crack down on these rorters. How much money will it claw back?

SHORTEN: It's hard to measure how much it'll get back, but I'd bet you a lotto ticket that for what we're investing to stop the practice, there's a lot more money being wasted. Every day I get emails and complaints about people who are being taken for a ride by some service providers. We're also creating a special email and hotline address. If you think that this is happening to you, we want to know. Basically, we want to give the power to consumers, say there's 630,000 people on the scheme, I want them and their families to know that the bad old days of being treated like a human ATM, because you have an NDIS package, they're coming to an end, and that companies and services have got to charge the same price to people on the scheme as they would if they weren't on the NDIS. I think that's just fair.

JEFFREYS: Well, let's hope that message is heard loud and clear this morning. In other federal politics news this morning, Trade Minister Don Farrell has predicted that China's restrictions on Australian wine and lobster will finally be removed in the new year. What could that mean for our local producers?

SHORTEN: Well, it's been one of the priorities for Minister Farrell since the election halfway through last year, to try and get the Chinese off our trade. I think it's been a pretty good success story so far and I think it can only get better. Just means that our winemakers, our food providers, can get access to Chinese markets, and that means that if they're making more money in Australia, they can create more jobs, more money to spend in the economy, so, it's an all-round win for Australia.

JEFFREYS: It'll be very welcome news, wouldn't it? Bill Shorten, we appreciate your time this morning, thanks for joining us.