Minister Shorten doorstop interview at Parliament House


SUBJECTS: NDIS Provider Taskforce, housing accessibility; Barnaby Joyce

SHORTEN: Good morning. Today we've announced that as part of our ongoing commitment to making sure that the NDIS is here to stay and is true to purpose, which is helping change the lives of hundreds of thousands of our most disabled Australians, we will be setting up a taskforce of some of the best and brightest minds in Australian disability and health and safety to review and discuss a new model of registering NDIS service providers. When the NDIS started 11 years ago there was a model of registration or regulation for service providers established then, but unfortunately 11, 10, 11 years on, it's simply not fit for purpose. As our historic 10 year review of the NDIS revealed, it hasn't kept pace with the developments in the sector. Uh, last year there were about 16,000 registered service providers, but another 154,000 businesses and individuals who are not registered and who the Scheme does not have a clear line of sight on, also submitted invoices to be paid. We just want to make sure that the system is the best it can be for people with disability. The NDIS Review, late last year, recommended a risk proportionate model of regulation of the NDIS, and we are now looking at how we can best implement that. So today I'm pleased to announce that Natalie Wade, one of Australia's foremost disability human rights lawyers, is going to chair a taskforce including Allan Fels, the former chair of the ACCC.

SHORTEN: Vickie O'Halloran, former administrator of the Northern Territory, basically equivalent of being governor in other states, and Mr Michael Borowick, former assistant secretary of the ACTU. I've tasked them that, by June, they come back and work out how can we have the best sort of registration regulation in the world, and then it will only just be good enough for people on the NDIS. This taskforce will consult publicly. It will talk and collaborate with people with disability. One of the things I've said to the stakeholder review committee, is that we want to make sure that we prioritise choice and control for participants. We still want to see participants be able to directly employ, if they so wish to do so. Quite simply, in the last 10 years, there's been two systems in the NDIS, one for registered providers and then unregistered providers. What we want to do is bring together our system so that we can ensure the safety, well-being and quality of services for people on the NDIS. Australians on the NDIS deserve nothing less than the best and that's what we're going to give them. Happy to take any questions that people might have.

JOURNALIST: Um, Minister, you received a big raft of recommendations on NDIS at the end of last year. Uh, I guess, where is progress on responding to those? And when would you expect the Government to make a full?

SHORTEN: You're quite right. There were 26 recommendations from the Review. This one about registration was recommendation 17. We need to do homework now we've got the Review. The registration issue has been one of the more hot button issues where people saying, we don't want to be drowned in red tape, or we do want to see more accountable and better quality services which are safe. So rather than wait for the response on all of the recommendations, time to get to work on a range of them. This is one which I want to allay the anxieties within parts of the disability community. What we want to do is make sure that the NDIS delivers quality services for people, that people are safe. We have seen, unfortunately, some unregistered service providers behave in a very unethical manner. Uh, this is not to say that I think the current system of registration works. The Review clearly says it doesn't. So I think what we want to do, and what I know we want to do, is to ask ourselves, what's the best system? And let's sort it out.

JOURNALIST: When do you plan on responding to the rest of the recommendations? What's your timeline for that?

SHORTEN: Oh, hopefully the middle of the year or so. Uh, of course, there's a range of people to consult with and talk about. We'll certainly be looking at, uh, some of the measures which are clear that we should just get on with and do, um, we're not just sitting on our hands and waiting for, um, the clock just to tick over. We want to get on and make sure that the NDIS, uh, is here to stay, that it's sustainable and delivering the best in the best interests of people with disability.

JOURNALIST: Have you got a sense of when the shift to real time payments and move away from plan managers will occur?

SHORTEN: Well, listen, that can't happen overnight. Uh, the issue about making sure that we have awareness of how people are going with their plans is important, but the Review gave us up to five years to some of the recommendations to be implemented. I imagine, but don't hold me to it exactly. That the shift to real time payments, that's a two year plus process. And I also say on the registration and regulation issue, let's find out what is the best system that we should have. It's not registered versus unregistered. It's what's in the best interests of people with disability in the Scheme. And this will take, um, a lot longer than June. But we've got to roll up our sleeves and start the work now.

JOURNALIST: Minister, what's the Federal Government's response to the Greens? We're using their power in the Senate to push the changes to negative gearing.

SHORTEN: First of all, are there any other questions on the NDIS? And I certainly come to that.

JOURNALIST: Um, I guess on the foundational supports recommendations from late last year, have there been any more conversations with state governments or state education systems about how that might play out, and what have they been telling you in response to the review?

SHORTEN: Well, the discussions certainly have started since the historic National Cabinet at the end of December and the release of the Review. Uh, I was fortunate to chair a meeting of the Disability Reform Council ministers last Friday here in Canberra, which was also attended by Minister for Social Services Amanda Rishworth. She'll have the lead for helping work with the states to develop, uh, foundational services outside the Scheme. The Government's already announced an investment of $11 million in terms of starting the design work, and some tens of millions of other dollars working with the states and with disability service providers and most importantly, people with disabilities. So the work has started on foundational supports. And just I'm very careful of using jargon with the NDIS. What foundational supports means is supports for Australians with a disability whose disability is not so acute that it needs the full NDIS support, but there needs to be something out there so that the NDIS is not the only lifeboat in the ocean.

JOURNALIST: Just further on that. Um, I know there was some hope last year that the renegotiation of the school funding agreements might be able to be used to place some pressure on the states to step up in this kind of space. Um, what does it mean then, that WA has signed a school funding agreement? Is that sort of end hope for negotiations on this front, or does it make it trickier for you have less leverage?

SHORTEN: I think all levels of government are committed to making sure their education systems are inclusive. Um, children with disabilities shouldn't, uh, be at the back of the queue when it comes to education and support. Parents of kids with disabilities shouldn't be made to feel isolated or bullies when they demand for a fair go for their kids. I know that the Federal Minister for Education, Jason Clare, is absolutely working with states about how to advance, uh, more inclusive systems. And I must also add that the states have been doing a lot of work on that. So no, I think the West Australian Agreement is a good thing. Uh, but I know that it's a priority for this government and indeed the state ministers, to see how we can improve inclusivity in the educational access for all Aussie kids.

JOURNALIST: Have you got a sense of how spending on the NDIS is tracking in the current financial year, relative to MYEFO?

SHORTEN: Yeah, it's um, I'd probably suspect it'll be just slightly up. We're just waiting for final numbers. Uh, what we're seeing, and I suppose it's partly because of the Review, is that maybe there are some people who feel that they've got to rush to get onto the NDIS before changes take, take place. I just want to be have a direct, uh, conversation with people with disability and their families. The NDIS is going to be here. The Review is about making sure that the dollars are getting through to the people for whom the Scheme was designed. I also think it's quite significant that the states and the Federal Government were able, at the very death knock of last year, at the very end of last year, to agree that we want to build a more inclusive Australia, which now means a renewed commitment to invest in resources and access for people with disability outside the Scheme. So we'll see how we go. I think the reforms we're proposing, we do need to tighten up this system of registration. It's not one size fits all, but there are some service providers and I must stress there are a minority of them are having a lend of the system, are overcharging or providing inadequate services. I think that one of the things we can do is buy this review into how we could implement a proper registration system is it eliminates some of the waste, some of the over servicing, it'll improve accountability. Also, I must again remind people that we have been pretty diligent about improving our effort to clamp down on fraud and abuse of the scheme. So the scheme has taken 10 years to get to where it is. Absolutely can't change it overnight. We just want to make sure it's there in the future. We're projecting in any set of circumstances, more people being on the scheme, more money being invested and I think Australians are fine with that. We just want to make sure that it's delivering what it promises. The job of the scheme is not to make some service providers multi-millionaires. It's to provide fair dinkum support for people who need it most.

JOURNALIST: You just mentioned people rushing to get on the Scheme because of the changes. What do you say to those people and other people who are thinking, oh, maybe I should get on too? Are we going to get left behind?

SHORTEN: Well you're not, that's the point. What we want to do in Australia is disability…

JOURNALIST: But obviously that message isn't coming across to people.

SHORTEN: I think most people are getting it, but it doesn't hurt to reiterate it. Disability is a fact of life. It can happen to any of us. It can happen for a baby. Uh, who's born who's developmental journey is not standard. It can happen in the blink of an eye on a in the surf or a footy, you know, a footy field. It can happen just through the genetic lottery. We've got where you develop a disability as you get older. The point about it is we've got to have an inclusive Australia which provides support. The NDIS is a flagship scheme around the world. It's generous, it supports people change lives and it's having a lot more wins than losses in the way it helps people. But it can't be the only lifeboat in the ocean and people with disability are families of members who have family members with disabilities. Advocates and service providers all acknowledge that one of the unforeseen consequences when the NDIS was created in 2013 is that it's seen, perhaps a prioritisation of that over other forms of inclusive support. And now what we're doing collaboratively, Liberal, Labor and through the States and Federals working together is the long overdue discussion that the best way we can offer a better service in the NDIS is to just offer a more inclusive Australia. So the NDIS doesn't become the only off ramp if you have a disability.

JOURNALIST: Just back to registrations quickly. Given the sheer amount of service providers that aren't registered at the moment, do you share the same concerns that disability organisations have with regards to forced registration and its impact on access in coming years?

SHORTEN: Well, I think that we've got to have this overdue conversation that if you're delivering a service, you've got to be qualified to do it. You know, you're not allowed to drive on both sides of the road. You're not allowed to drive without a driver's license. I get the legitimate anxieties. People have the ability to employ people directly. That won't change. People also want to not be forced to use a particular service provider, and they want more choice and control. I respect that too. Other people say that they don't want to have a registration system, which is designed for sort of battleship service providers. When you're actually a patrol boat, you're much smaller. We want to encourage small and family businesses to work in disability. We want people to pursue careers, but there's nothing, um, at cross purposes to also say if you have a risk based system. In other words, if you're handling some of the most complicated issues, then you've got to have a high level of clinical governance. And there's other tasks in the NDIS which frankly, don't require much more than we know who that we know who you are. And we've sort of sighted your quals and that you're really doing what you say you do. So I'm confident with people of the calibre of Natalie Wade and the other people working on the taskforce that will get this right. If we were designing the NDIS from scratch again, we wouldn't create two worlds the unregistered world and the registered world. So rather than have registered versus unregistered, let's just work. What's in the best interest of the people? What's in the best interests of people on the NDIS? What's in the best interests of taxpayers who want to see resources being used appropriately and not exploited by some opportunists and rent seekers? Simply trying to add a second store, a second, a second floor renovation under their beach house by virtue of delivering unregistered and not particularly good NDIS services. Okay, have I exhausted your interest in that topic?

JOURNALIST: Uh, what do you say to the Greens who are using their power in the Senate to push?

SHORTEN: Sometimes the Greens have got to get their head out of the political trough and get and just, you know, have a look around and see what people need. What people actually need is a greater supply of housing. We've got a greater build to rent scheme which we're proposing and pushing forward. They should get behind that. Um, the reality is that we've got a very full tax reform agenda at the moment. Everything from Labor's tax cuts for 13.6 million Australians right through to, uh, making sure that the Petroleum Resource Rent Tax delivers for Australians through to our reforms to multinational tax loopholes. So I say to the Greens, you know, not everything is a political issue. Sometimes you've just got to get on with it. The reality is we need to have more supply in Australia of housing. The reality is that our build to rent scheme is where I think they should invest their efforts getting behind.

JOURNALIST: I wonder, should Barnaby Joyce be reprimanded?

SHORTEN: Listen, I don't think it adds anything to have Labor politicians commenting on, you know? Barnaby Joyce. Um, I have to say something which has occurred to me. Um, how is it in Australia that when any person is lying on the ground, um, that we pull out a camera rather than go to their assistance?

JOURNALIST: The Greens have said that there's a double standard regarding Barnaby Joyce's behaviour. If a female politician did the same, there wouldn't be the same. Source. Do you agree?

SHORTEN: I've never commented about, um, Senator Thorpe. or, and I'm not going to comment about Barnaby Joyce. My job here is to legislate. My job here is to make sure that Australians are able to get on with their lives, have cost of living tackled, reform the NDIS. I'm not going to turn myself into the moral majority, passing a whole lot of analysis on facts, which I've got a photo of, and I don't know much more than that.

JOURNALIST: So no double standard in your opinion?

SHORTEN: Well, no one wants double standards, but it'll be a double standard for me to start gossiping about stuff I really don't know about. I'm interested in what people do in terms of their day job. Um, again, I go back to this, and maybe we just need to think we live in the age of, um, cameras on photos. That's just a fact of life. But I never realised that when we have cameras on our phones, that that became a substitute for going to someone's aid and assistance. Thanks, everybody. Thanks.