Minister Shorten doorstop interview at the Adelaide NDIS Town Hall


SUBJECTS: Adelaide NDIS Town Hall; NDIS Review outcomes and actions; whistleblowers in the NDIS; response to the Disability Royal Commission

BILL SHORTEN, MINISTER FOR THE NDIS AND GOVERNMENT SERVICES: Hi everyone. It's great to be back at the Adelaide Convention Centre with the South Australian Minister for Disabilities, Nat Cook. We've just had a forum of 400 people talking about the future of the NDIS, and hundreds of people online. Great conversation. Under Federal Labor, the NDIS is here to stay. We want to make sure that it's delivering for the people for whom the Scheme was designed to. We want to make sure that every dollar gets through to people with disability. Happy to take - I might ask my colleague Nat to say a few words and then happy to take any questions.

NAT COOK, SOUTH AUSTRALIAN MINISTER FOR DISABILITIES: Great, thanks, Bill. It's really so important that we make sure we get the conversations right and the language right when we're trying to activate change in a system that's just so important, like the NDIS. I am hearing lots of positive conversations in the community now about the reforms and the changes that are being suggested. Today we've seen some excellent people up on stage articulating some of the challenges that they have had in the past with the NDIS, but also some really positive words about moving forward, embracing some of the changes that are needed to make the NDIS a sustainable and accessible Scheme for people moving well into the future.

JOURNALIST: One of the report's recommendations was addressing workforce shortages. What immediate measures are going to be taken to do this?

SHORTEN: The National Disability Insurance Scheme is about ten years old. Ten years ago, no one said they worked in the NDIS. Now, nearly 400,000 people work in the National Disability Insurance Scheme. It's been marvellous for generating jobs. It's still with a whole lot of unmet need, a whole lot of people, Australians living with profound and severe disability, really, for the first time in their lives, are getting proper support. We need more workers. It's a growth industry. So, what we're looking to do is encouraging more people with disability to actually come and work in the sector. We want to encourage more family carers who turn out that they're very good at care to perhaps consider a career in disability. We also want to encourage young people at school to reimagine what it is to work in the care economy. Aged care, veterans, disability. We also want to encourage universities to make sure that when they're giving training to allied health professionals, the marvellous speech pathologists and occupational therapists and psychologists and physios, that we could give them more work experience in disability so they understand and may be able to align their study with their passions in the future. So, I think the future's really bright for a career in the care economy. It's very rewarding. There are not many jobs where you get to change someone else's life. And we also see that some use on immigration is also remains important part of helping in our care sector.

JOURNALIST: A Current Affair ran a story on convicted rapist Thomas Hoffer, and now the woman who exposed him has been sacked by her employer. Is there a culture of silence within the NDIS?

SHORTEN: I don't know about the person having their employment terminated. When I saw the show, I certainly did ask, and I have directed both the National Disability Insurance Agency and the Quality and Safeguards Commission to just check out what's happening. In my opinion, it's completely unacceptable, some of the facts which emerged in that. And if there's been someone who's been a whistleblower who talked about some of these issues. We're certainly happy to take the facts and check them out.

JOURNALIST: Do you support workers speaking out against inappropriate behaviour that they might stumble across in the NDIS?

SHORTEN: I'm generally absolutely committed to the safety of participants in the NDIS. There's now 645,000 participants in the Scheme. For me, keeping people safe isn't just a sort of theory or some words on a paper. I'm not satisfied at the moment that the system is safe enough, not just Current Affair talking about some examples, but we have a situation where 85% of service providers are unregistered. They receive literally billions of dollars of payments, but we have no line of sight on what they do or how they're doing it. Don't get me wrong, there's a lot of great service providers, the vast majority, a lot of great workers, the vast majority, and some registered service providers equally need to pull up their socks and do better. But it's unacceptable to pay billions of dollars of taxpayer money to a whole raft of unregistered providers and we have no line of sight whatsoever.

JOURNALIST: Why have Governments decided to delay their response to the Disability Royal Commission, seeing as the report was, the final report, was handed down in September and still a ways to go for the next deadline.

SHORTEN: I'm very committed to the Disability Royal Commission. I was the first political leader in Australia of a mainstream party to call for it in 2016/2017. The Morrison Government finally agreed to it at the end of 2018. It was a much bigger Royal Commission, I think, than people initially anticipated. You may be aware that it has 15 volumes, 2.5 million words. Thousands of brave people told their stories. I know that federal and state Governments have been taking it very seriously since it arrived, but it's 2.5 million words. The idea that you can just whistle up a response in a short time frame on every matter is unrealistic and would be a disservice to a Royal Commission which cost hundreds of millions of dollars and took five years to complete. So, the fact that we're talking about a response within eight months on matters is really good, but we've just had a big Town Hall meeting today of hundreds of people about the NDIS Review. Much of what I'm leading in the NDIS, with capable colleagues like Nat Cook from the States, is dealing with some of the issues of the Royal Commission. So, in fact we're already getting moving on a range of the issues that the Royal Commission raised, and we'll keep moving on the rest of them.

JOURNALIST: Since the report, the First People's Disability Network did call for a First Nations disability forum to be set up by March this year and given also the Productivity Commission report into the national agreement, do you not think that this needs to be prioritized?

SHORTEN: I think First Nations people haven't had equitable access to disability supports in Australia. I know that for my area within the Disability Royal Commission, the NDIS, we've now established a deputy CEO for First Nations peoples. And we're doing that forum discussion already, which you're talking about. But the NDIS, which is my responsibility, is only part of the bigger picture for disability. All of Australia needs to lift its game on disability inclusion in Australia. It's what the Disability Royal Commission is saying. It's what the Review is saying. The states are very committed to it. My colleague Nat may want to supplement this answer in a moment, but disability in this country didn't get a fair go in the last nine and ten years. And to some extent, it's like a big ship stuck in the Suez Canal and it takes a while to dislodge and move it forward. But that's what we're doing every day.

JOURNALIST: So, Lucy Cheetham is the -

SHORTEN: I was just going to ask -

COOK: Just going to add to that one. I think what we've seen under the NDIS, sadly, is many of the states vacating the space of disability. And we've recognised that here in South Australia and over the past few years, we've done quite an intensive piece of engagement with the disability community, specifically with the autistic and autism communities here in South Australia, where we're now establishing a range of additional supports and a workforce within schools and community to raise the bar on knowledge and understanding around inclusion. This is going to help us in terms of pathways for people with autism in our community, to engage more deeply in the system of working and earning and learning, but also around building relationships throughout our community, which will have knock on effects for all people with disabilities. So, it's not okay for states to say that they have got no responsibility with disability. And that's what we've seen in a lot of cases. So, I think what we're seeing is a shift, a shift in that narrative, a shift in the way that states are dealing with people with disability and setting their policy in place. What we did with the NDIS was, with the disability community, was build, create, and I've heard in there at our Town Hall today that creating was important and defending was important. But we've now got another journey to have with the community, and we can do that alongside a full piece of work that deals with people outside of the NDIS. At grassroots, we help build those foundational supports that will redirect people from thinking that the NDIS is the only solution for them. We'll work in partnership with those people and we're going to build a much stronger community because of it.

JOURNALIST: Mr. Shorten, just a couple more things, thank you. So, Lucy -

SHORTEN: Two more.

JOURNALIST: Lucy Chapman is the brave worker that exposed Hoffer. Are you saying you have no knowledge of her sacking?

SHORTEN: I'm saying that I'm happy to follow up the matter, but I'm not going to comment until I have more facts.

JOURNALIST: So, you will be getting in contact with her?

SHORTEN: I've said I'm going to follow it up.