Minister Shorten interview on ABC 24 with Greg Jennett


SUBJECTS: Labor’s NDIS reforms, new laws to protect frontline public servants

GREG JENNETT, ABC: Bill Shorten, good to have you back with us. You've just come from the House where you've introduced your NDIS Back on Track laws, and you quoted yourself from two years ago when you became Minister, you warned that the promise of the NDIS has been betrayed, not yet fatally, but still substantially. None of the changes from the Review contained in your bill can be fully implemented without cooperation of the states. Are they betraying, perhaps fatally, the NDIS?

BILL SHORTEN, MINISTER FOR THE NDIS AND GOVERNMENT SERVICES: No. First of all, I just want to say to Australians, the NDIS is here to stay. It is changing the lives of hundreds of thousands of people for the better. But the Scheme is off track. It is arguably growing too fast, at 16% annually. Also, we're not sure that people are getting the quality outcomes or the consistent outcomes. There's an equity challenge where basically if you're sort of, cashed up, middle class, live in the middle of the city it's easier to get in the Scheme than if you don't have those same advantages, and we need to - the NDIS was never meant to be the only lifeboat in the ocean. As for the states, we'll work with them. They don't want to be rushed into something that they can't measure and see. But on the other hand, people with disability deserve a viable NDIS and better supports generally.

JENNETT: I don't want to focus unduly on the states and territories, but they are a critical link in actually implementing all of this along the way. They didn't actually want you to introduce this bill today, did they? Why did you consider it worth proceeding even if that shredded goodwill in your further discussions with them?

SHORTEN: I think it's important that when we talk about the NDIS, we're transparent with the people on the Scheme. In other words, whilst I know the states see themselves as important, the states and indeed the federal government, we’re a means to an end, the end is actually a better life for a person with a profound and severe disability. We tabled the bill. We’ve had some discussions with the states, they want more detail, they want more discussion. We'll do that. But if we had - the alternative would have been to hang on to this bill till Budget, and all of a sudden, we'd have had just a couple of weeks to deal with it before winter. And then everyone - we couldn't win, either we rushed it now or we're accused of rushing it later. So, let's – process is important, but let's get to the substance of it, I say to the States. We want to have better supports for people without the Scheme so not everyone needs to be on the scheme. That's the game in town.

JENNETT: And they crave details around that. It's almost as if some of them seem to have regrets about agreeing in principle at National Cabinet, maybe we - you weren't there, and neither were we. We don't really know how big a picture the Prime Minister gave them. Did it include cost estimates that they went away with in December? Knowing what foundational supports -

SHORTEN: Well, there was a general discussion about $10 billion over ten years, of which half would ideally come from states to create a system outside, half from us. But I think that states have got other pressures. There's GST issues for some states. They've health issues in other states, health costs. The states are doing a range of services already. We're not asking the states to do any more for their citizens with disabilities than they're already statutorily required to do. But I accept that different states have wound back some of their disability services apparatus. So, we've got to work with them. At the end of the day, Aussies with disability on the scheme, Aussies generally, don't want to see the two levels of government finger pointing. But I also know that when you're talking about changes or improvements to the lives of people with disability, be transparent with people with disability. Politics as usual behind closed doors isn't going to necessarily reassure people when we say we're acting in your best interests, but we won't show you the bill? Like, you know…

JENNETT: No. Fair enough. From your point of view, though, 2026 is when you want the 8% funding growth cap to take effect. Is that set in stone? Would you budge on that if, as seems apparent, the states want to get a bit more slowly towards that mark?

SHORTEN: At the moment the Scheme is growing double digit, and that's probably going to undermine it long term. So, we need to, we want to get to a target, not a cap, but a target of 8% growth by 2026/27. I'm confident that we can get there. Like, the legislation is not the only thing we're doing. We're clamping down on price gouging. You hear the squeals from some people who are a bit outraged now, but we want to decrease the rip offs and the price charging. We want to crack down on the crims. So, we're doing a range of different things. But in terms of the 8%, I think when the states further examine the detail of what's proposed, they'll realise we're not trying to build the proverbial Rome in a day, and it's got to be co-designed and collaborated with people with disability. Look, if there's enough goodwill around the table and I'm confident there is, I think that a lot of the steam will all come out of the debate, and we can just get down to work.

JENNETT: All right. Let's move on from all the questions on the states. Tackling fraud is a priority, it has been for quite a while now. There are extra protections against illegal and unethical conduct contained in this bill. I'm not sure what sort of timeline you're estimating for passage of all of this through the Federal parliament, but will that period of legislating here hamper your ability to stamp out fraud in the meantime?

SHORTEN: No, there's things that we can do now. It was over a year ago that I convinced my colleagues to establish what we call a Fraud Fusion Task Force, extra investigators, extra powers, talking to the tax office, tracking down the rorts. We've investigated over $1 billion of payments now, we've got 100 investigations underway. That work's ongoing now. With this legislation, in an ideal world, we'd pass it by the end of June because we think that there are some improvements which can be made to the scheme, which will stop money being stupidly wasted. With a lot of the stuff to do with the States and their role in the future, we're giving ourselves a lot longer runway. There's a transition timetable proposed. We're not being arrogant. We'll talk to the States. I've been negotiating my whole life. I get that people have initial positions. They put the war paint on. I just, we'll get to an outcome but I'm very mindful the people with disability don't want to feel like chess pieces on a board. And I just I certainly am going to be mindful of this. But I also encourage the states that whenever you make a pronouncement, I'm not going to do this or you've got to do that, there are real people hearing us and saying, what does it mean for them? That's why I'm not going to inflame the rhetoric. We'll just get on with getting on.

JENNETT: All right, so your acceleration of fraud clampdowns would pick up beyond June.

SHORTEN: Yeah, and we’re doing that anyway. But we're also doing something else. We want to eliminate what we call the wedding tax phenomena in the NDIS. You know, when a couple are getting married, they go along and say, oh, we're getting married. Suddenly the quote for everything goes up - that's happening with the NDIS. Now, there are a lot of good service providers, but there are some scallywags and rogues who think that the NDIS is a bottomless ATM of government money. It's not. It's people with disability’s money. And we've now made it illegal to charge for an identical service, more because someone's on the NDIS.

JENNETT: All right. Can we just change tack Bill, in your Government Services role, you've been pretty personally invested in the case of Joanne Cassar, a frontline worker for Services Australia. She was attacked in the workplace in Melbourne in 2023, about this time, almost, last year. Mark Dreyfus has introduced laws that would increase penalties for threats or actual attacks on frontline workers up to 13 years. That's in the parliament today. Does that guarantee the safety of all frontline workers once passed?

SHORTEN: I represent nearly 30,000 frontline public servants. These are the people who do your Medicare, do your Centrelink, do your child support. There was a terrible incident at Airport West in May of last year where a really great lady, a team leader, got stabbed with a bladed instrument. It's been devastating for her and her family. She's made a recovery, hard for, terrible for her workmates and her family. And she's a beautiful lady and brave as, and very popular. And what I realize is a lot of our public servants are carrying a lot of stress. There's a lot of aggro. There's more increases in assault and violence, not from most people who use the system, but from a small group of people. I think one of the things to improve their safety is to increase the penalties. So, if you hit a cop, I mean, a cop shouldn't ever be hit, or a judge, but they've got very strong protections - in the case of the police, they're armed and trained. Our frontline staff, they don't have any of that, but they're work is as important as anyone else's. So, we're increasing the penalties. I'm not saying that's going to guarantee that no one will ever get assaulted. But what is part of my commitment to these 30,000 people and other public servants, what you do is important, and you don't have to put up with threats of abuse. And to the extent that an idiot or someone nasty is doing something wrong, they’re just aware they're going to be more consequences, because don't pick on the frontline public servant. They're just doing their job.

JENNETT: Yeah, no, a valuable instruction. I'm sure. Bill Shorten, we’ll wrap it up there. Very busy day for you. Thanks so much for finding time.

SHORTEN: Super, thank you. Bye.