Minister Shorten interview on ABC Radio National Breakfast with Patricia Karvelas


SUBJECTS: NDIS fraud; NDIS growth and Scheme sustainability; political polls; tax cuts; eSafety and X legal action;

PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST ABC RADIO NATIONAL BREAKFAST: Despite an agreement with the states to pick up a bigger share of the tab, the National Disability Insurance Scheme will still be one of the fastest growing expenses when the Treasurer hands down his budget next month in Canberra. Fraud has created a deep hole in the Scheme and since November, a special task force has received more than 4000 tip offs, investigated claims totalling a billion dollars. But that's just a fraction of the growing cost of the scheme. And now state premiers are pushing back on federal efforts to make them pay a greater share of the funding. Bill Shorten is the Minister for the NDIS and he joins me on the program. Bill Shorten, welcome back.


KARVELAS: Lovely to speak to you. How many of these 4000 tip offs are genuine cases of fraud on this game?

SHORTEN: Well, some are and some aren't. The task force was first set up - The story yesterday had a misprint. It said November of last year. We set it up in November of 2022. We've investigated over a billion dollars worth of payments. There has been a hundred cases gone to court. At this very moment there are 60 people before the court. So, it is a problem in the scheme. The Scheme was set up as a payment system, but there wasn't enough effort put into the back office of administering the scheme, making sure that the invoices were real and that service providers weren't shonks. So, there's a lot of work going on under the bonnet to crack down scammers and move those opportunists. In the Australian community, we see government money as an opportunity to make a quick buck.

KARVELAS: So, that's the scammers and the crackdown side of the story. Then there's the broader growth. Last week, former Productivity Commissioner boss Gary Banks, who recommended the creation of the NDIS Scheme to the Gillard Government, said he underestimated the incentives for over servicing and overestimated the economic dividends. What do you say to that?

SHORTEN: Well, Mr Banks was critiquing himself. That's up to him. I don't think that the benefits of the Scheme are underestimated. I think that the Scheme is changing hundreds of thousands of lives. But I do think that when the Scheme was established in its first few years, there was just this overarching faith that leave it to the market and fix it up. I think that there hasn't been enough, what I would call market stewardship. If you're going to give resources for disability, you've got to make sure that there are rules around how it's used and the nature of the services are provided and there just wasn't enough work done about making sure we had enough workforce, making sure that we had service providers who were actually doing what they're saying they're doing and even qualified to do what they're doing. But I don't share Mr Banks negativity about just wrapping up the scheme. I mean, the alternative to having the Scheme is to go back to what existed beforehand. And that was a disaster where you had to have a worse set of circumstances today than yesterday to move up a queue to get resources, and you even had to be in more diabolical situations tomorrow. That's not a way to allocate resources.

KARVELAS: No, absolutely not. And I think most people accept that the Scheme is important. It's about the way that the Scheme works. Obviously, that's at the centre of the debate. You're in Government at the time. Do you accept responsibility for the construction of the Scheme going off the rails?

SHORTEN: Well, the Scheme was first legislated in July of 2013. For those students of political history, by July of 2013, the Gillard Government and the 80 day Rudd Government was in a fair bit of distress. Now, I don't accept that we were in charge of the Scheme from September 2013 till the federal election in 2022. That was the Libs. The problem is that the Scheme didn't reach its sort of full size till 2017 and there hasn't been enough thought given to the qualifications of the workforce. A lot of good workers in the scheme, but making sure people know what they're doing. And there are a range of service providers. A lot of service providers are great, by the way, small businesses, startups, you name it. But there's not enough scrutiny of the invoice, there's not enough assessment of whether or not what's being paid for is delivering outcomes. I think there are inappropriate pricing incentives where people are looking to make a quick buck. We'll have to work on fixing this together, us, the coalition. We've got a series of reforms in the parliament which back up what we've been doing since the last half of 2022. It's taken ten years for the Scheme to get to where it's got, so it's not going to be fixed up overnight. But one thing the Scheme can't become is the only lifeboat in the ocean. We've got to have services for Australians with disability who don't require the NDIS, but do require some, sure.

KARVELAS: But going back to Gary Banks, the argument he made, he compared it to Hotel California, where people never leave, saying an overhaul won't make it sustainable. Do you need to be more focused on getting people who don't need to be the NDIS off it for life?

SHORTEN: Well, first of all, Mr Banks, I think it was an unfortunate intervention because, one, he was partly the design problem where he just said, leave it to the market and I'll fix it up. And that, I think in hindsight was an error. But more importantly than that, Mr Banks and other critics from the so called cheap seats who are out there bagging the Scheme now, they must understand the consequence of what they say. What is the alternative? Just give up? That is not an alternative. The other thing is it is making a positive difference in the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. It's quite an anti-reform proposition just to say it's all too hard. You know, he's a smart fellow and so we. I look forward, perhaps rather than just commenting in the pages of the paper, he could have a meeting with us if he wanted. I think our reforms are where we've got to go. One is we've got to make sure that we have clear assessment, clear eligibility. But most people with lifelong disabilities have lifelong disabilities. So, for people who are blind, for people who have down syndrome, for people who might have quadriplegic, sure.

KARVELAS: But we've seen a huge growth, for instance, of, you know, younger, younger people, kids with autism, for instance, and you've raised that before, you're going to have to deal with that fundamentally. Right? That's hard.

SHORTEN: The reason why, of course it's hard. If it was easy, the Coalition would have done it. The fact of the matter is, it is hard. But the first comment, and perhaps it's taking too long to say it, but it's as simple as this. Mr Banks shouldn't be implying that most of the people on the Scheme don't have permanent lifelong disabilities. That's not right. The reality is that in 2013 there was a lot of unmet need. We're becoming a lot more knowledgeable about autism and the need to support people with autism. Now, when it comes to kids on the scheme, there are plenty of kids on the Scheme whose disabilities are genuine and need support. What we hope to do, though, is to double down on early intervention. Most parents who have kids on the Scheme don't want to see their kids on the Scheme for life. We've got to have early intervention services that help. But the reality is that we do have a proportion of Australians with lifelong permanent disabilities. And just ripping off a simple statement, letting off a can of, you know, proverbial, it's the simple solution. Kick people off. That's not what we're going to do. But I do think that if we build up an ecosystem of disability supports outside the NDIS, then not everyone will want to come on the NDIS because it's the only thing going.

KARVELAS: But your problem there is the States. Right. Last month, premiers came to Canberra asking you to change the NDIS reform bill you've introduced to parliament, which will push more responsibility to them. They've signed the agreement. Can they back out?

SHORTEN: Well, I think to be fair to the States, they wanted us to delay the introduction of the Bill because they felt they didn't understand fully what it was about. I mean, that's a catch 22. If we don't present the Bill, then we're accused of hiding something and if we do present the Bill, we're accused of rushing it. So, I think we went for the lesser of the two evils, which is present the Bill and now talk about it with the disability community, the States, the opposition. There's a Senate committee holding hearings on it. I think once people examine the Bill and have time to absorb it, they'll realise that it's not trying to throw hundreds of thousands of people off the scheme. It's about working with the States, it's about working with the disability community over the next year, two and three years, to co design a system which is more sustainable. Because there's no question the scheme's growing too fast and we want to make sure that we've got the levers to be able to control the growth Scheme.

KARVELAS: Just on a couple of other issues, Minister, before I let you go, a couple of polls out today, including a resolve poll published in the Nine papers, finding 55% of Australians would struggle to pay for a major expense right now because they're so stretched. And clearly the Government is facing a backlash because of that. Are you worried about where you're at in the polls?

SHORTEN: I'm concerned for Australians who are doing it tough. I'm not worried per se about the Government's electoral fortunes. For me, and I know for most members of the Government, what matters is how people are coping and it's all about cost of living. There's no doubt that Reserve bank rate increases have put a lot of pressure on people, huge pressure on people. The Government, they are independent of Government. So, what we're doing is creating the environment where hopefully the Reserve bank can have a look at its monetary policy in future meetings. I think the single biggest thing which we've done in recent times to help relieve pressure on people is get through the tax cuts which come in on the 1 July. Now, the tax cuts aren't going to rescue everyone with a high mortgage from pressure overnight, but there's no doubt that the tax cuts are going to be a significant benefit for every working Australian. So, yes, I am concerned how people are coping, but I think if you watch our cost of living measures, in particular the centrepiece, which is the tax cuts, I think that is a genuinely positive decision in the right direction.

KARVELAS: But do you accept that people will expect a lot more in the budget?

SHORTEN: I don't know if people think about the budget in the same way they think about other things, but there'll be interest in the budget. I do think, however, when you look at the size of the tax cuts which will come in the 1 July, that was the biggest thing we could do. I know that there's been a lot of discussion by the Prime Minister and people in the Government about other measures which we're doing in terms of a future made in Australia. We've got tremendous global uncertainty at the moment. The Treasurer, Jim Chalmers, was at important international meetings hearing about the things that are happening in the rest of the world. I do think that being able to make things in Australia helps build up our economic independence. So, I think that's another measure which helps try and to an extent, buffer us from some of the vagaries of international trouble. But these tax cuts are pretty significant and I think that once people start seeing some of that, that does provide real relief. The other thing, of course, that we've been doing is budget repair. And of course we've been helping have a real wages policy, which is taking some of the sting off current circumstances.

KARVELAS: Bill Shorten, the biggest story at the moment is X taking a legal challenge against takedown orders of material from the church stabbing in Sydney last week. Should there be a boycott of X?

SHORTEN: I don't know about a boycott, but it's very arrogant, isn't it? There's almost an attitude they're above the laws of a nation. I think it is entirely unexceptional of a nation to say, we want to take down some of this most violent and shocking footage. And somehow for them to say we've got freedom of speech, where we're allowed to pollute the metaphorical airwaves with horrible violent imagery like, no one gets to vote for X. They do vote for Governments. Governments are accountable. So, I think that what the eSafety Commission's done, what the Federal Government's done, is exactly right. It is about protecting citizens and I think x just think they're above the laws of nations.

KARVELAS: But Governments have been talking about being tough on X for a long time and it doesn't seem to materialise well.

SHORTEN: Clearly X is feeling the toughness of the current Government, otherwise they wouldn't be taking the legal course they're taking.

KARVELAS: Thank you so much for joining us.

SHORTEN: All right, have a lovely morning.