Minister Shorten Interview on ABC Radio Brisbane with Steve Austin


STEVE AUSTIN, ABC RADIO BRISBANE MORNINGS HOST: If you or a loved one are on the NDIS, how are you feeling about the upcoming changes to the Scheme? This year's Federal budget has promised there would be a $14.4 billion worth of savings due to legal or legislative changes and a crackdown on the NDIS. Do you know and understand what's going to happen to your support? I'm keen to know your thoughts on this. Have you been the victim of fraud and misconduct through the Scheme, and you're glad to see these changes by the federal government? My number is 1300 222 612. You can give me a call. The legislation to crack down on NDIS misuse was put under the spotlight as part of a Senate inquiry. In a rare show of unity, State and territory leaders from across the country got together under the banner of the Council for the Australian Federation to put in a submission voicing concern about everything from uncertainty about who would be covered by the NDIS now, to concerns about lack of consultation and a scathing assessment that the new legislation does not go far enough to address fraud and misconduct within this Scheme. Bill Shorten is the federal minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme. Bill Shorten, good morning to you.


AUSTIN: What's the projected cost of the Scheme if you don't tighten up on the NDIS, Bill Shorten?

SHORTEN: We - I call the Scheme an investment, not a cost, but we hope that with the changes that we make, it will be an investment of $211 billion over the next four years, not $226 billion.

AUSTIN: What does that mean, year on year?

SHORTEN: Well, it means $42 billion this year, $46 billion the next year, heading to $50 billion the following year and north of $50 billion in the fourth year. So, I hear a lot of people saying that you can't change the Scheme because somehow, it's going to be a dreadful cut. It's not going to be a cut. We're assuming more people in the Scheme next year, the following year and the following year, but the Scheme is growing too quickly and there is money being lost to waste poor systems and indeed fraud.

AUSTIN: It has to be paid for by taxpayers.

SHORTEN: That's right.

AUSTIN: Why? What is going wrong with the Scheme, do you think, as the Minister responsible, Bill?

SHORTEN: Well, I think is that a lot is going right with the Scheme. It's changing lives. That's why I call it an investment, not a cost. There's a lot of good news, but let's face it, good news doesn't really run on the morning media, does it? But there are problems. I think there's several problems. One problem is that within the Scheme, there's inconsistent decision making, so we're trying to improve the capability of decision making in the Scheme. The second problem is that there is unethical conduct ever since I think the Rum Corps and the colony of Sydney back in the late 18th century, whenever there's been government money, some people have felt entitled to just line their own pockets and not look for the bigger purpose.

AUSTIN: Let me jump in there if I may, Minister. So, I've met people who are actually standing for State election here can you believe it, who are currently building houses here in Southeast Queensland specifically for under the NDIS Scheme, knowing they will make a healthy profit as a result. Have you looked, is that, are you aware of what's going on with the building of. In other words, these are not houses for general construction. These are specifically designed houses for people with physical disabilities. And the people building them know they will make a very healthy profit. Are you aware of this?

SHORTEN: Yep. I mean, if you have a particular project in mind, I don't know, but the general proposition is that we spend about $2 billion a year helping people with disability live in purpose-built accommodation, about $2 billion a year. I'm happy if people are making a profit. That's not, you know, that's not illegal in this country. But I think there is price gouging. I think that some people are having - and it's not that people with disabilities, but some service providers, a minority of service providers - are having a lend of the Scheme. And we do want to clamp down on unethical conduct. When I say unethical, that covers everything from directly illegal to just good old fashioned price gouging because someone thinks it's a government package so you can rip it off.

AUSTIN: Yeah. What are the biggest areas that you think need to be focused on, because you've brought in this legislation that's apparently going to find $14.4 billion worth of savings. I mean, that's a lot, a lot of money to find by way of fraud or misuse or overspending. I mean that that is really big money. So, what are the areas -

SHORTEN: Well, not all of that’s to do with fraud. You asked me earlier, what do I think is wrong with it? And you know, I live the NDIS, I love it, I helped push for it to be created. I believe in it, but I don't like to see the Scheme not being sustainable and not there for future generations. So, our proposals, which you sort of alluded to in your introduction, are simple ones. At the moment, one of the big drivers of expenses in the Scheme is that you get a plan for a year or two years, and what we've seen is a real outbreak of money in your annual plan or your bi annual plan being spent before the time’s due. And then people come and say, we need a top up. Now, sometimes the top up's necessary. You know, the electric wheelchair isn't fit for purpose, or the initial plan didn't get it quite right about what a person needs. But what we're also seeing, is some intermediaries, people who give advice to people on the NDIS saying, spend your money now, the Scheme will automatically top it up. I want to shut down that loophole that you can just, that advisers can say to people spend away and the government's just going to replace everything you spend. These are budgets set for the year or two years. And unless there's a good reason and the money should last you for the year or the two years. And that's a big issue. And that will, that is costing billions. Now you do focus. I mean, you focus on the 14 billion, and that's right. I would also say that we're still going to allocate in a forecast $211 billion. This is more money than the disability sector has seen provided, ever. One of the other big challenges we've got, though, is that the NDIS is in danger of becoming the only lifeboat in the ocean. You've got a very good Disability Minister in Queensland, Charis Mullen. She's really taken to her new portfolio with gusto and there's good consultation going on with Queenslanders. But the NDIS can't be all things disability. It can't educate kids in school, it can't set housing standards, it can't treat outpatients at hospital wards. It can't look after the prison system. So, there's a legitimate and overdue conversation, how do we get other departments and other levels of government to help contribute to support people who are disabled, but not so disabled, that they would have to be on the NDIS? And that’s been a bit of a gap.

AUSTIN: What's the State supposed to be doing for disabled people? Pre the NDIS, the States of Australia were responsible for disability support. The Federal Government took that over. The costs have blown out massively. It's putting more money into it than the defence, I read in the papers. Whether it's true or not is another matter, but it's hugely cost to the taxpayer or a benefit to people with disabilities. What's involvement is the State responsible for now, if you wouldn't mind, please, Bill Shorten.

SHORTEN: Yeah, sure. First of all, the States are doing things for people with disability. It's not that they're doing nothing. And the federal government's got obligations in some of its other departments to do things, like universities. But it is the case that the NDIS was for people who have severe and profound impairment, and individual packages of support will be provided to let them have fulfilling lives. But it wasn't for every Australian or every Queenslander with a disability. So, some of the things which I think we can have productive discussions on is when kids are before school, I don't mean before 9:00, I mean when they're two and three and four, how can we provide early intervention in a way which is right for them, rather than getting adult therapies of an hour upon an hour? That's a discussion we can have with the States together. The school system. Lots of parents report to me from around Australia that they just want some integration funding for their kids at school, and there isn't enough of that. The hospital system. Hospitals will sometimes say to people at outpatient’s wards, oh, you're on the NDIS. We don't need to see you anymore. That's not right. Then there's community mental health. Some people's psychosocial impairment can be so profound that they need the support of the NDIS. But some people need episodic supports, clinical supports which don't require an individual package every day of their life, but we need to do something. That's on all of us. I'm not blaming the States, but it's on all of us. And I think some of the debate from the States has been, oh, we just, we're worried that we're going to have this massive cost shifting exercise. When the Scheme started, it was meant to be 5050, State and federal. It's now 70% federal, 30% State. We're not trying to move tens of thousands of people off the NDIS, but this country needs to recognise that having a disability comes with its own challenges. Not everyone needs an expensive NDIS package, but they do require some supports.

AUSTIN: Bill Shorten is the Federal Minister for the NDIS. I've got to go to the news in a moment Bill Shorten, but one of the big questions on people's minds is children with autism, whether or not they will be moved off the NDIS before there's appropriate services picked up by the States, which used to have the responsibility. Can you clarify that for us?

SHORTEN: No. Oh, simple. No.

AUSTIN: So, children, okay, now children who, say have got attention -

SHORTEN: I know dead air, politicians-

AUSTIN: No, no, I love dead air, means it's a clear answer. I appreciate your straightforward answer. But a kid with ADHD, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, are they on the NDIS? Will they be removed?

SHORTEN: Traditionally they haven't been on the NDIS. The Scheme is not just about diagnosis, it's about diagnosis and the impact it has on your daily living. There are some people with ADHD who have a range of impairments who are on the Scheme, but not many. As a rule, most people with ADHD are not on the Scheme now.

AUSTIN: Right. So, if they're not on the Scheme now, they won't be on the Scheme. But people –

SHORTEN: It depends what their needs are, right.

AUSTIN: Okay. All right. I'll leave it there. Bill Shorten, thanks so much for your time this morning. And thanks for being clear.

SHORTEN: Yeah, great. I'm happy to come on in time to do some talkback because I understand change is concerning to people. This is a years and years process and it's got to be done with people with disability, not to them.

AUSTIN: Thanks for your time.

SHORTEN: Thank you. Cheers.

AUSTIN: Federal Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme, Bill Shorten.