Minister Shorten interview on A Current Affair with Ally Langdon



ALLY LANGDON, A CURRENT AFFAIR HOST: The NDIS is meant to help people with disabilities. Yet providers like Denise Clissold's business owe the system millions of dollars while her clients are left on the street. Joining me is NDIS Minister Bill Shorten. Minister, we appreciate your time. Concerns were raised about this woman with the NDIS commission months ago. She hasn't been banned. Now, clearly she should lose her job. And some might say the same about you.

BILL SHORTEN, MINISTER FOR THE NDIS, AND GOVERNMENT SERVICES: I don't know where you get to that conclusion. The second part, Ali, but I guess it's your job to say that. It's my job to make sure that these crooks and scallywags are not part of the NDIS. The reality is that interview you showed makes my blood boil. These people are being investigated. I'd love to tell you that I could click my fingers and ban all the bad people tonight. That would be the best outcome. But we've got to go through due process. At the same time that you contacted us about this shocking set of examples, I immediately contacted our regulators and I said, what are we doing about this? And they said they were already investigating her. There are investigations underway. This conduct, I mean, we've got to prove it. I think you've done a pretty good job there. So, that's very good. Thank you very much.

LANGDON: But you've also, then what you're saying is that she can take on vulnerable clients until you finish this investigation, which could take months. I mean, who knows how long. Aren't we protecting the wrong person here?

SHORTEN: No, I'm not protecting them.

LANGDON: But she, she's not, she's not banned. She's not even suspended. Minister.

SHORTEN: Yeah, no, you said that before and I got that. And I was saying to you that I've gone to our investigators and said it seems like a pretty open and shut case. And they've said, Minister, we've got to go through the processes. But the fact of the matter is that I, what we saw with this person, I don't think is an isolated example. When I became the Minister two years ago, I was shocked by the fact that there was very little attention paid to fraud detection, catching crooks, getting rid of them. And in the last two years, we've doubled the number of investigators we've put in, there were no systems to catch people. There was no way to check if claims were being inflated, duplicated or indeed ghosted. And we've also, the law that we. The tools that we had upon me becoming Minister are not adequate to adequately police the scheme. So, we're putting through changes in parliament as we talk to improve the detection and prevention of fraud.

LANGDON: So, do you think the NDIS is in good shape right now?

SHORTEN: I think the truth is that for a lot of people, it's changing lives and doing a great job. I think for some people, it's not delivering that. And I think that the truth is that a majority of service providers are probably doing the right thing. But there's a minority who seem to view it as their God given right to fleece disabled people. Investors, taxpayers. And they're not. They're in it for themselves and they're not in it for the right reasons.

LANGDON: But if you can't even put a stop to a provider like the one we just explained in this story, I would suggest then that the system is failing. And when you came into the job two years ago, you did say we were clamped down on waste and fraud. But you have someone like Denise becoming a millionaire. You've got Kyle and Michelle, who became homeless. They're in a desperate situation. And there was another case we brought to your attention. Predator Thomas Hoffa. Now, he was advertising for young women to meet him at the pub, paid for by the NDIS. I don't think we're seeing any real solutions at the moment, Minister.

SHORTEN: Oh, no, Ali, all those examples are shocking and they need to be dealt with. You're quite right. But that's a big leap to say that nothing's happened in the last two years. When I became the Minister, there were just over 500 people in the safeguards commission. We've now got over 1000. When I became the Minister, there were only 41 investigations underway. There's now 222. There's 20 matters in front of the courts, another twelve sitting in the entrees of the Commonwealth director of public Prosecution. The fact of the matter is that this scheme should have had the ability for the NDIA to be the disability insurance Agency, to be able to check with the ATO that the people they're paying the money to, the service providers, are declaring income that power doesn't currently exist. The other thing I have to say, Ali, and this might go against a little bit of gotcha sort of style of journalism, just not on the story he's doing. Here. But this argument that these cases mean that the scheme is wrecked. The scheme is not wrecked. There are. It's unfortunately this great Australian tradition amongst an element of the community who think that they've got a God given right to rip off taxpayer money and rip off disabled people. But that is not the whole story. So, I'm grateful for you exposing these matters. I actually mean that because it just draws attention to the crooks. But what we also need to do is.

LANGDON: But we can't then even stop the crooks in their tracks. I mean, this is the fundamental problem.

SHORTEN: Merely because an investigation hasn't sort of convicted these people tonight on your show doesn't mean that we throw away due process. One thing I won't do is let a crook off Ali, just to get a quick soundbite here tonight. No, no-

LANGDON: But we're unwilling to make.

SHORTEN: You had your go. You wanted me to get rid of the crooks. I get up every morning and do it every morning. We chase this down. But what we've got to do is get the budget and we've got that now. We've got the people, we're hiring them, we've got to get the proper technology to investigate the claims and I've got to get the laws in place. I mean, you know, I'm glad you're interested in this issue, but, you know, you had a little dig at me before that. You've been chasing me for months to come on the show. You interviewed me 100 times on the Today show when you were there. You never raised the NDIS once. This, for me, is not just a tv night, a news story. For me, this is a 24 hours passage.

LANGDON: You want to take it down this path. I mean, offered to fly to Canberra. I told you. You tell me when we can be in front. But you know what? We're talking to each other now. And let's think about then the people at home who want answers about the NDIS and what we're hearing from people writing in. It's not fast enough. We get emails about the NDIS every single day.

SHORTEN: That's a fair point.

LANGDON: And the people are coming to us as a last resort because they don't feel the system listens to them.

SHORTEN: Do you actually make a fair point? And I did say earlier, I'm grateful for you exposing this stuff. What happened is that when I became the Minister, if you made a complaint to the safeguards commission, you are then told you're not allowed to be told what's happening with the complaint. That's clearly unacceptable. The Safeguards Commission, which is meant to regulate a lot of this, was set up in 2018 as a fig leaf to stop Labor pushing for a disability royal commission. It was an unloved child. The Safeguards Commission, it didn't get the financial support it deserved. Under successive coalition Ministers, we now put together a fraud fusion task force. I know this is absurd at one level when I say it aloud, but there are 17 agencies talking to each other for the first time in government who didn't do it before we turned up.

LANGDON: Well, can I ask you this, then, going back to that original promise of clamping down on waste and fraud, as the person responsible for the NDIS and handing out welfare support, is it appropriate that you're spending more than $620,000 on a speechwriter over.

SHORTEN: Well, first of all, you call the NDIS welfare. I don't. It's about changing people's lives.

LANGDON: No, you're on. I call them two separate things.

SHORTEN: No, no, I get that.

LANGDON: You also look after Government Services and my point to you is that it-

SHORTEN:  I understand your point. What happened? If you're referring today as some sort of cheap Liberal tactic in the parliament.

LANGDON: Do you think it's okay to spend that amount of money on a speechwriter? It's the simple question I'm asking.

SHORTEN: First of all, I think that the hiring of a speechwriter was done by Services Australia. I had no idea what the payment was. So, if you're trying to link me to that, you know, good luck. The point about it is, the person involved who's a speechwriter does a very good job. I'm not responsible for negotiating a contract.


SHORTEN: But in terms of the NDIS, which is what you got me on here for, I just want to talk to your viewers and say this. I hate the crooks. I helped set up the Scheme. These people have no place in it. I am actually really grateful that you're exposing some of these behaviours, but I've also got to follow the law. We've got to invest in the systems, we've got to make sure we can detect these criminals and we are the rate of prosecution.

LANGDON: I really hope, Minister, only because we've run out of time, but I really do hope you get on top of it, because, as you and I both know, there are too many vulnerable people relying on you and on the NDIS. So, we appreciate your time. Thank you.

SHORTEN: Well said and thanks for your interest.