Minister Shorten doorstop interview at Australian Parliament House in Canberra


SUBJECTS: NDIS IT reforms; NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission; NDIS Senate inquiry; China’s actions in Taiwan Strait

JOURNALIST: Denise Clissold, NDIS provider from the Central Coast community. Is she selling her house this weekend, 1.5 million. Do you think that's going to be scooped up by the ATO liquidators?

BILL SHORTEN, MINISTER FOR THE NDIS AND GOVERNMENT SERVICES: I'm sure the ATO and the liquidator will be watching that transaction very, very closely.

JOURNALIST: How long is it going to take up to clean up the rorting in the NDIS?

SHORTEN: Well, we've been underway now for a year and a half. The reality is that there's a remarkable degree of naivety by the previous administration that when you've got a large pot of Government money, they didn't invest in the back-office systems to be able to scrutinise payments. I think the next 2 to 3 years we will see significant improvement. But we're seeing improvements right now.

I'll give you four facts. One, there's now 500, north of 500, compliance investigations underway. There's 220 specific investigations which are more serious underway. There's 20 prosecutions in the courts, and there's another 12, sitting with the directors of Public Prosecutions to proceed with. When I came in, there was only 41 investigations underway. Now, several billion dollars of money are gradually being investigated for the accuracy of payments. When I came in, there was about $230 million being investigated. Before I came in, the Safeguards Commission had about 350 to 400 staff. Now there's about 1000 investigators and very skilled people working there.

JOURNALIST: John Dardo said you can't audit your way out of the rorts that are going on right now in the NDIS. Are you prepared to make it more onerous for the majority of participants who are doing the right thing to weed out the bad eggs?

SHORTEN: That's a really important point you just made in the second part of your question. I must say this time and time again, the NDIS is an investment. It's literally changing for the better the lives of hundreds of thousands of people with severe and profound disabilities and their families. However, it is true - oh, the other thing is that most service providers do a great job. But it is true that there are some service providers in particular who've seen the attraction of Government money, and they're more focused on their own wealth and gain than they are about the people in the Scheme.

John's identifying the issue or the inconsistency, that we have about 12.5% of providers are registered, about 87% are not. There's a reason why there's so many unregistered providers. Some of it's because the registration system has been clunky, but it's also been the case that some people don't want scrutiny. It's not acceptable to be able to have an unregistered provider just working without any accountability. And we need to work on a principles-based approach. We've got leading human rights lawyer Natalie Wade and a task force for the last six months actually telling us the best way we could improve that system.

So, we're doing that. John's right, but I must stress most participants do the right thing, but it's a matter of just being truthful. Some disability advocates and some people in the service provision say, don't talk about the problems because it demonises everyone. It doesn't demonize everyone. But there are some people who just want to talk about the problems. I don't include obviously, the Canberra Gallery, but there are some people who just want to talk about the problems and never the successes. The truth is, it's doing well, but it needs to have more consistency, equity, transparency, and accountability. The very reason you heard from John Dardo is because I encouraged him to come and work at the NDIA. Before me, there was no John Dardo telling these facts. The fact that we're uncovering some of the rorts is not because they've all started, you know, last week. They've been there and no one's addressed them. Now we are addressing them, but we've got to do due process. Two more questions. Thanks.

JOURNALIST: Just you touched on it there, but I mean, it's long been seen any time there's a big amounts of Government money on offer, not just here but across all kinds of services, that it becomes a honey pot for bad actors looking to make a quick buck. Were there enough protections or safeguards built into the Scheme to start with? Things like provider registrations, for instance, that haven't happened that weren't in the design of the Scheme.

SHORTEN: In 2013, the Scheme had four pilot areas of a few thousand people. It really got to fully going in about 2017. I think at a certain point in 2015, 2016, 2017, the people running the NDIS just saw themselves in a very small picture as being a payment system, pay money out, but they paid no attention to who's going to do the work? How do we build up markets to deliver services? How do we do a regional or remote communities? How do we deal with people who are First Nations? How do we make sure that in parts of Australia that people can actually access the Scheme? There was insufficient investment in the back-office security. The investigation teams were under-resourced and understaffed. The Safeguards Commission, which is meant to maintain quality and safety, was set up in 2018 partly as a response to Prime Minister Turnbull trying to defray my call for a Disability Royal Commission at the time. But it was underloved, underfunded and understaffed. We've now increasing the budget. We've now got a. Thousand people working the Safeguards Commission. We've now put an extra 2000 people into the NDIA. You know, it's ironic. The Liberals on one hand scream about fraud, even though if you search their press releases for the whole time they were in Government, you could count on fewer than the fingers on one hand the number of times they talked about compliance.

If you look at what I've been doing, we've been talking about it a lot, but we're also talking about better quality outcomes, and we're also better at listening to people with disabilities.

JOURNALIST: Is it possible to address rorting within the NDIS, the billions of dollars that's currently being wasted without making the Scheme clunkier and more difficult for participants to manage?

SHORTEN: Well, that's absolutely important. We intend to make sure that the participants retain choice and control. We want to make sure that people get supports that are reasonable and necessary. Yes, it is possible to have a Scheme which doesn't have these sort of rorts, but still delivers outcomes. In terms of registration, I don't think it's either or, either. I don't accept the proposition either it's the Wild West and there are no rules, or that you live in sort of a Stalinist East Germany, and you've got to have rules for everything. The truth of the matter is that if we listen to people with disability, if we focus on the best outcomes for the support packages we give them, we'll get there. But what we also need to do is not be naive about the underbelly of some, of a minority of providers, who are manipulating participants.

This is within the capacity of the Australian people to look after our most profoundly disabled and their families, and that's what we're doing and what we are doing - and I have to say, it's great you're interested now, but we've been talking about this for two years and we are making changes. For me, the simple sentence explains how we get to the conundrum you're talking about, what is in the best interest of people with disability? If that's the question we can always answer, we'll eliminate the rorts and will deliver better outcomes for the Scheme and the taxpayer. One last question.

JOURNALIST: John Dardo spoke about the need to make prevention a big part of the solution. So, do you intend to make the claims process more rigorous and how?

SHORTEN: Well, what we intend to do is make it scrutinised. I know that nothing should ever surprise the seasoned reporters of the gallery but wait till I tell you this fact. I reckon even you'll be surprised. Before we came in and started overhauling the payments system, you might get thousands of claims a day. Only 21 were ever checked before they were paid up, and in fact, between 5:00 and 6:30 p.m. if you put in a claim, it never got checked. So, even my jaw dropped to that. We're now checking thousands of claims, and we've got measures in place to build a better, more responsive, principles-based registration Scheme, put more people into the system.

And it's all part of a bigger picture. The reality is the NDIS is world leading and life changing. It's a relatively infant Scheme. It's only been around for ten years. Medicare is now 40 years old, and it still has challenges with rorts. But I think we're headed in the right direction. And I just say to people listening to you, listening to this, the Scheme is here to stay. Our changes are not about evicting a whole lot of people. We are having an overdue conversation with the states about how the rest of Government and community, federal and state, can build services for people with disability who don't require the NDIS but still need some support. So, it's not the only lifeboat in the ocean. We're also creating more integrity in the system. Thanks everybody. Thanks everyone.