Minister Shorten interview on Sunday Agenda with Andrew Clennell


SUBJECTS: Senator Payman; immigration; NDIS legislation; illegal invasion of Ukraine, UK election result

ANDREW CLENNELL, HOST: Thank you for your time this Sunday. Bill Shorten. let me start with Fatima Payman. What do you think of what she's done to Labor here? Has she damaged the government? Would you have taken, as a former leader, would you have taken similar of the Prime Minister here.

BILL SHORTEN MP, MINISTER FOR THE NDIS AND GOVERNMENT SERVICES: I think the Prime Minister's tried to handle this in the very best way possible. He didn't overreact. He hasn't underreacted. I thought the suspension was the right way to go. It was saying, you are welcome, Fatima, and let's give you a bit of time and space to work it through. Clearly, that's not where her head was at. She's walked. So, I, really, I don't think there's anything else that the Prime Minister could have done, frankly.

CLENELL: Meeting Muslim leaders who were thinking of backing candidates to run against Labor and also taking advice from Glenn Druery.

SHORTEN: Well, the Senate's littered with people who've taken advice from Glenn Druery. Sometimes they get up, ultimately they flame out. I'm not going to give Fatima Payman advice. I hoped that she wouldn't leave. I'm disappointed, but that's her call. I did in preparation for this interview, though, check out how many politicians in Australia have changed parties. The number actually is about 348 over the history of the Parliament, and 26 have done it in the last 20 years. I mean, remember the Big Bopper, Clive Palmer? He seemed to lose everyone within five minutes of signing them up. Oh, no, he's still got Ralph Babet. Sorry, but he's lost most of them. The Jacqui Lambie network. Peter Dutton's got three on his foreign legion who he's managed to recruit to the crossbench. So, you know, it's disappointing, but, in social media world, it's as if everything's new every day with 140 characters on Twitter. But people do get elected under one flag and they see, for whatever personal or whatever reason they give, that they want to change their team whilst they're in the Parliament. It's not the first time. I don't think it'll be the last.

CLENNELL: That's all true. But should she resign from the Senate altogether, given she won with Labor?

SHORTEN: Well, the problem for me is, you know, if I say she should, then I'm standing over her. If I say she shouldn’t, you know, then we're rewarding her. That's up to her. I know that, for me and most of my colleagues, we understand we're elected under the Labor flag. As charming and as charismatic as individual candidates are, people vote for parties quite often. And if I decided I'd leave the Labor Party, which I never will, I would resign my seat because I got there under Labor votes, not under, you know, Bill charm. You wouldn't underestimate Bill charm.

CLENNELL: There's been speculation in recent days of Ms Payman being subject of a High Court challenge re her citizenship and whether she's renounced the Afghan citizenship. And you're very familiar with Section 44 from your time as Opposition Leader. What do you make of that speculation?

SHORTEN: I can't add to it. I know that in 2017 and 2018, I think all the political parties thought their candidates were vetted and ticked off. Turns out some didn't pass the High Court test. But I'm not going to sort of put my oar in that water. I'm still getting expensive therapy dealing with the last constitutional advice I got back then. I'm joking about the therapy.

CLENNELL: What do you think of the way the Government has handled the Israel Palestine conflict, though? And what's your view of Benjamin Netanyahu's handling of it.

SHORTEN: Palestine-Israel has been so vexed for generations. The atrocious, horrific acts of October 7 ignited the latest upswing and terrible violence. It's exactly what, in my opinion, the Iranians and Hamas wanted. But it's terrible for Palestinian civilians. I really want the tanks out of Gaza. I want the hostages back. Israel is a functioning democracy, clearly. This world is not homogenous and sometimes our protests in Australia dumb it down to a simple slogan. Not everyone in the Middle East supports Hamas. Not everyone in Israel supports the current government. The sooner that the guns can fall silent and we can get back to talking about a two state solution, the better.

CLENNELL: Let me ask about this story at the top of the program and his misunderstanding on drones. It's a fair cock up, this, isn't it? Should he be in the job?

SHORTEN: He should be in the job. I can't add much more to what's been said on drones. No, I wouldn't characterise this as a hanging offence.

CLENNELL: All right, well, let's turn to the NDIS and the blockage by the Coalition and Greens, temporarily at least, of your legislation seeking to reform the Scheme. You say this will cost a billion dollars just to delay it to August. Where does that figure come from?

SHORTEN: The Actuary of the Scheme has said that the eight week delay in the passage of the legislation will mean that the Scheme will grow by a billion dollars more than it should have. Specifically, we've got three changes amongst others in the legislation which we want to turn the tap off. One is, under the Scheme’s legislation, you're eligible to get funding for things that are reasonable and necessary if you're eligible for the Scheme, provided another service system doesn't pay for it. But also, provided that it's within what the head of the Agency says is appropriate. The problem is we've been issuing operational guidelines. The Liberals and now under Labor … we get rolled in the courts. So, we want to be able to belt and brace what you can spend money on. And the Liberals, inexplicably, need another eight weeks after the 12 weeks we've already had to decide if we should be allowed to fund clairvoyants, tarot cards, cryptocurrency, stuff which was never intended by anyone. And so the Actuary said these delays cost. The other thing the Actuary makes clear is that if you spend your money within the life of your 12 or 24 months, there might be a good reason for it. It could be the electric wheelchair’s buggered, or it could be that the initial assessment was wrong. That's fine. But what we're finding is examples where someone might get $220,000 for two years and they spend $180,000 within the first five weeks, and we've got no means or recourse to set up risk or control or interval payments. The Liberals know this needs to be changed. The Greens, well, they know it, but, you know, you wouldn't, I'll be honest, the Greens are just off with the fairies when it comes to any sort of fiscal common sense on this. They say any change is some sort of act of evil, which it's not. Most people on the Scheme are doing the right thing. Most providers are doing the right thing. But we know we can tighten it up. And, you know this billion dollars, which the Liberals need to chin stroke for the next eight weeks and clutch their pearls over and have two days of public hearings, a billion dollars down the drain, and that's worth 60,000 kids packages for a year. Just a shocking, obscene waste of money.

CLENNELL: They say the sector doesn't like your changes, that's why they're doing it, and that they might move even tougher amendments after that inquiry. What do you say to that?

SHORTEN: Well, I'd say they've just contradicted themselves. On one hand, they say the sector doesn't like it. Well, the sector won't like their changes. You know, I don't mind Michael Sukkar, I think he's got a hard job in opposition. But, you know, when I hear he and the Liberals say that they want to do co design with the sector, with respect, the Liberals think co design is a furniture outlet at the DFO.I mean, the reality is we've done a year of consultations. I've done more public meetings on the NDIS than Peter Dutton has given angry speeches about Anthony Albanese. You know, look, we've been out and about. The fact of the matter is this is a great Scheme changing lives that we all know, you know, I know, people on the Scheme know that whilst the Scheme is doing a lot more good than harm, there's a bit of rubbish going on. There's some people having a lend of it, especially amongst some of the providers. We want to straighten it up. This nation doesn't have a billion dollars to waste in a cost of living crisis. This Scheme was for the people who are the most disabled, the people in their families. It's changing lives. It is sick making, it is oxygen stealing to delay this for two months.

CLENNELL: Is it true that if and when this legislation passes, your intention is to introduce regulations to stamp out some of the practices being paid for under NDIS, such as sex workers, provision of sex toys? You even said there tarot card readings.

SHORTEN: Yes. At the moment, the Scheme, the way the Scheme works is you get a personal budget. Great. We want to make sure that you get your personal budgets done with a good needs assessment. Then what we want to do is make sure that you've got the ability to get things that are reasonable and necessary. The rules have been a bit loose at the margins. Let's just tell the truth. I find that telling the truth on these matters is best. Most people are doing the right thing. Part of me sort of groans whenever I've got to go through some of the rubbish that some people are claiming, because that's not what most people are doing. But the reality is that periodically, the AAT or the courts will roll the agency who make the decisions. I love this Scheme. I bleed it, I think about it from morning to night and I don't want anyone being able to mock it, laugh at it or rip it off. So, yeah, we want to issue regulations which can't get rolled, transitional regs which say you don't get to spend your money, and I kid you not, on cryptocurrency or steam rooms or in one case, people trying to organise 20 people to go to Japan. It's not on. But that is the minority of things. And the problem is, when I say the problems, half of the world goes, see, it's all a rort. And the other half say, please don't say that. And if I ignore the rorts, then the first half say I’m ignoring it. So, let's just get on with it, Liberals and Greens.

CLENNELL: All right. And just briefly, is using prostitutes, is that going to be in the regs as bad.

SHORTEN: We will rule it out. It's just not a sustainable proposition. it doesn't pass the test, does it?

CLENNELL: No. A report in the newspapers this morning that a report commissioned …

SHORTEN: Can I just say, we're only aware of, we're only aware of one case of it being asked for, though. So, this is the problem. Yes, we're going to rule it out, but you know the Libs used to hyperventilate and get those paper fans and sort of ooh and ah. The reality is I've got one or two examples that I'm aware of that it's ever happened. Ever. So, it's not what's happening in most of the Scheme. That's all I say when people hear me this morning. Most people are doing it right. Let's just tidy up. Let's give it a haircut at the margins. Sorry. Back to you.

CLENNELL: All right. Yeah. A report in the News Corp newspapers this morning. It's found axing the cashless debit card has led to widespread problems, including a rise in hospital admissions in those communities. Did the Government make the wrong call here? Is it time to bring it back in some communities?

SHORTEN: Reality is that I haven't seen the University of Adelaide report that was, you know, just mentioned in the papers this morning. Listen, it's had mixed reviews. I think some of that material that the University of Adelaide report is 12 months old. Certainly, there are some people who like the old way and there's other people who like the new way. I know that my colleagues work in this area are very diligent. This is intergenerational, it's complex. If it was easy to fix, someone else would have. We're consulting, and we're going to make sure that whatever we do, we try and improve things for the people on the ground. That's what it's all about, isn't it?

CLENNELL: Just briefly, you recently attended the peace summit on Ukraine. What message did you pass back to the PM and Foreign Minister out of that?

SHORTEN: Australia is an island. We're uniquely lucky to occupy a continent, but Australia is more than an island. We are linked by a shared humanity with the whole of the world. And the reality is that, when the bell tolls in the Ukraine, it actually tolls for all of us. Russia's criminal, illegal invasion is an assault on all of us. When the rule of international law means that is ignored, then Australia has to go the distance with Ukraine until the grain ships can get to Africa, until the 20,000 Ukrainian kids are returned back home, till the nuclear safety threat recedes, and until Russian invaders are off Ukrainian soil, water and air. Australia will go the distance. The Prime Minister, Foreign Minister, myself, we all have that view.

CLENNELL: And just finally, can I get a reaction from you to the UK election result? Keir Starmer won a landslide with just 34% of the primary votes - a first past the post system. It's a sort of lowish primary vote that has haunted Labor here since 2019. Do you have a view on the result generally, but also lower primary votes for the Labor Party?

SHORTEN: Keir Starmer is now the Prime Minister of England. I think the scoreboard counts. Everyone always wants more votes, but you want to form a government. I congratulate Keir Starmer. I think the Tory government literally almost died, didn't they? I don't know if they were voted out or carried out in the hearse, but well done to Keir Starmer. I'm sure that we look forward to working closely with his government. And again, as we would say if it was a conservative government, Australia will work with our allies, whoever their democratic systems throw up. That's what's important for our country's interests.

CLENNELL: NDIS Minister Bill Shorten, thanks so much for your time this morning.