Minister Shorten interview on ABC Radio Melbourne Drive with Ali Moore


ALI MOORE, HOST: We know the government is trying to cut the ever-expanding cost of the NDIS, and now Bill Shorten, the Minister responsible, says payments for sex work will be banned under coming changes. Now as it happens, the Minister's seat also includes Melbourne Airport, so it'll be interesting to see what he has to say about the station announcement today by Melbourne Airport. Bill Shorten, welcome to Drive.

BILL SHORTEN, MINISTER FOR THE NDIS AND GIVERNMENT SERVICES: Welcome, Ali. We've got a few, a range of topics there haven't we.

MOORE: We do. And it is definitely a broad range. But let's start with the NDIS. Is the risk here that you're going to end up denying all Australians of any ability access to a healthy sex life?

SHORTEN: No, not at all. The NDIS is designed to ensure every Australian living with profound or severe disability can live a fulfilling life like long. For too long, so many living with disability and their people who love them just didn't have access to the supports that could provide them with the life they change now. Thankfully, the NDIS has changed that. There's now around 650,000 Australians who are better supported and living more inclusive lives than ever. It was not, however, designed to provide support by funding for everything in life. So, this stuff about the sex workers sort of got a life of its own. We're putting through regulations in Parliament to make sure that NDIS money is spent on an agreed list of NDIS services. For what it's worth, though, for those who somehow feel there's some draconian change for the 12 months to the 30th of April this year, there's been no funded sexual activity supports anyway. And in the same period there's been 100 million transactions. So, it just seems this old adage that if you mention the word sex, everyone, it's clickbait. But the reality is it's not what the Scheme is about. It's not what people are being seeking and it’s-

MOORE: And I take your point on that. And we played a little of you speaking in Parliament last week and giving a long list of everything that you don't want to see funded under the NDIS. And you know, most people I think would probably agree with most of it, we are going to be speaking with a disability advocate a little later, but just on the sex worker issue, there is the clickbait side of it. And then there is the really, I suppose, the really important side of it, where there are some people who for whom there really is no alternative access, and this is not something that they wake up one day and they say, oh, you know, I feel like doing that. So, I'm going to hire this person and do that. If they wish to have that experience as part of their life experience, you would still maintain that that is not something the NDIS should stump up for.

SHORTEN: Yeah, I think that, you know, if we can fund 99 out of 100 things - I've got to keep the social license of this Scheme. I'm not saying there's a couple of disability activists that somehow, I've got a view about their private lives. I have zero interest in anyone's private life. And I also respect the point you're making that some people might need assistance to be able to be sexually healthy. Use your DSP, use some other money. But it's not. It can't as a funded service, I'm fighting to make sure people get their wheelchairs, their autism therapies, get their home modifications. I don't want to make the perfect the enemy of the good. And with this Scheme, unfortunately, it has been, not run as tightly as it should be. And as a result, what I want to do is create the social licence so that this Scheme can outlast me, you, Peter Dutton, Prime Minister Albanese, and can be here for future generations. That's what's driving me. I've got no judgment about people. It's about in a cost of living crisis, I'm going to lose more social licence than I'm going to gain.

MOORE: And when it comes to some of these changes, and I suppose the more controversial parts of it where it may not be quite so black and white, and I suppose I'd put things like cryptocurrency in what I would have thought was probably pretty black and white. That's not space for the NDIS. But are you? I mean, how closely are you actually consulting with disability groups about what they think should be there and what shouldn't?

SHORTEN: Oh, absolutely, consulting. That doesn't mean everyone has to agree. But I know that the National Disability Insurance Agency has 23 different co-design groups. Draft regulations about what's in and isn't, will be consulted extensively and again, I have to say just on this one where people say, oh, that's pretty unfair, we received 228 requests for advice related to requests for sexual activity supports. In 12 months, up to the 30th of April. None were granted. So, it's not as if people are losing all these rights, but what we're doing is creating regulations, which means that there's it's clear so that people have certainty. Can I just say, again, this Scheme is about hundreds of thousands of lives. It's about hundreds of thousands of excellent people working in the sector and delivering services. What we're proposing in our regulation isn't about moving a whole lot of people off the scheme. It isn't about restricting choice and control. It isn't about denying people what's reasonable and necessary. But the back office of the Scheme has been too loose, and a scheme can't grow at 15 and 16%. And I'll be honest, in Opposition, I didn't fully appreciate quite how non-existent some of the payment systems were and the checking. That's what we're trying to do. I for me this is about the Scheme, having a fantastic future and enjoying social licence.

MOORE: And with those 228 requests that you did receive up to April and none of them were granted, did any of them come with, you know, if someone had come to you with, I guess, medical reasons or some sort of verification of why that need might be valid from their point of view? Or is this. I suppose I'm just trying to clarify. Is this an absolute blanket ban? You did say if you can fund 99 out of 100 things, then that's what you know you should do. And it's not for everything in life. Can you see any instance where it might be?

SHORTEN: First of all, I'm not the decision maker. The decision maker is made by the Agency. People will be completely relieved to know that I share the mainstream view that politicians shouldn't be making decisions about what a person's disabilities are reasonable and necessary needs. This will be consulted. It will be based on expert evidence in terms of sex workers. We're going to consult the states and territories. We're going to consult disability groups, I can't see that as being something which the taxpayer thinks should be funded. And by all means, I've got no doubt there'll be some people who say it should be. Well, I just I'm not going to convince a majority of Australians that makes sense, and by the way, when I look at what we need to fund in the way of everything else in this country, including all the needs of people with disability, it's not worth dying on this hill. So, I can see the theoretical and the libertarian point you're putting, and maybe the some of the evidence stuff. It won't be impossible for someone to get a service. It just won't be paid for by the NDIS. I'm not making any judgement. People with disabilities have got the right to healthy sexual relationships. There's zero prurience zero you know, zero negativity about any of that. Of course, people have got all sorts of rights. This is just purely about one program, which is funding a whole lot of needs and changing a whole lot of lives.

MOORE: Bill Shorten, if I can just switch to our other topic because of course Maribyrnong is in your electorate and that does include Melbourne Airport. The Airport Rail was delayed by four years because of the disagreement over where the station should go, and the State Government therefore decided to put off the funding in the last budget. Do you think the State Government should now reassess their priorities, given the disagreement over whether these station should be above or below ground appears to be over.

SHORTEN: It's ultimately a matter for the Vic Government. I'm in the Federal Parliament, but I've campaigned for an airport rail link ever since I've been in Parliament. You know, ideally it should have been built in the 1960s when Tullamarine was opened. So, do I think it's four years late? I probably think it's 45 years, 50 years late, but the good news of Melbourne Airport and I give them a hard time Melbourne Airport, I've sometimes called them a carpark with a runway attached, but today they've done the right thing. They've stopped pursuing what I thought was the sort of deluxe option of an underground railway station.

MOORE: But they may have done that, Minister, but to no end. It seems that we're now just going to sit there for four years because, you know, there was a delay in the budget. So now we're sort of essentially in limbo for four years, waiting for the budget to catch up with the.

SHORTEN: I'm a cup half full guy. And the reality is that this was an obstacle and now it's gone.

MOORE: So, should we start now?

SHORTEN: Well, it should have started 40 years ago, so my view is clear. It'd be great if it started tomorrow, but it's got to be whatever the Government can afford. But the point is, the Federal Government, I think they've helped break this logjam. Catherine King's the Federal Minister for Transport. We appointed an independent mediator, Neil Scales. He said the airport rail link is viable and necessary, tick. He said everyone seems to want it and then he said if Melbourne Airport really wanted the underground version, they should justify it in Melbourne. I think airport had that sort of come to Jesus moment or come to your particular faith moment and said, all right, we're going to stop arguing about that. The Albanese Government, we've committed $5 billion and the works on Sunshine will start soon, and I hope. And by the way, Ben Carroll, the local State Member there. He's always been a very good advocate for this. So, I shouldn't suck up any oxygen of his advocacy. He's always pushed this and then we'll just have to see how we go with the Victorian Government.

MOORE: We will indeed. And of course, we did invite them on the program. I should point that out. Bill Shorten, many thanks for joining us. We appreciate it.

SHORTEN: Thank you. Have a lovely day.

MOORE: Bill Shorten there, Minister for the NDIS.