ABC AM

E&OE

Topics: Wentworth by-election; fraud in the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

SABRA LANE: Three months ago, the federal government set up the National Disability Insurance Fraud Taskforce to target people ripping off the system and it’s made its first arrest. And the size of the alleged fraud is eye bogging; $400,000 worth in just two months, with the money used to buy a luxury car, designer clothes and jewellery. The 34 year old man from Parkville in Melbourne has been charged over it. To discuss this case and the taskforce and other issues I was joined by Paul Fletcher, the Minister for Families and Social Services earlier.

Mr Fletcher, welcome to AM.

PAUL FLETCHER: Thanks, Sabra.

SABRA LANE: We’ll get to the case in a moment. First I want to ask you about some issues of the day. This dirty tricks campaign against Kerryn Phelps in Wentworth, could rogue elements of the Liberal Party be behind this?

PAUL FLETCHER: I’ll make it clear, it’s got nothing to do with the Liberal Party.

Liberal candidate Dave Sharma has made that clear and that he condemns what’s been said in this email.

Look, the choice for the voters of Wentworth is very clear; a vote for the independent puts at real risk the stability of the national government, there’s a real risk of a hung parliament, and so what that puts at risk is the capacity of the Liberal and National government to keep delivering strong economic growth, strong jobs growth, strong border protection…

SABRA LANE: [Interrupts] Should Mr Turnbull have explicitly – to aid your campaign – should he have explicitly written a letter of support or perhaps done a robo call?

PAUL FLETCHER: I’m not going to get into the details of those campaign mechanics. What I’d say is that in Dave Sharma we have an incredibly capable candidate, he’s represented Australia as our ambassador to Israel. He’s served the people of Australia in that role very effectively. Now he seeks to serve the people of Australia in bringing his considerable capabilities, he’ll be a very effective member for Wentworth if he’s chosen.

But people in Wentworth need to understand there is a real risk that a vote for the independent, Kerryn Phelps, risks the stability of the government. There’s a real risk of a hung parliament and if you want stability, if you want strong economic management, I’d strongly urge the people of Wentworth to vote for Dave Sharma.

SABRA LANE: How helpful is it to the government that the Nationals are now talking about leadership issues?

PAUL FLETCHER: Look, again I’m not going to comment on that kind of speculation. We have a strong Liberal National government…

SABRA LANE: [Interrupts] But you’re talking about yourselves again, that’s what voters hate.

PAUL FLETCHER: Well, I’m here today, Sabra, to talk about efforts to reduce fraud in the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

Like all of my ministerial colleagues I’m focused on my important ministerial responsibilities.

The National Disability Insurance Scheme, we’ll be spending $22 billion a year on this by early next decade.

Some 460,000 Australians will be supported by it when we get to so-called full scheme by that time.

So, it’s very important that we have measures in place to combat the risk of fraud. And we do have those strong measures in place.

SABRA LANE: Alright. Now, let’s talk about this alleged fraud and this particular case. How is it that this chap gained so much money in such a short period of time?

PAUL FLETCHER: Yesterday there was an arrest of a man in Victoria.

We say that he’s defrauded the Commonwealth and the taxpayer of some $400,000. Now, there is a fraud taskforce which has been in place since July of this year.

That’s a joint effort between the National Disability Insurance Agency, the Department of Human Services and the Australian Federal Police.

It’s very important that whenever you have a program with significant expenditure of public money, you have safeguards in place to deal with the risk of fraud. We do have those safeguards in place.

This particular gentleman has sought to defraud the Commonwealth and taxpayers of some $400,000. He’s been arrested, he’ll be charged. And what I’d say to anybody if you are foolish enough to think of seeking to defraud the National Disability Insurance Scheme, and indeed therefore fellow taxpayers, you can expect that we’ll pursue you with the full force of the law. And that’s what this taskforce is designed to do.

SABRA LANE: Was it a tipoff or was it the taskforce actually picking up on it?

PAUL FLETCHER: Well, we are certainly receiving an increased number of tipoffs. And if people have a concern about fraud against the National Disability Insurance Scheme, I’d encourage them to contact the Fraud Hotline on 1800 650 717. Once we became aware of this attempted fraud, obviously the…

SABRA LANE: Was it a tipoff or was it the taskforce? Did something trigger the taskforce to look at this particular individual?

PAUL FLETCHER: Well, the taskforce was established so that we were proactively identifying risks and responding to them…

SABRA LANE: Did that stem from this taskforce?

PAUL FLETCHER: There’s a number of basis on which we become aware of fraud or potential fraud. And you’d understand that I’m not going to be talking about the precise tools that are available to us and what we can use.

But people who are considering, who might be foolish enough to consider seeking to defraud the National Disability Insurance Scheme, be aware that we have strong measures in place to identify fraud and to respond to it, as any responsible government should have when we’re looking at a scheme that spends substantial amounts of money.

SABRA LANE: This presumably means that people relying on that particular money, genuine cases who are wanting money for disability services didn't get it. How many people are we talking about and have any of them endured hardship as a result?

PAUL FLETCHER: Some 200 people have been affected.

The National Disability Insurance Agency has worked quickly to proactively inform them when money has been removed from their account and of course to replace it. We need to make sure that Australians with disability, who are supported by the National Disability Insurance Scheme – that might be people with cerebral palsy or with Down  syndrome, with autism spectrum disorder - we need to make sure that the money which has been allocated to them as part of their plan, of course people go in and have a plan that identifies the supports they need…

SABRA LANE: [Interrupt] But sorry, Minister, in this particular case have you been assured- those approximately 200 cases, have any of them endured hardship as a result of not being able to get the money that they should have?

PAUL FLETCHER: The advice I've received is that we have moved very quickly to identify where people have had money removed from their accounts, have their funding replaced.

There’s a small number of people we haven't yet proactively contacted, almost all of them we have. And obviously you're absolutely right, we're determined to make sure that no person with disability, supported by the National Disability Insurance Scheme, is disadvantaged or put into hardship as a result of this.