ABC Radio Melbourne

Topics: NDIS, psychosocial disability, Foodbank, Newstart

E&OE:

Jon Faine: Paul Fletcher is the Minister in the Scott Morrison Federal Coalition government responsible for the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

Today they're announcing that they've got satisfaction rates up to 93 per cent of participants which based on earlier feedback would seem to be somewhat optimistic.

Paul Fletcher's accepted our invitation to come into the studio this morning to explain. Good morning to you, Minister.

Paul Fletcher: Good morning Jon. Good to be with you.

Jon Faine: Ninety-three per cent suggests a much higher level of satisfaction than the media generally report, including this program.

Paul Fletcher: Well 93 per cent of participants in the most recent quarterly report said that their experience with their plan was good or very good. That's up from 88 per cent in the previous quarter and it's the highest we've had really since the trial period. So that is a good sign.

But of course rolling out the NDIS is a complex and difficult undertaking and of course there are people who do not have an experience that is as good as it should be so we need to continue to work on that and there is a lot of work going on, for example, on what's called the new participant pathways where when people come into the NDIS they go into a specialised process.

For example, the new psychosocial disability or what most people would think of as mental illness, things like severe depression, schizophrenia, we've designed a new participant pathway there working with Mental Health Australia, that's now been operating for a little bit of time.

And as we are improving these participant pathways that's one of the factors which is leading to this increase in the satisfaction. You know there's now some 208,000 Australians supported by the NDIS. Importantly over 60,000 of them supported for the first time.

Jon Faine: Sure, but did the NDIS suffer from being oversold, over promised?

Paul Fletcher: Well the NDIS of course is the biggest change in social policy since Medicare.
It's had bipartisan support. It's been operating since the end of the last government and certainly since we came in in 2013 we've been working to scale it up.

The estimate is 460,000 people by 2020 and this year Commonwealth spending over eight billion, total spending around 17 billion, it will reach 22 billion by 2021. So a massive exercise. Inevitably there will be some difficulties along the way.

Jon Faine: Sure. Were you consulted before the Prime Minister said he was taking money out of the NDIS and putting it into drought relief?

Paul Fletcher: Let me be clear - that has no impact on NDIS funding…

Jon Faine: I didn't ask you whether it had impact. I asked if you were consulted?

Paul Fletcher: NDIS is fully funded and…

Jon Faine: Were you consulted?

Paul Fletcher: Well it's neither here or there Jon.

Jon Faine: It is to me.

Paul Fletcher: It was part of the- I'm in Cabinet so I was certainly aware that was going on. I was totally satisfied because it makes no difference. The NDIS is fully supported…

Jon Faine: Even though you're the minister for it you supported it being stripped of millions of dollars - billions of dollars.

Paul Fletcher: The word stripped is quite wrong, Jon. The NDIS is fully funded because of our management of the economy and of the budget and we've made that clear for quite some time.

Jon Faine: You don't want more money for it?

Paul Fletcher: Well, it is budgeted to be- to have total spend of 22 billion a year by 2021. We monitor very carefully how the spending is proceeding against the budget and the board of the National Disability Insurance Agency with experienced private sector people on it including Helen Nugent the chair, also monitors that very carefully…

Jon Faine: What about the food-bank decision to strip food-bank of funding and then a day later back flip and reinstate it. Were you consulted about that?

Paul Fletcher: Look that was my decision, Jon. I worked with the Prime Minister on that. But we have done is maintain funding of $4.5 million for food relief, three organisations; Foodbank, SecondBite and OZHarvest and in fact what we've done is now increased funding for food relief and total funding for Foodbank has been maintained.

Now in relation to these major social initiatives and particularly the National Disability Insurance Scheme the benefits that it can provide to people in terms of life transforming changes are really quite material but we need to make sure that we've got it properly administered and that we're rolling it out in a systematic fashion where issues arise that we are properly responding to those and that's certainly my focus as minister. Of course working with state and territory ministers because this is a cooperative exercise between the Commonwealth and states and territories.

Jon Faine: And it requires an enormous amount of ironing out the kinks in order to come up with something that's a national scheme but not lowest common denominator. Do you think you're getting the balance right?

Paul Fletcher: Look I think we're making solid progress. There's more to do. One of the priorities is employment for Australians with disability. At the moment 22 per cent of participants in the scheme get employment outcomes.

I'd like to see that higher. I'll be speaking to the industry- the sector peak body, NDS, a bit later this morning about exactly that issue and making an announcement about an employment taskforce that we've established between the National Disability Insurance Agency and my department…

Jon Faine: Do you use carrots or stick?

Paul Fletcher: Well it's a combination of both. What we need is an integrated plan that is going to boost employment outcomes. One of the original rationales for the very substantial spending on the National Disability Insurance Scheme was improving the participation of Australians with disability in the life of our community and our society.

That includes participating through employment. So there's work to do on improving the employment outcomes. That's one of the many areas of focus in the National Disability Insurance Scheme. A lot of work to do but we are making some solid progress with those satisfaction levels now up from 88 per cent to 93 per cent this quarter.

Jon Faine: One of the other issues and I know it's not directly in your portfolio area, but we have been grappling with it, arose after a local GP, a doctor from Carlton called in and had a chat to us on air. Paul McCartney is his name and he called in on the talkback to say that he was struggling he'd found out that patients of his that were on a rehab scheme were being bumped off Newstart. Just have a listen to this.

[Excerpt]

PAUL MCCARTNEY: In some rehabs they don't have access to their phone for safety reasons. In other rehabs they're committed to be staying within the centre as part of their recovery. They cannot get to the job [indistinct] and these agencies seem to be in the main fairly unreasonable about understanding the dilemma faced by these patients of ours. It seems that there is something of a vendetta against this group of patients. They fit as one group in the community who cannot use their illness as a reason for not being able to look for work. Everybody else, if you are particularly unwell, if you need stabilisation, you can be exempted from having to look for work but this group of people with a drug and alcohol problem are specifically exempted.

[End of excerpt].

Jon Faine: So we sort of ironed out the kinks a bit, but what we've learned is that if you have a letter from a doctor saying you need to go into rehab and if you can negotiate with the people you have to get through the gate keepers, it's possible to be on rehab and keep Newstart but most people can't manage that negotiation.

Paul Fletcher: Well certainly there's an activity requirement if you're on Newstart but if you are undergoing treatment for a drug or alcohol addiction that will typically meet the activity requirement. So job seekers who are participating in treatment or genuinely willing but unable to access treatment should not be having their Newstart payment removed…

Jon Faine: So if you just turn up and say I can't meet the activity test, I need to do rehab. That's not going to work.

Paul Fletcher: You need to be in treatment or…

Jon Faine: Or in rehab.

Paul Fletcher: Genuinely willing to but for some reason it's not available.

Jon Faine: But we heard from a centre down in Geelong and they told us well if we send people up to see the local office they just don't get anywhere. We have to send an advocate with them for what you just said to actually happen.

Paul Fletcher: So what I've just stated is what the policy is and indeed the Department of Jobs and Small Business has recently provided further guidance to employment services providers to remind them of what the policy is and that's the policy they need to be implementing.

Jon Faine: Are you going to review it after we've explained how it actually works in practice rather than in theory?

Paul Fletcher: Well, what I'm saying to you is the issue you've raised we're aware of. That's why guidance has been provided by the Department of Jobs and Small Business to employment services providers. In other words if you're in treatment or if you are genuinely willing to go into treatment but the treatment's not available that should not be a basis for having your Newstart payments put on pause.

Jon Faine: Thank you for your time this morning on all of those issues. It was very good of Dr McCartney to raise it and I hope that's made a little bit of a difference for some of the most vulnerable people in our community and thank you for your time this morning.

Paul Fletcher: Thank you, Jon.

Jon Faine: Paul Fletcher, the Minister in the Scott Morrison-led Coalition Federal Government in charge of the NDIS. He's Minister for Families and Social Services.

END