Interview on ABC Radio Melbourne regarding NDIS review to cut red tape and wait times

E&OE

PAUL KENNEDY: Maybe you want to ring in about the NDIS and what the Government has planned. Australians with disabilities, they're being asked to share their experiences with a new review over that important scheme. Former Finance Department Secretary David Tune will review the scheme's legislation and rules. The NDIS Minister Stuart Robert has been speaking, you heard him earlier talking about this inquiry and how it's going to maybe help deliver what he calls the Participant Service Guarantee. And I'm pleased to have Stuart Robert, the Minister for the NDIS and Minister for Government Services on the line. Minister, thanks for your time this morning.

MINISTER: Well great pleasure to talk to you.

PAUL KENNEDY: What is most critical to be reviewed at this point?

MINISTER: In short, timeframes and pathways - how do we legislate a guarantee that the participants in the scheme know exactly the timeframe and timelines for access into the scheme, how quick they can get a plan and of course, if the plan is going to reviewed in 12, 24, 36 months' time, the timeliness for that. And we think that should be set as a KPI and should be legislated as a guarantee.

PAUL KENNEDY: Why is timeframe important for people?

MINISTER: Well maybe if you're a parent with a young child and you've just been given a diagnosis that your child has a disability, perhaps autism, perhaps intellectual disability, all the research tells us that early intervention is key and the earlier you can intervene in a child's life, the more likely they are to live a more fulsome life. And of course, that early intervention requires early access to the NDIS.

PAUL KENNEDY: What have you heard since being put in charge of this scheme as the Minister in charge? What are people telling you that most upsets you about how this scheme has been running for five to six years?

MINISTER: I can remember chatting to one chap, he actually sent me an email and I gave him call. And it was an incredibly sad story, his child had a diagnosis of autism and he said his wife was crying in the corner. He's contacted the NDIS, he's been told it'll be any number of weeks up to months to get access into early intervention. He didn't quite know what to do in his email to the Minister.

And on the back of that, we moved very quickly. In the end of June, I put a KPI of 50 days from access to getting a plan for early childhood early intervention pathway and if that 50 days wasn't reached, parents automatically got a plan on a page, if you like, for $10,000 to get their child into early intervention until the wider plan was done. So that was quite a seminal moment building on our election commitment and this issue of timeliness is really important and it's key that we're actually getting a set time - parents know the time frame that their child will come into the scheme, as well as wider participants will have a firm guarantee of timeliness.

PAUL KENNEDY: Yeah. Who's dropped the ball on this? Why do we need such a review? Why are people missing out? And why are some people getting help quickly and others not? What has been the failing in the system so far?

MINISITER: I'm not too sure it's a ball dropping, more likely the transition …

PAUL KENNEDY: [Interrupts] Well someone's in charge and, you know, the funding needs to be met. I mean, there are structures in place here. Someone has let people with disabilities down to this point otherwise, you wouldn't need a review.

MINISTER: The states and territories have been transferring people in at great rates of knots and the intent for a full scheme by middle of next year was incredibly ambitious. So three years ago, we had left some 30,000 people in the scheme; now, there's 300,000. The bilateral estimates say 460,000 by the middle of next year. I mean aggressive timelines from the very start.

PAUL KENNEDY: Yeah.

MINISTER: Perhaps they were too aggressive. Not for you and I to wonder from sort of six years ago. So all of those- we see lots and lots of people coming in quickly, lots of children coming into the scheme quickly, and that I think is where timelines have just got pushed out too much and they're far too much [indistinct] the government. Hence why, a) we've intervened very quickly on the early childhood early intervention. And we've also made it very clear during the election that we have set some KPIs, some hard numbers and we're to ensure that they are resourced and met.

PAUL KENNEDY: You're listening to Stuart Robert, the Minister for the NDIS, announcing today that a review of the legislative requirements for NDIS to put in timeframes for people seeking help is- is going to be met. Minister, it's got a- this participant guarantee, participant service guarantee that you're going to bring in, that's not until July 1 next year. Is that too long to wait for people and their certainties?

MINISTER: I think everything's too long to wait when it comes to government policy. We always want to get things done now, but at the same time, I don't want to rush to failure. Now when it comes to children I haven't waited, I've actually intervened quite strongly with the 50 day KPIs, I haven't waited for the review.

PAUL KENNEDY: Yeah.

MINISTER: Because I felt that with kids it is just so crucial that I would sort of step in over the top of Mr Tune as it were.

PAUL KENNEDY: [Talks over] I don't think anyone would argue with that, but it's certainly no less important if you're an adult.

MINISTER: Yeah, it is. I think our process should take its proper time because we want to look at not just kids coming into the scheme but looking at all participants right across the board. What sort of expectations should they have, not just for accessing the scheme i.e. they pick up the phone say and say hey I've got an issue here, but also then from access to when a full plan's in place? How long a plan review should take? We've moved to say plans can go up to three years now. I'd be keen to get David Tune's view on that. I think it's right because people with substantial disability, if you're a quadriplegic I'm not too sure you need your plan reviewed every 12 months. You might want to have a longer plan because you know what your needs are, as a very specific example.

PAUL KENNEDY: [Talks over] And of course, you can have reviews of reviews too and there's plenty that go on to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. I just want to ask you about funding now, Stuart Robert. In hindsight was it a mistake to repurpose all of that money, some $3.9 billion set aside for the NDIS into drought relief? That was the end of last year.

MINISTER: Well it wasn't repurposed in drought relief. Remember I was in the Expenditure Review Committee.

PAUL KENNEDY: Yeah.

MINISTER: So I was there for that decision and that was an education fund I think that was repurposed, not the NDIS. Remember the NDIS is demand driven, it's uncapped. In some ways it's a bit like- look at the age pension. Everyone who is eligible gets the aged pension. And the Commonwealth puts a line item in the budget to address that and deal with that. But if there's greater demand, then there's greater demand. If there's less demand, then there's less demand. In economic speak, we speak about automatic stabilisers when the economy moves and Newstart picks up. So demand driven uncapped is where the NDIS is. So it's fully funded in the budget. The budget papers show that the Prime Minister has made that point many, many times.

PAUL KENNEDY: Yeah.

MINISTER: And that'll remain the case going forward. I guess that's the benefit of strong economy, you know, if the economy is going well and budgets are balanced we can actually afford what are world leading national [audio skip]. No one's ever tried to do this before.

PAUL KENNEDY: Yeah.

MINISTER: it's pretty exciting to think about all the Australian territories and states and the Commonwealth joining together on this.

PAUL KENNEDY: Minister, thanks very much for your time this morning. We'll see how it goes and hopefully you can stay in contact with this programme which has been a leader in its coverage of NDIS.

MINISTER: Sound great, talk soon.