Interview on Sky News Live regarding appointment of NDIA CEO

DAVID SPEERS:

I want to turn now to the National Disability Insurance Scheme. The Minister responsible, Stuart Robert, today announced a new Chief Executive, a new boss of the NDIA, the agency that runs the NDIS.

Stuart Robert the Minister joins me now. Thanks for your time.

STUART ROBERT:

Pleasure.

DAVID SPEERS:

Martin Hoffman has been named as the new CEO they’ve been without one for a while, why has this taken so long?

STUART ROBERT:

When you do a national search for a CEO, it takes a while. An election got in the way of the middle and that tends to disrupt things. But Martin Hoffman is an extraordinary Australia - the former secretary of the Department of Finance, social innovation in New South Wales, former Depsec here, former corporate CEO, a man with great experience, and a man who's lived some trauma and tragedy in his own life, so understands full well.

DAVID SPEERS:

I was going to ask you where does disability fit into his CV.

STUART ROBERT:

Well, the head of Department of Finance, Services, and Innovation, that includes Service New South Wales that he's overseen for the last three years, so the entire service delivery architecture of that state, it's someone comes with very, very impressive service delivery credentials.

DAVID SPEERS:

But anything specific to do with disabilities?

STUART ROBERT:

Well in terms of the way that New South Wales provides services to its citizens, it's across the full gamut of service delivery. The full gamut. And for every single one of New South Wales citizens, including the work that Service New South Wales brought everyone together.

DAVID SPEERS:

Will he be based at the NDIA headquarters in Geelong?

STUART ROBERT:

Well, we'll leave that to the Board to decide. But I'm very relaxed in terms of the decision the Board makes.

DAVID SPEERS:

You'd expect the CEO to be with- where the agency headquarters are, wouldn't you?

STUART ROBERT:

Well, keep in mind the Safety and Quality Commission is based out of western suburbs of Sydney. There's a number of executives based around the countryside. This is a national scheme.

DAVID SPEERS:

The whole point of decentralisation is to have the organisations outside Canberra and led outside Canberra, isn’t?

STUART ROBERT:

Well, the whole point is to find senior executives who will make a significant difference to the organisation. And where they live is largely irrelevant. He'll have an office clearly in Geelong, and he'll spend a lot of time there. But I want him to spend an inordinate amount of time outside of the headquarters. Work doesn't get done sitting behind a desk – it gets done out there, at the coalface, working with participants in the scheme.

DAVID SPEERS:

You've also announced an increase in the staffing for the NDIS. Has the actual cap- staffing cap been increased?

STUART ROBERT:

Well, surely when I came in I asked the agency what it needs to deliver the aggressive forward agenda that I'd set, including disability reform council meetings every quarter, solving issues like justice and mental health and hospital. And the answer was they needed another 800 public servants to provide sign off on plans and scheme areas. So that's been provided to them, that decision I made many, many months ago. 300 of those 800 have already been employed, and that was the number they set. Now that brings the total number of staff working in the NDIS to 12,000, when the PC Commission recommended 10,000.

DAVID SPEERS:

Yes. So there's 12,000 now, is that what you're saying…

STUART ROBERT:

That’s correct.

DAVID SPEERS:

…or there will be 12,000?

STUART ROBERT:

There's 12,000 now across permanent public servants, across a contracted workforce, as well as partners.

DAVID SPEERS:

It is a lot of contractors, aren't- contractors and consultants and so on.

STUART ROBERT:

Well, there's lots of people. We use local area coordinators, people who've worked in their region and their communities for upwards of decades and decades.

Do you seriously, David, want me to say to people who've been working in disability in outer Meekatharra for 30 years: I'm sorry, I'm going to replace you with a public servant. Or would Australians expect us to use the local expertise the way we're using now?

DAVID SPEERS:

And is that the ideal model, you're confident that is delivering the best result?

STUART ROBERT:

It was what was recommended by the Productivity Commission, to use local area coordinators. And if we think it through, using local people from local communities who've been servicing people with disability for decades and decades, using their expertise within our model, I think it makes a lot of sense.

DAVID SPEERS:

You've now got the chief executive in place, you think you've got the staff issues sorted. What's next on the fix it list for you, Minister?

STUART ROBERT:

Well, it's substantial. We'll announce the full Government's plan in the coming weeks. We've just finished COAG, the Disability Reform Council, where we solve mental health, justice, and transport interfaces. There's still a strong work program going forward, I need to deal with the reserve fund. We need to look at how we're going to manage research and development, school transport is being pushed off for a few years, but there's still 300 plus thousand in the scheme. We want to get towards 500,000. I'd like to solve the last 20 per cent of the policy challenges we have, which then takes us to business as usual for the scheme.

DAVID SPEERS:

Do you think we'll have another underspend?

STUART ROBERT:

It's 17.8 billion, is the total allocated for this financial year. And remember the last time or last financial year, the reason why we didn't hit the forecast numbers, it's demand driven uncapped scheme. So whoever comes in is provided services, but 100,000 people that were- the states and territories said would come through, numbers from the old block funded, just don't exist. We can't find them.

Now the good news, 169 per cent of new participants - so we expected 69,000, we've got 117,000, which is wonderful - means 100,000 people now in the scheme who've never had a state funded provision of service in their life. 100,000. And I think that's superb.

DAVID SPEERS:

There are still issues there, and certainly anecdotally some of the concerns I hear is that people have to go back every year to reapply for a new plan. And that's very time consuming and that's, you know, sometimes does not deliver what they need under that plan.

STUART ROBERT:

I agree completely. We're gonna move people to three year plans if we can.

DAVID SPEERS:

When's that likely to happen?

STUART ROBERT:

It's happening now as we speak. Two and three year plans are being rolled out of plan review. The other challenge I've got is- my legal advice is that if you want to have a small part of your plan relooked at, you have to get the entire plan relooked at. Now that clearly doesn't make sense, it's not flexible. I want to change this so people can say: hey I like 95 per cent of my plan, can I have a look at that? And I want flexibility and a common sense approach to just fixing that. And that will take, I think, a lot of fear out that people have about- hey, I only want to fix this, I don't want the whole thing being reviewed.

DAVID SPEERS:

Just finally, away from the NDIS, you've just sat through Lower House Question Time and a lot of demands from Labor for a debate on the economy. Why isn't the government willing to give that debate?

STUART ROBERT:

Because after Question Time of course we have a Matter of Public Importance - what we call an MPI. If the Labor Party were really serious about having a debate on the economy, that matter of public importance would be about the economy. And yet right now in the house, that matter of public importance does not even mention the economy. This is a stunt David, if they were serious, that MPI would be about the economy today, and it's not.

DAVID SPEERS:

Stuart Robert, thanks for joining me this afternoon, appreciate that.

STUART ROBERT:

Great to talk.