Interview with Minister Stuart Robert regarding NDIS wait lists

PAUL CULLIVER:    First though, making news today is national figures showing more that 1200 people have died in three years while waiting for access to NDIS packages. Those deaths include 65 children, 35 of whom were aged six and younger. And to add to that South Australia has the longest waiting list with the longest waiting times.

Stuart Robert is the Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme and joins me. Good afternoon.

STUART ROBERT:    Paul, how are you?

PAUL CULLIVER:    I'm well. Do you take responsibility for these numbers?

STUART ROBERT:    Well first of all let me say, if you're insinuating in any way shape or form that these Australians have died because they could not get access to the NDIS you could not be more wrong.

PAUL CULLIVER:    Do you acknowledge that it could have contributed to their deaths?

STUART ROBERT:    No. No I do not.

PAUL CULLIVER:    In no way?

STUART ROBERT:    In no way. For example, of the currently 320,000 NDIS participants right now unfortunately last year 2700 of them passed away with a mortality rate of seven to eight times that of other Australians because people in the NDIS are there because of permanent and significant disability - the reporting this morning which failed to outline these facts.

With looking back over data over the last three and a half years during the transition, as Australians went from state and commonwealth schemes where those schemes provided this support to those participants and they transited to access to the NDIS, and the previous state and commonwealth schemes were responsible for the provision of all support up to the point of transition to the access into the NDIS. In no way was a failure or lack of access to the NDIS responsible for the deaths of those Australians.

PAUL CULLIVER:    Your Shadow, Bill Shorten, says: I have no doubt the nature of some disabilities is such that if you can get earlier assistance you can extend the lifespan. Do you agree with that?

STUART ROBERT:    Yes. Which is why the participants during transition were receiving support from the states and territories. The figures shown in the media today started in July 2016 when there are only 30,000 participants in the NDIS, the rest of the participants were in state, territory and a small number in commonwealth schemes receiving support and then transitioned - and we call it transition because they transitioned from state and territory responsibility and provision of supports to this provision of the commonwealth. So this insinuation that I'm seeing across media that somehow these Australians died because of lack of access to the NDIS is patently and utterly incorrect.

PAUL CULLIVER:    Do you regret that the quality of life of those people wasn't improved by getting access to the NDIS before they died?

STUART ROBERT:    No. I, again, I reject your insinuation completely and utterly. These Australians were receiving support by state and territory systems, they were receiving support by South Australian disability systems up until the point they transitioned to the NDIS. In many cases those supports continued across the transition.

PAUL CULLIVER:    Why is the waiting list so long in South Australia?

STUART ROBERT:    There isn't. the average waiting list across Australia right now is four days, four days. The legislated requirement for waiting lists is 21 days so again I reject your assertion that the waiting lists are long.

PAUL CULLIVER:    It has been in the past. What have you done to make it better?

STUART ROBERT:    When I came into the portfolio the waiting list was 38 days. So over the last six months this government, through a dedicated cabinet minister, we've surged resources, we have streamlined processes, there's a new executive team in the NDIA. I've been very, working very closely with my state and territory colleagues and can I say Michelle Lensink, the South Australian Minister, has been nothing short of outstanding to work with. And all of these, as well as the work of the Disability Reform Council in dealing with interfaces, has ensured a quickening pace of people accessing the scheme and getting the support and services they need.

We have over 320,000 participants now and the Productivity Commission's indications of South Australians coming through is now at 100 per cent. So I'm very pleased with how we're going with South Australia on participants transitioning across into the NDIS.

PAUL CULLIVER:    Ten past five on ABC Radio Adelaide, South Australia and Broken Hill. My name's Paul Culliver, my guest is Stuart Robert the Minister for National Disability Insurance Scheme. As you just heard the Minister says: the average waiting time in South Australia is four days so what's your experience? You can give us a call 1 300 222 891. If you're on a waiting list, I want to hear from you. Minister I am curious, that's the average four days, are we getting blowouts though in the singular cases?

STUART ROBERT:    That's the national average which means states and territories will differ. So if the national average is [indistinct]…

PAUL CULLIVER:    [Interrupts] What's the South Australian average?

STUART ROBERT:    I don't have the South Australia figures in front of me. They may well be higher they may be lower, I don't know but the national average is four days but there'll be swings and roundabouts of course across the state.

PAUL CULLIVER:    Alright.

STUART ROBERT:    Sorry, across the country.

PAUL CULLIVER:    Obviously when there was much made of the 2018-19 budget which showed an underspend on the NDIS of almost four billion, 3.78 to be more specific, are we seeing a better alignment of spending in this financial year?

STUART ROBERT:    Well again, there's no underspend, it's a demand driven scheme. So we estimated the expenditure on participants would be $46,400, turns out it was $46,800 per participant so it was higher at a participant by participant level. The other area was that of course like the aged pension, or Newstart, or disability support pension we make estimates of the number of participants coming through and if those estimates are lower then of course you get a expenditure that is lower. But it's demand driven, and it's uncapped, and the expenditure will be made for reasonable necessary supports for any Australian that enters the scheme.

' I mean one of the great things of course with over 320,000 participants now 117,000 participants are receiving supports for the very first time which is extraordinary. They haven't received support from the previous state systems before so I'm really pleased to see those new Australians who've never received support now receiving it.

PAUL CULLIVER:    Alright. Nigel has given us a call. You are hearing from Stuart Robert the Minister for National Disability Insurance Scheme. Nigel go right ahead.

CALLER NIGEL:    Yeah. It's alright for the Minister to say there's no waiting list to get on the plan, that's fine. What about the waiting lists once you've managed to engage with a service provider. I've been told by my son on his plan the waiting list is now six months [indistinct] …

PAUL CULLIVER:    [Interrupts] And what's this? Just explain that, explain that to us Nigel. What's, what are you waiting for?

CALLER NIGEL:    Psychological services.

PAUL CULLIVER:    And what have you been told?

CALLER NIGEL:    So we've been told now that with where we've got a plan, we're engaged with a plan manager where there's a six month waiting list for our initial contact with a psychologist.

PAUL CULLIVER:    So you've been- your plan has been approved, but you can't actually get the services yet?

CALLER NIGEL:    That's correct.

PAUL CULLIVER:    All right. Minister, what do you say to that?

STUART ROBERT:    Well, Nigel's got a plan, of course, he has got- for his son choice and control in how he uses that plan which means he's interacting with the market in Australia for therapy services. In this case for I think psychological services. Now we're 2.3 per cent of therapy users in the country. So the vast majority of those services are not used by disability participants. So unfortunately when we exercise choice and control we have to compete in market segments. And what we're seeing in some areas are very thin markets for support and South Australia is one of those.

PAUL CULLIVER:    So you're saying there's not enough people to actually enact these plans, there's not enough service providers on the ground?

STUART ROBERT:    I'm saying there's absolutely not enough service providers on the ground.

PAUL CULLIVER:    So what are you doing about it?

STUART ROBERT:    There is a very strong move in terms of thin markets. In fact, we've just produced a thin market framework. It was signed off by the Disability Reform Council a number of months ago, but we're still operating in a free market and the NDIS is about choice and control where participants get to choose the services they want in the manner in which they want them.

PAUL CULLIVER:    That's cold comfort if you still have to wait six months for what you need.

STUART ROBERT:    Well, it's not up to me to determine which services Nigel's son receives but we are required to work together with the market to ensure that the professionals are available to provide those services. And there are ranges of thin markets right across the country, especially in rural and remote Australia. So there's a pricing differential. We increase pricing for supports by $1.6 billion this financial year as encouragement and there's strategies(*) moving in place to get more professionals trained and more access to those services.

PAUL CULLIVER:    Is that a lack of foresight by this government, to not do that sooner? I mean, this- NDIS has been implemented for years and years and years now and we're now realising there's shortfalls in these various services?

STUART ROBERT:    It takes 10 years to train a psychologist, Paul, and it is ridiculous to say this government did not have the foresight to start training psychologists 10 or 15 years ago for today. Come on, let's be realistic. In- three years ago, there were only 30,000 participants and as participants come through, markets adapt and change. And we're now working with states and territories to provide those services and to assist with developing those markets.

PAUL CULLIVER:    Alright, 1300-222-891 if you'd like to speak to the Minister for National Disability Insurance Scheme Stuart Robert. We've also had Julie call in. Hello, Julie.

CALLER JULIE:    Hello Paul and Minister Roberts. I want to know what you plan to do with the thin markets within NDIS?

PAUL CULLIVER:    How do you mean, Julie?

CALLER JULIE:    Well I'm blind and in South Australia, we have two registered providers for services. Now, with like adapt- and one organisation provides assistive technology training. What are you going to do to encourage other players to come in?

PAUL CULLIVER:    Minister?

STUART ROBERT:    Again, Julie, we're talking about how we can provide incentives through higher pricing. We've just put $1.6 billion extra into the market to encourage that higher pricing but we also have to encourage universities to train more professionals. For example, Tasmania University has no training for occupational therapists. Therefore, we have a limited number of occupational therapists in Tasmania because of that. And rural and remote where we have loadings to try and encourage professionals. It'll take us quite a while to develop these professions and these challenges in terms of thin markets haven't just evolved. They've been here for a long, long time. Remember, the number of South Australian participants have transferred from the state system to the federal system, so the same demands have been in South Australia for many, many, many years. We're now tackling together them as a nation. But now that we're getting latent demand, so a greater aggregate demand, we're now working on a thin market strategy with the Disability Reform Council to identify where those markets exist and to proactively encourage their development. It'll take a while. We've started with pricing differentials to encourage people to provide services because there's greater funding available. Now we're looking at other strategies going forward.

PAUL CULLIVER:    Alright, Julie, thanks for your call. You're hearing from the Minister for National Disability Insurance Scheme Stuart Robert here on ABC Radio Adelaide South Australia and Broken Hill. My name's Paul Culliver.
Minister, if I could just canvas a few other quick issues that are making news today? The Auditor-General has come out with a report into a sports grant scheme which doled out money to various schemes across the country overseen by Minister Bridget McKenzie. This shows that a lot of the money went to targeted electorates where the Libs and the Nats did stand to benefit. In fact, the Auditor-General even says that the entire scheme was potentially illegal. Did the Federal Government buy the election?

STUART ROBERT:    Paul, I can't comment because I'm not across the issue. I've- since half-past five this morning, we've been in bushfire areas and in Bega and [indistinct] and everything in between. I've just literally got back to Canberra and the first thing I've done is call you. So I'm probably the wrong minister to ask about [audio skip]. I haven't read the reports, so I'm not going to comment on it.

PAUL CULLIVER:    Alright, and in addition to that Science Minister Kevin Andrews today has said that climate change deniers are robbing Australia of time to respond to impacts. To those in the Liberal and National Party that do deny the science on climate change, do you think that they should bury those views and let Australia get on with fighting climate change?

STUART ROBERT:    Well, as I said this morning when I spoke to AM at half-past five is that Members of Parliament have the freedom to express their points of view. That's the beauty of freedom of expression in our country.

PAUL CULLIVER:    But if their view is contrary to science?

STUART ROBERT:    The Prime Minister sets the views of government and the Prime Minister has set that view very strongly that we are responding to climate change in a very direct way. We've set our targets within the global construct of the Paris agreement and we are leaning very heavily forward into that. Now, Members of Parliament are free to say whatever they want and freedom of speech is very important. Doesn't mean the government has to agree with everything that all MPs say, but the government's position on this is very clear.

PAUL CULLIVER:    Should climate change deniers be provided more science to show the truth of climate change?

STUART ROBERT:    Well, we don't like to restrict freedom of speech, Paul, that's not what we do, especially …

PAUL CULLIVER:    [Interrupts] But should Members of Parliament be educated on science?

STUART ROBERT:    … especially for people we disagree with. That's one of the tenets of our democracy. What matters is the government has a very strong view on climate change, that we are leaning into that, we are meeting our targets and in terms of the first Kyoto Protocol, we've exceeded it by 410 or 411 million tonnes, give or take. One of the few nations of the world to do that. Our nation should be very proud of that, as we should with our very strong commitment to our Paris targets.

PAUL CULLIVER:    Alright, Minister, thank you for your time today.

STUART ROBERT:    Great to talk to you.

PAUL CULLIVER:    The Minister for National Disability Insurance Scheme Stuart Robert there on the phone.

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