Interview about NDIS wait times

KARL STEFANOVIC:

Well Australia's disability pension, the NDIS, is facing public shaming as it's revealed 1200 people died waiting for access to funds. We saw this on the show yesterday. Sixty-five of those were children, 65; 35 of them under the age of six.

ALLISON LANGDON:    

Well we were overwhelmed with responses from you at home on this issue. So we've called in the Minister for the NDIS, Stuart Robert, to face the facts and he joins us now from Canberra. Minister, thank you for joining us this morning. Those affected, they've described the system as heartless, as broken and as we've seen, the statistics are damning. What do you have to say?

STUART ROBERT:        

Those reports of course dealt with issues from as much as three and a half years ago and of course access back then took a while. When I took over, it was 38 days' access into the system and the Prime Minister and I have worked very hard. It's now four days' access. Now, there's lot more to do. I'll be releasing the tune report on Monday, looking at how we're going to actually provide guarantees and KPIs to make the system even better.

KARL STEFANOVIC:    

So you refute all of those claims yesterday? There's no one who has in those statistics passed away while waiting for NDIS?

STUART ROBERT:        

They all passed away and it's very tragic, Karl, in that respect and they were receiving supports under state and Commonwealth systems as they were transitioning into the NDIS. So in 2016, where those numbers started from, there were only 30,000 people in the NDIS as they all transition from state and Commonwealth supports. 
            
So they were receiving supports and the responsibility lay with states and Commonwealths whilst the NDIS stocked up on and got up to speed where we are now.

ALLISON LANGDON:    

So do you think the system is now working well?

STUART ROBERT:      

Oh, we've still got a long way to go. I think we're 80 per cent of the way there and that's the report I gave to the Press Club in November. There's a strong plan to build the last 20 per cent. We're working very collaboratively with the states and territories who have been superb, but there's still a long way to go.

KARL STEFANOVIC:  

 As we mentioned, the Minister, we've been inundated with responses from our viewers and you've seen some of those online, sharing their problems with the NDIS. This is from Caitlin from Ipswich.

[Excerpt]

CAITLIN:        

And my son's cerebral palsy diagnosis was not enough to get access met for NDIS. As a result, we had to go back and pay thousands of dollars in reporting for him to access the service, despite being not(*) better staffed.

[End of excerpt]

ALLISON LANGDON:    

Chantelle's daughter also lost her funding. We'll just take a quick listen.

[Excerpt]

CHANTELLE:        

Marley and I would like to know why there's been such massive cuts in core funding for children with severe disabilities. Her latest package had really severe cuts in core funding which means limited vacation care, limited to support worker, limited therapies and as a family of five, we're left to deal with it on our own.

[End of excerpt]

KARL STEFANOVIC:    

Okay. They're just two examples. We'll get to more in a second, but how do you respond to those?

STUART ROBERT:        

I think some of those stories are very heart wrenching. One of the things I've done quickly is do a trial of functional assessments to move away from people having to spend money on reports to justify their positions or having to respond to the [indistinct] cutting funding ...

KARL STEFANOVIC:    

[Interrupts] But they are.

STUART ROBERT:        

So moving to functional assessments moves into a quantifiable process. So therefore, those things will go away and I'm looking forward to a report coming in March of how that functional assessment program has gone and I'm hoping that will actually deal with those issues because they're very sad, Karl.

ALLISON LANGDON:    

I mean …

KARL STEFANOVIC:    

Well they're sad, but they're not going away. These people are still right in the middle of it. They're still forking out and we're still not seeing an end to them.

STUART ROBERT:        

One of the challenges, there's 4.3 million Australians with disability but only 500,000 that are permanent and significant into the NDIS. So a lot of people, unfortunately, fall on the wrong side of that permanent and significant disability and therefore stay in the responsibility of the states. So getting a functional assessment gets a very quantifiable approach. So decisions are made, I think, in a better and right way so we don't get people being disappointed like that.

ALLISON LANGDON:    

But why are we only seeing these targets and things being set now? I mean your government- you've been in power since 2013, these problems are still ongoing. We've heard people say- talking about the administration issues. You've got people repeatedly asked to submit their forms that they've already provided; a severe lack of knowledge in employees. One viewer actually asked when her daughter would recover from Down Syndrome. That's what one of the employees asked. I mean, this is a broken system.

STUART ROBERT:        

Well it's a system that is being built as it's delivering services. Almost like a plane taking off while still being built. It's why …

ALLISON LANGDON:    

[Interrupts] But people are hurting right now, Minister.

STUART ROBERT:        

Yeah they are. There's 320,000 Australians in and we're still- we'll bring in 120,000 Australians this financial year as part of the final transition and it's why it's now a Cabinet-level position and massive changes are being made. Resources have been surged in: 800 new public servants; access waiting list dropped from 38 days in the last six months to four days.

KARL STEFANOVIC:    

That is- so that- hang on a sec. That's access, right? That's access to try and get an interview, to try and get access to services. Then you have to wait two months before you're given actual financial backing from the NDIS. I mean, why is it two months?

STUART ROBERT:        

Once access is met, it's then about participants sitting down looking at their goals, their plans, what they'd like to do, how they like it to be structured, developing a plan that everyone's happy with. Now, that was 120 days, it's down to 77 days and I'm hoping to make a lot more improvements as we go. Same with early childhood access. We've taken that from 200 days now down 48 days and I'm looking to legislate participant guarantees, sort of KPIs if you will, by the middle of the year to really cement the decisions we're making and locking in.

ALLISON LANGDON:    

Another major issue that's been raised, Minister, families talk about the system being rorted; that you've got these rogue service providers who when they hear that you're part of the NDIS, they quadrupled the price. Who is policing that and why aren't these operators being deregistered?

STUART ROBERT:        

So the Quality and Safeguards Commission is now well and truly stood up as agency that reports to me. Their job is to not only police those issues, but also to police quality and the next thing we're doing is revising our entire payment structure so that we've got full visibility of our payments because at present we don't. About 25 per cent of our payments are paid in different methods. Those two actions will make a significant difference in this area.

KARL STEFANOVIC:    

Stuart, it'll be good to have you back on to answer these questions as they go along. It's really important and good on you for owning up today.

STUART ROBERT:        

Love to, Karl.

KARL STEFANOVIC:    

It's such an important program and it's really important to get it right. Just on one other matter, really quickly. Nationals deputy leader Bridget McKenzie is alleged to have handed out $100 million in sports grants to marginal seats in the lead up to last year's elections. Did you know that she was stacking the books there?

STUART ROBERT:        

I saw a quick statement from the Sports Minister acknowledging all of that and promising to take action. So I think that's a good step forward.

KARL STEFANOVIC:    

Do you think she was in the wrong though?

STUART ROBERT:        

Well unfortunately, this all happened yesterday and I was out in Bega and Eden with bushfires and victims and service providers. And can I say that on that, can I just thank the Today program for all that you're doing in supporting the bushfires. It's pretty hard out there. I've got a whole bunch of service and support teams providing services and you guys are stumping up. So thank you for that.

KARL STEFANOVIC:    

Sucking up will get you everywhere. 
            
[Laughter]

KARL STEFANOVIC:    

Minister, thank you. Thank you so much for that. We appreciate your time today.


STUART ROBERT:        

Thanks for all your interest.

KARL STEFANOVIC:    I thought you did a really good job. No, and we'll keep on that NDIS too. There's so many e- mails coming in and lots of information on Facebook coming in. Keep those videos coming in, keep your questions coming in and the Minister will come back and answer those. He has already established that with us, which is a good thing.

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