NDIS Reserve Fund

E&OE

Interview Transcript – ABC Melbourne, Mornings with Virginia Trioli

Topics: NDIS Reserve Fund

Virgina Trioli:

Today the Victorian and the New South Wales governments are accusing the Commonwealth Government of holding back $1.7 billion in funds promised to the NDIS, so are they? Stuart Robert is the Minister for the NDIS and joins you now minister good morning.

Minister Robert:

Good morning, Virginia. How are you?

Trioli:

I'm well thank you. Are you hoarding these funds?

Minister:

No, it is a ridiculous story from a ridiculous letter written by two governments that want money to spend on other projects. I can't refute this more strongly than that.

Trioli:

Hang on. You're saying that both the New South Wales and state governments are trying to get NDIS money to use on other projects.

Minister:

This is a reserve fund of a bit over a billion dollars. Which all the states and territories have to agree on how will use it as a contingency or reserve fund. The New South Wales and Victorian governments just want their half of it so they can spend it to prop their budgets up. And that's not what it's designed for. It's designed to be spent over time. So for example, if a small percentage was spent in a year, that would be funds of 50 to 100 million, I’ve just plucked a number. But it is not about taking 1.7, and the numbers only about $1 billion in spending money, this is the reserve fund to be used over time. I will not allow the two larger states to bully the rest of the smaller states to get hold of all the funding to blow it on their pet projects.

Trioli:

But hang on how well I don't know what their pet projects are supposed to be what, what do you say they are? Because, as I understand it, once you reached this so called breakthrough agreement, eight months ago about trying to deal with families who have long term and complex disabilities, that you're withholding the money until after the federal budget is handed down in May.

Minister:

Not at all.

Trioli:

[Interrupts]

Which makes your bottom line look better heading into the budget, no?

Minister:

Not at all, couldn't be more wrong. Virginia, I'm sorry with great respect. The NDIS is fully funded and demand driven. We've reached multiple agreements with Disability Reform Council on justice, on mental health, on out of home care, on transition to hospitals and supports. The reserve fund is fundamentally and utterly separate. This is a completely different issue. It's about funds that have been sitting there designed for reserve or contingency and how we build a reserve fund that can be used in perpetuity, not just this year, next year, or next decade. How do we invest them and how do we use them for key areas, that is the reserve fund, nothing to do with anything else. And for the two largest states to try to bully the smaller states and the Commonwealth to release their money rather than use it for the intended purposes, is not what we are going to do.

Trioli:

Well, that's not what the state minister here responsible, Luke Donnellan says, he says his office has been told there'll be no final agreement on the rollout of that money until after the May budget. Is that correct? And if that's correct, can you tell us why?

Minister:

The next DRC meeting where we will be discussing this is currently pencilled in for the 6th of April, and that is when we will get agreement on the final parameters of this reserve- [interrupted]

Trioli:

But, but to be released after the May budget, you see the logical conclusion, people are going to draw there.

Minister:

But a reserve fund doesn't get released. This isn't a whole big bucket of money that goes to the states, it'll be a reserve fund that will sit there that we may not want to spend at all for the first 2-3-4 years from this reserve fund. We may want to spend small amounts of money to deal with specific national problems. Or we might want to just keep it and build it for 10 years, and then use it so all those design parameters will be set by all of the Disability Ministers, not just the two big states that want it all spent today.

Trioli:

Is it part of the problem still, though, and has been from the very early days of the NDIS that people are finding it is taking so long to get into the system for the plans to be approved to get the assessments to get the tick off, that that money sits there. And you can say it's demand driven. The demand simply hasn't come in yet. Because they can't get through the system quickly. Isn't that the case?

Minister:

No, because, if you look at the last quarterly report I released last week-[interrupted]

Trioli:

Minister, I am going to jump in there, because I'm about to be flooded with calls and texts from people saying, we've been waiting months for our money.

Minister:

Well for children, for them to get a plan, it's in the mid-50s, in terms of days. So I absolutely acknowledge as we put in 340,000 people over three years into scheme, then where some real challenges. NDIA are on top of those challenges now, it’s got 800 new staff – [interrupted]

Trioli:

I'm sorry, we are going to have to leave it there just because we're about to crash into the news.