Interview with David Bevan on ABC Radio Adelaide

E&OE

David Bevan:
Good morning

Minister Robert:
Good morning. How are you?

David Bevan:
I am very well, why wasn’t the Federal Government checking on Ann Marie Smith?

Minister Robert:
Ann Marie Smith was an NDIS participant since 2018. That was a transition from the South Australian disability sector and the oversight for the provider of course occurs with the Quality and Safeguards Commission, and then the oversight for Ann Marie sits with the NDIA and the NDIA was checking on her. But the degree to which all of that occurred and the sequencing, that's why we're actually investigating it through the Quality and Safeguards Commission.

David Bevan:
Do the NDIA, what’s that?

Minister Robert:
That's the National Disability Insurance Agency.

David Bevan:
Okay, and you say the agency was checking in.

Minister Robert:
The answer is, is yes, but the extent to which, and the mechanisms and how that is all the subject of the Quality and Safeguards Commission inquiry into this matter and of course South Australian police are looking into it. As I believe is the Coroner, as is appropriate.

David Bevan:
Minister the police have told us it appears she had been restricted to a cane chair for, perhaps, a year or more, and that that cane she was her toilet, if the National Disability Insurance Agency was checking in on her and you said they were, they would have noticed something wouldn’t they?

Minister Robert:
And that's why there's an independent inquiry by the Quality and Safeguards Commission, which will be made public as much as possible, obviously, so we can actually get to the very bottom of this [interrupted]

David Bevan:
Anybody checking up on Ann Marie Smith would have realised she was in dire straits.

Minister Robert:
Well there's 365,000 participants in the NDIS it’s a very large job. So the question is to what extent did they check in, is just one of the questions that the inquiry will look into. Was it a simple phone conversation, was there attempts to visit, all of this inquiry we’ll get to the bottom of and make public.

David Bevan:
Well you've known about this for what, two and a half weeks now.

Minister Robert:
So I was informed in the middle of May. That's right.

David Bevan:
Okay we've known for about two and a half weeks and you're the minister, it wouldn't be that hard to say, I want to know, by tomorrow close business tomorrow. How many times did we check in on Ann Marie Smith. Did you do that?

Minister Robert:
I did. I-[Interrupted]

David Bevan:
And what was the answer?

Minister Robert:
I'm going to let the inquiry finish its work rather than drip and drab little pieces of information out, we want to-[Interrupted]

David Bevan:
Well I wanna know a little piece of information. Do you know how often she was checked?

Minister Robert:
I do. And I- [interrupted]

David Bevan:
And you won’t tell?

Minister Robert:
I'm going to wait until the inquiry produces all the information so all Australians can make proper judgments and we can get to the bottom of it.

David Bevan:
Well, it's a pretty basic piece of information, can you tell our listeners. Because you say she was checked on, how often was she checked on in the previous 12 months?

Minister Robert:
I've already answered that question we have a proper open, transparent inquiry I'm not going to prejudice that inquiry by seeking to answer a question on a particular piece of that inquiry there's a South Australian police inquiry- [interrupted]

David Bevan:
How often was she checked on?

Minister Robert:
There's a coroner's inquiry. The independent-[interrupted]

David Bevan:
Minister we spoke to the police they're quite happy for us to ask questions about the system surrounding Ann Marie Smith that was meant to save her. Now, whether or not a criminal offence has occurred the police will work that out and they'll put that to a court and the court will decide, but we spoke with the police they're quite happy for us to investigate the checks and balances, which you are ultimately responsible for. So, again, why don't you tell us how often, she was checked on?

Minister Robert:
Because I'm not going to prejudice any investigation that's ongoing into a criminal matter and I'm not going to do it on radio. That's not appropriate. It's not responsible.

David Bevan:
Was Michelle Lensink right when she said it wasn't the state government's responsibility to check on her?

Minister Robert:
Well, I'm not going to put a running commentary on what state ministers have said or otherwise. There's an independent inquiry going on, let's let them do their job-[interrupted]

David Bevan:
Well hang on we’re just trying to work out who is responsible for what?

Minister Robert:
I actually want them to do their job, I actually want the independent inquiry not to be prejudiced I want them to do their job which will be made public, and then the entire nation will have the answers. And then, if there are improvements that need to be made, we can make them.

David Bevan:
Do you know who is responsible for checking on people who are serviced by the National Disability Insurance Scheme?

Minister Robert:
The National Disability Insurance Agency is responsible for participants, and then the providers of course are regulated by the Quality and Safeguards Commission that's how the structure is put in place-[interrupted]

David Bevan:
Do you know if the state government has a role in it?

Minister Robert:
Oh it does because the state government provides support in terms of medical supports the community supports and if you look at participants, participants should have either a guardian which is generally appointed by the state, there'll be local area coordinators involved there'll be providers involved there may will be support coordinators involved as well. And likewise, there are community there are neighbours their friends and families. The NDIS was never intended to replace community supports, and family supports it was designed to work in tandem with all of that.

David Bevan:
So there were state government agencies responsible for checking on Ann Marie Smith?

Minister Robert:
Again, I'm not going to go into specifics of the case I simply make the point that for NDIS participants they'll need to be someone who has authority to make decisions for them either themselves, a family member, or a guardian, if they don't have the capacity or family aren't available.

David Bevan:
Okay, so everybody who is looked after by the National Disability Scheme. Either has to make their own decisions, has a family person appointed to make decisions on their behalf, or guardian appointed by the state.

Minister Robert:
As a general rule, yes, there needs to be a competent decision maker somewhere. And that's not just for the NDIS it's almost all facets of life if you aren't able to make a decision yourself. There'll be a power of attorney structure somewhere, the family member who can do it, or as a last resort, the state generally steps in under a guardianship framework,

David Bevan:
And you know who had that responsibility in Ann Marie Smith’s case but if I asked you, you're going to say I'm not going to tell you because that might prejudice.

Minister Robert:
I'm going to say we should let an independent investigation do its job.

David Bevan:
But you do know who had that response or who had that role in her case.

Minister Robert:
Again, I'm going to let the independent-[interrupted].

David Bevan:
I am not asking you to tell us who it was. Do you know?

Minister Robert:
Your question is actually irrelevant with great respect because-[interrupted].

David Bevan:
It is actually very relevant minister, it goes to show your interest in this case and whether or not you're on top of your portfolio.

Minister Robert:
Suffice to say I'm well briefed on the case, it doesn't mean I'm going to partially brief the Australian people and prejudice the investigation.

David Bevan:
Okay, but you know who had that responsibility to look after her, you know that.

Minister Robert:
I'm well briefed on the case, I have taken a substantial interest in the case to the point where the Quality and Safeguards Commission is thoroughly investigating and they've appointed an eminent federal court judge to review their own, the regulator's own conduct to ensure it's completely thorough.

David Bevan:
Okay. Now, you had a conversation with Michelle Lensink, the state minister that was around about the time the police are now so having an investigation into this matter is that wrong?

Minister Robert:
I speak to my DRC, Disability Reform Council, or disability minister colleagues at the state level all the time.

David Bevan:
Yeah. And when she found out about us on the 15th of May, the police said, we want you the community to know that this dreadful thing has happened. And we've launched a possible manslaughter investigation. So that's the first she heard about that but she then had a conversation with you, and you said “oh I know about this matter” is that right?

Minister Robert:
I'm not going to go into discussions I have with my state disability colleagues and ministers that would not be appropriate,

David Bevan:
Well she told us you did.

Minister Robert:
I'll let her speak for herself.

David Bevan:
But- did you say to her “look, this is what I found out so far, Michelle”?

Minister Robert:
I'm not going to go into the basics of private conversations from one level of government minister to another.

David Bevan:
You didn't actually order the federal inquiry into this yesterday because I think under the act you aren’t able to, is that correct? 

Minister Robert:
That is correct. The regulator has asked an eminent federal court judge to investigate their own conduct so the regulator was putting an oversight into themselves to ensure complete thoroughness, and to make sure that the regulator hasn't missed anything.

David Bevan:
Okay, so the regulator ordered an inquiry into what, its management of this matter?

Minister Robert:
Into its oversight of the matter, its terms of reference of publicly available online. So it will look into the services, the support the extent mechanisms, guardianship, it will look into what happened from 2009 when Ms Smith's last parent died as to who then was responsible for her. It looked at the, the so the regulation, and the oversight of her care from then, including transition into the NDIS in 2018, and then we'll look at how the Quality and Safeguards Commission operated, what it did. Are there areas for improvement?

David Bevan:
And when will this report?

Minister Robert:
It'll report by the 31st of August its report will go to the Commissioner. And then the Commissioner said that he intends to make it public unless there are areas that may prejudice other investigative functions.

David Bevan:
Whose job was it to make sure that Ann Marie Smith was being cared for and that taxpayers were getting value for money for the services being provided to her?

Minister Robert:
This is the, in terms of regulation of providers, that's the Quality and Safeguards Commission. So, the regulator. And within that, of course, Ann Marie Smith should either have a either be capable of administering around a phase or have a guardian, or a parent, or a power of attorney somewhere, and then there'll be local area coordinators that working and coordinate service, all of which is being investigated and reviewed as we speak, the intent being to get to the bottom. And to answer all of these questions that are entirely valid, and they're all the right questions to ask, and to ensure that this sort of thing doesn't happen again. It is beyond unspeakable in terms of the issues we're dealing with here.

David Bevan:
Does the buck ultimately stop with you?

Minister Robert:
The buck ultimately stops with government for all things in the nation. But that's the reason we have an independent regulator is that-[interrupted]

David Bevan:
Hang on, you’re the minister with responsibility for the National Disability Insurance Scheme. So, let's not worry about the whole government is not going to be held responsible for this. The government's not going to stand or fall on this. You're the minister. Does the buck. In this case, stop with you.

Minister Robert:
All things in the portfolio ultimately come up to a minister, but it's the reason why we have independent regulators it's the reason why we have open, transparent investigations, so we can get to the bottom of issues, report upon it, everyone can see the facts and everyone can see next steps that are taken.

David Bevan:
Okay so, you think you've done a good job.

Minister Robert:
This is a world-leading scheme that no other nation on Earth has embarked on. 365,000 participants. 157,000 receiving supports for the first time. The national endeavour level of this is eye watering. And we're dealing with a very specific case that that goes back to 2009, and there are a lot of moving parts in it with a lot of individuals involved in it. We don't know what we don't know yet about it, and that's the reason why we're investigating it. And the great thing about open, transparent investigations is we'll get to the truth, and the truth will be made available for everyone to see.

David Bevan:
I wonder how many Ann Marie Smith, there are out there.

Minister Robert:
Again, this is where the investigation will understand and identify if there are any areas of weakness or any areas of lack of oversight, which will help us to understand and answer that question.

David Bevan:
Yeah, I just wonder whether people listening to this might expect somebody who holds the portfolio of National Disability Insurance Scheme. Minister weeks ago would have sent out some sort of directed to the scheme saying, I want I want answers on my desk. By the end of the week, on, on an audit that will make sure there are no more Ann Marie Smith’s out there. I mean we can't be paying somebody to turn up the care for them and nobody's checking on whether the care is being delivered.

Minister Robert:
The 18th of March, well ahead of anyone understanding this case, a clear directive he was given for me, for the agency to contact all 64,000 very vulnerable Australians, as we went into pandemic. So these directions were given well ahead of this case, and as I said I'm well briefed on this case in terms of where it sits-[interrupted]

David Bevan:
Well hang on, something wasn't working if you sent that out because of a pandemic on the 18th of March and Ann Marie Smith was dead in the Royal Adelaide Hospital on the 6th of April.

Minister Robert:
Contacting 64,000 very vulnerable Australians on top of the work that's done for 365,000 is a task that takes some time. The point I'm making is that there is a system in place it's continuing to roll out, it's a world leading system it's very, very large. Measures get taken all the time in this case for the pandemic to go over and above our reporting requirements. In this case we're looking at, at the pandemic we wanted to make absolutely sure that our most vulnerable participants felt that they were had been listened to any concerns they may have as we come into the pandemic would be addressed, a separate issue that was pandemic based, but it just goes to the point of the efforts that we make to ensure that this large number of very vulnerable Australians are being heard and being connected with as much as possible.

David Bevan:
That's the voice of the Federal Minister for National Disability Insurance Scheme. We're of course talking to him because yesterday, it was announced that there will be a federal inquiry into Ann Marie Smith’s death and her treatment in the previous year well, maybe years there's a lot of you have run in and one of them is Nat Cooke Shadow Human Services Minister and state Labour MP.

Nat Cooke:
If the minister is going to come on radio and want to say nothing he might as well, like, actually talk into a mirror, but honestly he's leaving more questions and answers here. I think one thing he did confirm is that Minister Lensink who has responsibility for the transition to the NDIS I've got some questions to answer as well, is, I think, David Harris from New South Wales case has been highlighted as well. Why isn't he got an inquiry going? They were called for an inquiry a few days before it was actually announced. Actually what they did was slap a fine on the NDIA, sorry the agency for not meeting the requirements of care, I think that needs to be answered. Does the Minister just respond to public pressure? One big thing I have to ask him, is with South and the funds for the NBA and then putting people's plans being unspent by about 33 per cent. When that money actually go, it is nearly a quarter of a billion dollars a year in South Australia that's not coming back to people, is it just to prop up a budget line in Canberra or should it be coming back to South Australia? Has the minister done anything about this, one of our ministers, and our premiers, doing to get our money back and make sure that people who are on the NDIS are getting a fair deal in South Australia and being kept safe I think there's more questions than answers and people should be rightly furious.

David Bevan:
Stuart Robert. Minister did you want to respond?

Minister Robert:
Well let me outline first of all how the scheme works. So four years ago, the entire nation spent $10 billion on disability. This year will be over $18 billion, one of the fastest growth areas of expenditure in history. What the states contribute is fixed. So any costs over and above are paid for by the Commonwealth, it's a demand driven scheme just like any other demand driven like the Age Pension or JobSeeker payments whatever the requirements are is whatever is funded and South Australia has a fixed cost so if there are cost extenuations, greater costs, the South Australian government pays none of that the federal government picks up the tab for the whole lot. So, there are estimates put in place in terms of budget papers, but it's not hey here's the money and it gets returned to South Australia it doesn't work that way, no automatic stabilisation scheme works that way. And that's how this game was built and that's how all the states and territories signed up to this scheme and that's how South Australia signed up to the scheme.

David Bevan:
Minister before you leave us, the company which hired the carer which looked after Ann Marie Smith Integrity Care is the federal government, no longer interested in them, I think they were fined a week or two ago is that the end of the matter or, or is there more movement there?

Minister Robert:
There'll be a lot more movement there so the regulator has used their powers to issue the first infringement upon them and that was simply a lack of reporting infringement. There'll be a lot more to come, not just from a South Australian police investigation and the Coroner but also from the regulator's inquiry on this as well.

David Bevan:
Is this the first time there's been a problem with Integrity Care?

Minister Robert:
I'm not aware of Integrity Care’s historical issues and again all this will come out in the inquiry.

David Bevan:
We were told on Monday that, Integrity Care paid for a screening of Ann Marie Smith’s carer after she died, that this carer had been operating without the appropriate screening for years apparently and they organised a paid for her screening, after she died. Is there a problem with that?

Minister Robert:
Clearly there is, and again clearly that's why we have an inquiry to get to all the facts and then present all the facts together.

David Bevan:
Minister, thank you for your time.

Minister Robert:
Pleasure.

[ENDS]