Commonwealth response for NDIS participants and providers during coronavirus pandemic

E&OE

Virginia Trioli:
The Federal NDIS Minister is Stuart Robert and he joins us now. Minister, good morning thanks for making time for us.

Minister Robert:
Pleasure, Virginia.

Virginia Trioli:
Minister, the state government wants a payment for the casualised and very transient disability workforce to minimise movement during this pandemic. Why won’t the Commonwealth create one?

Minister Robert:
Because, while the disability workforce has some similarities with the aged care system the two systems are fundamentally different. You've got, in Victoria, a couple hundred aged care facilities, I suppose, in Victoria there is 108,000 individual NDIS participants, of which only 5,300 are in a residential setting. And the average number of residents is three. So it's a very different workforce, a very different setting. And fundamentally different from aged care.

Virginia Trioli:
Meaning?

Minister Robert:
Meaning that, for example, 108,000-109,000 participants, 54,000 are under the age of 18, 106,000 of them are living in their own homes right across the state. Many of those have got supports including attendant care, so coming to cook or clean or wash or bathe or get out of bed. Others have therapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy others have community supports. It's a fundamentally different workforce, doing different things to aged care. So the idea of taking an aged care mobility payment and putting it across other sectors, is simply not appropriate.

Virginia Trioli:
But I don't take your meaning as to why it's not what you described just then. And for a moment... I'll go in a moment to the experience of listeners contacting me minister actually would seem to indicate, it's a workforce that desperately needs, probably even more than an aged care workforce, that payment to limit movements because you've got them moving through so many different settings.

Minister Robert:
Well it depends for example a vast majority, over 30 per cent of those participants, are self managed, so they determine their own support needs and their own requirements and how they do it. Some are in residential settings. It varies substantially it's not as simple as saying these bunch of workers go to one facility and that's where they work and you can provide a payment so they just work there. It's a completely different environment. And right now if you look at infection numbers and where things sit they're out there are 39 NDIS participants who are currently COVID positive in Victoria, out of 108,000 participants. Like for like, you are four times less likely to get COVID-19 now in Victoria if you're a person with a disability in the NDIS than the average population. That's how well this has been managed. That’s how well the sector is working together on this. So right now, it actually is being well managed.

Virginia Trioli:
So your argument as to why you would not put one in place is because it's too complicated for you to manage, is that in essence what we're saying here, because it's so different from the age care setting that you can't think of a comparable or another version where you could keep this community safe?

Minister Robert:
The community is being kept safe. Everything the Government is doing is in cooperation with the states and territories. There has been four Disability Reform Councils, there's numerous supports in place to manage this and the results speak for themselves. Adding a payment paying the disability workforce for 108,000 Victorians who provide support to them isn't going to magically keep everyone safer, what's being put in place right now is working exceptionally well.

Virginia Trioli:
Except that limiting the movements of a casualised and transient workforce actually keeps people safer, just as a first principle.

Minister Robert:
I don't accept it's actually possible to limit a workforce that is working across 105,000 individual homes in Victoria to 108,000- [Interrupted]

Virginia Trioli:
… during a pandemic you can't conceive as the Commonwealth minister of some sort of system at least in the short term, that might be a safe gap system that could prevent infection?

Minister Robert:
… right now everything we're putting in place is working exceptionally well. The only infections, with 39 participants out of 400,000 across the country, is in Victoria. Nowhere else. No other states and territories. It's only in Victoria… where putting settings in place in Victoria hasn't seen the infection numbers grow, it is seeing it well managed. Putting another payment to across the top is not needed, at this stage.

Virginia Trioli:
Until a fact of it is needed. You know what I mean? I mean this is, this is, what it's about prevention, isn't it, and if you, and if you don't put your preventative strategies in place then what was happening right up to that point doesn't really matter when it starts to go wrong, no?

Minister Robert:
Well you seem to think that we actually pay hundreds of millions of dollars in payments to people, it will solve some of the issues. Now, what we put in place is ensuring the virus is not infecting across the disability sector in Victoria. With 39 participants the number is not growing it's coming down. It's being well managed there are providers of last resort for the biggest providers including Aspen, there for a clinical provider of last resort, if indeed, the workforce is needed to be moved. So we are managing the workforce, and the requirements, without the need for any payments because the system is very different to aged care.

Virginia Trioli:
I feel like we're talking at cross purposes here but, but let me put this there. Stuart Robert is with you this morning the Minister for National Disability Insurance Scheme. Some listeners have been telling me for a number of weeks now, minister, that even at the height of their pandemic, disability home workers who were able to come into your home during stage three restrictions, they can't of course now, were working across various settings, even in aged care homes as well where some younger people with disabilities are. Does that not strike you as a potential infection control risk that that should be more formally managed?

Minister Robert:
It is being fully managed so providers, participants – [interrupted]

Virginia Trioli:
… I'm gonna jump in there Minister, it's not. In the view of the these family members who are employing these people, they don't regard it as being well managed, if they learn that their casual worker who's coming into their home is also going into a number of aged care settings. If that's what you call well managed. They don't call it that.

Minister Robert:
The results speak for themselves and how we're managing COVID-19 across the disability sector. There is PPE in place for participants as well as providers-[interrupted]

Virginia Trioli:
… I am going to jump in, I am going to jump in, I am going to jump in there again Minister and I apologise. Let me read to you a note that's come to me this morning from one mother, who employs these disability workers to come into her home. We interviewed one girl a while back and she said to me, do you want me to wear a mask. She's 22. The question was do you want me to wear a mask. This 22 year old who works in the disability care sector, and who goes to other settings as well does not even believe that it's something she has to do, or should do or needs to do. Unless the employer requires her to.

Minister Robert:
Well over 21,000 of the disability workforce have received the infection control training provided. Everyone is required to follow the Chief Medical Officers of the state and territory they're operating in. Now we're not going to use one example as indicative of the entire industry, Virginia. That would not be appropriate – [interrupted]

Virginia Trioli:
…But I feel you're just reciting numbers at me in order to make an argument, whereas, I'm sharing with you the lived experience of people who go online to try and secure employment and let me tell you, when they go to the, the disability NDIS and aged care, you know, support, online services to employ people they call it ‘Tinder care’ because they just don't really know about who they're employing. I'm sharing with you lived experience and it just doesn't seem to be landing with you minister.

Minister Robert:
Well that's because I'm not accepting what you're giving to me Virginia. I’m not accepting that it’s Tinder experience. I'm not accepting you outlining a workforce in that sort of way. It's an outstanding workforce across the disability sector it's one with a lot of depth and a lot of experience, with a lot of training available. And of course people have choice and control and exactly of who they employ, and how they employ them because it's a very different sector to the aged care sector- [interrupted]

Virginia Trioli:
… because they don't have choice and control over saying, if you work for me please don't go work anywhere else because I'm frightened about infection. But let's… we've stayed on this for a while Minister and I know I need to let you go, but let me just ask you why you've declined an offer to be part of the state's disability rapid response group to try and prevent the infection disaster that we have seen in federal aged care, why not join with that group?

Minister Robert:
To start out, the Premier was wrong on the weekend when he said that. We joined on the 29th of July, we've got an NDIA medical representive there, the NDIA Taskforce leader there, the Commissioner there and has been there for two weeks. And at the same time we run our own… Commonwealth’s own COVID Response Group because we have a national responsibility, not just in Victoria.

Virginia Trioli:
Have you attended?

Minister Robert:
No, because I'm not allowed to leave Queensland, because if I come back into Queensland I have to go into two weeks lock down.

Virginia Trioli:
I was asking if you were attended digitally via zoom or turning up on a link. Have you started in that way?

Minister Robert:
No I haven't been invited. It's not a Ministerial council. It's run by the senior bureaucrats to coordinate on a day by day basis.

Virginia Trioli:
All right, so is it your contention this morning Minister that you and I won't be talking in four or five or six weeks time and talking about an infection breakout in the disability sector?

Minister Robert:
My contention Virginia, is the disability sector, since the 18th of March, the first DRC meeting of all the states and territories, we've been meeting regularly we're working hard together, and we're managing this exceptionally well.

Virginia Trioli:
Good to talk to you this morning, Minister.

Minister Robert:
Thank you, great to talk to you.