Interview on 6PR

LIAM BARTLETT: I notice in the budget, the NDIS got a huge boost. But the boost is not the problem, it's the future of the National Disability Insurance Scheme, which is a little bit in question. In terms of that ongoing cost factor, the Prime Minister, I noticed, has also commented that the way they fund it in the future is in serious, serious- well, it's a serious dilemma for the Federal Government, unless those costs are reined in, because we're looking at something like 122 billion - that's billion - 122 billion over the next four years, the cost of the NDIS. So they've got $13.2 billion extra in the Budget on Tuesday. And remember, this is for a scheme that now offers disability support to some 450,000 Australians; 100,000 joining in the past year alone. And you may recall when it was established by the Gillard Government back in 2012, so that's a relatively short time ago, it's only nine years, it had just 7000 participants. Joining us this morning is the Federal Minister responsible for the NDIS, Linda Reynolds. Minister, good morning.

LINDA REYNOLDS: Good morning, Liam.

LIAM BARTLETT: That is an enormous explosion in participants, isn't it?

LINDA REYNOLDS: Liam, yes, it is. And that's one of the challenges I have now as the custodian of this globally unique scheme, is how we can put it on a trajectory of sustainable growth, so that this wonderful scheme endures for many generations to come. But as you've said, there are significant cost pressures. And in fact, every year it is going up 12 per cent, which is not sustainable. So for the Federal Budget this year. As you've said, we've put an extra, over $13 billion. So that takes an extra $17 billion over the next three years that the Federal Government has injected into the NDIS so that we can still fully fund the current 450,000 packages. And also, as we expect, another at least 80,000 people to join the scheme as well. So it is a globally unique scheme and it is a wonderful scheme, but it's not on a sustainable growth trajectory at the moment.

LIAM BARTLETT: No, that's the understatement. I mean, in two or three years' time, the way this is going, it's going to cost us more for the NDIS just on its own than it does for the entire Medicare system.

LINDA REYNOLDS: That's true. So the costs of participants' plans and also the cost of running the NDIA will exceed the cost of Medicare. So we do have a lot of work to do. And really, that is my job, Liam, as the custodian of this scheme is I've spent the last six weeks going around Australia, including in Western Australia, and listening to participants, to their wonderful providers. People like in Western Australia, Rocky Bay and the [Indistinct] WA. I've listened to stakeholders and I think that there's a lot we can do together to make legislative changes to make this scheme sustainable.

LIAM BARTLETT: But how do you do that? I mean, surely there's going to be some sort of cap or some sort of rules around eligibility? I mean, that would be the obvious place to start. Is that a fair comment?

LINDA REYNOLDS: Look, that is a fair comment. And when the scheme was set up in legislation in 2013, it didn't describe what we call reasonable and necessary support. And remember, this is a scheme for those who have permanent and significant disabilities. And that wasn't sort of very well defined in the legislation. And reasonable and necessary means many things for many different people, so it was also envisaged that we'd have an independent assessment process so that we could look at people's functional abilities and disabilities, so that we have consistency. And at the moment, the scheme is pretty unfair, because if you live in Kununurra, for example, versus Perth, there is a huge disparity in the package that you will get. So where you live and your socioeconomic circumstance matters, and it shouldn't. So there's a lot of changes we need to make for consistency and fairness as well.

LIAM BARTLETT: Yes. I don't envy you with that task. It's going to be difficult, because clearly in this sort of area, there's going to be people saying: look, it's a problem for me, but you have to be the arbiter of what is the problem, how big is the problem. There has to be some sort of limit, because clearly, you just can't keep going like this.

LINDA REYNOLDS: No, and that's right, Liam. And you look at any other insurance scheme here or globally, and they always do have an independent assessment process so that there is that consistency, and there is also that affordability. So I've got some really tough conversations to be had with the state and territory ministers and with the sector. But the great thing is, Liam, we've got one thing in common: we all want the scheme to endure. So it's finding that common ground so that we can introduce the legislation to make sure that it's affordable.

LIAM BARTLETT: It's a fine line to tread and it's a mine field at the same time. Maybe Minister, when you can take those first steps, maybe we can get you here in the studio and take some calls from our listeners, because we often get lots of messages back of house about the NDIS and people who are involved one way or the other, either directly or indirectly. So maybe that could be a good move when you're looking for public input.

LINDA REYNOLDS: Liam, I would welcome the opportunity to come in the studio and take calls from your listeners about the scheme and hearing direct- first hand from participants and their carers in Western Australia, because there's actually already 38,500 NDIS participants in Western Australia, and that will keep increasing, because West Australia's got a slow transition into the NDIS, so we've still got until 2023. So I would- I'd love to. 

LIAM BARTLETT: That would be terrific. Minister, thanks for your time this morning.

LINDA REYNOLDS: Thanks, Liam.

LIAM BARTLETT: Linda Reynolds, Federal Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

[ENDS]