Interview with Minster Shorten on ABC Afternoon Briefing


GREG JENNETT, HOST: All right. Workers providing services in the National Disability Insurance Scheme have been awarded wage rises, or at least the potential for them, under a Federal Government decision announced today. And covering the new financial year seems to be a common theme of our discussions today, all said about the next financial year. Disability Services Minister Bill Shorten has been travelling the country assessing the Scheme and he joins us now from his Melbourne office.

Bill Shorten, can I just start on some news that developed in my previous discussion? This is around some changes with officials and secretaries of departments within the Federal Government, notably at the Foreign Affairs Department. Kathryn Campbell, the secretary there, is moving on. She's going to be replaced by Jan Adams. A number of reshuffles, I won't run through all of them. But Kathryn Campbell, of course, had been Head of Human Services under Robodebt. No one ran harder on that than you. Is she paying a price for that now? Do you welcome her removal from DFAT?

BILL SHORTEN, MINISTER FOR THE NDIS AND GOVERNMENT SERVICES: Listen, let’s separate the matters. The Prime Minister's just announced the appointment of a range of very talented public servants to senior positions, including Jan Adams as the new Secretary of DFAT. I'm sure Jan, with her marvellous background of experience across the world representing Australia's interests, will do an outstanding job, and the Prime Minister's thanked Ms Campbell for her service.

In terms of the Robodebt Royal Commission, I have no idea who will be called to that. Myself and the Attorney-General are working hard on doing the preparatory work to make sure that Robodebt Royal Commission is speedy. It's effective. It gets to the bottom of how on earth could $2 billion of unlawfully- of debts be unlawfully raised against nearly half a million Australians, many of whom were vulnerable, with no legislative authority and of course with a very cruel trail of destruction and unfairness?

JENNETT: Yeah, but whether called or not to that Royal Commission, do you agree it would have been untenable for Kathryn Campbell to remain in a very senior position in a very important department, at the same time that her previous roles and culpability were being examined in that forum?

SHORTEN: Listen, I have no idea about that. The Prime Minister would have taken professional advice, and I don't assume that the matters are linked at all so I don't think that's fair to Ms Campbell to say otherwise. The Prime Minister has taken his soundings, and right across the senior executive of Australia's public service, some existing leaders have been kept on and some new blood has been brought in. I think it seems, I've only just glanced at the press release and it seems to be a very exciting mix of some of the best and brightest to lead Australia's Commonwealth public service.

JENNETT: Yeah. As I say, I won't go through the many movements, there are a few of them there. Just finally, though, if you had to say, I know you won't be a royal commissioner, you're a minister, but would you welcome Kathryn Campbell's appearance to be held to account or at least to be questioned when that commission begins?

SHORTEN: I think the matter is more serious than just nominating individuals. I don't want to interfere with the work of the Royal Commission. We want to establish it. It shouldn't take too long. But I do think we need to understand how the Morrison Government, for four years, effectively unlawfully punished, abused its power, and the pursuit of people when it didn't have the legal authority to claim debts. We need to get to the bottom of that. The government did, the old government did settle at the door of the court. And I believe and I can- I don't have insight but my gut tells me that when they settled the class action at the door of the court, part of the incentive to settle it was they didn't want to see key people give evidence. The Royal Commission will fill that gap in the public's knowledge to make sure that it can never happen again. And it really was a shocking abuse of power by the Morrison Government. And listen, we don't have to dwell on it. The Royal Commission shouldn't go that long, I don't think. But I think we do, Australians, especially the victims of an unlawful scheme campaign waged by their own government, are owed an explanation about why.

JENNETT: And it will be watched and reported closely, I'm sure.

Can I take you back to the NDIS? Now, you've made some significant announcements today. What's called price limits for services, maybe not well understood by those outside of the Scheme. These will deliver to support workers potential pay rises of up to 9 per cent. We're talking more than a quarter of a million workers here. Nine per cent quite obviously would outstrip inflation. Is that deliberate?

SHORTEN: Well, let's unpack it. The NDIS has a funding envelope. This is within it. So the new announcement has already been budgeted by the old government and by ourselves. So that's- it's not- for people listening out there, their ears will prick up. It's money already forecast to be spent. But what happens annually is they review the prices, so that NDIS participants get individual packages. What we're doing is honouring the Fair Work Commission's pay rise of 4.6 per cent. Super is going up for people another half a per cent, so there's no surprises there.

But people with disabilities pay for these services. The Government pays people with disability their packages of support. So we want to make sure that people with disabilities, in honouring the minimum wage rises, don't have to cut back on the hours of support they receive. So the government, as it should, is providing the safety net.

Effectively, it means that disability carers, who are amongst some of our lower paid but hardest working Australians, we'll see an improvement in their bottom line in their wages north of 5 per cent. The other thing which goes into the mix is it's part of this payment of the price rises which is given to individual participants to be able to afford services. There's a recognition that a lot of registered service providers have done it tough. They've got overheads, you've got to train your workforce, you've got to get the rosters right. There's changes to the award which see people being paid more for minimum shifts and the number of hours they're able to work at a particular place. So what this is doing is it's making sure that the scheme can be reformed, but it's not doing it by starving participants or disability carers.

JENNETT: Yeah. Can you explain the linkage, though, between the price limits - which you have just explained at length - and those end users with their actual plans? I mean, they are paying at the end of the line here, do their plans go up by 9 per cent or is their purchasing power being eroded in any way?

SHORTEN: Yes. That's- you've nailed it. No, you've nailed it. What we do is, by increasing the prices, what it means is that when a person might have 10 hours of carer support a week, we're increasing the disabled persons package by the amount that wages are going up. So in fact, the purchasing power of the person with a disability isn't eroded, but the disability care is getting appropriate and legal wage increases. So no, this is- the price increase goes to the package that the individual participant on the scheme gets. And what it means is that they're able to pay the extra remuneration to the disability carer, the extra $1 an hour or a $1.50 or $2 an hour without it diminishing the purchasing power of the person's package. I hope I haven't confused you more now.

JENNETT: Okay, so you already- no, no, we understand it perfectly. Bill Shorten, you've already outlined that this latest announcement was already budgeted for and in many ways factored in by the previous government. I think you've said elsewhere that the NDIS budget for the financial year we're in now, but which is about to end, may be slightly underspent. You've been in the job long enough now, have you satisfied yourself that perhaps some of the more drastic budget predictions for NDIS spending going out over the next decade may be also overstated?

SHORTEN: It's early days. There's just one thing I do need to clarify. The previous government didn't assume that the Fair Work Commission was going to increase wages by 5 per cent. But the point about it is there's- in the envelope of funding, there is enough to cover that rise, so the participant's not worse off, and the quarter of a million disability carers, many of them can see an improvement in their conditions. I think it's early days to say whether or not the stated ten-year projections are too dramatic or not. My hunch is that whether or not they're too dramatic or not, there are improvements we can make to the bottom line of the scheme.

The first thing is changing the notion of the Scheme as being just a cost to an investment. I think that's the first part of the conversation we have. In other words, if I- you know, if we as Australia invest in these half a million people, many of them who are severely and profoundly disabled, if we invest in their early childhood intervention, that has a return.

Also, when we invest in adults with a disability that generates jobs, it generates better quality of life. So the first part of do I think the predictions are overly dramatic is I want to start asking, are we getting the outcomes that we are expecting for the money we spend? Then the next thing we've got to do is make sure money is not being wasted.

I want to tackle the legacy cases. There's 4,500 cases at court right now. Like, this is a ridiculous waste of government money, fighting with disabled people. And I just want to see if there are cheaper, more empathetic ways of alternative dispute resolution rather than pushing people to the door of the court. I also think it's time to talk to the states constructively about- we can't have the NDIS as the only lifeboat in the ocean. There's got to be other supports. And my colleague Amanda Rishworth and the states, we're all going to work on the landscape beyond the NDIS so that it doesn't become the scheme of last resort for people who lack other support which should be provided by states.

JENNETT: And I see that conversation was started, well, somewhat encouragingly anyway last Friday at your meeting. Yeah, we've checked in at regular intervals and a big body of work lies ahead. So we'll do that again before too long. Bill Shorten, thanks for joining us this afternoon.

SHORTEN: Yeah, thanks. And it's good news for disability carers and participants today. I'm happy for them. Cheers.