Joint doorstop interview, Park Royal Melbourne Airport


BILL SHORTEN, MINISTER FOR THE NDIS AND GOVERNMENT SERVICES: Good afternoon. I'm here with a number of federal and state colleagues. From the first Disability Reform Ministers Meeting under the new Albanese government. We've made a lot of progress. Today, we're building trust. 

All of the ministers are very committed to making sure that the NDIS delivers choice and control and a better quality of life for Australians living with profound and severe impairment. I'm particularly pleased today that the ministers have made a joint commitment to tackle the bed block in Australia's major hospitals, where there are profoundly disabled people eligible for the National Disability Insurance Scheme, who are not getting timely attention, and thus also occupying costly hospital beds.

Today, we've said that in the next month, we want to come up with a plan to cut the red tape out and make sure people will profound disability receive the support they deserve, and to free up much needed scarce hospital beds for other people who require them. I'm going to hand over now to Amanda Rishworth. The Honourable Amanda Rishworth, Minister for Social Services, and then a number of our state colleagues might have to make some brief contributions to we'll be happy to take questions.

AMANDA RISHWORTH, MINISTER FOR SOCIAL SERVICES: Well, thanks, Bill. Well, what was really exciting at the meeting today was a real enthusiasm and shared effort to make our country and our society a better place for people living with a disability. And so there was a shared focus on not only addressing some of the issues in the support through the NDIS, but a shared responsibility and commitment to forwarding the Australian strategy for people living with a disability, the national plan to ensure that those living with a disability can fully participate in society and in communities.

So today, we talked about the importance of gathering data of reaching out targets that have been set, and importantly, focusing on a whole of government approach, ensuring that it's not just in the department that is responsible for disabilities that those issues are addressed, the barriers and the issues that are addressed for people living with a disability, right across the government. And so there was a shared commitment, and enthusiasm for really progressing the interests of those with a disability. And I look forward to working with the states and territories to forward that in coming months and years.

NAT COOK, MINISTER FOR HUMAN SERVICES, SOUTH AUSTRALIA: Hi, I'm Nat Cook, Minister for Human Services from South Australia. And this is my first opportunity to attend and participate in a disability reform ministers meeting, I found today's meeting to be incredibly cooperative, such a positive environment for change. We're setting a platform today, I think, for the future where we will build significant levels of trust in the NDIS and the processes. 

What people need to understand regarding some of these barriers to success in the NDIS is that for everyday people are stuck in hospital and not able to access changes in or capacity to discharge with their plans in place. They look at very negative and significant barriers to wellbeing and success. 

So we need to ensure we work together to get people out of hospital out onto their NDIS plans as quickly as possible. And to work together in a team that's so cooperative and with one goal in mind, and that is access and success for the NDIS is really pleasing. So I've had a really positive experience here. So thanks to the honourable Bill Shorten and honourable Amanda Rishworth for providing us with this excellent forum to really set a platform for change forward in with the NDIS

EMMA DAVIDSON, MINISTER FOR DISABILITY, AUSTRALIAN CAPITAL TERRITORY: Hi, I'm Emma Davidson ICT Minister for Disability. Today has been an incredibly productive meeting. We've all got a renewed energy for making the changes that need to be made so that people with disability can have choice and control and live the life that they want to be living. I'm very excited to see that codesign is something that we're all agreed on as being an important part of this change process. And we're all very committed to getting it into the work together and making things happen.

NGAREE AH KIT, MINISTER FOR DISABILITIES, NORTHERN TERRITORY: Hi, everyone, I'm Ngaree Ah Kit, I'm the Northern Territory Minister for Disabilities. It was an absolute privilege to be able to join the fellow ministers from around the country to discuss this very important issue around the National Disability Insurance Scheme. I really want to thank the honourable Bill Shorten and the honourable Amanda Rishworth, for bringing us together. And to thank my fellow ministerial colleagues for all of their input.

We know that there is a long way to go in regards to providing vulnerable people with the disability supports they require. And today was a great step in the right direction. I have renewed faith and renewed hope that we will continue to work together to make sure that every challenge that we encounter, we overcome together to make sure that every Australian gets to live the quality of life that they deserve.

SHORTEN: Are there any questions for Amanda or any of our colleagues?

DANA MORSE, ABC: Definitely. So what's the next steps from here? You've had a very successful meeting today, what can we see actioned from that?

SHORTEN: What today means for people living with disability is that on a series of important issues, the Albanese government is getting down to work. 

First and foremost, we are making sure that the COVID protections for people with disability who are more vulnerable to the negative impacts of COVID are first rate. We want to make sure that people with disability aren't at the back of the queue when it comes to protection from COVID. 

We've also said that we want to make sure that the 1000s of people who are on the NDIS, who've had to take the government to court to sort out their packages, we want to blitz the waiting lists existing in the courts. And we want to make sure that in the future, people with disability don't need to go to a lawyer to get a government package.

We've also said that we want to challenge the issue and tackle the issue of people with profound disability, who are banked up in our hospitals. Hospitals who have scarce beds, and we want to help remove the bed block to help the hospital system and get people disability into the appropriate accommodation and settings, which allows them to move on from hospital. 

We've also made very clear that there's a big pile of work to be done to make sure that we're keeping Australians with disabilities safe, that their quality of care has been properly maintained. We've also made it very clear today that we want to work with the states to make sure that the system supporting people disability beyond the NDIS is delivering as well. So the NDIS is not the only lifeboat in the ocean for people with disability

STEPHEN LUNN, THE AUSTRALIAN: Minister, can you put some numbers around the hospitalisation issue? How many people with disability are in hospital when maybe there shouldn't be and in terms of that blockage? What's the numbers around that?

SHORTEN: We got some great cooperation from the States today. We think there's roughly 1,100 People who are ready to leave hospital who eligible for the NDIS. But for whatever reason, their matters aren't being progressed as quickly as we believe they shouldn't be so 1,100. That would make tremendous dent in terms of the costs in the health system, but also providing better quality of life for people with disability.

MORSE: Is that achievable with only an interim head of the agency currently in place? And has any progress been made towards finding a new Chief Exec?

SHORTEN: We thank outgoing CEO Mr. Martin Hoffman for his service. I'm confident that it's a matter of weeks, or a very short time, before we're able to, from an excellent field of candidates have a new CEO. 

But in the meantime, we're very fortunate to have Lisa Studdert, who's a senior executive with the National Disability Insurance Agency step in and act to act as CEO.

MORSE: So that won't be a block to achieving these outcomes?

SHORTEN: No, I think that the National Disability Insurance Agency is staffed with 1000s of dedicated professionals. None of us are irreplaceable, and the work goes on. But what we've seen today is a new era of cooperation in that council of disability ministers. There weren't Liberal ministers or Labor ministers or Greens ministers. They were just a bunch of highly committed people who want to make sure that the National Disability Insurance Scheme is working well and led by Amanda Rishworth, that we have a National Disability Strategy that all people with disability can be proud of.

LUNN: Where can these 1,100 people go? I mean, is there disability housing for more or what’s the pathway out of this?

SHORTEN: I'm confident for the vast majority of these people. There is housing, all we have to do is make sure that we join up with the person to a team of carers because many of these people have profound and severe impairment and need 7/24 care. 

We line them up with the right care, the suitable carers, in suitable accommodation. That's why the NDIS created to provide a community solution to people living with disability, the status quo of just leaving people stranded in a hospital for waiting periods of 160 days, 200 days, 300 days. That's not acceptable. That's got to change.

MORSE: Will the housing crisis have any kind of impact on getting those people out into suitable homes?

SHORTEN: The housing crisis impacts all Australians and so people with disability won't be immune from challenges of scarce housing. We should remember that at the most recent election, Prime Minister Albanese took a policy of building more social housing. 

In addition, I'm confident with the packages of support provided by the National Disability Insurance Scheme, some income support and other resources that there is housing there for people. But one thing's guaranteed. If we don't try to find housing and appropriate accommodation, people with disability were guaranteed to fail. So we've got to try. And that's what the whole meeting was about working together.

MORSE: The other thing I just wanted to ask was there was a joint release from the two of you yesterday on the debt recovery that now needs to go on welfare payments. How are you going to ensure that this isn't robodebt 2.0?

SHORTEN: I'm happy to go first, if you like. The previous government stopped the collection of debts for people affected by COVID and disasters between January 2021 to January 2022. 

I'm informed that the Services Australia, from January of this year, has been writing to people who may have inadvertently accumulated a small debt to the Commonwealth. To put them on notice that as at 1 July, they're going to have to look at how they repay a pre-existing debt. So people have been notified. 

For people who are in natural disasters who are receiving government payments, or may have a debt in February and March of this year. The debt pause is still in place.

In terms of robodebt, Labor's committed to a Royal Commission to get to the bottom of who knew what when. It was a shocking period of federal government history, probably the worst failure of the social security system that I've ever seen that 400,000 Australians were sent, unlawfully, debt notices worth upwards of $2 billion.

The government of Australia, the Morison Government, didn't have the authority to raise these debts against its own citizens. But somehow I know in a gross breach of negligence, the debt notices were issued over four years. 

At the door of the federal court late last year, the government, finally after fighting tooth and nail, their fingernail marks being dragged across the marble halls of Parliament about admitting culpability, said we got it wrong. 

But what we never got, because the government settled at the door of court, is an explanation of which Minister knew what when? How can it be that a government can run an illegal campaign against its own citizens for four years? 

I'm confident that systems put in place since this travesty mean that in the future, we will require evidence and the law before a debt can be raised against an Australian citizen. But we still need to get to the bottom of what went wrong.

MORSE: Will this debt recovery, that's being restarted now, be overseen by real people? Rather than an algorithm.

SHORTEN: This idea that you just rely on one point of evidence and then you start a debt process. That idea is unacceptable. And I've certainly received assurances that human oversight putting the humans back into the system has been occurring.

Thank you.