Interview with Minister Shorten on 5AA Radio


LEON BYNER, HOST: Well, we often talk about the NDIS, that's the National Disability Insurance Scheme, and we get questions about it and we do a lot of referrals on this show.

But I thought it'd be a good opportunity to talk to somebody who's across this like no one else. He's the Federal NDIS Minister, Bill Shorten. Bill, it's good to have you on the program again.


BYNER: Now, how are we going with demand and supply? Are we cutting down by helping out enough people? Or is it still growing?

SHORTEN: It's still growing. That's the stand. It will always grow a bit because of the population and birth rates and what have you. But I do think we need to flatten the rate of increase in the scheme. I think there's a range of things which can be done in the short term and the long term. There's things within the control of the Federal Government, there's things that the states can do better.

The first thing we've got to do is restore trust between people who use the system and the Government agency who runs the system. And then we need to clamp down on making sure that, internally, the schemes run well; that taxpayer money, which is valuable in importance, getting through to the people who deserve it and it's not being wasted or syphoned off by crooks.

And externally, we've got to look at some of the things which are driving people to the NDIS as if it's the only lifeboat in the ocean. So what other services can we provide people with disability- in the way of housing, community mental health and better support in schools, which stops people flocking to the NDIS in the rates which they currently are.

BYNER: How has the cost of this ballooned out? Because I get information from people in the scheme that it's becoming untenable. Is that true?

SHORTEN: Oh, it's not becoming untenable, no. But I do think there's been some money which has been wasted, and I do think there's some external pressures which need to be addressed. Let's be clear though, when we say the costs of the scheme, I view it as an investment. I mean, not for one second am I saying I don't think things can be done better. But when we say that we invest $28 billion in individual packages to support 520,000 profoundly and disabled- severely impaired Australians, it's when people complain about the numbers they sort of ignore the fact that if this scheme didn't exist something would have to exist.

And let's never forget what this scheme replaced: a crisis driven system where parents were forced to relinquish their kids, where the way which you got resources is by being in the worst trouble imaginable.

So I do think we need to restrain the costs and we do that by working with people with disability. I've never- In all my time, I met plenty of NDIS participants. There's not- They're not greedy people. They're not asking for gold plated wheelchairs or anything too extraordinary. But I do think there's some people in the system who are providing services - the small minority, I should add; the vast majority are great - but some of the small minority are having a lender of the taxpayer, and lend of people with disability with some of their charges and invoicing.

BYNER: Well, the situation is that, if that's going on can't we cull these people out of the system?

SHORTEN: Yes, yes.

BYNER: Why don’t we?

SHORTEN: Well, that's what I'm getting to the bottom of. So I'm not going to talk too much about the former government, because I accept we've been elected now and it's up to us. But it does- I'm a bit amazed that I don't feel the former government put a padlock on the back door of the scheme. I want to get to the bottom of how people can put in invoices which never get checked to see if they're real. There's also a lot of unregistered providers.

Now, one of the reason why unregistered providers are able to do NDIS is they don't want the red tape of registration. And to some extent, that's fair enough. But unregistered providers are a lot harder to scrutinise. So I've asked the agency to tell me: Why do we have such a large proportion of unregistered providers providing services to people with disabilities. I want to know about the quality of what they do. I want to know about their bona fides.

BYNER: Well, Bill, Peter says: we know that the previous government was in the process of decimating the system, says Peter. And thousands of people were petrified of what was on the horizon.

SHORTEN: That’s right.

BYNER: What changes are you going to implement to ensure a more stable system? You've been there for a while now, so what are you going to do?

SHORTEN: Oh yeah, I've been there for a whole month. Not going to turn around the ocean liner in a month, but the old CEO has tended his resignation which I've accepted - so we're seeing a change of personnel at the top of the National Disability Insurance Agency.


SHORTEN: I've met with the states already. I've said to the states: Listen, we've got to get people with disabilities who are in hospitals - and that's an issue in South Australia - who are eligible for NDIS and appropriate accommodation out of hospitals. Because the hospital beds are costing $2000 a day and it's not a satisfactory living environment for a person with profound and complex needs.

BYNER: That's been an issue for a while. I'm surprised we haven't dealt with this earlier.

SHORTEN: Same here. Anyway, we're going to try and have a crack at it. Maybe it's too hard. I don't think it is though. And I've met with your South Australian Disability Minister who's a real tiger, Nat Cook - she's excellent. She took a very strong leadership role at the State Federal Ministers meeting we had a couple of Fridays ago.

BYNER: Yeah.

SHORTEN: So we want to tackle that. The other thing I want to tackle is there's 4,500 matters - and this goes perhaps a bit more to what your correspondent, Peter, was saying to you - there's 4.500 matters at court. We have got people who've had their plans cut fighting to get plans re-instituted or the big portions of it put back in.

BYNER: How does that happen?

SHORTEN: Well, what happens is you get a plan and there's 15,000 decisions made a week, so it's a big number. I'm told about 750 get contested by participants and go to internal review. But there's about 120 each week heading off to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, the court, because the internal review process has proven to be- hasn't resolved the argument. Now, 128 out of 15,000 in percentage terms is quite small. But in terms of human beings and real people, it's massive. It's a firehose of court cases.

So I've met with legal aid commissions and the disability lawyers, and I've got them in the same room as the agency. And I've said to the- these are the lawyers who are running the actions for free, for disability, you know, recipients who are feeling aggrieved.

BYNER: Yeah.

SHORTEN: And I've said to the lawyers for the plaintiffs, for the victims, what can we do to stop this fire hose of cases going to court? So they've made some sensible suggestions about alternative dispute resolution. That is a way of having conciliation without lawyers present or- I mean, one of the problems is the agency has had high priced lawyers fighting down to the door of the court. And that's a draining process. And I'm not convinced that's the best use of taxpayer funds, not when many of the cases settle in favour of the person with a disability anyway.

So dispute resolution is another thing we're looking at. I'm moving on that pretty quick. And I want to blitz the waiting list of court cases and give people in the court system the chance to have a conciliation. It won't take away from their legal rights but surely to goodness there's a quicker way of fixing these things and I'm determined to shine a light on it.

So another thing we're doing early on is we're not out of the woods on COVID. You know, I know you've got the anti-vaxxers beating their chests and, you know, carrying on. But the problem is for many other Australians, millions of Australians, hundreds of thousands of Australians on the NDIS, COVID's scary.


SHORTEN: They are immunosuppressed so I want to make sure that our response- that we're not taking our eye off the ball and just keeping our fellow Australians safe.

BYNER: So Bill, you keep us in the loop on this, won't you? Because I know you're very passionate about it and that's great. And by the way, if people need to contact your office, would you encourage them to do so? Or are there better means of sorting out issues?

SHORTEN: They could contact people like Steve Georganas in South Australia, he does a standout job - as do the Federal Members in South Australia. You can go to your local politician. But if people have got an email they can send it to my office. We're swamped. We get 250 NDIS matters a day at the moment so it's like

BYNER: Two fifty. What's the common denominator of what's wrong?

SHORTEN: Oh, people are unhappy with decisions, they're not sure what's happening, they want further information, there's uncertainty out there. But, you know, I get that. Hopefully that will ease up as people realise there's a change of management at the leadership of the nation. But there's a fair bit of anxiety out there so we've got to respectfully deal with it. And I want to tackle some of the real hot button issues - COVID protection…

BYNER: Sure.

SHORTEN: …making sure service providers and workers are paid properly, making sure that- And the disability care workforce who are covered by awards are all going to receive a significant increase in July. And we've made provision in participants funding so the participants don't lose hours of care because they've got to pay their individual carers a bit more. So that's good. And with waiting lists and court lists.

But, yeah, I'm confident that in the next 12 months we'll see some changes which, rather than focus on every individual input into the scheme, look at the outcomes. Have people disability got less stress in their lives? And are we're seeing the nation step up and provide greater support outside the scheme so that not everyone has to swim to the lifeboat and the only lifeboat in the ocean which is the NDIS?

BYNER: Bill, good to talk to you and I admire your passion and we'll certainly keep you on our do call him list. That's Bill Shorten, the NDIS Minister.