Minister Bill Shorten doorstop interview National Disability Summit, Crown Melbourne.


REPORTER: Well, Minister Shorten, it’s nice to say that. Mike Phelan says that estimates that fraud accounts for 5 per cent of the NDIS are conservative and that it could be as much as 6 billion. How concerned are you by that?

BILL SHORTEN, MINISTER FOR THE NDIS: I'm very concerned. The NDIS is funded by taxpayers for our most severely and profoundly impaired Australians. And right now, I'm hugely concerned that there is a fraud epidemic of people skimming money, and it's not getting to where it was meant to go. Be they organised criminals, overcharging, opportunistic. This has got to stop.

REPORTER: You mentioned in an interview this morning that the government is working on setting up a task force to target fraud in the NDIS. What can people expect to happen from that task force?

SHORTEN: The last government was just asleep of the wheel. They spent all their time making it hard for people in wheelchairs and the kids with autism getting funding. But they ignored the back door of the Scheme where the fraudsters were running amok.

I want government agencies, from tax to police to the National Disability Insurance Agency working hand in glove to identify patterns of fraud, to detect the opportunism, to hear what the community is saying. There are plenty of people in the community who have information to share. Well come on down. Let's share the information and catch the crooks.

REPORTER: Does that mean not only catching the crooks but convicting them?

SHORTEN: Absolutely. We've got to put the resources with police, resources with the tax office and resources with the National Disability Insurance Agency. See, these crooks leave patterns. They're actually stupid and lazy, many of them.

We just need to put the time into catching them. I have no doubt that there's patterns of over servicing, of ghost services not being delivered yet paid for. We just need to give the resources to our regulators to catch the crooks detect the patterns and stop the operations.

REPORTER: There have been cases of NDIS funds being misused, not necessarily at the same level as a fraudster perhaps, when it's been misused. Has any of that money been recovered? And if so, how much?

SHORTEN: It's been some millions of dollars recovered. But that's not good enough. The fact of the matter is I want to stop the culture of overcharging once that someone hears that they have an NDIS package as opposed to not having one, right through to the serious organised criminals.I'll work with the police, but the point is it's government money, it's NDIS participants’ money, and that's where it belongs. It doesn't belong in the hands of crooks, opportunists, fraudsters, who see mandated money flowing from the taxpayer, to the profoundly disabled, and then these people are intervening, siphoning off significant resources.

REPORTER: Are there any other kinds of fraud, in regards to the NDIS that you’re worried about?

SHORTEN: I worry about… well some state residential services are brilliant and some are less than brilliant. I worry if there vulnerable people in the care of some of these services packages are being farmed, or harvested. I worry about overcharging. I worry about patterns of payments, which precede no scrutiny. So we actually don't have a line of sight on whom the money is going to. And of course, you've got the deep end of the pool with organised crime using threats and coercions as the former commissioner Mike Phelan said last night.

REPORTER: Just one last one for me. Just how upsetting is it that this is happening? Not just in the NDIS but to Australia's most vulnerable people are being victimised this way?

SHORTEN: It's a fundamental betrayal of Australian values. Australians believe in being strong in their own troubles and generous on other people's. The NDIS is a generous scheme. People with disability deserve support. We all endorse that. But it is beyond belief. It is beyond anger, that you have criminals and other opportunists who are simply robbing the poorest, least well off people in Australia, and getting rich on it.

REPORTER: Thanks, Minister. How do you think the rorting has been able to grow to the scale that was reported last night?
SHORTEN: Let's just call it as it is. The previous government spent all their time trying to do over people on the Scheme instead of doing over the people robbing the Scheme.

The previous government was negligent. They weren't interested. They were disinterested. They made the life of people who were receiving packages difficult, but they seem to give a pass to the people who are robbing the Scheme and overcharging. I's just very, very poor. The reports are terrible, terrible management on a big scale.

REPORTER: You said you highlighted some concerns to the previous government about fraud, in your capacity as Opposition Minister. What was their response when you highlighted these issues?

SHORTEN: The Morison government was out to lunch from the day after it was elected in 2019. The ministers in the NDIS were either in the sin bin or in the departure lounge for politics. They weren't interested.

The last government, you couldn't tell them anything without them being arrogant and superior. So they instead decided to make it hard for people on the Scheme. They cut the packages and thousands of people, kids getting speech therapy, people waiting for wheelchairs and home modifications.

The government looked in exactly the wrong direction, but they wanted to try and save money on the Scheme. The problem isn't the person in the wheelchair, the person who is blind or the kid who needs speech pathology. The problem is that there's been too many free riders, crooks and opportunists who have been siphoning money off the Scheme between the taxpayer and the people who really deserve it. People profound and severe disability.

REPORTER: What's the government's message to those opportunists? Now that they've been identified as a priority?

SHORTEN: There's a new government. There's a new management and go and rack off and find someone else to abuse. The NDIS is going to be shut for business against the crooks and the opportunities, we will find you.

REPORTER: Can you tell readers a little bit about how managing the integrity of the NDIS was done prior to now?

SHORTEN: I think the fraud squads, the investigation teams in the NDIS, were underfunded. I think the Safeguards Commission didn't receive sufficient funding until very late in the piece. I don't think there was enough cooperation between the NDIA and other parts of government. Essentially, the left hand didn't know what the right hand was doing. And in all of these loopholes, the crooks and opportunists were able to sneak through.

REPORTER: Finally, I suppose, some of the reporting last night included allegations that criminal syndicates were essentially targeting disabled people…

SHORTEN: That was our police intelligence, which I'm not fully privy to. I completely believe what we heard last night, it made me sick. And it makes me sick that this has been allowed to fester for so long.

This isn't news. It may be news to the Australian people. But the Labor Opposition warned the previous government they needed to do more on fraud. And instead, the old government just simply made life harder for people on the Scheme, rather than people playing the Scheme.

REPORTER: Was it disturbing for you as somebody that's been advocating for the NDIS for some time?

SHORTEN: I think it is incredibly disturbing. It's upsetting. It betrays the faith that people disability have in the nation.

We have a generous safety net. But the safety net has got too many holes in it when this sort of criminal activity, opportunistic behaviour is allowed to fester. I honestly do not understand for the life of me, why the previous government was so delinquent and negligent in tackling these issues.

We will not make the same mistake.