Minister Shorten interview on 2GB with Ray Hadley


RAY HADLEY, HOST: I'm grateful that Bill Shorten has been able to make some time for us, the Minister for the NDIS and the Minister for Government Services. First time we've had a chat since the election. Minister, good morning to you.


HADLEY: Nice to chat to you, Bill.

SHORTEN: Yeah, likewise. Thank you.

HADLEY: One of the things I talked about, and I view you as the bloke with the mop and the bucket. You've got to clean up this mess. It's not your mess but you've got to clean it up. And it first came to my attention, and I've worked through this for a number of years, and I'll just give you one example of what happened. I've got a mate who's got two special needs sons, I mean, very special need, and one of them required a particular bed. So he goes to the provider and they say, well, you know, this bed will cost X, Y and Z, but we can't get it for eight weeks. And he said, well, I need the bed now. You know, it really is critical to this boy, this young man. 

So he gets a price for I think about $1,200 or something like that, say. He goes back to the provider and they say, no, no, no, no, it's $4,800. He said, But I can buy it for $1,200 now. I can get it now. No, no, you've got to wait until we provide it because we won't reimburse you the $1,200. So I'm scratching my head thinking, what sort of lunacy is this? That we can get a bed for $1,200, but the provider - and I'm starting to think about the BER, you know, Tier 1, Tier 2, Tier 3 and all the rest of it. That's one aspect of it. 

Then I pick up the paper last week and I see you and the AFP Acting Commander and others are absolutely stunned by the level of criminality attached to the NDIS. And for every dollar that gets pinched, that's a dollar less going to these poor, deserving people. And it's a great concern.

SHORTEN: A hundred per cent, Ray. Listen, I should just say for the listeners, the NDIS is a good thing and it's making a lot of difference to a lot of people with a profound severe impairment. But I've become increasingly concerned, and I've belled the cat in the last term of Opposition too - so I have just said it yesterday that - there's insufficient scrutiny on the back door of the scheme. 

And what's happening is, taxpayer money isn't getting to where it's meant to go, but other people are, by a combination of methods, syphoning it off for their own gain and it's not getting to the people who need it, as you said. So we need to, at the very extreme end, the police have intelligence that some criminal gangs - the same people who are in the private education scams, the day-care scams - are turning up here and basically, through various fraudulent means, just creating ghost accounts or leaning on particular vulnerable participants to send in dodgy invoices. 

But the problem isn't just the act of crims. I worry about overcharging. Some people see that when you've got a Government package, they feel they can increase the price which is really abhorrent. Because at the end of the day all you're doing is ripping off the taxpayer. 

So the back door of the Scheme has had a welcome mat out for the opportunists and the frauds. But at the same time, the old government were making life hard for the legitimate people who are in the scheme. You know, they're getting their packages cut.

HADLEY: Well, you start to think. I mean, that's one aspect - Those people who are getting a drink out of it without any credibility…

SHORTEN: That's right. Exactly.

HADLEY: …to that, loading it up. But you think what sort of low bastards are we dealing with when you know that it's a really good system to help those who are most vulnerable, that are actually stealing from those people? You think, what level of criminality are these people at, that they would actually contemplate. And every- and I said this to Scott Morrison many years ago, every time a Government - whether it's you or his government - put on something good to try and help people, some low mongrel comes up with an idea to rort it. I mean, I despair.

SHORTEN: Well, human nature is generally good, but you're getting a bit of a philosophical morning topic here - why do some people only ever think of themselves and not the common good? 

It's the same as people who in the middle of a cyclone might break into a store and loot it, it's the same as people who pretend that they were flooded when they weren't. But with the people with disabilities, what they're doing is they're undermining the Scheme. 

See, the community at large, they're actually generous to people with disability. They say, fair enough. This is actually- whatever you think about paying taxes, most people don't mind paying some of their taxes to look after those really in need. Because one day it could be you or me, or it could be a child or a grandchild. 

But when you've got people, as you say, having a drink out of this, or behaving opportunistically, what we have to do as a Government is not be naive. And I don't- you know, I've discovered that it's possible to put a claim in for- you could pretend that you've provided a service and no one checks that you've provided it.

Now, if you think that you're never going to get checked for providing a dodgy service, you're going to keep putting in invoices, aren't you? And I do think we need some- also, I found that agencies in government don't talk to each other, so I want to sort that out too, because the tax office has got information, the NDIA's got information, the police have got information. They need to pool it and identify the patterns of behaviour. I think we can get on top of it, but you've got to decide that it's a priority.

HADLEY: So given the Australian Criminal Intelligence boss Michael Phelan wants a new multi-agency taskforce, have we progressed that far in the last week or so? Are we moving towards that?

SHORTEN: Yeah, I- well, listen, I think that's where we've got to go, no question. I've raised this before myself and I've spoken to Commissioner Phelan. I think that does make sense and we've got to get on with it. Also, that we have to do- in addition to that, I've got to have a better checking system. You know, I've discovered that we're paying out billions of dollars. We've got to- if you're a fake, you've got to be put on notice that we will catch your fake invoice. At the moment, I'm not convinced that the resources are there to do the back office checking to make sure that everything is according to Hoyle.

HADLEY: Well, if Commissioner Phelan's right, we're looking at $6 billion at the top end and 3 billion at the bottom end that's being rorted. That's a lot of money.

SHORTEN: Well, I hope it's not that big a number, but the point is any dollar which is getting ripped off is not acceptable. And when it's happening time and time again, I do think I can- I do think we can get on top of some of this, to be honest. I just think the people in Australia have, I think, competing views about the NDIS in their head if they're aware of it. One is they say it's a good thing, good idea, makes a difference. On the other they hear the sort of urban myth over the back fence of, oh, you know, you can put an invoice in for anything and it doesn't get checked. I want to restore confidence that the integrity of the Scheme is delivering for the people for whom it was created for.

HADLEY: Alright, well I want to help if I can, so if I get information…

SHORTEN: Well, I'll keep you informed…

HADLEY: …yeah, and we can stay in the loop with it because it really is an important thing that we- I mean, more than catching crooks, it's about making sure- the pie is only so big and it's going to grow until 2030 and keep growing. But we've got to make sure the people that need it get it, not the thieving bastards.

SHORTEN: That's right. But we'll do a shout out, Ray, that most service providers are doing a great job. And one thing we shouldn't think is- what we've seen is it's not the people, the disabled people in the wheelchairs or the kids who need the speech therapy. They're not gilding the lily. This isn't a scheme where the participants are the ones doing the wrong thing. What it is, is there's opportunists getting between the taxpayer and the fair dinkum people, and they're the ones we want to eliminate and say the party's over.

HADLEY: Alright, well let's stay in contact. Thanks for making yourself available at short notice. I appreciate it. Thanks.

SHORTEN: Thanks, Ray. No, I appreciate the interest. Bye-bye.

HADLEY: Bill Shorten, Minister for NDIS and Minister for Government Services.