Minister Shorten doorstop interview


BILL SHORTEN, MINISTER FOR THE NDIS AND GOVERNMENT SERVICES: It’s a pleasure to welcome Vision Australia’s Seeing Eye Dogs to Parliament. It’s always one of the most loved events on the parliamentary calendar. It’s when we get assistance animals to come up and talk to the politicians.

In politics they say if you want a friend, get a dog. And let’s be honest, these puppies – everyone wants to be their friend. It’s great the Prime Minister has been here. In a moment, Chris Edwards, who is Government Relations Manager of Vision Australia is going to say a few words.

I just want to say that currently there is 1,793 assistance animals, which are funded by the NDIS, the National Disability Insurance Scheme. These animals, these working dogs do a fantastic job and make all the difference in the lives of people. We want to make sure as a new government that we take a lot of the red tape and argument out of the system. I think assistance animals are absolutely fantastic value for the people they help, and for the taxpayers that fund them.

With no further ado, I’d like to invite Chris Edwards to give some remarks on behalf of Vision Australia and people that use assistance dogs throughout Australia.

CHRIS EDWARDS, VISION AUSTRALIA: Thank you Minister. And it’s great to have the Prime Minister attend this great event. Assistance dogs make a massive difference to my life and they make a massive difference to 1,793 other people in the NDIS system.

Unfortunately, we are at a point where it is very difficult for some people to get what is an essential service to them. I couldn’t do my job without a Seeing Eye Dog and it’s really important that we minimise the red tape and actually work with the Minister and with the NDIS to ensure that everybody that needs a Seeing Eye Dog, gets a Seeing Eye Dog in a very straightforward way.

We are really pleased to be here today in Parliament. The politicians are listening to us and they understand the difference that Seeing Eye Dogs can make to help people be more independent, more confident and to be able to live the life that they choose. So we really thank the Minister for supporting this event. Thank you.

SHORTEN: Are there any questions?

JOURNALIST: You talk about red tape, can you explain what that means? Was there anything when you came to government that you were actually surprised regarding access and so on, to these dogs?

SHORTEN: Even the most seasoned political cynics will be surprised at some of the red tape we’ve uncovered since coming to government, with how difficult the previous government made it accessing assistance animals. For example, the previous government had guidelines that said the average working life of a guide dog is 8 years.

The problem is the average working life of a guide dog is somewhere nearer to 6 years. So what the old government used to say is that if your dog, who might have died of cancer, who could no longer do the work, had done less than 8 years, the person with vision impairment would be required to pay the shortfall up to 8 years. I kid you not.

Another example we’ve discovered upon coming to government is that whilst assistance animals empower people’s lives, we’ve found that people who had an assistance animal have been told by the National Disability Insurance Agency that they weren’t eligible for taxi concessions. Now the point about this is that whilst an assistance animal helps you, sometimes you need to get a taxi. Not every meeting, not every aspect of your life is within walking distance. So literally we’ve seen some of the bizzarrest forms of red tape.

I don’t know if the old political government even knew these rules existed that they were administering. The other thing we intend to resolve is that organisations such as Vision Australia Seeing Eye Dogs or Guide Dogs for the blind – they are the most experienced dog trainers in the world. Not every vision-impaired person needs a guide dog or is suitable for a guide dog.

But if Guide Dogs Australia or Vision Australia Seeing Eye Dogs, if they do a rigorous assessment, if they say this vision impaired person is suitable for the animal and they’ve got an animal available, what we found is that the old government would then take the person that wanted the dog and the assessment done by these reputable agencies and take them to court and argue about it.

My view is that, and I’ve looked since coming to government, if the government had a secret unit of dog trainers who were skilled in assessing the work of Seeing Eye Dogs and Guide Dogs Victoria etc. So far I haven’t found that unit. So what we want to do as a government is get out of the way of the people that have been doing this for decades. Not everyone needs, or is suitable for, a guide dog. I don’t think if we decrease the red tape all of a sudden there will be thousands of guide dogs in every street in Australia. The government is here to help people. The NDIS should be helping people so that’s what I mean by cutting out some of the red tape. Literally, it is some of the most bizzare rules that not even Shaun Micallef could invent these rules.

JOURNALIST: There is a disability meeting tomorrow. What do you intend to bring up in that agenda?

SHORTEN: Australia’s hospitals are straining under the fact that there is bed-block. One of the contributions to bed-block in Australia in hospitals is that there are people eligible for National Disability Insurance Scheme packages but the process is taking too long. So we’re working with the states to speed up processing eligible disabled people out of hospital beds, into more appropriate accommodation. Which is good for the person with the disability, and obviously good for our hospital system under great pressure.

We’re also going to blitz the court lists of disabled people. In other words, when we got elected, 4,500 people with disabilities had to take the government to court to sort out their packages. We’re continuing our plans to reduce that terrible legacy case load and to resolve matters in a speedy fashion in the interests of all, but most importantly the disabled person.

Great. Thanks all.