Minister Shorten interview on ABC Afternoon Briefing


SUBJECTS: Minister Shorten discusses NDIS, hospital discharges and guide dogs with Matthew Doran on ABC Afternoon Briefing. 

MATTHEW DORAN, HOST: Well, the Federal Government wants NDIS participants to spend less time in hospital, fearing too many Australians living with a disability are languishing in wards despite actually being fit to be discharged. NDIS and Government Services Minister Bill Shorten joins us now from Melbourne. Bill Shorten, welcome to Afternoon Briefing. Talk us through what this problem that you've identified actually is. 

BILL SHORTEN, FEDERAL MINISTER FOR THE NDIS AND GOVERNMENT SERVICES: Every night in Australia, about 1,500 people who are profoundly or severely impaired go to sleep in a hospital bed, but they're actually medically fit to be discharged into appropriate long term accommodation, which is much better for the welfare of the person with a disability. And also, it frees up hospital beds for other people who need immediate medical treatment. 

DORAN: So we hear so much about how our hospitals are already short when it comes to the beds, or at least the staff to look after them. What's the answer here? Is it about getting more staff into these hospitals to deal with that backlog, or is it a broader solution? 

SHORTEN: Well, I can't speak for all of the reasons why hospital beds are occupied, but I think this is part of the problem. That is that there are people with disabilities eligible for NDIS, National Disability Insurance Scheme, support to live in their own home or appropriate accommodation.

What we have to do is bring in wranglers, to use a sort of a colloquial term. There are good clinicians in the hospitals, there are allied health professionals, social workers, there are disability insurance agency staff. Get them working together in a more speedy fashion to put together packages of care. 

I mean, what's involved is you might have to have your home modified, ramps put in, your bathroom varied, modified, or you might need to find appropriate accommodation. You've got to find a house which maybe have one or two other people with disabilities, that they're people you could actually share a house with. And then you've got to get sometimes seven-day-a-week, 24 hour rosters of carers. This is all- it all takes time, but the system is taking far too long now. It's been put in the too hard basket for too many years by too many people at the top. 

DORAN: So it's all well and good, I guess, to make these sort of commitments that you want to improve the system. But a lot of people would be wondering just how quickly you want to achieve it. What timeframe are you working towards? 

SHORTEN: I can't say if we will get everyone who is medically fit for discharge out, you know, by Christmas or by the middle of next year. But I can promise Australians watching Afternoon Briefing that I'm going to try to do as well as we can. Now the reasons why people can't move from hospital in some states or jurisdictions or towns, there isn't appropriate accommodation. To build appropriate accommodation takes a long time sometimes. But there's other people who I think their discharge could well and truly be speeded up by giving- training the National Disability Insurance Agency staff who deal with the discharge of the potential discharge by providing greater delegated decision making. 

I'm aware of examples where the house has approved, the care teams approved, but there's an argument over the cost of the cushion on the wheelchair. You know, we've just got to let- we've got to trust the people at the coalface working at the hospital, skilled planners from the National Disability Insurance Scheme, and give them the power to make decisions on the spot. 

DORAN: I want to pick up on something else within your portfolio, and Parliament House actually got quite a friendly visit from some very cute Guide Dog puppies last week and you were there. We know there's been a problem with some of the rules around NDIS funding for people getting Guide Dogs. I think you've described it in the past as a bizarre rule change. What are you hoping to do there to ensure that people who are vision impaired can get access to that support? 

SHORTEN: Well, there's about 1,700 Australians who receive funding for assistance animals. The vast bulk of them are for people who are vision impaired. But what I found since becoming the Minister is that some of the guidelines to allocate funding for an assistance animal are frankly obtuse and bizarre. 

I've had the chance to talk with the Guide Dogs Association, the Seeing Eye Dog Association. They do very skilled assessments. Not every person who wants an assistance animal is appropriate to have one. But where they do need them, I'm finding the government agency sometimes has been second guessing the experts and the people, and frankly just dragging out procedures when we should just give a tick and move it along. 

I'm aware, for example, of, you know, a debate about a young person who an assistance animal will allow them to go to university, study. But I've seen arguments from within the bureaucracy saying; well this will be a lifetime cost. But they don't understand that if you can free up a young person to be able to access education through the use of the animal to be more mobile, there's a lifetime investment and a lifetime return. So I think there are some very unusual examples of rules which are sort of may look good on paper but have no relationship to the reality of having an assistance animal. And I think we can make progress there too, just like with hospital discharge. Get rid of the silly rules and the silly second-guessing. 

DORAN: Bill Shorten, before we leave you, because we are quickly running out of time, just to today's news about the extension of pandemic disaster payments, could this have been handled a lot sooner? It's not like we're in the early days of the pandemic, and it seems like we've got to a stage where these payments were due to expire in just a matter of days. And it's only now that National Cabinet is making this sort of decision. 

SHORTEN: Well, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has only been in since May, so I think he's moved with considerable speed. The principle of the National Cabinet decision today I think is sensible. And perhaps you're right, it could have been done a couple of years ago, but we are where we are now anyway. That is that if the government or the law of the land mandatorily says that you've got to stay home for a period of time to isolate, if we're forcing people to lose income, then if they've used up all their sick leave, then the government has to be the safety net. And that was the decision today. I think that makes sense. So, you know, I think it puts a bit of clarity in. 

DORAN: Bill Shorten, for your insights today, thank you for joining us live from Melbourne. 

SHORTEN: Great, Matt. Cheers.