Minister Shorten doorstop interview with Dylan Alcott


BILL SHORTEN, MINISTER FOR THE NDIS: Good morning everybody. It's great to be here in Parliament with Australian of the Year, Dylan Alcott. We're here to talk about a report which Dylan and his organisation have provided the government about the future of the NDIS, with really constructive proposals to make the NDIS all it should be. 

When Kevin Rudd appointed me as a Junior Minister at the end of 2007 to be the Minister for Disabilities, I had no idea about the systemic problems that Australians with disability lived in. There are lots of individual success stories, but the system was broken. At that time I and disability advocates and parents and carers and grassroots campaigners campaigned for years to create the National Disability Insurance Scheme, which Julia Gillard introduced to Australia in 2013. 

However, in the intervening nine years I've discovered now that I'm back being the Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme, that there's been a big loss of trust between participants and government and we want to restore the Scheme back to its original vision. 
But that original vision and restoration of trust resolves a sea change in thinking by everyone, not people with disabilities, but by everyone else. What we have to do is understand that when you have a disability, look at the whole person, not just their impairment. We have to understand that when you invest in the National Disability Insurance Scheme, it's an investment in people. We've got to look at the investment in quality of life as a disability, not the price of a particular line item. 

So we want to change the way that disability is perceived in this country, look at the whole person. Look at breaking down the barriers that other people put in the path for people with disability and fundamentally change the conversation about the future of the National Disability Insurance Scheme. It is a beauty. It is a world champion, just like Dylan has been, a world champion.


SHORTEN: A world champion and humorous as well. So Dylan's provided us this fantastic report. It looks at the good news in the Scheme, as well as acknowledging some of the things that we need to do. I'm tremendously grateful, as I know all Australians are for Dylan. You are proving to be an exemplar Australian of the Year and I think you're helping write the manual for future Australians of the Year and people with disability are rapt to have you speaking for them. Thanks for this report. I look forward to hearing what you have to say now.

ALCOTT: Okay, everyone, I'm Dylan, thanks for having me. Thanks for coming. Yeah, Bill I really appreciate that. I really do. You know, it's been my purpose for my whole life to be honest, to change perceptions so that all people disability can live the lives they deserve to live. 

And one thing I wanted to achieve as Australian of the Year was to support the NDIS so we can maximise the potential as you spoke about, and we commissioned this report. People far smarter than me, wrote this alright, so definitely not taking any credit. 

We worked with Accenture, we worked with 20 disability sector peak bodies. We talked to hundreds of participants about their experience on the NDIS and what can be done to improve it. But one thing I'm really excited about this is the first third of this, talks about all the good the NDIS has done. And I think one of the main things we've got to change, which is one of the recommendations, is change that rhetoric around. It's costly, it's a pain for people and talking about the awesome work that's already been done in the first period of time and, and you know, 280,000 people who weren't getting disability support are now doing it. You know, every dollar spent on the NDIS $2.25 goes back into our economy, the growth of our economy and that's awesome. You know, and I think this report, as you said, Bill obviously is for people with disability but it's for every Australian to read. So they understand how important the NDIS. But also talk about some of the ways that we can improve and work together and to put people with disability back at the heart of it.

And I've got to give you credit, last week I almost got up and walked I was that excited when Kurt Fearnley got announced as the chair of the NDIA. He's much smarter than me, better looking than me better at sport, and I couldn't think of anybody better. But also putting you know, the majority of the Board having disability that's putting lived experience back at the heart. 

We worked on this for six months and our first recommendation was that and we were so happy to read it, when we saw that news announced but, you know, it's about this interactive experience to put participants back first. So enabling them to flexibly use their funding on whatever they need, to create a mainstream marketplace where people can spend their services, but also educate and train the people that work within the NDIA and NDIS to feel empowered to talk about disability as well. 

And we just want to thank everybody involved, but also the government for backing it and to come in here. And I think you can feel from the disability community that confidence but also everyone's buoyant, that there is change that is coming. And, and you know, I will say these are just words on the page, to be honest, unless they are now implemented and I know we will do anything we can to support that, to make sure that all people with disability get the support that they need to be the people they want to be.

JOURNALIST: Mr Alcott, can you just walk us through some of the key recommendations in the report you mentioned? For example keeping the Scheme disability led and about including lived experience, what else would you like to see and across roughly what time frame should this be implemented?

ALCOTT: Yeah. Look, there are ten recommendations throughout the proposal. And it's really great that there is a commitment to explore them with the government. Things like, as you said, putting participants first, asking them what they need, the best policies that they need to make it easier for them, the flexibility being how to use the funding or whatever the way the participants need to do it. Previously, for some people it was potentially good company and to bit hard to get change and things like that. But you know, the people with disability know what they need the most. But also one thing that's very cool about this as well is, you know, there are 4.5 million people with disabilities in this country, physical, non-physical, visible, invisible but there's only 500,000 on the NDIS. 

A lot of participants we spoke to said they're like some people that missed out on the NDIS there was often things and programs that were shut down around that. It's really exciting that people in government want to help federally, state, locally community groups but main stream providers as well, to explore, to make sure that no one in disability is left by the wayside as well. And look we are here to work with people to call in rather than call out and we're very excited about the future of it. And, and we want to look back in a few years’ time and look back and say, “Hey, we did this and it's a much easier scheme for everybody now.”

JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten can I just ask you something on funding. The Government's going through the budget and you mentioned that legal fees are a big one for the NDIS. Are talking savings of tens of millions? Where would that money go? Would that be reinvested into the NDIS, those savings?

SHORTEN: One of the futilities of the last few years, one of the stupidities of the last few years is that literally thousands of NDIS recipients had to take their own government to court to sort out their modest package of funding. 

I've undertaken that we will blitz the legacy waiting lists, when Labor got elected in May. There were 4,500 people stuck in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. We've now reduced that to about 3,900, which is a good start, but I'm not satisfied with that. We think that by blitzing the waiting lists by Christmas, we can stop people being caught in a soul-destroying process arguing about basic home modifications or assistive technology. 

What we will also see is that taxpayer money spent on top end of town lawyers representing the government against people with disability will also be saved. We're optimistic that will be millions of dollars. And of course, the money that we save will be reinvested in a better participant experience and we want to improve how easy it is for people once they're accepted in the scheme to have control over how they get their funds. The NDIS is in danger of becoming a second job for carers and people with disabilities doing the paperwork.

JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, how long do you think it will take to get the NDIS into a state that people can receive it and disability advocates and you are happy with it?

SHORTEN: That's a good question. The NDIS is a massive, almost like an ocean liner of a scheme. In the last financial year, 28 and a half billion dollars were paid to about 530,000 people in order to improve the performance of the scheme. You can't turn this ocean liner around on a 20 cent coin. It will take a while, but I hope to see in the next 12 months some green shoots of recovery that the participant experience improves. 

I don't expect we're going to make everyone happy and I think that some of the longer term challenges about properly investing in community mental health, in our communities, making sure that we have enough housing, making sure that all our school systems around Australia are responsive to the needs of kids with disability. Some of that is long term, but I'm optimistic that in the next 12 months, if you go and talk to people with disability, they're going to say, yep, things are getting better.

JOURNALIST: Mr Alcott, if you got to make one change to the NDIS, what would it be?

ALCOTT: Well, I just want the lived experience of people with disability to be heard first and foremost and to be listened to. You know, for generations, the last hundreds of years, often people with disability have been spoken on behalf of. 

If you need to learn something about disability listening to lived experience is the best way to do it. And it was a great start with the new Board and things like that. But really listen to the participants’ voices. They're the ones in this Scheme, their carers know, their families know. 

You know, we were so lucky to have the support of so many people that put this together, led by people with disability. You know, we had help from Accenture and people who actually know how to put all this together much better than us. This is all made by people with disability as well. And, their voices are ready to be heard. And as I said even just the, there's been a change recently in the community confidence. It really has because I feel like we are starting to get heard. We have a long way to go as Bill has said and we just want to be a part of that with everybody else in the support in any way that we can do it. 

JOURNALIST: Mr Alcott, does the report say anything about including over 65s in the NDIS. Is that something that you would support?

ALCOTT: Well, look, I'm not an expert in that area and obviously there are many funding schemes where people can get it. However, what I will say is we want anybody with disability who deserves and needs the support to be able to get it in whatever way that they can do it. 

So whether that is through the NDIS, through whatever it is, that's where we talk about the tier two, people that are on the DSP, people that are over 65, whatever it is, right? If they need care, support, education opportunities, employment opportunities, they need to get it right in whatever form that is and, and we will work with anybody to make sure that happens.

JOURNALIST: Do you think that people are exiting the Scheme at 65? Are they getting the right support and services?

ALCOTT: For some people they are, for some people they aren’t, and I think that's across the board with the NDIS. And even Bill has stated that, you know, there are areas where people are getting what they need to do, but there are areas they aren’t. And you know what? As someone who used to not get the support that I needed growing up, it's pretty hard. It's really hard we don't have choice. It's really hard we don’t have control and we want to make sure that everybody gets that of the four and a half million people in this country, those that have a disability.

SHORTEN: Mr Shorten, what about mental health and the millions who don’t have access to Scheme but live with a disability. Can you just walk us through some of the proposed changes that can help address mental health crises, especially after the pandemic? Do we have to review access to Medicare rebates through telehealth and making it cheaper for everyday people?

SHORTEN: The question goes to the important issue, “What happens to people who might not qualify for the NDIS?” 

The National Disability Insurance Scheme wasn't created for every Australian with a disability of every age. But that doesn't mean, that Dylan said, that merely because you don't qualify for the National Disability Insurance Scheme therefore, you can be forgotten. 

There's no doubt in my mind but as the NDIS has been implemented in the last nine years, that if you qualify for the NDIS with other psychosocial condition, that's good, you're on it, you get help. 

But I do think that the NDIS is in danger of becoming the only lifeboat in the ocean for a whole lot of Australians who might have impairment or disability. What I mean is that people with mental health, there are not enough community supports available, so of course they'd want to be on the NDIS as the only available option. 

So I think for people with mental illness who are struggling with it, who don't qualify for the NDIS, we've got to have a system which is better than just the emergency ward or a hospital or nothing. So there's been, you know, my colleagues in health have done, I think, good innovation around telehealth, around Medicare funded visits. 
But I think we're kidding ourselves to say we're doing enough. And I think this is a big challenge for our state government counterparts as well, that they can't just say that because the NDIS exists, wash their hands of other people who do need assistance/

JOURNALIST: Just quickly on the pandemic relief payments, the department says that 57,000 potentially suspicious payments were flagged. Is a human looking at these claims at all, aside from the ones that were people who were very obviously claiming multiple payments and are you giving any consideration to doing sort of a retrospective audit to see whether people were actually eligible?

SHORTEN: So I think that in recent months, the Australian Public Service has done a good job rolling out pandemic leave. The National Cabinet has made a decision to generally not have mandated isolation periods anymore. I should just clarify, before we get to the heart of your question, that there still will be isolation periods for people who work in hospitals, people who work in Aboriginal health organisations, people who work in residential disability care and aged care. 

In terms of false payments, I think people ripping off the pandemic leave scheme when it's precious scheme trying to help people balance work and health are despicable. So we've got trained checkers who can notice patterns. If you’ve got a bit of a track record for over claiming or mis-claiming payments, chances are you will get caught. So there's a range of compliance systems, hopefully we catch them before they make them or as they make them, but there is a process to check out retrospective rorts.

JOURNALIST: Mr. Shorten, on Optus, the CEO said yesterday that they were working to a deadline of today, October 4 to provide the information to Services Australia that you mentioned on the weekend. Were your comments and Minister O'Neill's comments premature on Sunday?

SHORTEN: Ask anyone who is a customer of Optus or an ex-customer of Optus if they're satisfied with the level of communication they've had with Optus. 

It's now day 13 and I'm pleased that our Service Australia people were able to get data finally today. But I think Optus CEO, Optus senior management are kidding themselves if they want a medal for the way that they've been communicating, no one's going to, no one, even a crocodile, would swallow that.

JOURNALIST: Do you think it's incumbent on the company to release the Deloitte audit? They've said they're going to keep it private. Does that pass the pub test with 10 million Australians who've had their information leaked?

SHORTEN: Listen I'll leave it to others to be general commentators on Optus. My beef is that we shouldn't have to, as the government in my area, we shouldn't have to play hide and seek and wait till day 13 to get material. 

I'm pleased though, now that material has been provided. We're yet to see if it's in a format we can consume it. For me, what it's about is the horse has bolted. We're trying to close the gate. I want to make sure that people who have Medicare records and last week they said it was 36,000 people but now it's 50,000. Now it turns out there's 150,000 people whose passports may have been compromised. All I’m motivated by is not to be a commentator on Optus’ mistakes or otherwise, but it is to get the information so I can stop hackers from hacking into government data which further compromises people's privacy. In terms of how they handle future days, all I can relay is what the consumers of Optus are telling me that they'd like more information and more quality and more quickly.

JOURNALIST: Would you support a move by the Treasurer to wind back some of the stage three tax cuts? That would be good money for the NDIS, I would have thought?

SHORTEN: I support the Treasurer and the Budget process and he doesn't need any advice at this point about his upcoming Budget. I think he and the economic team are going to do a great job.

JOURNALIST: Will the government keep paying pandemic leave for high-risk workers for as long as the pandemic continues?

SHORTEN: It'll be a matter for National Cabinet. But just to be clear, because I have some people in the disability sector reach out to me. The National Cabinet decision does actually acknowledge that in hospitals, aged care and residential disability care, for example, there still will be mandated isolation.