Minister Shorten on Sky News with Kieran Gilbert


SUBJECTS: Get Skilled Access’ NDIS report, upcoming Budget, Optus and Syrian repatriation.

KIERAN GILBERT, HOST: Australian of the Year, Dylan Alcott, has handed down a report into the National Disability Insurance Scheme, which identifies a number of key areas in need of improvement. He met with the NDIS Minister Bill Shorten earlier today to discuss the findings and recommendations have been issued to the government, including more autonomous use of funding and improved consultation with participants.

[Clip of Dylan Alcott]

DYLAN ALCOTT, DISABILITY ADVOCATE AND AUSTRALIAN OF THE YEAR: It's about listening to that lived experience to put participants back first, to enabling them to flexibly use their funding and whatever they need to create a mainstream marketplace where people can spend their services.

[Clip ends]

GILBERT: For more on this, I'm joined live in the studio by the Minister for Government Services and the NDIS, Bill Shorten. Thanks for your time, this is an interesting report from Dylan Alcott and it seems to at least one of the key recommendations is getting people with disabilities into leadership. You've already moved on that with that appointment of Kurt Fearnley.

BILL SHORTEN, MINISTER FOR THE NDIS AND GOVERNMENT SERVICES: Well, as Dylan said, Great minds think alike. It's overdue reform, getting Kurt Fearnley, is fantastic. He's a leader, regardless of his disability, and the fact that he can bring lived experience to being the Chair of the Board which oversees $30 billion, approximately in payments to people with disabilities, it's a coup for Australia, and it's a coup for the Scheme.

GILBERT: What does he bring to that role? He will know the lived experience, yes but in terms of governance in some ways?

SHORTEN: We all know him as an elite athlete and a person who's got countless world records, but we also know is a person with disability with tremendous strength of character. He walked the Kokoda Track you know, not in the chair, but he also has a long time commitment to being an advocate for the rights people disability. 

My second time I met him after the Beijing Paralympics in 2008 was when Jetstar stuffed him around and he called it out the poor behaviour. He's also served on any number of boards across a range of different callings. He's… if governments were appointing people as qualified as Kurt Fearnley to positions every day, it would be you know, really kicking goals everywhere.

GILBERT: Dylan Alcott, he also had a few other things he wanted to highlight. The first third of the report talks about the positives, the awesome work of the NDIS and you and I've spoken about the difficulties, the fraud questions and so on. But he says there needs to be a focus on the strengths. How significant is that? 

SHORTEN: We just need to be truthful. There is a lot of good news in the NDIS, 99% of people on the NDIS don't go back to the system there was beforehand. We just need to make it better. 

So I just think we should call it as it is, there is significant improvement being made. So one way that Dylan I absolutely agree with is that we've got to stop talking about the NDIS as just being a cost. Yes, we don't want to waste money. Yes, we don't want you know, rent seekers getting between the taxpayer and the person with a disability. 

But on the other hand, we've got to view it as an investment if one lovely survey result that Dylan puts in his report is it says that kids on the NDIS at school are now reporting to have twice as many friends. You know, that's these accomplishments need to be celebrated. And we're seeing that every day with early intervention through to people having greater control over their lives through to the economic benefit of nearly 300,000 people working in the NDIS, delivering services. 

GILBERT: One of the other elements that he points to in terms of funding is that in some areas the state governments have wound back their investments. Has that created unnecessary holes, where the NDIS has been introduced states have said okay, well, that's left gaps... 

SHORTEN: Again telling it as it is, my concern is that the NDIS doesn't become the only lifeboat in the ocean. What I mean, is if that's the only deal going for people with disability, then everyone will try and get onto it. 

The NDIS wasn't designed for every person with a disability. It was designed for those whose severe and profound impairments really interrupt core functions of living. But for other people with disabilities who have don't have that level of impairment, there should be other support services. 

We need the states to lift their performance in schools for kids with special needs. 

We need the states and other areas of government to lift community mental health support for people who might not be severely impaired has to be on the NDIS but they do need help.

GILBERT: Dylan Alcott also talks about those, as you point out that are to have disabilities not covered by the NDIS. How many of those people are we talking about? And where should those supports come from? Because he's saying there needs to be more support for them? 

SHORTEN: A rough estimate is there's about four and a half million Australians who self-reported as having a disability. There's about 540,000 of that group who are on the NDIS. So there's literally millions of other people who, you know, need some support, or don't need the intensive support of the NDIS.

GILBERT: And so where that where should that additional support come from?

SHORTEN: Well, it's a mixture. It can come from employers, being willing to employ a person with a disability, not thinking that it's somehow contagious. It can come from better school system. It can come from more community mental health support, also comes from the way we design buildings in our houses to provide access, it can come from airlines not making it hard for people to with disabilities to catch airplanes. So it's a collective effort. It's not just one scheme at one point in time.

GILBERT: Well, you touched on this earlier, but it is an enormous cost. There's no doubt about that. It's one of the five big ones that the Treasurer refers to in terms of those structural issues in the Budget. It seems that there is a real conversation happening within the Government about those, the further spending items like the tax cuts, what's your sense of where all that lands?

SHORTEN: I just want to say to people on the NDIS, people with disability and the people who care and love them, I've got no concerns about the upcoming Budget sort of targeting people with disabilities. 

Jim Chalmers, the Prime Minister, they're all committed to an NDIS. Yes, we want to make sure that money is not getting wasted. That's not a criticism of a person with a disability. But I can guarantee you that you'll have listeners who are aware that when someone has an NDIS package, all of a sudden the service they're being charged, the price doubles and we want to stop the price gouging.

GILBERT: Stage three tax cuts, is the Government having another look at that too?

SHORTEN: Not that I'm aware of, no.

GILBERT: On Optus, the Chief Executive seemed to be annoyed with the Government's response that said she said yesterday, “This is an attack on Australia and as Australians we should have presented a united front.” 

She didn't take kindly to you and Minister O’Neil over the weekend having a crack at them. 

SHORTEN: Well, first of all, it's day 13. I had senior public servants who collected the data, which we've been requesting, at 1am this morning. I tell you what has annoyed Australians, it's not the feelings of the CEO, it's the fact that millions of records have been hacked. The fact that the company seems to have kept their material or information of people who have not even been their customers for years. That's what's annoying people. 

I'm sorry for the feelings of the senior management of Optus there. They are in a hard place and they don't need, you know, we all need to focus on just trying to shut the gate now the horses bolted and to make sure no further harm is done…

GILBERT: … but it’s Day 13, have you got all the details you've requested? 

SHORTEN: I know our public servants are going through to check it because there's 36,900 Medicare numbers which have been hacked, for example. We want to make sure that we know who these people are so we can make sure that if any hacker tries to use that initial Medicare number to go further, we can red flag it. 

I should say that we did get a lot of progress out of Optus on Monday, yesterday after there was a bit of a public rocket sent on Sunday. Optus can say, “Hey, that's not fair,” but we got a lot of information by the close of business yesterday and by the start of this morning, which we didn't have on Sunday, so that's good.

GILBERT: So we're talking 36,000 there abouts Medicare cards?

SHORTEN: Yeah, there's been two numbers offered, Optus has said 50,000. At this stage, we understand 36,900. Our people are working through it. We've got to have a better way than people have to give their passport numbers and Medicare numbers to get their accreditation or their 100 points. 

In the meantime, once big business doesn't need that data, they shouldn't keep it. So listen, there's a lot happening… 

GILBERT: How many passports sorry?

SHORTEN: I've seen one reference of 150,000 passports. So I know that, if any of the 36,000 people are alerted by Optus that their Medicare number has been hacked, we will replace their card. They should contact Medicare, there's a number of different ways they can do it, by a phone number or going on their myGov app. 

It will take us about three to four weeks but we will replace their cards and make slight alterations to their Medicare number. I should also say to people who might know someone in this predicament that the hacker having the Medicare number is not enough to break into their Medicare records, we have multi-factor identification, but we just want to do everything we can to clean up the mess

GILBERT: So just to get back to that thing, that you put out this criticism of Optus, they respond. What do you put that down to? 

SHORTEN: Well, they could say they always intended to respond

GILBERT: Is it crisis management or what are they, what's the corporate approach there? 

SHORTEN: Listen, that'll be for others to assess. In my experience, when you've got a big problem, you know an emergency, you can take the low road or the high road. You can choose to lawyer up, look at damage minimisation, legal liability, or you can take the high road and just do whatever you have to, as soon as you can with anyone who you need to work with. And that's where we're getting to but it is Day 13.

GILBERT: And finally on this Syria, repatriation, do you think they think Australians will feel comfortable with that? How much sympathy will there be for the wives and the ex-wives of those killed and in prison.

SHORTEN: I wouldn't want to speculate on what the next step is. I've seen plenty of media speculation the last 24 hours. 

I know that it'll be treated as a national security matter, and the security of the nation will be uppermost in the Government's mind, and there'll be more to be said about that in coming days.

GILBERT: Minister for Government Services and the NDIS Bill Shorten appreciate it.

SHORTEN: Thank you.