Minister Shorten doorstop interview


BILL SHORTEN, MINISTER FOR THE NDIS AND GOVERNMENT SERVICES: Good afternoon. I've got some very exciting news to announce about the future of Australia's fantastic National Disability Insurance Scheme.

I'm pleased to announce that today the Albanese Government will launch a review of the NDIS. It was due next year. We're bringing forward to this year. The National Disability Insurance Scheme is arguably Australia's best addition to the social framework of Australian society in the 21st century.

However, nine years of Coalition neglect has left the Scheme not in the position which I think Australians would like to see. On one hand we've seen countless examples, thousands of participants who have been treated poorly. Who have had their funds arbitrarily cut, who were forced to take the government to court.

Thousands of people with disability who are stuck for too long in hospital beds when they should be provided with better accommodation as they’re medically fit to be discharged.

We've started the process of reforming the National Disability Insurance Scheme. We need to provide a better scheme for participants. On the other hand, the other problem that the Coalition Government has left us with is, that we will see even between the March budget of this year and the Budget, which Treasurer Chalmers will bring down next week, an increase in the NDIS projected costs over the next four years, of $8.8 billion across the next four years from the budget numbers that the Coalition Government provided the nation in March.

This is very poor management of the Scheme by the outgoing government. Now changes have already started. Today I'm pleased to remind people that the new chairperson of the NDIA is Kurt Fearnley and he started today. I’m pleased to say that the new CEO of the NDIA started today, Ms. Rebecca Falkingham.

But as part of our reform as we announced before the election, we want to do a root and branch review of the Scheme. I have with me the panellists who will be doing this Review. They are amongst Australia's most respected thinkers on disability, the community and reform. I'll just introduce them briefly to you.

The Co-Chairs of the review will be Professor Bruce Bonyhady of the Melbourne Disability Institute, but also the inaugural Chairperson of the Scheme. The other Co-Chair will be Ms. Lisa Paul. Ms Paul PSM has a distinguished career as a Commonwealth Public Service, Secretary under the Department of Education Workplace Relations to both Labor and Liberal governments. So I'm very grateful for their agreement to lead the review

Supporting them in the steering panel of the review will be former Queensland Anti-Discrimination Commissioner, Mr Kevin Cocks. We'll have the Head of the ACT Council on Disability, Mr. Dougie Herd. We are also fortunate to have the formidable Judy Brewer, who has led just about every autism research organisation in the nation. Thank you, Judy. We also have Kirsten Dean, a former leader of Every Australian Counts, which is arguably in the crowded field of disability, the premier grassroots organisation. We're also supported by Dr Stephen King from the Productivity Commission who can’t be here today due to family reasons.

So they’re the review panel and the task of the review isn't to reinvent the wheel. There's been a lot of good work done by a lot of joint parliamentary committees, by other bodies who've looked at the NDIS but unfortunately, despite the lengthy consultation, the numerous reports that have written on the Scheme, nothing ever happens.

So it'll be looking at all the work that has already come before. It will be based on the principle of co-design with people with disabilities. In addition, this review is not about a razor gang and cost cutting. It's about changing and recasting the Scheme for one of the cost of everything, to the value of what we're getting.

Australian taxpayers are generous and they do support providing a decent scheme for people with disability. People with disability have the right to an ordinary life. But in the last nine years, too much of the debate about the future of the NDIS, on one hand has been marked by waste and inefficiency by the previous government, and this administration is failed. But on the other hand, not understanding that the best way to get value for the Scheme, value for taxpayers and value for people with disability is to focus on the outcome and the benefits. To understand the Scheme as an investment not and not just a particular line item of cost.

This is a very exciting time.

The previous government has left us with a mess. You can't put too fine a point on that. That's just the truth of the matter. But we're seeing with changed new leadership at the agency, new leadership of the Scheme and also this review led by some of Australia's most trusted disability leaders, that we will see, I think, a turning the corner, a revitalisation of trust by people of disability in the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

I simply want it to be the best scheme in the world for people living with disability and I know this review will help contribute to that process. Happy to take some questions.

JOURNALIST: You say that the focus shouldn't be about cost, but a focus on cost is inevitable, given as you say the trajectory is an extra $8.8 billion over four years. It's going be overtaking Medicare soon. You in Opposition said the Scheme is being targeted by shonks, so what are you going to do to tighten this up and ensure there isn’t waste and rorting?

SHORTEN: What I say to people disability, the half a million plus participants, their families, the people who work for them, the service providers, is the NDIS should be better than it is. And I certainly do think we need to identify waste, which I also mentioned in my opening remarks. I do think there are problems with the Scheme.

I think the sort of unusual and bizarre act of the last government as they used to focus on a debate about the price of someone's cushion on a wheelchair, but they didn't have proper monitoring of the payments, of the invoices that are coming in. In other words, they focused a lot on locking the front door but they had a welcome mat out with a little note to help yourself in the back door of the Scheme to shonks.

So I think that we can identify waste. I think we can identify the crooks. I think we can improve the processes and cut out the bureaucracy, but it won't be at the expense of people with disability and their dreams and hopes.

JOURNALIST: The $8.8 billion blow out – what is behind that? And is it an issue that too many people are coming onto the Scheme more than what the Scheme was designed for?

SHORTEN: Greg I know you’ve followed the history of the Scheme so you'll appreciate that a lot of the people coming onto the Scheme now are not actually people with complex needs.

When this Scheme was created, there was clearly unmet need but a lot of the people now coming onto the Scheme aren’t the people who need the 24 hour, 7 day week care. Perhaps there are children who've got a diagnosis of developmental delays. So if you like, the number of people coming on the Scheme, isn’t necessarily reflective that they all have the same needs. But I do think there is a challenge to make sure there’s consistency and there’s equity because in some parts of Australia they're underrepresented in the Scheme. What in part this Scheme is going to become is a two tier scheme. To be colloquial, if you're tertiary educated, white and middle class, you know how to use the Scheme. But if you're not in one of those more advantaged groups, equity becomes an issue. I think there improvements we can make in the cost drivers of the Scheme: waste, inefficiency, red tape.

I also think there is a challenge – and I thank the states and territories for working with us on the terms of the review – I think there's a challenge for the Scheme, it’s in danger of becoming the only lifeboat in the ocean. What we need is to have more support for people with disability outside the Scheme. We need to make sure our school system is more responsive to kids’ learning. We need to make sure that within community mental health, that there is support for people who wouldn't be eligible for the Scheme but still need more support.

The review is going to look at a lot of matters, but I'm not going to start the review by saying the problem with the Scheme is people with disabilities. I actually think they've been let down by previous government. Let's face it, the NDIA, the NDIS, used to be the sinbin for failed Coalition ministers. Stuart Robert was put there in disgrace and of course, you can't forget Linda Reynolds.

JOURNALIST: You didn’t answer Greg’s question about the drivers behind the $8.8 billion?

SHORTEN: I actually did. There's that there's internal cost drivers, waste and inefficiency, poor payment integrity system and fraud. I also said one of the internal drivers I think is, clunky decision-making processes.

What we have is the Scheme had a staff cap, a maximum number of public servants. Even though the Scheme numbers increased, the previous government froze the number of servants. So they invented a whole lot of workarounds in the community partners. So I think there is demonstrable inefficiency. There's external drivers to the costs of the Scheme too.

Not everyone in Australia with a disability has an impairment sufficient which would require them to be on the Scheme. But there has been, I think, a bit of a retreat from disability services at different levels of government. Everyone would say, “Oh, that's the NDIS now.” So I think that contributes to the cost of the Scheme. In terms of housing, we're seeing general pressure on housing prices and that also contributes to the Scheme costs. So for the sake of clarity, it’s a complex issue. What I might do is invite the Co-Chair of the panel to take briefly on the terms of the review.

PROFESSOR BRUCE BONYHADY AM: Well, it's a great honour, an enormous privilege to have been asked by Minister Shorten to Co-Chair the Review of the NDIS. As the Minister mentioned I was the inaugural Chair, so the opportunity now to work with the disability community to ensure that the NDIS achieves its vision is a great privilege and great opportunity.

I'm delighted that I'm working with my Co-Chair, Lisa Paul, and the members of the expert panel. But ultimately this review has to belong to people with disabilities, so we are going to engage closely with them on this review in order to ensure that the NDIS does meet people’s expectations.

The terms of reference are very broad and split into two parts. Part one and part two.

In part one we're going to look at participant experience, the journey that participants and their families have so that this Scheme sits, side by side with them and the relationship there is a relationship rather than just a series of transactions.

We want to look at the outcomes that the scheme is achieving for people with a disability. This scheme was intended to invest in people with disability achieve maximum opportunity, maximum lifetime outcomes. So we want to return some of those original intents of the scheme.

The Minister has mentioned the fact that part of the issue of Scheme is that there are not sufficient supports for people outside of the Scheme. So working with state governments on this key issue will be important. The intersection with mainstream services so that they fulfil their universal obligations for all citizens, including people with disability, will also be an important part of this review. So how the health system works with the NDIS. How the education system works with the NDIS. How do we ensure that people with disability are treated fairly in the justice?

These are all really important issues that we need to address in order to ensure that the scheme can be, as the Minister said, the best possible scheme, ultimately the best disability system in the world.

So this is an extraordinary opportunity I think. It is an opportunity to reform the scheme. We are in the very positive position, in the strong position of having an enormous amount of data and evidence, that's been accumulated over the nine years since the Scheme began.

We're in a very different position to where we were nine years ago when the Scheme started in four or five trial sites. So we want to build on that evidence. But most importantly we want to hear from people with disability about what's working and then the areas that need to change.

We know that people with disabilities have made many submissions their representative organisations have made many submissions over the last five or six years in response to government inquiries, two hearings of the Joint Standing Committee, the Tune review into the Service Guarantee and of course, they've made many submissions to the Royal Commission.

So we want to take that information and build on and then use that information to inform this review and then work with the disability community particularly with people with disabilities and their families and carers. But then with all stakeholders to ensure that we can get the NDIS back on track. So look I'll finish there and then hand to Lisa so that she can say a few words and then we'll be happy to take questions with the Minister.

LISA PAUL AO PSM: Thanks, Bruce. Well, as Bruce said, it's a tremendous honour to be asked by Minister Bill Shorten to Co-Chair this independent review of the NDIS,

I'm particularly honoured that it's Minister Shorten, because I do think he's been committed to serving people with disabilities for his entire career and I feel very honoured to work with Professor Bonyhady, who let's say, the Scheme wouldn't exist without his work so many years ago. And as the first chair of the National Disability Insurance Agency is responsible for so many of its early achievements.

But we all know it needs to be improved so people with disability and their carers and their families will be the centre of the review. We will listen to what people are saying but we will not reinvent the wheel, as Bruce said there are so many reviews and so much has been said. We will pay close attention to that so that we respect what people have been asking for years and to be frank this panel, knows what people have been asking for to change in the Scheme because they've been saying it.

These are eminent people in the disability domain. I hope we can restore some trust and confidence and pride in the Scheme, not just for participants but for all Australians, and make sure the Scheme is more fair, more predictable, more constant so that people with disability and their carers can feel confident that they know exactly what's going to happen for as long as they need help which might be their whole lifetime.

The terms of reference also go to us having regard for communities that are poorly served. So rural, regional and remote communities, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and people in financial hardship. And as Bruce said we will go back to the original intent of the Scheme and look at what it was about, which is about helping people to be independent, whether that's through NDIS supports or through getting a job or through getting accommodation.

We will also sit down with all those essential workers that supply the services and their employers and worked with them to make sure the services they're providing are the right services that are appropriate, they're safe, and they're affordable. We do feel a great responsibility, we've got a year. You can have a look at the terms of reference, and I think our website goes live today. Thanks very much, Minister.

JOURNALIST: Minister Shorten every year the projected cost of the Scheme rises and so do the forecasts. How do you feel about the cost of the Scheme and how it's changing?

SHORTEN: I'm sceptical about some of the out year forecasts actually. Let me be clear I absolutely want to see the Scheme to be sustainable. I absolutely want to see what we can do to moderate the growth cost trajectory. I absolutely want to minimise rent seeking by people who are seeking to take money from the NDIS, which the taxpayer wants to get to people with disability.

So there's a real piece of microeconomic reform to be done here, and the whole Government's committed to that. But let me also be clear, I don't necessarily sign up to every ten year number. I think that is more science fiction and art than it is science and evidence. So I don't accept all of the catastrophe writing about the NDIS.

Please understand that when we talk about the NDIS and we've got such a tremendously important job because people with disabilities read what you say very carefully. I want to say to people with disability, people on the NDIS, this Scheme is life changing. As you all know better than me, good news doesn't tend to get written, but there is good things this NDIS is doing. It's doing wonderful things but let's also tell it as it really is. The last ten years of stewardship by the Coalition government was pretty bloody awful. It was pretty poor and let's be straight about that. They had seven different ministers.

Every CEO they had other than the first went off into business, monetised their job that they had when they were at the NDIS. This Scheme had an artificial staff cap which meant that we have a call centre made up of labour hire people, perfectly fine people, but when they get rung up they can't even access or talk directly to the participants’ file because you've got labour hire and not direct employees.

I genuinely believe that this Review and the other things we're doing is going to show that there's some low hanging fruit which will improve the position for the taxpayer, but give a better quality investment in the person with disabilities. Someone else can ask questions?

JOURNALIST: When given there's already been an $8.8 billion escalation in costs should we expect the next actuary report to have a 2030 figure that's even higher than $60 billion? And how much money do you realistically expect to be able to save from cracking down on what you call rent seeking?

SHORTEN: I know that you're all keen observers of budgets, but I'm sure it must even ring a little alarm bell in your own head that a number which is put in black and white by the previous government says it's Y dollars cost to the Scheme. In seven months, it's now an extra $8.8 billion over the forwards.

I want to make sure I've got confidence, to be honest, in the next couple of years. But beyond that, we've got to actually start having a discussion about getting the right numbers. So I'm confident as part of this review we'll have a look at the actuarial process for the further year forecast before we catastrophize.

Ladies and gentlemen I'm being very clear here there's a job to be done to make it sustainable and rein in costs. But there is also a job here which I'm not going to do which is to scare every person with a disability to be up at midnight wondering if the package is going to get unreasonably cut.

JOURNALIST: Will the Review canvas lifting the age barrier that prevents people over the age of 65 joining the scheme and second to that, the original Productivity Commission report recommended there be a separate scheme the NIIS, that hasn't been implemented. Is that something that you think should be looked at through the process of this review?

SHORTEN: There's no intention to lift the age barrier on the Scheme above 65. When Parliament created the NDIS it was to deal with the gap in disability services younger than 65. What happens to people over 65 is the preserve of the aged care system. That's certainly not to say we couldn't do more and shouldn't do more for people with disabilities over 65. But lifting that gap is not the focus of this review.

Secondly, the terms of the National Injury Scheme. I'm amazed the previous government did nothing in nine years and Linda Reynolds took a bit of a frolic. I notice in your paper she said, wouldn't it be a good idea that we do something about a National Injury insurance Scheme? But what a shame she didn't know someone who was the Minister for Disability to do something about it. But yes, I do think the injury insurance scheme should be part of the discussion of this review. I did say last questions, actually, but one more, Andrew, because I did promise to come back to you.

JOURNALIST: Okay. That's very kind of you.

SHORTEN: Sorry I'll just get Kevin to just answer a bit on what I've said to Denis.

KEVIN COCKS AM: Thank you. Thank you, Minister and Co-chairs. I'm pleased to be here today because as a person with a disability for 41 years after I acquired my accident in football. There was no support, there was nowhere to live and no way to hire supports in. I had a family who was able to support me. The sliding door alternative was going in to live in an aged care nursing home. The forecast to live in that was 15 years and I would have been dead because of the quality of care.

None of you give a buzz about what is the return on the investment. Well, I am a product of the return on investment. When governments did start, the federal government back in 1987, started to fund stop young people going into nursing homes and I got some support. I was in university. I got a job. And as you heard I've been the Discrimination Commissioner.

Now I'm leading TMR in developing an inclusive and accessible strategy that will fulfil the vision of building an integrated transport network that is accessible to everyone. That's not only for people with disability that's for everyone, people with low English, low literacy. And when we're coming to the Olympic and Paralympic Games, we've got a long way to go in Australia to make our infrastructure accessible, and people with disability have been pushed aside for far too long.

And there are many people who have benefited from the Scheme and who are now in employment. We only have to look at one of the fastest growing employment is in the human service industry supporting people with disability and aged care people living in their own homes. And that is not counting the cost shifting. What is the cost for a younger person to live in an aged care facility? What's it cost to live in group homes or unregulated hostels? When I was an advocate, I discovered where people were being bought and sold back in 2000 in Queensland and there was greed. And we know that there is a hangover of people not doing the right thing providing the services. People with disabilities are now human rights bearers because of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The Australian Government under the Howard government signed up to that Convention and Article 19 community living is the cornerstone of what the NDIS is about.

We also have overrepresentation in the criminal justice system, which is the cost of the failure of no support. We have women with intellectual disabilities who nine out of ten will be sexually or physically assaulted, but none of them get their day in court because the laws have their unreliable weaknesses. However, on the other hand, we have many young men and women in jail because of survival from a lack of support. You need to be investigative journalists and look at what is the failure of our societal system to people with disability and older people, investing in them so that we can also contribute to society. Thank you.

JOURNALIST: Mr. Cocks, I'll ask a question to you and it's the same question I'm going to ask Mr. Shorten. One of the things that's emerged over the last few years is the states and territories have been moving away from providing pretty simple stuff like learning support for young children. Kids who might not be ahead in terms of their speech, that they simply remove themselves from providing those services, which means that people who have got complex issues are scrambling for those few dollars. Do you think that the NDIS should be ring fenced so that it is primarily for people with complex issues and not issues that states and territories should be paying for?

COCKS: Well, I think that's a complex question Andrew to unpack. The states and territories shouldn't be walking away from their obligations to support people, particularly young people in education and support needs that they need. And some of those will be complex but through early intervention, that complexity can be reduced significantly. And so I think the states have to lift their game in thinking that the NDIS is going to resolve all of the problems. And as you know, Queensland was one of the poorest per capita funding in providing supports for people with disabilities before the NDIS was available. We used to call it the misery lottery, if you got funding, you were lucky. The rest of the people lived their lives in misery and we can't go back to that.

SHORTEN: That would seem to me to be a good place to end it. I want to thank Kevin for reminding us of the value of this investment.