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27 April 2022

We have arrived at the part of the 2022 election campaign where the debates have started.

These can be high pressure situations but are also opportunities for leaders to try to win some hearts and minds.

How important these debates are is up for grabs. According to the critics, in 2019 I won all three leaders' debates but did not transfer to the win that matters on election night.

I took some solace from the fact that I got a few laughs, particularly when I called Scott Morrison a "classic space invader" for getting up in my face during our second leaders' debate.

Last Wednesday, Mr Morrison and Anthony Albanese kicked-off with their first debate. Labor leader Mr Albanese won the day, showing he is both far more measured and in touch.

The moment when Mr Morrison lost the night for me was when an audience member Catherine Yeoman asked him why her child's National Disability Insurance Scheme plan was cut.

The Brisbane mum's son, Ethan, has autism and has had his NDIS plan cut by 30 per cent with no explanation from the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA).

Instead of answering her question, Mr Morrison, as he is wont to do, turned the spotlight on himself and said he had been "blessed" to not have children with disability.

Understandably, this peeved a whole lot of people with disability and their families. Mr Morrison said it was an innocent mistake. People with disability called bulls....

The next morning, Australian of the Year Dylan Alcott sent a message to his 65,000-strong Twitter following.

"Woke up this morning feeling very blessed to be disabled I reckon my parents are pretty happy about it too," Alcott said. "Feeling sorry for us and our families doesn't help. Treating us equally, and giving us the choice and control over our own lives does." Mr Morrison apologised to Dylan but then swiftly turned his wrath in my direction, saying I had weaponised his language.

I'm all for free speech and Mr Morrison can use whatever words he wants, but his slip simply betrayed the way his government looks at the entire NDIS and people with disability.

Aside from being insensitive, the Prime Minister got the politics of it wrong. There are 4.4 million Australians who have a disability, and many will be voting come May 21.

But moving along from Mr Morrison's predilection to pass judgment on the blessed and the cursed, we have to return to the fact that he avoided Ms Yeoman's question. Why is her little boy not getting appropriate intervention?

The answer lies in the Coalition's mismanagement of the scheme since the day they took office in 2013.

Yes, Labor was the proud architect of the scheme, but for almost a decade the Coalition has been in government and has been in total control.

All we hear from it is that the NDIS costs too much to run, but the Coalition says it will always fund it.

Behind the scenes there is very strong evidence of maladministration and chaos of the worst kind.

The entire legal branch of the NDIA has reportedly quit, including the chief legal counsel, and have had to be replaced. This has happened in the past eight months alone.

It also appears no funding decisions are being made in-house.

People with disability are getting "robo-service" not human service, with appeals to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal exploding as a result.

If Labor wins the election, we will take a good, long, hard look under the hood of the scheme to see what is working and not working.

You can take it from me right here, we will get straight to work fixing what needs fixed.

The NDIS was always about investing in people with disability so they could live their best lives.

The Productivity Commission saw the NDIS as a great economic reform that was going to shift people with disability from welfare to work.

However, that required a whole lot of work that successive Coalition governments have not been prepared to do.

More's the pity.

We know from a recent report that for every $1 invested in the NDIS, the nation's economy gets a $2.25 benefit.

That's a $52 billion boost to Australia's coffers year in year out.

In WA, the economic impact is $4.6b a year, with more than 30,000 jobs created by the scheme.

We must make sure the scheme is running optimally, but this cannot be done shrouded in secrecy.

We must put a spotlight on the Coalition's mismanagement of the NDIS.

It has been one of our nation's failures and it is happening before our very eyes.

I'll be visiting WA in the coming weeks and getting out and about with my Labor colleagues, including Anne Aly and Madeleine King.

Tomorrow there is a National Day of Action to defend the NDIS. Events will be held across Australia, including in South Perth where candidates for the seat of Swan will pitch to voters.

I'll be attending a few events in Far North Queensland. Visit for more information.

We must put a spotlight on the Coalition's mismanagement of the NDIS.

Bill Shorten is shadow minister for the NDIS and government services, Federal member for Maribyrnong and former leader of the Australian Labor Party.

This article was first published in The west Australian, Wednesday April 27th 2022