17 November 2023

Some things in life are worth fighting for and I believe the National Disability Insurance Scheme is worth doing everything we can to ensure it is there for future generations of Australians.

When I was sworn in as Minister for the NDIS and Government Services on June 1 last year, I knew I had my work cut out for me to fix problems in both portfolios.

Government Services had been hit by the robodebt disaster and the NDIS had been neglected to disrepair by the former Liberal government for nearly a decade.

The very peculiar thing about the Liberals was that on the one hand they went out of their way to force the illegal robodebt scheme onto innocent Australians, dealing out fake debts to bolster their coffers. On the other, they let criminals in the backdoor of the NDIS to steal taxpayers money, only to blame people with disability for “wanting” too much when they needed to explain their botched management.

It was a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” approach to governing — cavalier and careless at its core.

Immediately upon winning government, Labor set up the royal commission into robodebt.

On Monday, the Albanese Government agreed, or has agreed in principle, to all 56 recommendations made by Commissioner Catherine Holmes.

The royal commission found that “robodebt was a crude and cruel mechanism, neither fair nor legal, and it made many people feel like criminals. In essence, people were traumatised on the off-chance they might owe money. It was a costly failure of public administration, in both human and economic terms”.

The Albanese Government is providing $22.1 million in new funding over four years, and $4.8 million each year ongoing, to implement the commissioner’s recommendations. This follows the announcement of an additional $228 million for Services Australia to improve frontline service delivery and $1 billion in additional funding for Services Australia since October 2022.

Immediately on being sworn in as Minister for the NDIS, I also asked the National Disability Insurance Agency to turbo charge their efforts to fight NDIS fraud.

You see, myself and millions of Australians knew the NDIS was being ripped off by crooks because the Liberals had left the scheme’s back door wide open.

Before the 2021 election, while I was opposition spokesperson for the NDIS, I knew that the Liberals had left the back door open to fraud, but when I became Minister for the NDIS I discovered that not only had they left the back door open, they had laid out a welcome mat and left biscuits and tea out for the crooks to abuse the NDIS.

Too many participants are subjected to fraud or unethical behaviour

To tackle the scammers and fraudsters, one year ago I set up the fraud fusion taskforce.

The taskforce is a partnership between the NDIA, Services Australia and 13 other government agencies, including the Australian Federal Police and the Australian Tax Office, to ensure that every single dollar in the scheme goes to those who need it most, people with disability on the NDIS.

In its first 12 months of operation, the taskforce has tracked down crime syndicates and malicious providers who seek to take advantage of those on the scheme.

This work is broad ranging and fearless. It includes search warrants executed in Western Sydney to catch crooks rorting more than $3 million dollars from the scheme, the dismantling of a fraud syndicate that stole more than $10 million and cracking down on a pair from Adelaide who submitted false claims to scam cash to the tune of nearly half a million dollars.

The Albanese Labor Government provided over $126 million in funding over four years to establish the taskforce, which continues to strengthen fraud detection and better safeguard the NDIS from organised crime and other fraudsters — the strongest signal possible that enough is enough.

In its most recent update, the taskforce reported is has 49 cases under investigation, plus a total of millions and millions of NDIS payments under review.

In its first year, the taskforce has investigated more than 100 cases with over $1 billion under investigation, crooks be warned.

Don’t get me wrong — the vast majority of providers and those who interact with the scheme do the right thing, but for those who don’t, sooner or later they can expect a knock at the front door from the taskforce.

This is what getting things done looks like.

Cleaning up the NDIS extends far beyond the crucial work of the fraud fusion taskforce.

In the 2023-24 Budget, Labor announced more than $900 million to get the NDIS back on track through boosting workforce capability, enabling better planning and flexibility and strengthening supported independent living decisions, among other measures.

This record investment works in step with the taskforce to protect the scheme, improve outcomes for people with disability and above all else, return the NDIS to its former intended glory.

In the coming months, the final report from the NDIS review, which was also set up just over 12 months ago, will be released.

I expect it will recommend further strengthening of the scheme to protect it for participants, now and in the future.

This opinion piece was first published in The West Australian on Thursday 16 November 2023.