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15 August 2022

Thank you and good morning, it’s lovely to be here. I'd like to acknowledge that we meet on the land of the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin nation, I pay my respects to Elders past, present and emerging.

I want to talk to you about the NDIS. I want to talk to you about what the government has started to do. I want to talk to you about how we can all work together to make the NDIS the very best it can be. I want to say to you at the outset, we don't have a minute of a day, of a week, of the year to waste. The NDIS needs fixing.

In the recent Federal Election, that was our policy, to fix the NDIS. I want to be clear that I love the NDIS. I think it is amazing. I think it's unique in the world and I want it to be the best Scheme in the world. I was very fortunate that when I entered politics about 14, 15 years ago, I had the chance to be the Junior Minister for disabilities.

Whilst I thought I had seen unfair treatment of fellow Australians in workplaces as a union rep, nothing prepared me 14 years ago for the discovery of the systemic, second-class treatment of so many people disability and the people who love them.

By saying second-class treatment, I don't mean that people weren't doing their very best, absolutely they were. But what I discovered with disability is that it is not your impairment, which is the barrier. It's the barriers, which other people in a system puts in your path to live an ordinary life.

Impairment is a fact of life. It can happen with a precious child, and that six to 12 months after birth, where the child isn't developing in the way which you hoped. It's the change of a whole lot of journeys and dreams. It can happen in the blink of an eye on a country road. It can happen through the DNA lottery and the onset of ageing.

So disability could be any of us, I understand that, I've learned that. But what it shouldn't be is the thing which defines a person. What we need to do as a country is to be as generous and as clever as I know Australians are, and look at the whole person. And when I worked this out this is before there was an NDIS. There just wasn't one 14 and 12 years ago.

What I realised is that the biggest challenge for people with disability and the people who support and love them, is a lack of money and a lack of power. Mind you, you could quite rightly say that's the problem generally. But it's certainly the case of people with disability.

So when we created the NDIS, when many campaigned for it, like many in this room, we had one simple organising idea. Build a National Disability Insurance Scheme.

The notion of an individualised package of support that empowers the person with a disability and those around them to have control over their own lives. In this modern era of disillusionment of politics, the NDIS, I submit to you, stands as something quite different to the prevailing narrative that nothing ever changes.

Things can change. And we did change it. I'm very privileged to serve the public, and I've even run for Prime Minister twice. Been very, very fortunate to serve my local electorate and to serve people in Australia.

But there's nothing that I'm any more proud of than the NDIS. Now, in the way of the Big Wheel of Fate... I'm back at the NDIS, 10 years after we campaigned to create it.

And whilst I love the NDIS and I don't use the word love lightly. Whilst I think it should be the best scheme in the world, it is not at the moment and for too many people it has become a bureaucratic nightmare.

For too many people, it isn't delivering the promise and it's become a source of stress and anxiety. I look at the ledger, the balance sheet of the NDIS and there's more on the plus side than the negative side, there's more on the credit than the debit.

It is changing lives for the better. You know the truth of the matter is that the word, or it's an acronym, isn't it? NDIS. But it's almost a word. It didn't really exist 12 years ago, so wherever you see it now, it just wasn't there, like we created something.

But it needs to do better. So since the election, since being sworn in by Prime Minister Anthony Albanese as the NDIS Minister, the very first thing that we've done is call together the health experts and make sure that our COVID preparation is what it should be. Because during COVID, people disability became invisible in my opinion.

Too many of you had to fight and scrounge and sort of were left to your own devices, had to sort out the vaccinations, the PPE, it's been a dreadfully difficult time. And for people with disability with reduced immunities, it's still a dreadful time. It's not over.

So first thing we've done is bring together health experts, people with disabilities and ask, how good are our preparations? How adequate are they? And so we've had a series of meetings, we've been war gaming what could go wrong.

I don't want to hear blue sky predictions. As a minister, I want to hear what the bad scenario is and prepare for the worst case, not the best case. In my experience, the best case looks after itself. It's the worst case that needs the attention.

But that's one thing we've been doing. Another thing we've been doing is we've got to tackle some of the hard issues. I'm not saying there aren't many hard issues, but one of the most extreme, in my opinion, is the hospital bed block where people disability wait hundreds of days, who are NDIS eligible, and they're still in hospital.

It is a bureaucratic failure.

I get there's not enough housing in parts of Australia. But the processes of the NDIS are too slow. Right now, as we speak, about 1,480 people who are eligible for NDIS woke up this morning in hospitals around Australia. That's not safe. It's certainly not consistent to the social model of disability where people are supported in their communities – not stuck in hospital. And of course, it's a horrendous waste of hospital resources to. So we're going to tackle that.

I've said to the National Disability Insurance Agency, if we're notified that someone is in hospital, and ready to have a package made, you get down there within four days and see them. Four days. I had some people pick themselves up off the floor when I said that to them in the Agency. We'll see how that goes. I want a plan made within 15 to 30 days. What I’ve discovered with hospitals and to me, it's a metaphor for bits of the National Disability Insurance Scheme, is it's a linear process.

If you want to catch a train for railway stations, you normally get on at station one and you get off at station four. Not so simple in NDIA world. Too many processes. You get the train from station one to station two, then you've got to get off. Got to wait. There's some saying waiting is good for the soul. No, it's not.

And then you get from station two to station three, and then guess what? Now that decision, you get off and you wait. Like everything's linear. The idea of doing things concurrently? Well, it's going to happen, but it isn't happening. So that's hospitals we want to do that.

I accept it’s the case for some people with complex conditions who might need very robust housing, that there is a shortage, but there not a shortage for 1,480 people right now.

The other thing I want to do is have planners who are empowered to make decisions on the spot. Why not have a bit of delegated decision-making? It's just silly to have all these disappearing into the clouds waiting for someone to do something.

Next issue I want to tackle is the waiting lists in the courts. It is an obscenity that 4,500 people who have got to take their government to court to reverse a package cut. Now I'm not saying that every case that goes to the AAT is a clear cut. I'm sure there are cases which genuinely need to be resolved. But not 4,500.

So whilst the Agency has lifted the rate of settlements of matters, it is not going fast enough. And so I'm in vigorous and constructive dialogue with the Agency that we've got to resolve these waiting lists. And then not only the legacy cases, we've got to have a process where it's not David versus Goliath in the system.

It's got to be a system where the Agency put its reasons in writing, not at the door of court, at the final hearing but well before that. It’s got to be a system where you're not fighting with $50 million of NDIS money going to top end of town lawyers, and you got to sort out your own funding. That's just wrong.

I get that, you know, at one level, there's 15,000 decisions made a week and only 750 get internally reviewed, and only 120 go to court, as was explained to me as a new minister, as if, you know, I needed to have these things explained to me. I said, sure, so it's less than 1%. You can do anything with numbers.

Remember that old saying that if you put one foot in scalding hot water and one foot in freezing water, you're actually reaching a temperature average? The point is, when I say 120, it’s 120 people a week going to court.

You know, Karl Marx invented communism, and you know, Adam Smith invented capitalism. But the NDIS, we've invented AAT-ism, where the resources are allocated, not by the state or by the individual, but by the AAT. This is not a functional system. There should always be appeal rights.

But I am not satisfied at the way it's been handled. Nor is it a satisfactory system to review the cases, that I've asked to be reviewed. And the Agency gets lawyers in from the firms who are running the cases to review their own work. You can see there's a flaw in that isn't there, I'll let you work it out. So we're doing AAT.

But I think there's those things, and they're hard issues but I want to do them. Because underpinning both, if we can get more people out of hospital into transitional and long term accommodation, if we can reduce the legacy lists, what I'm trying to do, not only are they good things to resolve, but it goes to the most important word in this whole Scheme, which is missing: trust.

I want the Agency and the government to be trusted. At the moment, there is not. There is a legitimate deficit of trust.

We're going to announce soon a Review of the Scheme. And not just another review, I know there's been 20, I get that. But a proper one, it was the one due the 10 year anniversary the Scheme and was to be done by the Productivity Commission. We're bringing that forward to this year. We'll start in the next few weeks. But this is about making sure that we look at all the reviews that have been done and respect the intelligent proposals that have been proposed but never acted on.

It'll be co-design. It has to be co design. Have to be people with disability involved in every level of the review, full stop. Not bogus co-design, not here and there co-design, fundamental co-design, like breathing.

Also, were changing the leadership of the Agency, you might have noticed. So there's currently a search for a new CEO and I think that'll come to resolution sooner rather than later. We're looking for a new Chair, looking for some directors, I guarantee that in the leadership positions, there'll be more people with disability in the leadership positions, not every position, but I have a number of positions to reinvigorate and there will be people with disability in leadership. So we're doing a fair bit.

One thing which we've also been looking at doing, and it was on 60 Minutes last night, was looking at who's scamming the Scheme, the skimmers. See the last government. I mean, I sat opposite them for nine years. They seem to love law and order issues, we passed more security laws because that was only thing they ever used to do. But for whatever reason when it came to the NDIS they couldn't see it.

I know as Opposition Spokesperson, I told them time and time again, you have a fraud problem. And instead what they did is they made it harder for people with disability to enter the Scheme and they've made it harder for people to keep their packages. So they could see that the Scheme is more expensive than forecast so their answer was “let's go after the people in the wheelchairs,” metaphorically.

And it wasn't everyone. But we all know that there was an anxiety, especially in the last few years, that would you get into the Scheme, would you get a good package? But if you had a good package, would you keep the good package?

This is real, it was happening. But at the same time, I’ve become concerned that the taxpayer, paying their taxes to support participants, hear that in between the taxpayer and the person with disability, money's being siphoned off.

I want to say today, I'm sick of the overcharging. I'm sick of the dodgy invoices. I'm sick of a system which doesn't sufficiently scrutinise the people claiming the money, not the person with a disability. Absolutely not.

We have to talk truth and the truth is that from organised criminals, to people just taking the Scheme for a ride, in terms of siphoning money off, that's not good enough.

See I want to have the best scheme in the world but whenever there's a government scheme with money going to people, it attracts the opportunists and people with disability deserve better.

See, I think that Australians like an NDIS. But there's plenty of community chat that there are some invoices are not right, that people are making a motza, accountants sending out get rich quick schemes. And that does a disservice.

I'm actually quite frustrated that the last government spent a lot of time making it harder for people to get into the Scheme or on the Scheme. So if you like, they were padlocking the front door of the Scheme but the back door of the Scheme was wide open. And this is just truth. So we will take action on that.

I know that government is absolutely committed to getting government agencies to work together. We know that when there was a Family Day Care Scheme, and the private sector vocational education schemes, there were rorts. And I don't think the NDIS is immune to that, so we've just got to protect the Scheme.

That's the message I want to say. I want the Scheme to be trusted and I want to protect the Scheme against all those who would seek to do it harm.

I want to protect it against conservative Coalition politicians who just want to reduce the NDIS to a basic cookie cutter welfare scheme.

I want to protect it against the people who see it as a get rich quick scheme for people who have no business to be involved in the Scheme.

So I think there's a lot we can do.

Tomorrow night and Wednesday, in lead up to the National Job Summit being held by the Albanese Government, we're holding a session just for the NDIS because I think we've got to work on our workforce shortage.

I know the old attitude at the senior levels in the old government was we're a payment system, we don't need to think about things like workforce. Well how you can pay $29 billion out and not worry about the ecosystem in which it's being spent, just bewilders me.

So we're going to look at how we encourage people to come and work in the Scheme. How we can encourage our fellow Australians to retrain and come and work there, how we encourage carers and encourage people with disability to work in their own Scheme. It's exciting.

A famous entrepreneur, Reg Ansett, once said when he was purchasing Boeing 727 jets at the end of the 1960s. He said that this is the best technology in the world so it's only just good enough for Australians. I don’t know much about purchasing airplanes, but I do know that the NDIS should be the best scheme in the world. It can be the best Scheme in the world.

There's nothing wrong with relieving that midnight anxiety of carers in their 80s who wonder who is going look after their adult child when they no longer can. Let's make a promise to them that we will.

To all those thousands of parents who, and their children, whose children have been diagnosed with developmental delays, there's nothing wrong with us saying we're going to help.

There's nothing wrong with saying to someone who gets a diagnosis of MS, we're going to try and make your years easier, not harder.

There's nothing wrong with saying that we will spend some scarce taxpayer money to modify a home.

There's nothing wrong with saying to people with disabilities, when they finished school, we're going to work on how we get you into the workforce and participate. That we have a bigger imagination for you than just feeding you and just letting you exist. We want you to live.

And let's be very clear to those crooks and cheats. It's over. We're on to you, we will stop you fleecing the Scheme.

Let's make the NDIS the very best it can be with people with disability, led by people with disability, make it a great career. A career, you can encourage your kids to go into, make it something which is respected and valued in our community.

And at the end of the day, that will mean we have got to make our school system better for kids with special needs. It means that we're going to make our community health supports, not a wasteland, but where you can get support without needing to get on to the NDIS. It'll mean that we'll have to have better housing standards. This is all within our grasp.

I want to do it with you. I hope you found the report this morning informative.

Thank you for what you're doing. I've got no doubt that if I come and talk to you in two, three years time, NDIS, this is my test, that you would come up to me and say, remember when we said we would do these things? Well, it's been a couple of years now. And you know what? We're doing them. I wait less for decisions. I don't have to go to court. It's not as stressful as it once was. And I've got more hope in my life than anxiety.

Thanks very much, lovely to talk to you.