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13 December 2023

Thanks very much, Drew. I really feel you just gave my whole speech and much more briefly, so much more persuasively. I mean that, that was a really great introduction and I think that reflects a lot of the interest in the possibility and the potential if we take the sort of views that Drew enunciated and we sort of try and work towards the better angels of our nature. 

I acknowledge the Wurundjeri and Wurrung and Bunurong peoples, I pay my respects to their elders, past and present, and to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders here today or watching online. I'd like to thank Melinda and CEDA for inviting me here to talk about the NDIS Review project. I'm delighted to be amongst people who have such a keen interest in advancing Australia economically and socially. CEDA people are people who understand that good social policy is an investment in the economy, as much as it's an investment in people. As a student of history, of course CEDA’s inspiration was the US think tank, the Committee for Economic Development. That committee has been steeped in some of the world's most pivotal economic history, credited with helping create the Bretton Woods Agreement and the Marshall Plan. So, what we do here today perhaps sounds modest in comparison, but that commitment to better outcomes for people and societies and democracies, I think we share from that founding organization and talk about people who are committed to things. It's fantastic to be here with Bruce, who, like Drew, could also give the same speech and Kirsten Dean would give even more clearly to people. It's great that my old friends here, Allan Fels and Steven Martin, are here and of course, Chris Chippendale I saw in the audience, too, who's been doing some of the work that Drew's been talking about in Life Without Barriers.

Talking about context, talking about the lofty aims of making the world a better place and Australia a better place, I'm going to somewhat immodestly put forward the proposition for you today to consider that the NDIS is arguably, if not, there may be no better than this but certainly I think, the best thing that we've done in the 21st century in Australia, in the political system. It's why I, along with Kirsten and Bruce and others, fought so hard. I remember from the first time I was elected to Parliament at the end of 1907 – no, I’m sorry! That was when Maribyrnong was founded, I've just been doing Electoral Commission submission to them. Back in 2007, when the NDIS didn't exist. I mean, today we're debating, uh, the NDIS and what we should do, but it was just over ten years ago, there was no such thing as an NDIS. 

But I remember in my first time as the junior Minister for Disabilities, that job has changed my world. I met literally tens of thousands of Australians. Mums and dads, sons and daughters, friends and siblings, workers, and carers whose lives intersected with disability in our country. I didn't realise then how people with disability and the people who love them were getting too often a second-class outcome in their own country. But together, all of us, from the grassroots to the movers and shakers to Prime Ministers Rudd and Gillard, we were able to create the NDIS Mach 1. Now, in not totally a planned set of steps, the universe has returned me to this portfolio to help with some of the same people again, create the NDIS Mach 2. 

I did watch with disappointment in the long years of opposition as previous administrations in my opinion, didn't quite understand what they had. I think that's the best way I can put it. And as a result, the NDIS, great idea, drifting off track. One of my first tasks as Minister responsible for the NDIS is to work hand in hand with people with disability, their families and the sector to find out why a scheme which is world leading in concept and the envy of disability organisations right around the world, how a scheme which is literally successfully been changing hundreds of thousands of lives, was veering off track, costing more than was expected, while being too often too inconsistent, too unfair, too opaque. 

So, we knew that there was a ten year review due and we brought it forward. It was imperative to me that this review process was done with people with disability, with the disability community, to get to the true picture of the problems, to understand how to reboot this crucial, irreplaceable, life changing scheme. The objectives I had from the review were to restore trust, to understand how to give participants a consistent, quality experience focused on fulfilling lives, and to ensure the sustainability of the scheme so that future generations of our fellow Australians can continue to benefit from the promise of the NDIS. 

It's interesting, CEDA’s stated purpose is to achieve long tum sustainable prosperity for all Australians. This NDIS Review is exactly in that wheelhouse and so I'm sure it's of interest to you. And when you look at the core features of this landmark report, the recommended actions are about delivering better outcomes, not just for people on the scheme, not just for Australians with disability, not just for the people who work with them or love them, but for all Australians. 

Disability is universal. It can be any of us, or anyone we love, at any time. So, it's clear that the original vision and intent for the NDIS I think, was right, is right and will be right. The NDIS has experienced in the last 9,10 years sustainability problems due to, amongst other things, design issues, poor implementation. I discovered upon being elected as the Minister for the NDIS that the NDIS has become too often the only lifeboat of the ocean.

The scheme now supports remarkably, more than 630,000 participants, according to the NDIS latest annual Financial Sustainability Report, the scheme's projected expenditure for this financial year that we're in, finishing June 30th, 2024, is $41.4 billion. It's expected to increase, without our reforms, in ten years to $100 billion. Now, this report, plus measures we've already taken makes me more than optimistic that we will reduce that figure to somewhere much closer to $80 billion. Some of my optimism is reflected in the implementation of the extraordinary and overdue $733 million budget investment to lift the NDIA and Quality and Safeguard Commission's capability, their capacity, the investment to help systems to better support participants. And I'm absolutely confident that additional moderation to that AFSR initial figure that I just quoted of $100 billion will occur through the reforms recommended in the NDIS Review as a package which will support achieving the 8% growth target. 

The recent Intergenerational Report shows significant cost growth if we don't improve the NDIS for participants. The IGR has one scenario that forecasts that without our reforms and our approach, the NDIS cost would balloon to 6.7% of GDP by 2062/63, including Commonwealth and State and territory contributions. The Commonwealth's contribution alone for the NDIS would be larger than health spending, including Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, Medicare benefits, hospitals, and private health insurance. But of course, we wouldn't get to that then, because that trajectory would jeopardise the social licence for the NDIS that the disability community, Australians, and my party Labor, have worked so hard to achieve.

It is why the National Cabinet committed to a target, in the sustainability framework agreed in April, to ensure the NDIS is here to stay, and to ensure that the NDIS is true to its original promise. The IGR recognises the framework is a key contributor to making the government's economic and fiscal strategy stronger, as it increases fairness, integrity, and sustainability. Our commitment was that the NDIS will remain demand driven and, by working with the states and territories, would see the scheme continue to grow by up to 8% from the 1st of July 2026, and mature over time. The IGR forecasts would mean that the NDIS would cost around 2.4% of GDP in about 20 years. 

Now we look to the NDIS Review, which was working with the disability community for guidance on how to achieve the improvements which are necessary. A week ago, National Cabinet gave a ringing endorsement of the NDIS Review's work. The principles, the direction. The leaders of Australia, the Premiers, the Prime Minister, all agree that the Commonwealth and the states and the territories will work together to implement legislative and other changes to the NDIS, to return to the original intent of the scheme - to support people with permanent and significant disability, but, crucially, within a broader ecosystem of supports to be developed. No longer the only lifeboat in the ocean.

Members of National Cabinet agreed to adjust the state and territory NDIS contribution from the current 4% to align with actual scheme growth up to 8% per annum from 2028, with the Commonwealth paying the remainder of scheme costs and growth. They also agreed to jointly design and commission foundational supports, with additional costs split 50/50. I'll come back to what we mean by foundational supports in a moment, but these are supports for Australians with disability outside the scheme. 

The Albanese Government is going to work with states and territories in the first half of 2024 to develop a foundational support strategy so there is certainty for people with disability and their families. But I stress, in this next six months that will be working with people with disability. Treasurers, through the Council of Federal Financial Relations, will oversee the costs of the reforms and report to National Cabinet. And it's important to have central agencies engaged in the discussion about disability. Back in 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, disability was a small portfolio which wasn't a centre of the national debate. It was invisible too often, and the importance of having National Cabinet debating the future of the NDIS and disability more generally is a win not to be overlooked. 

Now, an initial tranche of legislation will be introduced into the Commonwealth Parliament in the first half of 2024, with rule changes phased in as developed. National Cabinet sent a message that the responsibility governments share on disability supports is bigger than the eternal tug of war of Commonwealth state relations.

It was a win for good government, a win for federation. But most importantly, it's a win for Australians with disability and their families because the NDIS has struggled under its own weight, becoming, as I said earlier, the only lifeboat in the ocean as non-NDIS disability supports have eroded since the introduction of the scheme. That's not to say the states are doing nothing, but there's become almost a sensation that as soon as people and government departments and states and hospitals hear the words NDIS, they send you there. And that was never the aim. 

Now, the review has recommended ways to fix this design flaw. Which brings me to the Independent Review's recommendations. The report has 26 recommendations, 139 suggested actions. The review makes it clear there must be considered as a whole. I think together they do provide a practical blueprint for a world-leading disability inclusion system that puts Australians with disability at the centre. Now I want to briefly detail only some of the changes the report recommends, you’ll be pleased to know. 

Now, I said I'd return to it, the first change is foundational supports. This is a connected system of support for people with disability and their families, regardless of whether they are participants in the scheme. We know that there are 630,000 participants in the NDIS, but it is critical that we identify the services out there to help other Australians with disability.

It might be services in the state or territory health or education systems, or childcare or community playgroups. But supports in place, however, are under-resourced or underutilised. They would be expanded under this recommendation, ensuring the NDIS is no longer doing all of the heavy lifting. But I do want to stress at this point that if people need the NDIS, if their children need to be with a service that only the NDIS for their particular needs can support, they'll be on the scheme. 

This is not about moving hundreds of thousands of people out of the scheme at all. It's about taking some of the pressure off whether or not you're in or out, creating a continuum of support. 

I do want to stress that the changes recommended by the review panel will not happen overnight. In fact, the panel has said the plan, all of the features, some of them may take up to five years to completely implement, but others, we can move on sooner than that. But it's about transitioning the scheme to NDIS Mach 2 - better, fairer, more equitable, more sustainable and at all times working with people with disability, their carers, and their representatives and advocates. 

Now the second big change is a really innovative idea to come from the review that's called the Navigator role. Currently, there is no single point of contact for people with disability who are trying to navigate the NDIS, which can cause confusion. Confusion is a fairness issue. It means that it's more likely people miss out on the services that they need. So, there will be general Navigators to help people understand what the NDIS is, who it's for and how to make an access request if required. And then there'll be specialist Navigators. More experience, with smaller caseloads for NDIS participants with complex needs. All Australians with disability, inside or outside the NDIS, should have access to a Navigator to find and coordinate the support they need and achieve what's important for them. 

The review has heard from the disability community that the current role of Plan Managers and protecting scheme integrity needs clarification, and it suggested the work should start now and be refined as the NDIS digital infrastructure and capability evolves. If needed, support for participants to monitor and manage their funding could be transferred to Navigators. I'll remind you; it is recommended that time is taken to design these key aspects, including the Navigator function, in consultation with people with disability. But the idea is that the Navigators would act on behalf of the person with disability at their direction, and be funded by the Commonwealth, the states, and territories outside individual budgets, so participants don't need to choose between a navigator and other supports. Currently, not everyone has a support coordinator. Navigators would not be, I stress to say, NDIA employees, to ensure separation between those who set a budget and those who help a participant to use it, and the Navigators could amplify the voice of participants with providers, helping them switch providers where existing arrangements aren't working or to find better alternate supports outside the NDIS.

Now, the third change, which is really important, is to simply humanise the planning process. All of us who take an interest in the NDIS have heard the planning process described as a second full time job, that preparing for a planning meeting feels like going into battle, and dealing with the NDIS should be simple and fair. People shouldn't have to prove annually that they're still blind or in a wheelchair, or have Down Syndrome, or also receive support of budgets that make no sense. The number of people who said they had a great meeting, then they get a plan in the mail, which feels like it was written for someone else. 

Applications should be based on need and not rely solely on diagnosis. No longer what is your label, but how does your impairment impact on your life. And as has always been the case, choice, and control and reasonable and necessary remain at the heart of the scheme. 

The NDIS Mach 2 will deliver better support to kids and families, and that's where the fourth big change is recommended. The review found that the scheme currently focuses too much on diagnosis of disability, and not enough on what a child needs to achieve their potential, with early intervention often delayed.

We want early intervention to be based on best practice evidence, and family centred practices that are proven to deliver real, beneficial outcomes. Kids shouldn't endure childhoods of 40 hours of weekly therapy and their families being charged exorbitantly, where there's no evidence of its benefit. Kids deserve the chance to be kids, and not enough support is being given to families. And we know that children thrive best when families are best supported. Now, these supports might come from inside or outside the NDIS. If we can create a unified, connected system of support, and most importantly, we just want support levels to match the needs. Your child might need a modest amount of support that should be found in mainstream settings like schools and kindergartens, or through foundation supports, which will be ramped up through additional investment. But if your child needs a high level of support, then the NDIS will be there for you. 

The fifth big change recommended relates to psychosocial disability and mental health. Despite the best endeavours, the scheme has not worked well for participants with a psychosocial disability. The review says a new approach would better meet the episodic nature of psychosocial disability and mental health and, crucially, should focus on recovery. It would include an early intervention pathway, coordinating NDIS services with public mental health systems, developing foundational supports for people's psychosocial disability who are not NDIS participants, establishing new standards for service providers, and introducing psychosocial recovery Navigators to make sure that people have access to specialised support. And to be very clear, the review says that people's psychosocial disorders that are significant permanent will absolutely remain covered by the NDIS. 

Now the sixth change involves creating fairer housing and living supports. Many participants don't get to choose where they live or who they live with. This is manifestly unfair at best, and risks condemning people with disability to segregated institutional life with minimal oversight at worst. This can't continue. We've got to get rid of the rorters and the slum landlords and the criminals exploiting housing and living supports, effectively human traffic vulnerable people and their generous packages. But we've even also got to create real choices for people with disability. 

Decisions about housing and living funding must be fair, must be consistent, and funding decisions should only be made after a comprehensive assessment of support needs. Under this reform, most participants will receive funding based on sharing supports with two other people. However, if a participant's comprehensive assessment shows they need more individualised support, then they will receive more individualized supports and sharing supports doesn't mean you have to share a house, but it's hoped that sharing supports will help people connect with others and address the isolation faced by too many people with disability. Fairer and more flexible and more transparent funding decisions will help drive the development of more innovative housing options, something that too often has been discouraged.

Implementing this recommendation would mean that innovation is encouraged, not discouraged. To stimulate innovation, though, we need clear rules that are clear, transparent, and fair. 

Now, the seventh and final big change that I want to discuss with you today of the review recommendation concerns the quality, safety, and integrity of the NDIS. This is a crucial area of reform because it's Australians with disability who suffer the most because of fraud and exploitation in the NDIS. In April/May, the federal budget included $48.3 million worth of investment to crack down on fraud and non-compliance payments. The review recommends that all service providers be visible to the NDIA and the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission. 

Payments could be reported in real time to help prevent everything from fraud and sharp practice to price gouging and overservicing, and people with disability could choose from a range of quality services and know also they are safe. This means that the NDIS, at a point in the future, will no longer pay unregistered providers. A proportional regulation system has been proposed to create a not one size fits all, as we currently have, and I don't stand here pretending that the current registration process is anywhere near as satisfactory as I expect it to be. 

What we would have is the level of registration, dependent on the level of risk of services and the settings that they're delivered in. For providers delivering low risk services, such as mowing the lawn, registration or enrolment will be very simple. For providers delivering more personal and complex services such as intensive in-home services, then, logically, there has to be greater oversight. People with disability and providers would be involved in designing and testing the system, and it also will be brought in over time, following huge concentration. 

We don't want our people to lose support. We understand also the principle of self-management and we want more of it, not less of it. And we also are absolutely agnostic about the manner in which you commission your services, through a service or directly employing people yourself. 

But I also don't want people to be at unnecessary risk. And Australians as a whole expect accountability. I actually think that most Australians are not aware that154,000 providers in the last quarter were delivering unregistered services, and that only 16,000 were registered. Big changes are being suggested. I understand that, but nothing will change overnight.

Of course, the government hasn't been sitting on its hands waiting for the review report to drop to get the scheme back on track. Outcomes data from the last NDIS quarterly report demonstrates the positive impacts of the scheme and improvements we've been making. For example, there is an increase in the number of First Nations peoples accessing the scheme. It's risen to about 10% of the total number of participants. 42% of participants aged 15 or older have reported increased participation in community and social services. This has been an increase of 7%. Participation in work has more than doubled, from 10 to 22% for participants aged 15 to 24, and half of all parents and carers are now reporting paid employment, reaching the 2324 target of 50%, that's a relative increase of over 8% since last quarter. We've got more people out of hospital who were stuck in hospital, delayed even though they were fit for discharge with nowhere to go. We've tackled something like 7000 AAT matters, including 90% of the legacy cases which were on hand when we got elected. We have changed the senior leadership of the NDIA. We've got Kurt Fearnley as Chair of the board. 

There's plenty been going on. Better management and a Labor government at the helm are driving these improvements. This NDIS review builds on the work that we're already doing. In April, our government announced that we're trialling blended payments. Every dollar goes to support people with disabilities so that we're co-designing trials of blended payments with participants and providers. This idea, by the way, is to give providers an incentive to innovate on service delivery and achieve improved outcomes for NDIS participants. The trials will be undertaken in two areas to focus effort and resources. The first was the school leaver employment supports, to identify ways to improve employment outcomes for participants. As you're probably aware, providers are paid $488 each week or $46,000 for up to two years. But get this - the funding stops if they're successful in getting their participant a job. That is a perverse incentive. Only 1 in 4 SSLE’s or the supported school leaver program participants get to an open employment outcome in the two years. 

Now, the second area of focus is about moving young people in residential aged care to more appropriate housing, with supported independent living, driving innovative service delivery approaches. We're going to work with participants and providers to carefully design the trials and ensure safeguards are in place. 

I've also mentioned a little bit, but I'd like to tell you a bit more about our efforts to reduce waste and combat fraud. A key part of that is stopping participants being overcharged while purchasing NDIS supports and services. We'll have more to say in coming days about measures to prevent suppliers putting unreasonable markup on a product. Just because someone has an NDIS package. You know what I mean, I got a text yesterday or the day before where a protein meal shake, maybe they work, maybe they don't, but this one was an NDIS protein meal shake. And today I got a message from a correspondent on LinkedIn talking about, um, the charging at cancellation times that at an allied health professional, if it's an NDIS account you pay 90% cancellation fee and if they have another entry, it's 25%. This is not on. The NDIS was not created to create NDIS millionaires. If you can make a profit, great. But that's not the function of the scheme per se.

So we're looking at measures to strengthen regulation and improve the consumer rights of NDIS participants, and stronger powers for the Safeguards Commission to take compliance action and to ban providers from the market, irrespective of whether a provider is registered or not. 

Now there is ongoing work to raise awareness of how to report exploitative practices. Participants are strongly encouraged to contact the Commission if they suspect an unreasonable price difference. 

So, while I've endeavoured to do today is talk a bit about our reforms, why they're doing, why they're important, why there is momentum, how we will keep listening. And I've gone to some of the key recommendations. Some people have said there's not enough detail. Well, we need to consult and talk with people. What you do have is a sense of the direction, a sense of the values, a sense of the propositions. 

So, in conclusion, I restate - we will just keep working with the disability community over coming months, as we strive to make these positive changes needed for people with disability. This is my third large gathering in the days since we've announced the review, and I'll be doing a series of town halls daily with members of the review panel, and we'll be speaking with stakeholders and listening to anxieties. We don't pretend that we've got every detail right, and there is much which we want to hear from people about how and what and where.

We won't just stop listening because the report's been handed down. We've said when we got elected last year and I've said a lot since then, the NDIS is here to stay. We want it to be true to its original purpose, and we want to make sure the resources are getting through to the people for whom the scheme was designed. 

And the philosophy of the review is the best way to do that is work on life outside the scheme, so you don't create that golden ticket effect of the NDIS. And that's a very fair thing. And I always thought that from Mach 1 to Mach 2, we would have this discussion. The NDIS was never the end of the journey about disability reform in this country. It was a marvellous step forward. 

Now I've pledged to work with people with disability, their families, their carers, their advocates, the service providers, so that their voices are heard throughout the review process and beyond. I'm determined that that is the way that we will continue to work. 

Together, this country is capable of almost anything and making the NDIS sustainable and there for future generations, the sweet spot is making sure that Australia is an inclusive society for all people with disability. 

Thank you very much.

JOURNALIST: Hello, hi, Minister. Melissa Coade from the Mandarin. There was a recommendation in the review that all future Ministers responsible for the NDIS into the future be a Cabinet Minister and you referenced in your speech, taking custody of this visionary policy and scheme as a junior Minister, how can we guarantee that all future Ministers responsible for the NDIS will be Cabinet Ministers?

SHORTEN: Well, that's really up to you. Um, I can guarantee while I'm a Cabinet Minister that it's excellent. We haven't created offices for life, so that's one change you could make. But absent that, I'm glad the review recommended it. One of the challenges with disability, as I've discovered, is not the impairment. It's a lack of money and a lack of power. NDIS does cure some of that lack of money issue in public policy because it's big. And even with our 8% target, it's big. And so, what you don't want to be is invisible. And I think, a well-funded scheme, which this is in any scenario, a growing scheme, which this is in our scenario, you then want to make sure that you have a, I think you need a Cabinet position. And so, I completely support that. But that will be after each election, you never know. You never know your luck in a big city. 

I could say, somewhat selfishly, keep voting for us and then you can keep guaranteeing it. But at the very least you can get a matching promise from the Libs. But that's crucial. I just, in the sort of - there's formal power and then there's informal power. And if you're not in the room, you don't have that informal power. But when I said, it's up to you, it is up to all of you. Once you've got it, you hang on to it and you build from it. And that was always - the NDIS is a springboard to a better future for all Australians and disability. But you can't depend on a particular happy coalition of, you know, you've got Kirsten and Bruce and so many other people and myself. and it's good the stars are aligned at this point in time. But what we want to do is make sure that it doesn't rely on particular individuals but to some extent, the scheme and the march towards true inclusion becomes politician proof. It becomes a given like Medicare, rather than oh my goodness, change. What does it mean? Are we going to slip back?

HOST: Thank you. Thanks for that question. Thank you, Minister. I'll alternate, I'll take one from the pigeonhole out there coming through quickly, so thank you. This question, Minister, asks will Support Navigators change Support Coordinators roles in levels 1 to 3? And what purpose do local councils serve when Navigators are guiding people with disabilities on the scheme.

SHORTEN: If you like, just to go through more questions, I made a note of that question. Do you want to do three questions at a time? Because as you've detected already, I can fill space like water fills a rain gauge. 

HOST: Sure, that's a good challenge. Maybe one that is similar, therefore is for those foundational supports outside the system, how do we attack the huge cross-government challenges to put these supports in place? And maybe another related one is how will the access and planning processes be made simpler and fairer in practice? Are you going to introduce an independent assessment?

SHORTEN: Okay. At the moment we've lifted the number of people in the Agency. It was capped at about 4000, which was preposterous because it was capped at about 4000 direct public servants in the Agency when the scheme at 170,000 people. The scheme went north of half a million under the previous government, but they still capped it to 4000. So, then we created other occupations, and half the reason Plan Managers exist, half of the reason why we have Support Coordinators, Local Area Coordinators in the way they're used, is because the government had a hang up about employing directly. So, we need - we've lifted the number of directors for years, and obviously we're very keen to recruit from the very massive set of skills that are in the broader NDIS community for that. 

I see Navigators as not being directly employed by the agency. I see there's a big overlap of work with what Support Coordinators currently do. I do think a lot of people are very fond of their Support Coordinators, so I'm very respectful of that role. I still think there's a bit of inconsistency, though, so we'd like to lift the standard of these Navigators. We would also, like to have specialist Navigators as well, like the more specialist Support Coordinators. So, I think there is quite a bit of overlap. 

And one question I received on one of my social media sites is we're a small business, we're weighing up getting registered as Support Coordinators. What does this all mean? I'd say keep going. 

First of all, none of this change happens tomorrow. Secondly, we want to make sure that a lot of the businesses doing some of this work keep doing it. We like small businesses, and we like the innovation. And there are a lot of good shops doing pretty good work. So, what we will do is give greater clarity of roles and we will fund them directly rather than out of people's packages. But I don't see them as being within the agency, per se. And I guess the same goes for local area coordinators, there’s an overlap of functions. 

I also recognize that in remote areas or thin markets, we're going to look at alternative commissioning as well. In other words, if you work if you're living in Maningrida or if you're living in Longreach, the idea that everyone's going to fly in from a bigger town for each individual package is preposterous, which is leading on one hand to overcharging and on the other hand to an underutilization of packages. 

So, we want to build up capability in local communities. So, whilst there will still be an individual package, we're interested if there's a common need for a physio, if there's a common need in northwest Tasmania for speech pathologists, let's look at what is there on the ground and direct people to that. I mean, they have to be good and do all of that, but I think we've got to get over this thin market issue by not being laissez faire and just leaving it to the market. We've now got enough experience, enough data to, I think, be more bespoke and making sure that people get the benefit of their packages.

With the foundational supports, it is a huge task. Some of the scepticism and suspicion that's been thrown at us is, well, what does the finished product look like? I mean, no good deed goes unpunished. We're saying we want to build out an ecosystem outside the scheme, and then we get attacked for not having it all done when if we did that, we get attacked for not consulting. We will do it with you. That's the way it's got to work. 

There's scepticism about the state's commitment. You know, even the most hardened cynics, though I think after National Cabinet and then the review on Thursday, one of the underlying sort of, deep currents of the review is that we think we can make the scheme not grow at 17%, but some of that money, which you're no longer spending on that trajectory, must be reinvested outside the scheme. And that argument, we've won. That is that commitment. And every Premier in Australia has said 50/50 on foundationals.

Now, it's always an ongoing issue in negotiation. The states push back against and said we're already doing some things. That’s great. It's baseline what you are doing and then see where the gaps are. But we're having that dialogue. And the other thing which I would say is important to note is, if we haven't got the foundationals working properly, the states are increasing their contribution from their original contribution which was 4% each year to their original contribution, and then 8% each year. The states don't want to spend billions on that 8% if having foundation supports can help alleviate that pressure. So that's a real-world impending pressure on the states to be serious. Now. I think they will be. 

The other good thing is, it was Liberal and Labor and the comments from the federal opposition, whilst mildly insulting about me, are being very good about the - I don't mind that because I was potentially insulting about them, but that's politics. No, but to be fair, they're engaged. I think it goes from Peter Dutton through to Michael Sukkar. They're engaged, they're interested. So, you know, I can't guarantee a particular outcome, but I can guarantee that there's a lot more buy in than I think people would have thought possible 12 months ago from the states.

In terms of the difference with independent assessments of the last regime, the only thing in common with the last regime is independent assessments is the word assessment. This wasn't done in a dark room down at the agency with highly paid consultants that we’ve never met. This is a review done in the open. We went to the States. We said, give us some of your people. They recommended Kevin Cox, the former Anti-Discrimination Commissioner. They recommended Dougie Herd, the head of the Council of People with a Disability. They recommended Doctor Stephen King from the Victorian Treasury. They recommended people who were on the review. So, state engagement, so much superior to what was happening last time. 

But in terms of the actual substance, the last proposal was a quick and dirty 20 minutes by a multinational insurance doctor. This is about someone taking as long as it needs, someone who's trained, who we know is trained, accredited specialists, to talk to people about what they need. But then it's not just the who, and it's not just the how. It's also then we then once we make the assessment, go back, and talk to the person about the assessment. That's all significantly different. 

HOST: Great. Thank you, Minister. While we wait for another hand to go up in the live audience, I'll take one more from the pigeonhole. You've talked a lot about shonky operators. You talked a lot about people exploiting the scheme, and you may not know that we're LinkedIn friends, in inverted commas, and I saw you reference the wedding tax on your LinkedIn account. So, this refers to the question here, which is are we equipped to properly identify and prevent fraud?

SHORTEN: Do you want to get any other questions?

HOST: Sure. A fly has landed on me as well, but I won't be distracted by that. There's also one here about the digital inclusion and marketplace recommendations from the review, how will the digital inclusion and marketplace recommendation from the review be implemented, given that the scheme has walked away from these in the past? We’ll go with those two if you like. 

SHORTEN: Okay. With fraud, I mean, let's use the term unethical conduct as the umbrella term. And under the umbrella of unethical conduct, there's the gangsters and the crooks, clearly. But then you can get through to what I think is, whilst it's not illegal, just overcharging, underservicing, right through to just changing the price of a product if you think the customer is an NDIS customer. 

So, we haven't been well equipped enough in the past, the number of criminal investigations we're doing is now doubled since I became the Minister. We put more resources. We set up what's called a Fraud Fusion Task Force. They're analysing the data, they're detecting patterns of misbehaviour, and there's a lot more investigations underway right now. There's nearly $400 million of payments being investigated. I'm not saying all $400 million will be wrong, but we're now scoping that out. Over the last 12 months of my Fraud Fusion Task Force, which we set up in October of last year, we've surveyed $1 billion worth of payments, so we're not catching anywhere near all of them at the moment. But I'm privy to information, I know there's serious criminal investigations underway, and that's good. But what we also realise is, I know how many of you remember that sort of children's game. Whack A Mole, where a little plastic mole pops up, you hit it with a hammer. Um, which is sort of. I guess it's not the best idea, was it? But, Whack A Mole, this what we're doing a bit with fraud at the moment.

What we want to do is get beyond Whack A Mole and change the integrity of the system. We've got to be able to see who's getting paid what in real time. So, you know, that actually leads a bit into the digital point I'll come to. We can catch crooks, but we also need to secure the system a lot better, and so we're working on that piece. We've now got access ATO, Safeguards Commission, NDIA, AFP, state police, now talk to each other a lot more than we ever did, and we've just increased the number of people in the system doing the job. So that's a work in progress. But we're going to keep going about every day. And I know when I initially, even in opposition, said we need to do more on the fraud. You never want to say anything bad about the scheme because I don't want Australians to have a bad view of the scheme. It's a matter of just being truthful. 

I think Australians are absolutely think that NDIS is one of the best things you could do with your taxes, looking after people who are hard up. But they also expect us to be diligent. We've got this big debate with the unregistered sort of world. People say they're going to lose choice and control if we register people. There's got to be accountability, but I do get that. You've got to have good systems for registration. People complain to me how long it takes, are we really measuring the right things? So, you know, there's so much to be done in so many areas, and you pull on one thing, you've got to look at every other lever, too.

But I think there's more we can do about regulating the unethical conduct as opposed to the straightforward illegal conduct. I think we really, and I've been putting a lot of thinking with the ACCC, the NDIA and the Safeguards Commission. How do we outlaw the wedding tax? It's an interesting proposition to see if you can do it. And the wedding tax, you know, a young couple goes somewhere and just don't tell whoever is quoting you that it's for a wedding because the price goes up. And that is happening with NDIS. 

You can go online, and you can see an aluminium shower chair, which you could buy for, you know, $80 or wherever. And then there's the NDIS aluminium shower chair, which to the naked eye is identical to the non-NDIS chair, but apparently it has special qualities which require being paid $600 for the chair. We really want to start outlawing that and a lot of people with disability hate being treated as stupid. People with disability and their families don't want to be treated as human ATMs. I think since the Rum Corps in the colony of New South Wales, there's been a great Australian tradition, which is, you know, not so desirable, the words ‘government money’ is viewed as fair game. This is not government money; this is money and people with disabilities with scarce packages.

And so, I think there's a lot more we can do, but we're doing it all the time, and there's plenty of recommendations on how we can improve it in the scheme. 

As for digital inclusion, I was amazed upon becoming Minister how some of the ideas for e-marketplaces which give people choice and control, and the ability to shop around and consumer power, ideas which have been worked out if you want to go on holiday or rent a house or book an airfare, but somehow when it came to NDIS, well, it was put in the too hard basket. But to be fair to our predecessors, they seem to have done about 70 to 80% of the work. I keep coming across projects which are almost but not quite finished, but then they just stopped and moved on to something. 

I get the impression that a lot of the digital work was underway, but then independent assessments came along, and that was the bouncing, shiny red ball that everyone that followed on that path and some of this other good stuff just needed a bit more elbow grease at the end. My predecessors were a little, some of the individual ministers, though, some of their contracting procurement processes. That's not stuff I intend to repeat though. 

So, I think there's a lot we can do in digital, and we're very excited. And I see the work we're doing with myGov as potentially having synergy as well with - wrong word, synergy, but having concurrence with, um, what we're doing in the NDIA.

HOST: Fantastic. Thank you. Minister. So, if we're on time, um, maybe a final message with us for the audience. Final message again, fantastic reforms. We're going in the right direction. Especially some notes on implementation and next steps.

SHORTEN: I think as Australians we should be proud of the NDIS. I don't know about you, but sometimes when we travel overseas, although having been in Victoria, we haven't been able to do a lot of that for three years, we talk about features of Australia, you explain Australian life to people from other countries and I don’t know about you I mean, I do, I look at our system of national health care, Medicare. You go, that's pretty good. Uh, you might choose to talk about superannuation. You know, we have in America, they have those 401 K plans and it's a mess. You know, you're either insured or you're not. You either have surgery or you don't. And we take these things for granted. I think NDIS is in that league. 

Disability ss universal. The great American poet laureate, Robert Frost, speaking about the death of his son as a young man called them the Shafts of Fate. Disability is universal. We have come up with a unique solution for very serious and profound disability. This is something to be proud of. What we also have to do is not put it in the too hard basket. There are some on the far left who say any change is a selling out of the people. There are some on the far right who say just get rid of the scheme, it’s stupid. Can't afford it. 

Neither of those solutions is fair. Fair to people or fair to the Australian capability of being excellent. We’re also in this lane where reform is very hard in Australia. You know, the media asked me who's losing? Who's winning? They don't actually ask me who's winning. They just say who's losing, who misses out? Where's your modelling? We're modelling. Modelling? Apparently, I don't know how we got to this year without having modelling for everything from what our breakfast is to our lunch. I mean, the modelling is important, but it's not the be all and end all. 

The point is, we actually need to, I think, in this country, think about being ambitious. We're very lucky. We're the only peoples in the world who have a whole continent to ourselves. There are plenty of challenges here, I understand that, but I think Australia can be exceptional. Not arrogant, but just exceptional. We should be the best in the world at a whole lot of stuff. There's no reason why we can't be. 

But the idea that we can be the best in the world at including all Australians, regardless of their background - see, for me, the fair go is not just about who you can marry, or your gender, or your skin colour, or how much money you have, or how long you've been here, or how good your house is, or what football team you barrack for. It's about who you are as a person. And so why should we allow impairment to define how we see a person? 

So, I think that if we want to raise our kids well and say we're a loving society, a fair society, a society of merit, where if you work hard, you can do well. If you obey the laws and pay your taxes and treat your neighbours well, I think how we include people with disability is fundamental to our identity. 

So, if you agree with some of that, then the rest becomes a bit more straightforward. Not each change, not how it works. But if the nation as a whole decides that the NDIS is worth saving, if we decide as a nation that people with disabilities should be included, then we work together, people of goodwill from different points of view. I'm not sure exactly what everything will look like in two years. Mightn't be quite as I think now. It might be, you know, and everyone else will have a view. 

But I would really like if I was to run into you in five years’ time. In ten years’ time, you say oh, yeah, that seemed to work out. I love it when people come up to me and say, my kid's doing well because of the NDIS. I was one street over in Bourke Street at the Salvation Army Project 614 yesterday. Lot of street people, a lot of homeless people, and I had three different guys with more tattoos than a sort of New Zealand All Blacks rugby team come up to me. Every one of them was on the NDIS and getting some support and. had a lady come to say g'day and she got some support for the NDIS and also here in Australia. She said I could hear now, and she said I was pretty traumatised from my history, and I can now get a bit of support. It's not that hard if we just decide we want to do it. 

Thank you.