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29 March 2022

SUBJECTS: NDIS; 2022 Federal Budget; election; Labor’s policy agenda.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Thanks for joining us. I'm joined by Elly, a proud Queenslander, and Dougie, a proud ACT person, and, of course, Bill Shorten, the Shadow Minister. We're going to hear from Elly and Dougie about their own experiences, first, about the cuts to the NDIS and about what human impact it is having on real people in real terms right now.
ELLY DEMARCHELIER, NDIS PARTICIPANT: Well, thank you so much, Anthony and Bill, for having us here in Parliament and for meeting with us. I am here to present to you an open letter on behalf of the 500,000 Australians with disability who rely on the NDIS. I'm also here on behalf of the 270,000 workers who rely on the NDIS for a job. Currently, the NDIS is often talked about as a cost. But we know that it is a big boost to the economy and it's great for jobs. But most importantly, it is giving dignity and it is giving freedom to so many Australians with disability, including myself. It transformed my life when I got my first NDIS plan at the age of 27. It was the first dollar of disability support funding I had ever received. And it was freedom to me. It gave me hope that my future didn't mean relying on my parents for the rest of my life. But sadly, what I have seen over the last couple of years is the NDIS has moved away from its promise to Australians with disability, its promise that we can choose the life we want to live with the supports we want to choose. And so, I'm here on behalf of those Australians with disability to ask you to guarantee that you will defend the NDIS. And that means stop the cuts to individual plans. It means put people with disability back at the centre of the NDIS. Listen to people with disability. I think, on Budget Day, it's particularly important to remember that the issues with the NDIS are not simply about money, it's actually about respect. And it's actually about attitudes. And what I have seen, when I had my own issues with the NDIS last year, they wouldn't even give me enough funding for catheter bags for an entire year. A plastic bag that urine goes into. We're getting down to that simple of a thing. I wasn't seen as a human anymore. I was seen as a number on a spreadsheet. I was seen as something that could be a cost saving. So, I'm here to ask you to make a promise to people with disability that you will defend the NDIS and that you will return it to the promise it was meant to be. Of course, you are a part of the Party that delivered the NDIS. But if you return to Government, you are not going to get the NDIS back in the way that you've originally created it. So, we need a commitment that you will rebuild it and you will defend it. And that is why I'm here today. And thank you again for meeting with us. It does mean a lot.
ALBANESE: We are honoured, frankly, by your presence and your bravery and your courage in showing and speaking out. Dougie?
DOUGIE HERD, NATIONAL DISABILITY SERVICES MANAGER: Good morning. My name is Dougie Herd. I'm an NDIS participant. I first met Bill 12 years ago when he was Parliamentary Secretary, and we were campaigning for the creation of the National Disability Insurance Scheme. I live in Canberra now, because of all the ironies I can think of, I was recruited to work for the National Disability Insurance Agency to help launch the National Disability Insurance Scheme in 2013, which was a great privilege, a great joy, to actually bring to fruition a really important idea that gives safeguards and guarantees to over 500,000 people with disability and our families. A promise that the future will provide for them the support that we need. And I now work here in Canberra as the Chief Executive of an NDIS-registered provider, supporting 300 people with disability and their families in Canberra and the ACT, all of whom depend upon the NDIS to get out of bed in the morning, to go to work, to go to school or college, to get to live their lives as valued Australians. Every single one of whom counts. I'm sitting here as a C6 quadriplegic after a swimming accident in a wheelchair funded by the National Disability Insurance Scheme, which means paid for by every single person in this room through the Medicare levy on our taxation, because we gave a promise to Australians 10 years ago in this place, the National Parliament, unanimously, every single Member of Parliament, regardless of party, belonging to no party, to see that Australia, the 12th largest economy in the world, is a civilised, modern, contemporary nation in which every Australian counts, everyone is valued. For goodness sake, a Scottish person, has to say this. Every Australian gets a fair go. And if disability should visit you or your family's life, the National Disability Insurance Scheme is the cast iron, guaranteed 100 per cent promise. We will be here for you. We will support you to live the life you want to live, now, tomorrow, into the future, and into generations of Australians yet to be born because some of them will be born with disability. This is a social care rights-based infrastructure project that is a bit like the human version of the Snowy Dam that keeps Australia powered. People matter. Australians matter. The National Disability Insurance Scheme matters. And the Leader of the Opposition, Opposition spokesperson on the National Disability Insurance Scheme, we are here to ask you and every other politician to do what you did 10 years ago. Protect the NDIS. Defend the NDIS. And let us live the lives we are promised by everything it says about us and the way in which we and our families matter.
ALBANESE: Well, Dougie and Elly, you are two just extraordinarily powerful, articulate advocates. And I can speak on behalf of Bill and myself. We are humbled, frankly, by your presence. And we absolutely commit to defend the NDIS because of what it represents. No one left behind. No one left behind. That every human being deserves the right to dignity, the right to have fulfillment in their life. And that's important for them. But it's also important for us as a nation as well. And all of the figures show that the NDIS contributes to the economy, doesn't take it away. Because people who are able to fully participate in society, make a contribution. I've known Elly for some time and have seen the contribution that she has made in Queensland. So, I certainly commit myself. And I Bill is very passionate, to say the least, about these issues. And you could not have had a stronger advocate than Bill.
SHORTEN: We commit to, as Anthony said, we commit to defend the NDIS. There's half a million Australians who get the NDIS. They've suffered unfair cuts. It's become a second full-time job to fill in the red tape and get through the system. People on the scheme are writing reports and they worry about the people assessing them, do they even understand the reports they're getting? We promise to make sure that if you've got a disability, you don't have to prove to the Commonwealth Government every 12 months that you're still blind, or that you're still in a chair, or that you still have a permanent condition. We get the NDIS. This will be the first Federal election where there's over half a million recipients of the scheme. Many of them will be voting. 270,000 people, full-time working in this scheme, represented by many of the leaders in this press conference. The Government, for nine years, has been winding back the scheme and undermining it. Time's up for the Government. We will give the scheme a better future, which is exactly what Labor and Anthony have just said.
JOURNALIST: The NDIS underspend in previous budgets has been a significant saving that meant the Budget bottom line looked a lot better. If we see something similar tonight in the Budget, what do you think that reflects on how the scheme has been functioning? Should we be seeing another big underspend tonight?
ALBANESE: I will ask Bill to add. But what it reflects is cuts. And a real impact to real people. That for Elly to have to come to Canberra to tell a story, to be told to reuse catheter bags, it is not the Australia that most Australians want in 2022. It's a minuscule saving that puts her health at risk. And I know we were talking before people came in. And I might ask Elly to just explain what that risk is. Because she can do it far better than me and Bill.
DEMARCHELIER: It's funny. As soon as you actually said the words 'cost savings', I thought, well, those cost savings were made at the expense of my catheter bags. And if I get a bladder infection, it's not as simple as your normal urinary tract infection. I've actually ended up in ICU because of bladder infections, intubated. So, this has really huge consequences for me. And I just think the tiny amount of money that they've saved on my catheter bags is going to be far outweighed when I have to make a trip to the ICU.
SHORTEN: Let's be very straight here. If the Government tries to dodgy up its Budget on the backs of cuts to people with profound and severe impairment, shame on them. If they want to save money, perhaps they shouldn't have wasted so much on their dodgy rorts and dodgy deals. People with disabilities should not pay for the Morrison Government's incompetence as economics.
JOURNALIST: We've heard the Treasurer outline the Government's pitch, effectively, for the budget and re-election. Can you, in a single sentence, say what is Labor selling to the Australian people?
ALBANESE: Labor is selling a better future with cheaper child care, with more secure work, with cheaper energy prices, and with jobs created in new industries. Where no one is held back, and no one's left behind.
JOURNALIST: Mr Albanese, regardless of who wins the election, they will inherit an NDIS that is growing. It's an incredibly expensive scheme in terms of the participant numbers are growing, it's going to be a significant cost pressure for any government. How are we going to fund this moving forward? Would a Labor Government be open to potentially increasing the Medicare levy to be able to make sure that you can provide the reasonable and necessary supports to people like Elly?
ALBANESE: Well, when it was introduced, of course, it was introduced with a levy. And that was supported across the Parliament. But the money that's been allocated hasn't been spent. There have been underspends and savings in the Budget. That is what is just so extraordinary here. That you have a clear demand, and everyone, as local members, is receiving representations from people who are having their programs cut at the same time as the Government says that this is a costly exercise. What cost? Human cost of not giving support to people with disabilities.
SHORTEN: In addition, I'll tell you how we improve the scheme. You pay fewer consultants, you pay fewer lawyers to take Australian citizens to the AAT, you crack down on any service providers, and there's a few who use price-gouging. But what you don't do is ignore people who deserve to be on the scheme. This Government has ignored the real drivers of the scheme. The truth of the matter is that kids of school age need support, and they go to the NDIS because there's nothing else anywhere else. You've got people with mental health challenges, because there's insufficient work done by the Federal Government on mental health. And the other driver, of course, is housing and because this Government just won't invest in social housing. We can make the NDIS work. But we don't accept the proposition that a dollar spent on a disabled person is a cost. Every dollar you invest in a person with disability gives $2.25 back to the economy, plus a better quality of life.
JOURNALIST: Do you need to further raise the Medicare levy?
ALBANESE: Well, there have been underspends. I think the figures speak for itself. And Bill has also spoken about the quite extraordinary figures of money for lawyers, taking people with disabilities through the AAT process. It is quite extraordinary.
JOURNALIST: A lot of people are concerned about that 65 year old cap. Is that something, if you would go into Government, you'd look at? A lot of people are not going to be eligible for it after that age.
SHORTEN: When the scheme was set up, aged care was superior to disability care. So, the aim was to create a scheme for disabled people up to 65 because then they could move into aged care. There's been years and years of vandalism by the Government on aged care. So, I accept that there's a problem that people with disabilities over 65 are not getting the same quality of care. Labor's agnostic, though, about the best way to fix that. You don't simply move people over 65 into the NDIS. Perhaps you have a better aged care system. There is problem. But I think that this Government vandalism over the last nine years in aged care, unfortunately, is harming people. The reality is that people with disability, for them, cuts are not just a budget entry, this Government's playing Russian roulette with their lives.
ALBANESE: Thank you very much.