KIERAN GILBERT, HOST: Joining us now is Bill Shorten. What’s the situation today, what are you hearing from carers and those in the disability sector? What needs to happen in terms of support for them as we deal with this crisis?
BILL SHORTEN, MEMBER FOR MARIBYRNONG:Well the disability sector, and remember there are hundreds of thousands of Australians with profound disabilities and their carers, I think they’re dangerously unprepared for the next few weeks and months. That’s not a criticism of the people who work in disability, but the government hasn’t worked out what it needs to do. I mean we’ve got our healthcare sectors facing a potential giant surge of cases, we’ve got aged care in lockdown, disability is the poor cousin, and I know people don’t want to hear alarming talk or criticism, but I’m just saying on behalf of parents of people with disability, people with disability and their service providers, the sector has not been adequately prepared by the government and it needs to do two or three things urgently, within hours and days.
GILBERT: So what do you want to see done? There are a number of issues, you’ve got the carers and those who support those with disabilities, but also the fact that many individuals, there are three hundred thousand people on the NDIS, they have compromised health conditions obviously to begin with, many of them with respiratory problems to begin with...
SHORTEN: I am really scared for what happens to people with disability if there is a coronavirus outbreak, now there are three things that need to be done straight away and I think people will be shocked with what I’m about to say. There is no PPE, or personal protective equipment of any meaningful scale for people who provide disability services, it just isn’t there, and the problem with that is, if you get one worker who might get Covid-19 then you’ve got the whole - and then they work for a medium sized provider in regional Australia - there will be nothing for people with disability - no carers because everyone has to go into lockdown, so the more that we can engage in infection control now, not next month not after you know the fullness of time, and a review, and a chat and a media release, right now. So PPE needs to go to people who work in disability. Disability workers are as important as age care workers and healthcare workers, because if you have someone with a complex condition as you just identified and they can’t be, the carer can’t come and see them, well either their stuck at home in danger of their health, or they go into an already overcrowded hospital system.
The next thing is the service providers, there is thirteen thousand disability service providers, a lot of them are on the brink right now, they look after at least 312,000 severely disabled people on the NDIS and there are plenty more apart from that, they need to be able to make sure that the government is more flexible about the funding arrangements. If some provider can’t send a carer to a particular person with a disability, the money shouldn’t be cancelled and put back into the budget, the service providers need to keep a workforce on hand.
The third thing they need to do Kieran, is we need to look after our disability carers and make sure that the pressure is not on them, you know these people are a bit like how the firefighters were in summer with the bushfires, health sector, aged care and disability carer workers, we need to make sure there kids are getting childcare so they can go to work, and as a really good idea there is going to be plenty of people stood down and not working, why don’t we create an army reserve of carers, train people up, basic infection control so if disability carers are isolated we can swing into place an army reserve of people from other industries who can help do some of the caring work.
GILBERT: Okay, in terms of the government’s broader response, what’s your take on that? Because you went ahead of your party last week in some of your statements, and got ahead essentially of what happened with the government’s announcements on gatherings outside, indoors, what is your take on it now?
SHORTEN: You know last Thursday you and I were talking and some of those colourful after dark identities on your own channel here were you know bagging us, by Friday afternoon they were saluting the flag and up for physical distancing. Listen you know I am really concerned, the governments done one stimulus package and that’s already out of date, so you know they need to provide and make sure these interest free loans go into business, they are making the right noises about workers who lose their incomes, they get some money, I mean they’ve also got to tell the banks of Australia just freeze the loans. I was talking to the people who do the shows, the travelling showmen, the amusement industry, they’re just a one billion dollar industry on ice, so we’ve got to make sure the banks don’t start foreclosing on people, and just put a freeze on the loans till we get through the crisis. The other thing is, I was on a plane coming home from Darwin yesterday, and you know what is going on at the international terminals? If I had a dollar for every Australian who has stopped me at the supermarket or on the street and said why aren’t we doing more to close our borders? I understand they’re not even doing proper temperature testing, I don’t know, but we’ve got to start getting some facts out there to the people. Labor and Albo they’ve been doing the right thing, you know we want to work with the government, but the governments got to put its skates on, too slow.
GILBERT: What’s your view on schools? Because the government is saying its got the advice from chief medical officers, state and federal, that they should stay open, what do you say?
SHORTEN: Well Chloe and I, my wife Chloe and I, we’re in a fortunate position, not everyone can do it, Chloe works part-time, so two of our kids are at home, and you know we got some hate mail for it and other people saying ‘do more’, listen that Doctor Norman Swan I think is pretty switched on, Boris Johnson they’ve said let’s close the schools, you know in Singapore they’ve had extended school holidays, but other people I respect that have said ‘no, don’t do that’, I think one of the reasons we are seeing Australians do a bit of the panic buying is because they’re not convinced that the politicians can protect them. I still think an elegant solution would be an extended school holiday period but you know at the end of the day, the chief medical officers have got a view, I can see why people don’t want to second guess them but I understand there is up to 25% absenteeism in our schools now. I just wish the government had thought about these issues rather then you or I trying to thrash it out now on television or millions of Australian families trying to work out what to do now.
GILBERT: Bill Shorten I appreciate your time, thanks.