SUBJECTS: NDIS Frauds; Climate Change and Coal; politicians meeting; Sky keep-cups.
TOM CONNELL, HOST: Well reports over the weekend of a pretty troubling situation, fraud, quite a lot of fraud within the NDIS, obviously some of the more vulnerable Australians in the country and a huge multi-billion dollar scheme apparently subject to this issue. Joining us now is Bill Shorten, Shadow Minister for the NDIS and Government Services, Bill Shorten thanks very much for your time. You are out there alongside a whistle blower, I hope we didn’t cut short that sip of coffee you are about to have, but you were alongside a whistle blower on the weekend, highlighting this problem of fraud, how is it actually happening? What’s the sort of modus operandi of these people who are ripping off Australians?
BILL SHORTEN, SHADOW MINISTER FOR THE NDIS: Well I was standing alongside John Higgins, who’s a twenty-seven year veteran of the Australian Federal Police, who then worked for a period of time at the National Disability Insurance Agency before throwing his hands up in despair at what he saw there. What he explains to me is - say you’ve got a family member who needs a package of support, that’s good, you apply for that, you get that, but what’s happened is, and he was telling me of one example who had been identified and he’s sure there are others happening. What happens is the crooks can sort of break the ten digit NDIS number that you have and they can start skimming the accounts of the people who are getting the package of supports. So he says the criminals are vulnerable Australians and he says that the NDIS simply tops up the money and puts inadequate resources into chasing the fraud.
ANNELISE NIELSEN, HOST: We also heard that the NDIS has a threshold of about ten-percent of payments, they’re happy for that to be going to fraud, I mean that, oh sorry happy is not the right way to say it, because any industry there is a certain amount of money that is lost to fraud, do you think, how does that compare to other industries though?
SHORTEN: I think it is taxpayer money, and I think if that’s the case and there is a ten-percent, that’s two-billion dollars, I think that’s staggering. I don’t think companies are willing to accept a certain amount of fraud. And remember this is some of Australia’s most vulnerable people, so you get tens of thousands of Australians have trouble getting into the scheme, because there is so much red tape, bureaucracy and unfairness, so the government got a padlock on the front of the scheme, but it’s got the welcome mat out on the back of the scheme for the crooks. They’ve got to start investing in fraud detection, prevention and catching the crooks.  You hear a lot of anecdotal stories but what changed, what motivated me to go public, is that Mr Higgins came forward and he said ‘Bill it’s happening’ and he said that there is inadequate resources for fraud detection and for going after crooks. I mean if the NDIA can’t do it then maybe they need to subcontract that to the AFP, but this a lot of money, it’s an unacceptable waste of taxpayer money and the vulnerable are getting hurt, they’re missing out on this money.
CONNELL: There has been a lot of criticism from you about the NDIS, I suppose broadly on how it is run, what about any policy differences within the system itself. There was a reclassification at one stage on how people were assessed for example. Are you looking to make substantive changes there, or are you just looking at running the system better?
SHORTEN: Well I think fundamentally the system could just be run better. You don’t need an election, we don’t need to wait two years to improve the NDIS. What I am hearing is there is a lot of dysfunction in terms of the systems themselves, by that what I mean is for example, you might get funding for transport of a couple thousand dollars, and you get another pile of money for life supports, but you’re not allowed to use some of that other money for transport. But if you’re stuck at home well that means you can’t use the rest of your package of support, so they should knock down some of these artificial demarcations, another classic is there is such a high turnover of people within the NDIA who are reviewing the plans, a lot of families complain to me that in the course of a year they might deal with two or three or four different people, and they’ve just got to explain the problems again and again. You hear stories of people waiting for home modifications or assistive technology, they get a report, they give it to the authorities, then the authorities sit on it and by the time they get around to looking at it the report is out of date. So there is a lot of you know, basic commonsense which I think could help improve the delivery of the NDIS, Labor supports the NDIS, but we just think it is being run in many cases just very inefficiently and it’s causing a lot of distress.
NIELSEN: Bill Shorten can we ask about the Otis Group, that’s been causing a lot of chatter around Canberra about this group of Labor MP’s meeting at a restaurant here amongst other things the approach to Climate Change within the Labor Party. Are you a member of the Otis group?
SHORTEN: No, and I have so say that chatter is probably the best way to describe it Annelise, people go out to dinner all of the time and they talk about everything.
NIELSEN: So you don’t think it’s any kind of pressure on Anthony Albanese that he’s got groups of MP’s wanting to lobby him on pretty key policy issues?
SHORTEN: People have got views on policy, but I don’t think this dinner is anything more than dinner.
CONNELL: I’m sure you have spoken to some of the members, do you share their concern? It seems to be at the moment it seems to be about Anthony Albanese’s rhetoric on coal, he might be repeating the mistakes of the past. What do you make of that criticism?
SHORTEN: Nicely framed question Tom, but when you say members of this group they are not members of this group it is not a formal organisation as best I can tell. In terms of policy Labor people take policy very seriously. The Labor Party is a broad church and represents lots of views and I think any interpretation that tries to turn this into something more than it is is probably an over inflation of the issue.
CONNELL: It is a push though on policy and again from what these - let’s not call them members - let’s call them colleagues linked via a leaked email, or an accidental email as it turned out to be.

SHORTEN: Well colleagues who are having dinner, well that is not in itself too suspicious.

CONNELL: It turns out to be a private dining room in Kokomo's rather than Otis which I’d have to say is a better venue.
SHORTEN: Well there you go that’s breaking news to me I didn’t even know that. I’ve never even heard of Kokomo’s.
CONNELL: It’s a good place. But there’s talk about this
SHORTEN: Uh so what have you been doing there?
CONNELL: Just out with friends I can assure you.
SHORTEN: Well that’s how it all starts.
CONNELL: With Anthony Albanese on climate he might be repeating mistakes of the past, what have you made of his rhetoric on climate change and coal?
SHORTEN: I think he is doing a very good job. Climate change is a vexed issue and we all know how toxic it has gotten but I do wonder if the terrible summer of bushfires we have had has changed some people’s perspectives on the cost of inaction. We know there is a whole of reasons why the bushfires took place and we know obviously fuel reduction is one and we are having hotter and longer summers than ever before. So I think Anthony’s approach and indeed all of our approach to talk about the issues, research it, consult with people and present our policies in a timely fashion before the next election is a very prudential way to go.
CONNELL: On that question of coal though, that certainly cost you votes at the election didn’t it?
SHORTEN: Well hindsight is a big thing and it’s a very valuable tool but in terms of that I do accept that for some people in parts of regional Queensland that taking action on climate change was (seen as) antagonistic to jobs. That’s not a view I share but I do accept that we have got to do a lot better in emphasising the job benefits of taking action on climate change. But in terms of the election I think one of the things which has now emerged is all the sports rorts. I mean it is pretty scandalous that this government was able to continue on in the fashion it was using taxpayer money just to try and prop up their vote in marginal seats – so maybe that cost us some votes too but as we are seeing that proved to be a misuse of taxpayer funds and very unfair conduct.
CONNELL: Well on that do you think it might have cost you the election?
SHORTEN: Well I do think that Mr Gaetjens needs to demonstrate his independence now he’s in the role he’s in and put out all the information and the report into sports rorts. This government wasn’t funding sports clubs in marginal electorates based on merit they were doing it based on trying to swing a few key votes in a number of electorates. So I do think it was very unethical conduct, it’s one of the many reasons why this government needs to have a National Integrity Commission… It’s not just the last election where it had influence but people just don’t trust politicians when they see taxpayer money used in the pursuit of their own partisan methods. The government’s been caught out and that’s why should have a Nation Integrity Commission.
NIELSEN: Bill Shorten just before we let you go we can see a cheeky disposable coffee cup on the desk; we usually try and push some more environmentally friendly options. Have you got Sky written on there?
SHORTEN: I wrote Sky on it, I did a product placement for you
SHORTEN: Oh why not, I didn’t have one of your reusable mugs so I thought I’d at least, you know I’m here to help.
CONNELL: Oh so we didn’t provide you one,
SHORTEN: That’s ok I’m not judging!
NIELSEN: Very pleased you are flying the flag for us now
CONNELL: We will make sure there is a properly branded one for you next time, Bill Shorten thank you.