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19 November 2021


SUBJECT: NDIS; Need for face to face services in Coffs Harbour; Morrison Government’s latest plan to reduce NDIS packages.

JOURNALIST: Bill, what are you doing here in Coffs harbour?

BILL SHORTEN, MEMBER FOR MARIBYRNONG: I'm here to hear the stories of people from Coffs Harbour and the surrounding regions, about how they're finding quality of the delivery the Morrison Government’s services, and sadly, we're hearing too many stories of the cuts, random decisions, and bureaucratic meanness.

JOURNALIST: What is the way to fix things?

SHORTEN: The National Disability Insurance Scheme is unique in the world. It's individualised packages of support for profoundly and severely impaired Australians living with disability. Good idea. The problem is this Government keeps trying to cut people's packages. The Morrison Government is very uncomfortable with the idea that there are 467,000 people receiving modest support, and they seem determined to cut the scheme so that they can pay for the other projects.

JOURNALIST: In terms of the response from people, are they at all happy or is it all negative?

SHORTEN: It's not all bad news. The NDIS is changing people's lives. We spoke to a lovely lady who is in her early 60’s who has Parkinson's. Parkinson's is a permanent condition. She's complained that on five different occasions, she's had to prove that she has Parkinson's. We were listening to another mother who's in her mid-70s, who's got a 42-year-old son. He has got a rare condition. He's had it his whole life, and she keeps having to prove that he has a disability. These petty indignities of a Government in Canberra mean that there are thousands of people here up on the Coast who are going through, I think, needless heartache and stress. They never asked to be a person living with a disability. They have no cure for these disabilities. But yet, the Government keeps asking to prove it time and time again.

JOURNALIST: Is there a way to streamline the process?

SHORTEN: I think people in Australia will be surprised to learn that quite often people with a disability never get to meet the person who makes a decision whether or not they should get a package of support. So, one simple change could be that the person making the decision, whether John or Jill who have a lifetime disability, get their package is actually meet them. We've invented Zoom. The internet's been around now for a couple of decades. Perhaps the Government could come out of its ivory tower and just talk to people rather than them asking you to sit on a digital portal and go quietly mad.

JOURNALIST: Could the Labor Party do better?

SHORTEN: Absolutely. The Labor Party created the National Disability Insurance Scheme. We think that if you give people with disability a reasonable safety net, they can actually do amazing things. There's 467,000 Australians who live with a profound or severe impairment, that's all just medically established. You've got their fantastic family carers; you've got hard work and disability support workers. It's a big group of people. Rather than make them have to prove every 12 months they have a disability, how about we just inject some common sense? You give a package of support to someone, you bother to meet them, then you let them get on with their lives, rather than trying to micromanage each aspect of their arrangements.

JOURNALIST: Has this opened your eyes a little bit more, coming to the Coffs coast?

SHORTEN: Well, it's good coming to Coffs Harbour, and it's fantastic - I live in Melbourne and there's a direct flight, you know, and certainly a lot of Victorians are keen to come up and have a holiday now the borders are open. But on a more serious note, the Coffs Harbour region actually has expertise in helping people with disability. It's a caring community. I've picked that up already in the last day and a half that I've been here, so it's a great lifestyle. There's lots of support services, it's a friendly community. I think that what we should do is have more NDIS services in this region, rather than all just in Canberra. And I think that would be a really good development - more face-to-face human services here, rather than just everyone having to go online.

JOURNALIST: Is there any services here?

SHORTEN: No, there's not a lot. A lot of it's delegated. There are support services doing wonderful work, but I think there's too much red tape with accommodation for people with profound disability. There's about 6,177 people from Bellingen to Kempsey to Port Macquarie to Coffs Harbour, who get NDIS support. It's a big number of people. There's thousands of paid workers in this area and of course, there's lots of families who support their loved ones. So, it's a big operation, and I just think it requires more professionalism from the Government and less sly cutting people's packages without any warning.

JOURNALIST: And in terms of today, you're just doing more of the same, having chats?

SHORTEN: Yeah, well disability service providers are the backbone of the disability sector. The disability sector in Australia is actually about $52 billion, and that's a big amount of money. But behind those numbers are people - half a million people with profound and severe disabilities, quarter of a million people working in this industry and of course, thousands and thousands of families. So, we're talking to providers today, talking to participants yesterday, talking to carers. You know, I don't think people with disability and their carers should be invisible. I think they're important. They should be on the front page. They should be at the top of the political debate in this country. And I'm determined to make sure that these people who quite often get ignored, pushed to the sides, pushed to the back of the queue, get their fair share and get their fair hearing.

JOURNALIST: Have you found that people are happy to talk about their situation?

SHORTEN: Yeah, listen people are great. Let's be very clear, carers, they don't see themselves as saints. They look after their family members because they love them. That's what they do. But I'm determined that a Labor Government will relieve the midnight anxiety of aging adults in their 70s and 80s up late in the night, wondering who's going to love their adult child and care for them when they no longer can. I think that's a national commitment, and that's what the National Disability Insurance Scheme should be, and we're determined to make the promise be fulfilled.

JOURNALIST: In terms of, obviously you said Labor established the NDIS.


JOURNALIST: Looking at it from then to now, how do you feel about it?

SHORTEN: Well, I think it's a good idea which has gone off track. I think for lots of people, it's changed their lives for the better and I'm very proud of it. So, it's not all bad news and I'm not here to rubbish the scheme. But what's happening is that too many people have to go to lawyers to get their package of support. Decisions are taking too long. You deal with one person one day and then the next day there's someone else on the other end of the internet connection or the telephone that you're dealing with. I think what the NDIS needs is some full-time love from the Government, not the attitude of a disinterested landlord.

JOURNALIST: Have you heard or read what the Government's just put out today? They put out a media release about. – hold on, sorry. I did read it this morning.

SHORTEN: That's good.

JOURNALIST: I don't remember it, but I read it. [all laugh]. So, it's a new disability inclusion plan that's been unveiled, and it's basically saying people with disability can live in more inclusive and accessible communities under the New South Wales Government plan to remove systemic and attitudinal barriers to participation in society.

SHORTEN: It's good that State Governments are doing work in disability. My focus is the role of the national government. All levels of government should have a commitment to include people with disability in their communities. Local government with points like physical access, state government with support services and the federal government with the disability pension and of course, the National Disability Insurance Scheme. But what's really important, I think, is that the Morrison Liberal Government drop some very nasty changes they're bringing to Parliament, as early as next week or the week after next. At the moment, when a person gets their disability plan, if it has to be changed that they have to be consulted. But would you believe that the Morrison Government is proposing to give a God power to an unelected public servant, the head of the Agency, who can dip into anyone's plan, any one of 467,000 people with profound disability, and change it? You know, growing up with a disability is a challenge. But the idea that the Morrison Government can just dip into your personal plan and change it without properly consulting you or getting your permission, I think that's shocking and needs to be stopped.