PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA
THURSDAY, 25 NOVEMBER 2021
SUBJECTS: Morrison Government’s view of the NDIS; input of state governments to NDIS; Religious Discrimination bill; chaos on the House of representatives floor during vote on Federal Anti-Corruption bill; employment discrimination towards people with disabilities.
BILL SHORTEN, MEMBER FOR MARIBYRNONG: Good morning, everybody. I'm here today to draw attention to Minister Linda Reynolds dramatic and shocking revelation that the Government does not think that the National Disability Insurance Scheme, should cover a lifetime of someone with a permanent and profound disability. This morning, Linda Reynolds declared that the NDIS was not a welfare scheme for a lifetime. The problem with the Government's analysis of the National Disability Insurance Scheme is that when people have a profound and severe permanent disability, that's for their whole life. If you're diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, there is no cure. If you get a diagnosis of motor neurone disease, your average life expectancy is 26 months. If you are an amputee, your legs or your limbs will not grow back. I do not understand why the Government has declared that a National Disability Insurance Scheme is no longer for the lifetime of a person with a disability. This is a shocking comment. It undermines the Government's claims to represent the best interests of 467,000 participants on the National Disability Insurance Scheme. The Prime Minister must immediately correct the mistake of the Minister for the NDIS, Linda Reynolds. The Prime Minister must today reassure 467,000 people, little children to people in their 70s and 80s who receive the NDIS support, that they're not about to lose their funding. People with disability have a lifetime disability, yet the Government's saying they won't give them a lifetime of support. Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, is the government ducking its funding responsibilities for the NDIS?
SHORTEN: I think the Federal Government, within the shadow of an election, has somewhat bizarrely declared war on the National Disability Insurance Scheme. When the Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme says that the National Disability Insurance Scheme is not for people over their lifetime, when the only way you can get on the scheme is that you have a lifetime disability, this shows that the Government simply wants to cut the scheme, and 467,000 people, cared for by their families and by support workers now want to hear the Government confirm, will the NDIS be there for their lifetime or is it going to be taken off?
JOURNALIST: What about her comments regarding more responsibility on the states and territories? Do you think an idea like that has merit, given that the scheme is a bit troubled with states and territories taking a bigger role, it might help out? What do you think about that?
SHORTEN: Well, I find the Minister and the Morrison Government's attitude to the NDIS confusing because on one hand, they say that the states aren't doing enough, yet on the other hand, in 2019, they signed funding agreements with the states, with the existing funding mechanisms in place, that the Government is now complaining about. So, to put in plain English in 2021, the Minister says the states are not funding the NDIS correctly. But in 2019, the same Government signed agreements authorising the states to pay the existing relationships. So how is it that this is now a problem in 2021, yet in 2019, there have been a sign up to arrangements they now say are unworkable? But let's go to the heart of the matter. The Government is proposing new legislation to be presented and voted on in Parliament next week, where they want to take away the ability of the states to have a veto role in the scheme. Yet what they're actually - at the same time the Government is saying, we want the states to pay more, but we want to give them less say in the legislation in this scheme.
JOURNALIST: Is this scheme sustainable at the moment?
SHORTEN: Sure. The reality is that the $22 billion, which is used in personal packages for nearly half a million profoundly disabled Australians, that $22 billion that generates $52 billion of economic activity. There's been a report done by the Per Capita Institute for National Disability Services, an independent employer-based body, which finds that for every dollar spent on the NDIS, it generates $2.25 in economic activity. There are improvements that can be made to the scheme, but you don't improve the scheme by cutting the participants for whom the scheme was designed. There are improvements for the NDIS that can be made, but you don't do it by telling someone with a lifetime disability that the Government is going to abandon them.
JOURNALIST: What are the improvements?
SHORTEN: I think that the Government could stop spending so much on litigation against participants in the scheme, and perhaps resolve disputes before they go to court. I think the Government spends too much on executive consulting. I think they can wind that budget back. I think they need to rein in some of the service provider prices. I don't want the scheme being treated as a fatted goose for some service providers to charge larger amounts to people that an NDIS package, merely because they're getting support from the Government. I also think the Government could improve its decision-making processes. There's a lot of needless delay. So, sure there are improvements. But you don't improve the scheme by locking the scheme, the front door of the scheme, for people with disabilities. You know, I found out from the Epilepsy Foundation that very few people with epilepsy are getting onto the scheme, even though the complex conditions. First Australians are getting in no fashion anywhere near the number of people with disabilities in their community on this scheme. This Government is tough on the weak and weak on the tough issues.
JOURNALIST: Just to clarify, what position is Labor taking on the legislation next week? What changes do you need to see to support it?
SHORTEN: The legislation as it's currently constituted, is a dangerous attack on the scheme. If the Government don't make substantial surgery to the legislation, we'll be opposing it. In particular, the Federal Government wants to take away the right of states to have to agree to changes to the scheme. The ironic thing here is, on one hand, the Federal Government are bagging the states for not paying enough money. But on the other hand, they'd find the very unpersuasive strategy of saying, you must pay more, but we won't actually, we want to take away your say. I think fundamentally, though, the scheme the Government is proposing to give a god power to an unelected executive of the National Disability Insurance Scheme, to simply reach into any plan and cut it. This is bewildering concerning and creating a lot of anxiety
JOURNALIST: On religious discrimination, [illegible] you were Opposition Leader. Do you support bill in its current form, and do you share concerns others have, around the protection for gay students and teachers?
SHORTEN: The principle that people should be able to practice their faith in Australia free of discrimination is one which I, and I know Labor, support. In terms of the actual bill though, we have to work through the detail, it has been presented to the House so it's too early to say. The principle that people should be free from religious discrimination is a solid principle. It's why we support religious-based schools in this country. It’s why are the tax laws give preferential treatment to religions. But we have to see the detail of this measure.
JOURNALIST: Do you think it's likely it'll get through next week, given how complex it is? Will there be a lot of debate, what do you think?
SHORTEN: The Government promised this religious discrimination bill after the marriage equality vote three years ago. For the Government to say it's urgent right now, when they've had three years makes you wonder why is it all of a sudden urgent? If it was that urgent, why didn't they do more three years ago? But let's work through the processes. I can't predict the timing of the votes on all of these matters, but I do know that this Government is a pretty lazy government. You know, they don't get out of a banana lounge, off the banana lounges in the Ministerial wing to do much policy, do they? We don't have an Anti-Corruption Commission, so I don't know, this Government is pretty lazy. And now for them to turn up late in the piece and demand everything has to be done their way, I think it's quite breathtakingly arrogant.
JOURNALIST: Do you think the Parliament though should deal with changes to the Sex Discrimination Act to protect gay students before they receive this bill, or at least simultaneously, rather than what the Government is proposing, which is to wait 12 months after the passage?
SHORTEN: The Government promised some time ago to look at how to protect the rights of children in schools. They haven't done a lot on that so far. I'm not going to second guess how Labor's going to handle all the traffic management of this legislation and other issues. People should be free to practice their religion, but people shouldn't be discriminated based on who they love either, or questions of sexuality. It's a matter, I think in something like this, of trying to achieve consensus. I think if you have a debate like this where people have very strongly held views and you try and have winners and losers, I think that is counterproductive right now as we're healing from COVID, where we've been eight different mini countries in Australia, people have been concerned about vaccines, people have done it hard economically, I just think that what this nation needs is a period of rebuilding trust. And I think that it's always a better idea on matters where there's very strongly held views to resolve the issues, taking all the points of view seriously than have winners and losers.
JOURNALIST: Bill, you were just in the house during what happened with the Haines bill, can you make sense of what happened?
SHORTEN: I can try. The Speaker clearly - listen, the Speaker's a nice fellow and no doubt he'll eventually get across his job, but that was a shemozzle today. We've got a speaker on training wheels, but more significant than that, a majority of the MPs today voted to back independent Member for Indi Helen Haines’ bill, to have a debate about a Federal Anti-Corruption Commission. The Government lost the vote. This is quite significant. But what happened is, because people away with COVID there wasn't enough people for the vote to be binding, it had to be a larger number of people. The Government lost the vote, but under a technicality still doesn't have to advance with the Federal Anti-Corruption Commission. People have a right to ask themselves as they watch this Parliament, why does the Morrison Government want to do everything it can to delay creating an Anti-Corruption Commission? I and Labor proposed a Federal Anti-Corruption Commission on January the 30th at the National Press Club, 2018. Malcolm Turnbull said he'd do something, but then he left. Mr Morrison promised to do something in 2018. We're now at Christmas 2021. Why do the Liberals struggle so much with the notion that the politicians of Australia should have an Anti-Corruption Commission to oversight our actions? It is bizarre that Mr Morrison keeps dodging an Anti-Corruption Commission. What to the federal Liberals have to hide that makes them so determined to have a massive go slow on an Anti-Corruption Commission?
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, the head of the Jacqui Lambie Network, is backing you to come back to the Labor leadership, what’s your response to that?
SHORTEN: It's very nice of the gentleman. I've never met him. We've got a leader of the Labor Party. I'm supporting him. I think that what people want in this country is they want a leader who says what he means and means what he says. The problem is that at the moment in Australia, we've got a Prime Minister who on one day will say one thing and, you know, quite convincingly, passionately, he really believes at that day. But the next day or subsequently, he can take diametrically the opposite position and believe that completely and passionately. That's not leadership. That's gaslighting Australia. People are sick of being gaslit by political leaders. Unfortunately, we have in the Prime Minister of Australia, the Prime Minister for Gaslighting Australians. I've just got to wrap up, a couple of questions.
JOURNALIST: Just an NDIS question. So, the Royal Commission, the Disability Royal Commission, has been holding hearings this week. The Royal Commission's heard about low employment rates among people with disability and the NDIS sustainability being at stake because of this. Do you have any thoughts on that?
SHORTEN: People with disability are one of the last frontiers of discrimination in my opinion. The reality is that a person with a disability will be unemployed for longer, find it harder to get a job interview. Find it harder to get a job. There's a lot of ignorance about disability in employment markets. Just because someone's in a wheelchair and they work in your workplace, you won't catch wheelchair disease. Just because someone might have episodic mental illness doesn't mean that you should write them off and put them on the scrap heap of employment. Just because someone's had a worker's compensation claim in the past and getting rehabilitation, doesn't mean they should be treated like a second-class citizen. Literally, the unemployment rates for people disability are unacceptably high. We need to, I think, provide more subsidies for employers to help encourage them to employed people with disability. We need to have a look at the whole disability employment system. We need to do better with our TAFEs, universities and schools and providing vocational training for people with disabilities. We have put the employment of people with disability in the nation’s too hard basket for too long. And I think that we have a little bit of effort, a little bit of elbow grease, a little bit of not walking past the personal disability and treating them as invisible, I think we could do really well.