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02 March 2022


SUBJECTS: Meeting with disability community in Groom; Morrison Government’s cuts to NDIS packages; Scott Morrison’s COVID diagnosis; Groom election campaign.

Hi, I'm here with Bill Shorten today because we have found that as with everything, the Liberal Party has not been able to manage the NDIS. Bill’s here to speak to the people who actually have to live with this. I'll let him talk to you. Thank you.

BILL SHORTEN, MEMBER FOR MARIBYRNONG: Good morning, Toowoomba. It's great to be here with Gen Alpass, our Labor candidate for Groom. Also, after I've said a few words, we're going to hear from Robin to talk about her personal battle to stand up for her precious seven-year-old boy, Aristotle, to make sure that he at least gets a fair go. I am here because I think that we need to make Groom marginal. Toowoomba’s a go-ahead city. Other than Canberra, it's the largest inland city in Australia. It deserves dynamic leadership. It deserves to be not taken for granted. The current Member for Groom and the LNP take Toowoomba for granted. The fact that they wouldn't support the quarantine facility, the fact that Scott Morrison described Toowoomba as being in a desert shows you just how out of touch the current Federal Government is. In particular, this morning I'm looking forward to talking to 60 or 70 service providers, parents, and people with disabilities. The National Disability Insurance Scheme is changing lives right through Toowoomba and the Darling Downs and the regions around here. There are 6,537 people who receive payments from the National Disability Insurance Scheme because they have severe permanent, profound impairment. But the problem is we're seeing that these packages are getting cut. This modest safety net to support children to get speech pathology and physiotherapy, which allow people profound disabilities to have their bathrooms modified, to give them some taxi money so they can get into town and not be isolated in their own homes, these packages are being cut. Mr Morrison is running a wicked campaign to undermine the NDIS, whilst people in the region are able to get support of about $74,000 on average, what we're discovering is that they're only able to spend about 74 per cent of that. In other words, the Morrison Government gives them some money, but because of the red tape and the poor administration in the scheme, the money is fictional. It's illusory. It's make-believe, like a lot of what our current marketing Prime Minister says. So, we're here to hear the issues. I regard every part of Australia as being important and worthwhile, and we want to make sure that the National Disability Insurance Scheme delivers for people with profound and severe impairment and their families and the people who love them. Now what are we going to do is hear from Robyn. Robyn is an outstanding mum. She loves her little son dearly, but she has been trapped in what can only be described as a sort of nightmarish prison of red tape, where the government just keeps making Robyn try and prove and prove and reprove yet again that her precious son has an impairment, and that support would actually improve his circumstances and help. But who better to hear from than Robyn herself? This is her first ever press conference, but you know, as I've said to her, no one knows your son in the world any better than you do, Robyn, so let's hear her story. And these are the stories which I'm hearing as I travel around the region. Robyn, come and stand up next to me.

ROBYN BAHUA, NDIS PARENT: So, my son is Level 2 ASD, ADHD, dyslexia, has a learning disability and severe behavioural issues. So, I sent through all the reports, everything to NDIS, and the funding we got was $7000, that's all we got for him. He is at risk of being removed from home because of behavioural issues towards other family members and things like that. So, I just feel - like I'm grateful to Bill and the Labor Government for bringing in the NDIS, and it's wonderful, but they keep like, we keep getting our funding cut and I don't want to lose my child. he should stay with me and not be removed from our home. That's my story. 

SHORTEN: That was great, the human story. That’s great.

JOURNALIST: How much money do you think you need in total? 

BAHUA: So, what we actually need is we need in-home help. So, all of our funding goes towards in-home help, he has no access to community, because of the programs, they’re so expensive. So, we just need more funding for in-home help, there isn't like a dollar amount to put on it. 

JOURNALIST: Sorry, Robyn, how old is your son? 

BAHUA: He's 11. 

JOURNALIST: So, what kind of, what would you like to see from - what have they been saying to you, the NDIS their justification for this? 

BAHUA: So, we actually have reports from the psychologist, the psychiatrist, GP, family psychologists, everyone that would know, and they say that we need in-home help, they need all this kind of support wrapped around them, and that's what we need the NDIS to listen to, because I'm wondering, who are these people? Are they more qualified than a whole medical team to make these calls on funding? 

JOURNALIST: And what are they specifically saying to you? They're just saying they need more proof or? 

BAHUA: Yes, so they constantly want proof. So, every year I have to pay thousands of dollars for reports to be done, to send through to them

JOURNALIST: You mentioned it before, but you keep getting pushed back. Obviously, that must have been quite a big impact on you. What does it like? 

BAHUA: It is hell. I'm not going to lie, so the strain every time I hear the words “NDIS reviews”, my whole body shuts down because I don't want to have to deal with them at all, because I know that it's constantly trying to prove that there's something wrong with my son. And we just want to help. We shouldn’t have to prove that proof, just help us with anything to get better. And I don't understand why they don't give funding when they're young and wrap them up, so then when they grow up into society they don’t need as much money from the government. I don’t understand why they don’t do that.

JOURNALIST: How long has this fight been going on for you? 

BAHUA: For about six years. 

JOURNALIST: Who do you think the NDIS benefits at the moment?

BAHUA: Providers.

JOURNALIST: So, can you elaborate?

BAHUA: So, I work in the disability sector, and so for a community program that was recommended for my son was $1600. And so, they get, their receive all of this money for programs that I feel shouldn’t be charged that much.

JOURNALIST: Do you think a lot of providers get into the NDIS for maybe the wrong reasons, just to profit? 

BAHUA: Personally, yes. We have had experiences with that.

JOURNALIST: Could you elaborate?

BAHUA: So, we did work with one company that said that they were going to help us, and they actually were sending invoices to our finance people, and they were charging us for help that we weren't actually receiving. 

JOURNALIST: How much time in your week does all of this take up? 

BAHUA: So much. Hours and hours, so I had to step down from management positions, I can't take them within my own career because of the time - I have to take work off too because I don't get funding for help, so I have to take my son to about three appointments a week. 

JOURNALIST: So, in terms of NDIS, what are maybe some standout changes that are quite simple that the Government can make that you like to see?

SHORTEN: Just to explain to Australians who haven't dealt with the National Disability Insurance Scheme, it's a modest safety net to give people diagnosed with profound or severe disabilities, some modest support. In the case of Robyn's son, Aristotle, he's got a diagnosis of autism, ASD, a range of conditions. He benefits from speech pathology and physiotherapy. What we're seeing is that the Government, rather than clamping down on overcharging by providers, it's just making it harder for people to get on the scheme. So, I would go after our providers who are overcharging. That's where I would save some money. But I wouldn't be denying an 11-year-old boy the chance of a few hours of allied health professionals each week, which will make the world of difference in his development. The other thing is, at the moment, people will be shocked to discover that the Government is spending, in the last six months alone, nearly $30 million on lawyers against people like Robyn, who when Robyn says, we need a bit more than what you're giving us, they get an expensive lawyer from Brisbane, Sydney or Melbourne to fight them in court. So, the Government is spending your taxes to stop your other taxes being spent on the child now, I reckon, in a beauty parade, taxpayers don't mind a little boy getting speech pathology. They do mind a big end of town law firm getting charged not to give the little boy speech pathology. So, I’d get the lawyers out of the scheme. I get the red tape out of the scheme right across this marvellous part of Queensland, there's nearly 7000 people who receive NDIS, but they live in a constant fear of having their funding cut. So, I would stop persecuting the people who are on the scheme, and I'd look at the price gouging, the sharks, and I'd take some of the red tape out of it and I take government lawyers out of the scheme. It is no way to manage a government disability scheme by using lawyers to go after people in wheelchairs. 

JOURNALIST: What do you think that says about the Government's concern regarding the scheme? 

SHORTEN: I think the Government has an undeclared war against people of autism, against people with complex needs and supported independent living. I think this Government doesn't like paying NDIS to people with psycho-social conditions or complex conditions. So, I think the Government's in charge of a scheme that it doesn't want, and it has no feeling for. 

JOURNALIST: Just on a separate issue. Scott Morrison a confirmed COVID case now. 

SHORTEN: I hope he's well. I hope he doesn't have any trouble getting rapid antigen tests. I think we've sort of finally fixed that problem. But sure, I want him to get better. What I'll say, though, would say is that people with disability don't always have the same access as a Prime Minister to the supports. So perhaps as he has some time to reflect, as hopefully it's a mild case of COVID, maybe what he could do is speed up and accelerate the third vaccination for people with disability. Because their numbers who are getting the third dose disproportionately low.

JOURNALIST: You mentioned it's something that you really want to get done here is make Groom marginal. You know, we've had a history in Groom of just being really strongly held LNP seat. Why do you think this election could be different?

SHORTEN: We’ve got a very good candidate. I think Labor's policies for the region speak to the story of the regions. I also think that people have now had three years of Scott Morrison. This is the only part of Australian modern history where we've had three years of Scott Morrison and I think three years of Scott Morrison is not flattering to Scott Morrison. I was stunned at Mr Morrison confusing stubborn with strong. When he knocked back the proposal to have a facility at Wellcamp, once he made that initial statement, I know Scott Morrison, he was too stubborn to admit he was wrong. Sometimes in life you make mistakes and you've got to admit you've got it wrong. That's not part of Mr Morrison's, you know, dog and pony show. He described, and people in Toowoomba need to remember that he used as an argument against Wellcamp, that it's in the middle of the desert and there's no airport. I landed at the airport, Mr Morrison says doesn't exist and there's no desert around here. So, I think that Mr Morrison has shown, unfortunately, a contempt for Toowoomba and the growth of Toowoomba, which means that in the future, while ever he's Prime Minister, when Toowoomba wants to go ahead or get a big project, Scott Morrison will say, Well, I got it wrong to begin with, so I'll just not go back there. Is he a frequent visitor to Toowoomba? Hmmm…

JOURNALIST: Gen, just on the election, how things look leading up to that election? 

ALPASS: Yeah, very good. I think Bill's right. People have seen three years of mismanagement and are sick of it, and that's exactly the same here. People have seen that Mr Morrison doesn't come here, people have not seen our local LNP member, apart from a few photo ops with some people in khaki.

JOURNALIST: How would you rate his performance so far? 

ALPASS: Dismal. I’d rate his performance dismal.

JOURNALIST: What has he not done that you think he should have been doing?

ALLPASS: Well, I mean, case in point, a few months ago, you asked us what we would be doing for this region. His answer was to stop Labor winning. Now his answer should have been to look after this region. Pure and simple. He is paid to look after you and me and the people here. And he said he was here to stop Labor. He said it. His own words.

JOURNALIST: If you were to sum him up in one word, what would you say?

ALLPASS: Someone who's not from here, and it's quite obvious that he's not. 

SHORTEN: All right, that's lovely. Thanks, everybody.