SUBJECTS: NDIS budget outcomes; JobKeeper

LAURA JAYES, HOST: So, let's get back to the budget just briefly. Jim Chalmers last night promised to rein in spending on the costly National Disability Insurance Scheme, saying the Government can deliver almost $500 million in savings by 2027. It comes after economists warn that without any intervention, the scheme would blow out by as much as $100 billion over the next ten years. But the Government claims the cost cutting won't diminish the quality of the NDIS, with the Treasurer saying the scheme is here to stay. Essentially, they want to make it sustainable. Joining me now is the NDIS and Government Services Minister Bill Shorten. Good to see you.


JAYES: Is the NDIS sustainable at the moment?

SHORTEN: The NDIS is here to stay. Jim Chalmers again reinforced that last night. I think the scheme's future is great so long as we prioritise the best interests of the participant, the actual person for whom the scheme was designed.

JAYES: That's not happening at the moment, is it?

SHORTEN: Well, it is changing lots of people's lives, but I think that we can do better. We want to improve the way that the scheme interacts with the participants. And also, I want to make sure that people on the scheme are not being overcharged or under serviced or not receiving the value.

JAYES: That's happening a lot. Isn't it? It's not so much the rorts that we hear about, but the inflation within the NDIS and that, you know, people, providers, are essentially going oh government money, we're going to triple the cost of that. How do you stop that quickly?

SHORTEN: It is a challenge. I just want to reassure participants one thing -

JAYES: But it's a threat, isn’t it? It's more than just a challenge, isn't it Mr. Shorten, it's a threat to the very sustainability of the scheme if that keeps on happening.

SHORTEN: Well, I'm confident that if we put proper resources into the system to run it, that we can eliminate unethical conduct by - last night was the largest single injection of new funds into the administration of the scheme since it was established. We want to work with the states to build up disability inclusion services for people who don't need to be on the NDIS. We want to have longer term planning. It's very traumatising for participants each year to have to go and say, yes, I still am blind or yes, I still am a quadriplegic or yes, I still have severe autism.

JAYES: But we’re not talking about that are we, we're not talking about what the scheme was originally designed to do is for the profoundly disabled. And those examples that you give, it's more going back to first principles, isn't it?


JAYES: If you had your time again, would you have designed it differently?

SHORTEN: Well, I wouldn't have had the nine years of Coalition government who just didn't pay attention to it. The scheme was left to just evolve higgledy piggledy. But when we talk about reform and what we were talking about last night and what the Treasurer was talking about, it's long-term reform. The starting point for that process is to talk to the people who rely on the scheme, for whom its life changing and say the scheme is going to be okay. We are committed to it. We think that we can do a better job now of making sure that every dollar gets through to the people for whom the scheme was designed. So, if you look at it just through the discussion of, oh, there's a sustainability crisis, everyone puts up the shutters, they feel threatened, they feel, Oh my God, It's like muscle memory of the last nine years. That's not what we're talking about. I honestly believe we can moderate cost growth in the scheme by running the scheme properly and in the best interests of the participant.

JAYES: Yeah, but again, going back to first principles, this was sold as a safety net for the profoundly disabled. It has become something else. Do you accept that perhaps there are some people receiving thousands of dollars from the NDIS that shouldn't be?

SHORTEN: No, I'm not going to say that the problem of the cost growth of the scheme are the people on the scheme. I think that's lazy, just to go to that as the as the entry point. Do I think that for kids who have developmental delays at an early age that the NDIS is now the only lifeboat in the ocean, so they're being pushed that way? Yes. I do think we need to have a better capacity to help precious babies at 12 months and two years with diagnosis and seeing what they need. Not every child with a developmental delay should end up on the NDIS, but at the moment it's all we have. So, I think in the in the creation of the NDIS, I do believe that some of the states and some of the mainstream services now say everything is an NDIS matter, where actually that isn't the case.

JAYES: That's right. So, you've capped - sorry to interrupt you, but essentially capping funding growth.

SHORTEN: No, we're setting a target. A very important –

JAYES: It’s a target?


JAYES: Not a cap?


JAYES: Right. That's a problem, isn't it?

SHORTEN: No, it would be a problem if it was a cap, because that would be illegal. It's a demand driven scheme. Let's not –

JAYES: So, when you move -

SHORTEN: I think you're going to the heart of it, it's a really important issue -

JAYES: But when Albo said it's gone from 14% growth to 8%, that's just a lofty target?

SHORTEN: No, it's the assumption of what we're doing in our reforms. See, my predecessors just looked at the NDIS and put it in a room and shut the door and didn't know what to do with it. What we're doing by working with –

JAYES: It has become unwieldy.

SHORTEN: Well, but also, to be honest, you had some really ignorant stuff going on for the last nine years and I know people don’t want to hear politics, but I wouldn't trust the Coalition to run an NDIS. They just don't get it. They don't understand it. They think it's a welfare program which should be capped. It's not. I'll use the analogy of Medicare –

JAYES: Why not?

SHORTEN: Because it's not. It’s not a -

JAYES: But why not?

SHORTEN: Because you know –

JAYES: But there’s got to be a limit to it.

SHORTEN: No, here we go. You don't cap the health system. You don't say that if someone's sick in April of a financial year, sorry, we've run out of money this year. You come back and be sick on the 1st of July.

JAYES: But Mr Shorten, it's different, isn't it?

SHORTEN: No, it's actually not –

JAYES: Because a sick person is different to looking after the profoundly disabled, I mean, we had calls -

SHORTEN: No, LJ No, no. This is this is a fundamental issue -

JAYES: We had calls last year Mr Shorten, for those with ADHD to be included in the scheme -

SHORTEN: Let me finish my point -

JAYES: I mean, you sensibly ruled that out.

SHORTEN: Yeah, but let me finish my point, because this goes to the nature of the scheme, and I get that a lot of people, I'm not being rude here, don't understand the scheme. Disability is a fact of life. You can get it at birth. You can get it in the blink of an eye on a country road. You can get it through early onset diseases. But because someone is impaired profoundly, doesn't mean that they should be denied having opportunities in this country.

JAYES: No one’s talking about the profoundly disabled, to be honest. I mean when you first started this scheme -

SHORTEN: No, but when you use terms like -

JAYES: When you first started it, you claimed that -

SHORTEN: Sorry, you actually were, to be honest, you actually said, oh, it should be capped, it shouldn't be just a demand driven. I really fundamentally disagree with you. I think a lot of what you say makes sense, but I couldn't agree less with you on that one.

JAYES: No, I don't think those that are profoundly disabled should at all miss out.


JAYES: I think the cap is arbitrary, but I think that –

SHORTEN: No, there's no cap.

JAYES: - the remit of the scheme should be clearer as to who the NDIS is there for.

SHORTEN: I see that point and we've got the review coming in in October. There's 580,000 people on the scheme. When the scheme was set up, it wasn't predicted to have that number of people on the scheme. Part of that is because there's a lot of unmet need and people just didn't measure it. When we first set up the scheme, some states couldn't tell us how many disabled people they had in their states. But do I think that in the area of early intervention for kids, what's happened is the NDIS is such an influential system that what we're getting is diagnosis following the money, so that and I don't blame any mama bear parent whose child has got a developmental delay. If this is the only place that you can get help, that's where you'll go. So, part of the solution to the NDIS and moderating cost growth is ask, what's in the best interest of that little child? Is it to be on the NDIS or is it to have other interventions which actually means they can go on to school and get other support?

JAYES: When this was sold to the Australian public under the Gillard Government, you were a big part of that. We were told that this would be a massive productivity measure. Essentially it would wash its face in many ways and those on the scheme would be able to work and contribute back to the economy.

SHORTEN: Yeah, and some are.

JAYES: That has not happened the way you promised it, though.

SHORTEN: No, again, I don't agree. What the scheme hasn't done is talked about the positive effects it's having. That has just been a totally neglected area. You're going to see from the quarterly reports going forward, we're going to start measuring outcomes. The problem is that for nine years this scheme has just been viewed as a payment system. Get money out the door, no attention to what's being paid for, no attention to making sure it's not being inappropriate, things aren't being inappropriately claimed. But it is making life changing impacts. And I bet you right now that if we were to ask or do a call out, I mean, I don't know how many people watch this show, but just generally a call out -

JAYES: A lot. Thousands. Hundreds.

SHORTEN: Awesome. Well, do you know what the NDIS is even changing more lives than that. You will find that for a lot of people, they never want to go back to what it was. Do I think we can moderate the cost growth? Yes. But the way we will do it is not through the pants off everyone and saying you disabled person shouldn't be getting something. The way we do it is you actually have a system which is in the best interests of the disabled person, not an impersonal bureaucracy, not a service provider. If people feel that they're treated humanely, that they're not always under constant threat of losing something and that they're not treated as a human ATM by some service providers, there are many good ones. That's how we get there.

JAYES: Okay. You say there are many good ones. Only one service provider, one, has been disbarred essentially from not being able to be a provider in the NDIS. There's many more dodgy ones. So, what's going on there?

SHORTEN: Well, I don't think my predecessor has paid enough attention to this area. That is why we set up a new criminal task force in October, that's now got -

JAYES: It's not just criminal, though.

SHORTEN: No, I'm coming to – so, it is some of that. But the second thing is the regulator has been very poorly funded. That's why the regulator last night in the budget has received an extra $142 million because we've got to crack down on it. But there's also another change. Why does it take a Labor Minister or a regulator or a cop to tell people to treat disabled people better? Maybe there should be a bit of a culture change in this country that if someone is in a wheelchair, has an NDIS package, doesn't mean that the service provider or the person selling them a particular bit of equipment ups the price and rips them off. Maybe, perhaps in life -

JAYES: They see it as ripping the government off. 

SHORTEN: Yeah, do you know what, they're actually stealing from people with scarce finite packages. And maybe we need a bit of a culture change. As a general rule, it's uncool to park in a disabled car spot.

JAYES: It's more than uncool.

SHORTEN: It's bad. But the point is, we need to make that same sort of rejection of bad behaviour in overcharging people on the scheme.

JAYES: All right. We've given a lot of time to the NDIS.

SHORTEN: That's been great. I'll let you go.

JAYES: It's a massive part of the budget, so it's important to talk about and I think you've got to -

SHORTEN: It's my full-time job, I agree.

JAYES: Exactly. You've got to actually bring the public with you and make sure there's confidence for it to be sustainable.

SHORTEN: No doubt.

JAYES: Let's talk about Jobseeker for a moment because there has been a slight increase there. I want to just show you this clip from 730 on the ABC. It was an example of a family that's on Jobseeker and how they operate. Let's have a look.

VIDEO PACKAGE: So, what do I do? Do I do the right thing to not be a supposed dole dodger and work five days a week for the $850? Or do I work the hours I'm working and get that little bit of a top up? So, we had to make a decision. But again, that's not supported. You're seen as somebody that's bludging or taking advantage of the system, paying.

Paying people a proper level of income support so that they're not living in poverty, so that their children are not living in poverty and that we're not perpetuating intergenerational poverty is the reason why I do it.

JAYES: This family lives on the Sunshine Coast. Mark, we just heard there, works a casual job in the service station. He’s paid $1,300 a fortnight. Then he gets a Centrelink Jobseeker top up of around $250. Is that what the system is for? He was essentially talking about, well, do I get more hours or do I just kind of sit back a bit and get this top up payment? Do you think that's what the system was designed for?

SHORTEN: I'd say that there's a lot of people who periodically receive government payments who are actually doing their very best to make ends meet and to work. But the nature of our modern economy is it's changed a lot in the last 30, 40 years. It used to be about 1 in 10 people were casual and the other 9 in 10 people working were permanent. But now I reckon it's more than 3 in every 10 people are in casual, irregular work. So, I've got no hassle with someone getting some support for the periods of time that they're unable to get that extra income. Because what I - again, I don't know all the backstory to that clip, but what I see is a bloke who's trying to work and he's trying to make ends meet. And if it's sometimes the income that they obtain by working in irregular work doesn't quite get them there, I've got no hassle with someone getting some slight support as well, because the reality is that quite a lot of people rely on the safety net through just life's outcomes. And I don't know that gentleman's backstory, but if he's having a crack, a bit of modest support to me doesn't seem wrong because, you know, you can own seven houses and you can get more than that back in negative gearing. Now, why is it that it's the people at the bottom of the heap are the ones that everyone gets upset about receiving some money?

JAYES: Well, because the argument around JobKeeper is it is a safety net and we'd rather people have a job. I don't know all of Mark's circumstances, but, you know, they're certainly doing it tough. There's a lot of jobs available. What he was talking about there is saying that there is a job available to him. He can get more hours in the work, but he is kind of on the fence about whether he should do that because he can not work and still get that extra $250. Isn't that a flaw, a fundamental flaw? That’s not what the system is designed for, is it?

SHORTEN: Well, I'm not going to - it sounds like he's doing a fair bit of work already. And if what you're saying is the taper rate or the intersection between when you lose a benefit and there's a trade-off, if losing the benefit is a bigger opportunity cost than doing those extra hours. But this is always a friction point in our system. The same goes for our means testing for pensioners.

JAYES: Yeah, but what do you think about that? The job is available there. There are - businesses need workers at the moment and this is an example of someone who actually sees a benefit in not staying, in not going to work for an extra day.

SHORTEN: Yeah, well, you know what, if I was going to reform our tax and transfer and tax concession system, I'd start at the top end. I, you know, ask yourself, why do multi-millionaires need more tax concessions when they've already got multiple millions of dollars?

JAYES: So, what are you talking about? You want negative gearing gone?

SHORTEN: No, what I'm saying is that we give tax concessions and there's trade-offs between income and government support. I guess it's just my value base. I'm not going to start with a battler on, you know, getting 200 bucks from JobKeeper in a fortnight. It's just who - To me, I reckon I'd start if I was reforming the tax system at other points in the system where other people - well, do you think it's great in this country that, I'm not the Treasurer, so it's beyond my policy area, but I just understand that in this country, whenever we have a discussion about the unemployed and that taper rate, I always think, well, there's plenty of property tax concessions and a lot of really well off people, really, really well off people, still getting some free government money. And the problem is -

JAYES: Well, your Treasurer has just given developers a pretty big incentive in this budget.

SHORTEN: And that’s life. But what I'm not going to do is –

JAYES: It doesn’t sound like you like that.

SHORTEN: No, that's fine. But what I am saying

JAYES: And you’re disappointed that he didn't go down the negative gearing path.

SHORTEN: No, be fair, you just asked me a question about a clip showing someone for 30 seconds and you said, What about this? And I'm saying, that's this is not the way I'm built. That frankly, sure, I'd like that man to get paid more hours or to receive higher pay. But I'm not going to start picking on people on the margins of society.

JAYES: Fair enough. Bill Shorten, thank you for your time.

SHORTEN: Thank you, Laura.