27 October 2023


SUBJECTS: NDIS Review; local council flying Palestinian flag for victims; Middle East conflict

TOM CONNELL, HOST: The full review of the NDIS is due out later on this year, so not much time for it to be released. The initial versions have already had plenty of reaction, though, from advocacy groups and also those wanting this system to be sustainable. Joining me now is NDIS and Government Services Minister Bill Shorten. Thank you for your time. No doubt you've been ruminating over this. I was after, I guess, some principles on this, where are you sitting given how far advanced we are. Mental health, are you able to give a definition of broadly when this would be covered by the NDIS? Is it about whether it's permanent or otherwise?

BILL SHORTEN, MINISTER FOR THE NDIS AND GOVERNMENT SERVICES: Well, first of all, I won't pre-empt the review. The broad principle which I've got is we want to humanize the experience for participants on the scheme. We want people on the scheme to have greater control and less bureaucracy. We want to stamp out the exploitation of participants by people who are overcharging and not delivering proper services. So, for us it's about one humanizing the experience for participants, and two, it's about making sure the scheme is there for the future by clamping down on the waste and mismanagement. In terms of mental health, mental health can lead to conditions so seriously disabling that you'd be on the scheme. We're not going to pick between a physical disability and disability caused by mental health. For me, it's how the impairment affects the person, not the particular diagnosis. But so, the short answer a lot of social impairments will remain still covered by the scheme.

CONNELL: Yeah. So, they can be, obviously mental health is very broad.


CONNELL: Another big talking point has been children with autism, which according to various estimates, could take up about a fifth of the funding. The criticism of this is it's often not the best outcomes for children, to be on the NDIS. That if they're within the education system, that can actually be a better outcome and probably save the system money. Is this a principle you'd extol to people that are concerned if they're saying, well, my child might not get the funding they're getting at the moment?

SHORTEN: Well, first of all, we've got to be very clear that if your child has a developmental delay which is causing for that individual child really serious issues, then they may well be eligible for the scheme. It's not about saying one diagnosis is in or not in. I do think we need to move away from just a diagnosis definition, though, of eligibility for the scheme. At the moment, if you have a diagnosis of Autism 2, so there's three broad levels, you’re sort of automatically in the scheme. But that wasn't how the scheme was intended to work. But in terms of any changes, one, we’ll get the review. Two, it will be discussed by Disability Ministers, then it will be discussed by the Prime Minister and the Premiers and national cabinet. Then we will release the report. So that's just the sort of processes.

The actual review process underway has had an expert panel of seven people, many of them renowned disability advocates. They're working through all of the issues. We've had 3800 different submissions. So, people's voices are being heard. In terms of particular outcomes, this government is committed to supporting kids who may have a non-standard developmental journey to get support. One of the ways we'll support them, if their needs are very severe, is through the scheme. But we also want to have a conversation about how we build a support system for people with developmental delay, which mightn't be that serious but still require support. And the school system as your question rightly observed, has, I think, a very important and positive role to play there.

CONNELL: Very briefly, before we move on, I guess when parents are watching out there and thinking, oh, you know, am I going to get this dreaded letter where my kid's not on it, that your message would be, don't see that as bad news, that there'll be help there. It's just a different form of it. And we think it could be a better outcome.

SHORTEN: Well, first of all, I just want to say that no parent will be getting any letter the day after the review. Okay, we've got a - the review is going to draw us a roadmap to the horizon to make sure the scheme is humanized for participants, they have a better experience, to make sure it's there for the future. But any changes need to be done in a measured way. People need to have the ability to ask questions. We want the NDIS experience to be as good as it can possibly be. So, this is not about waking up one morning and finding the world's changed, because that won't happen. It's about what's the best way to support precious children in their developmental journeys.

CONNELL: I want to ask you about Tony Burke's comments. He had some pretty strong support for a local council in his electorate that has been displaying the Palestinian flag to honour the civilian victims of what's happening in Gaza. He actually, he fully backs it and says, well, there should be more such displays if you consider the number of displays for Israel. Do you agree with those comments?

SHORTEN: Listen, I'm not going to start editorializing or commenting on - you know, you're a very good professional journalist, but you're telling me something that Tony has said. I'll read the comments for myself, because I think what's really important in this terrible situation happening in the Middle East is that Australia's political leaders build social cohesion. I'm very clear, and that the government's been very clear. Hamas’ attack 20 days ago against Israel was atrocious. It was barbaric. It was unjustified in the extreme.

Of course, though, what's happened is Hamas is the dictatorial government such as that is, they stopped having elections many years ago of the Palestinians. And so, Palestinians, many of them are caught up in this situation, which is not of their making. I think I know that colleagues have been expressing sympathy for the plight of Palestinian citizens. I have too. Whether or not a particular flag flies at a particular council, it doesn't worry me. In other words, I don't think that's the key issue. I think the key issue here is we've got Australians in harm's way in Israel and Palestine. We have Australians also in Lebanon. The travel advisory now says if you are contemplating a trip to Lebanon, please don't go. I feel desperately for the hundreds of hostages who were stolen by Hamas terrorists. I feel desperately for Palestinians who the government said we want to see humanitarian pause to support getting aid to these people. It's all about the people here at the end of the day, it's all about the right of people to live safely. And I think the government has been very consistent in that message.

CONNELL: So, on that right to live safely, which the Australian government has backed Israel's right to self-defence. In other words, stop Hamas being able to carry out future attacks of this nature. If, as we've seen in the past, Hamas, make sure there are civilians near targets, near military targets, and Israel carries out those attacks, is that not Israel's fault? Because otherwise they could never actually carry out attacks because there’s civilians there?

SHORTEN: I'm not going to start trying to draw the zig zag of international law. Hamas is using ordinary Palestinian people as human shields. Hamas is wicked. Let's be very clear about that. If we want peace in the Middle East, their tactics are going exactly in the opposite way. In Australia, when we talk about 20km distance, we're just talking between suburbs, between one Westfield shopping centre and another. But in Israel, that's the border with a regime who are dedicated to killing the civilians of Israel. This is shocking. But I also really understand the natural, instinctive concern for Palestinian civilians who are caught up in this war zone. It's a wicked situation. One thing I do know is that me making generalizations from the safety of a Sky News interview, it's about how we keep social cohesion here, it's about how we express our support for the right to Israel defend itself. But it's also about Palestinian people, and it's making sure that they're not further victims to what Hamas clearly doesn't care what happens to them.

CONNELL: Minister. Appreciate your time today. Thank you.

SHORTEN: No, great, Tom. Good to talk.