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25 January 2022


SUBJECTS: Morrison Government’s shortcomings on the NDIS; SA Opposition leader’s call to end political donations.
DAVID BEVAN, HOST: Bill Shorten, opposition spokesman on the NDIS, welcome to the program.
BILL SHORTEN, MEMBER FOR MARIBYRNONG: Great to be on it, David. Great to be in Adelaide.
BEVAN: We should do more interviews outside.
SHORTEN: Yeah, outdoors is nice.
BEVAN: It's quite nice. Now, you're here to talk about the NDIS, but before we take calls and questions about that, I'm conscious that many of our listeners would be intimately aware of the National Disability Insurance Scheme, but many of our listeners would not. If you don't have to deal with the thing you think, Oh, it's just a thing, it's been done for a while and frankly, it consumes a ginormous amount of money. What was the genesis of the NDIS?
SHORTEN: The National Disability Insurance Scheme was created by Labor about 10 years ago. What it was designed to do was to create packages of individual support for people with profound and severe impairment. So, it was sort of out of the box thinking, the idea was that the best person to make a scarce dollar stretch as far as a can is actually the person with the disability and their immediate family and support network. So, it's individualised packages of support for people who are found to have profound and severe impairment, and they use this money to get carers in or to be able to do activities, the core functions of living, get their shower modified or their doorways widened for the wheelchair, that sort of thing.
BEVAN: Right. Is the NDIS that was first planned, that thought bubble, what we've got today, though?
SHORTEN: No, I think it's gone off track a bit. I wouldn't want to go back to life before the NDIS, but I do think that what we have lost in the last seven years under the current Government is, I don't think the current Government, the Liberals, can wrap their head around the idea of individuals controlling their own income. So, it's becoming a bit of a bureaucratic nightmare with inconsistent decisions, some deserving people not getting funding or funding getting cut. There's some price gouging going on, I think, by some of the service providers. So, I think it's gone off track. We need to put the person with the disability back at the centre of the Scheme.
BEVAN: We've got a text here from a listener and I think they will be expressing what many people think, what a great money hole is the NDIS.
SHORTEN: I don't. Well, there's two things there. I don't agree that providing support for our most disabled in society is a is a bad idea, and -
BEVAN: But they're not saying that; they're not saying supporting people with disabilities is a bad idea. What they're saying is that the NDIS is a gigantic black hole.
SHORTEN: Well, that's what - I said there's two things. The first thing is the principle is sound, because people with disability in our community, they could be a precious little child who develops a delay in the first 12 months of life. It can happen in the blink of an eye, or it can be through the onset of aging. The problem is, in my opinion, the current Government's just out of touch. Sam Connor, who is the federal president of People with Disability, lives in Adelaide. She's a formidable advocate. You know, she's been arguing, and I happen to agree with 100 per cent, what we've got to do is if we don't want to waste the money, stop putting all the bureaucratic second-guessing of the person with disability. A person with a disability gets their plan, but quite often the plan they get isn't the one they thought they were getting. And then you spend your whole time playing catch up and trying to get it right again. And so, there's too much second guessing of the person with a disability by bureaucracy. This wasn't designed to create a bureaucracy to protect its own backside. It was to provide, most cost effectively, a package of support. The personal disability can make the decisions on how to use the money.
BEVAN: Okay, now you might have some views on this. Give us a call 1300 222 891. and the SMS line is 0467922891. Is one of the – you’re talking about bureaucracy. Okay, do we have any idea how much of the disability dollar is being spent on the bureaucracy as opposed to delivering a service?
SHORTEN: Yeah, the Agency costs a certain amount of money.
BEVAN: Yeah.
SHORTEN: And then there's billions of dollars allocated to about half a million profoundly disabled Australians. When I refer to bureaucracy, I'm not necessarily just talking about people at the head office of the Agency. What I'm referring to is that every decision becomes unnecessarily complicated. Say you want to get a new mattress and a new wheelchair, a new seat for your wheelchair in a wheelchair. You submit the decision you've put in the supporting evidence; you get the quotes. Those decisions take an inordinate amount of time and quite often by the time you get the approval, the quotes out of time so you've got to go back and get a new quote. And I kid you not, people are forced to argue over it. I know a terrible story of a young man and his family, he had epilepsy and other conditions. They wanted a mattress which could send a signal that the man was fitting and could stop him choking. The mattress and all of the wires cost about two and a half thousand dollars.
BEVAN: Right.
SHORTEN: The Government spent more money opposing the man's application, and by the time it went through two levels of appeal, he died. So, what we are seeing is this is what I mean by bureaucracy. They are arguing about the price of the little stuff, rather than just trusting people to make decisions in their own interests.
BEVAN: But you've got to have accountability in the system, though, because otherwise people are going to end up rorting it. So how do you and this, whether it's unemployment benefits or whether it's the National Disability Scheme –
SHORTEN: Or you know, Gerry Harvey getting JobKeeper?
BEVAN: Exactly, exactly. So, any moment that you start handing out public money, you're going to have to put in checks and balances. And the moment you do that, you could end up arguing over pennies.
SHORTEN: You're right. And this is one of the classic issues of Government, from submarine contracts to how much you pay for the land for the West Sydney Airport through to someone's wheelchair. But let's tell it really straight. The Liberal Government gets obsessed about the person on the dole or gets obsessed about the person who wants, you know, the shower modification because they are profoundly disabled. But they just don't seem to get as upset when it's the big end of town or when it's the massive incompetence we've seen over submarines or over other things. So, the way we have accountability is pretty straightforward. Sit down with the person with the disability and get the plan right to begin with. Talk to them about their aspirations. Understand their needs when you start. A lot of the problems start from poor from the initial decision about how much the person gets. If you’re a mum and dad and your kid is five and got pretty significant autism, why does the Government try and get report after report, after report and the so-called name of accountability, to second, guess what the parents and the treating speech pathologists have. I'm telling you there's a lot of mindless bureaucracy in the NDIS blocking up the system.
BEVAN: Lots of texts coming in, Ray from Woodcroft says, seems to me the system is based too much on admin, on the premise that people are making fake claims. Another listener says the Government bureaucracy is a huge problem. People with no understanding of lived experience of disability are second guessing the needs of experts, the very documents we have to source to provide evidence and so we have seesaws through plans, appeals and the stress levels are enormous. Okay. Is there also a problem, though, of managing expectations? People, they've been left with an idea that they are entitled to a blank check. I have this particular disability. And then you get debates within the disability community. You've got people who were -
SHORTEN: I understand your point.
BEVAN: Yeah.
SHORTEN: In my experience, people with disability very rarely think they get a blank cheque. In my experience –
BEVAN: Well, that's the point, isn't it? That’s the point.
SHORTEN: In my experience, the whole scheme of the NDIS is would you rather a large bureaucracy passing out little bits of money? Or do you trust individuals and families to make the best decisions in their own self-interest? This is the fundamental philosophy of the NDIS.
BEVAN: But if you go off to a therapist and say, can you assess me? Therapists are not likely to recommend against their services, are they?
SHORTEN: We've had workers comp and we've had a traffic accident schemes. And if we're saying that you don't trust doctors and we don't trust therapists to articulate what is best, then what we're doing is we're putting people who don't understand disability to judge those who are reporting every day.
BEVAN: Are you saying there's no rorting by therapists and doctors of the system?
SHORTEN: Oh, no. I said at the outset, we've got to tackle price gouging. But the way you stop price gouging isn't by making it harder for legitimate participants from getting actual access to the scheme. What you do is you do the hard work of surveying the prices. I accept that for some allied health professions, I think the fees that they can claim under the NDIS are too high. But by the same token, there's disability support workers right now, this morning, who will have finished shifts, who've turned people, washed them, got them ready, got them, you know, ready for the day and they're getting 25 bucks an hour. So, what I think is that the NDIS suffers from absentee landlordism at the top, the Ministers, they're now on their seventh Minister, the senior bureaucrats, don't know what's really going on, on the ground. So, if you like, they're hunting in the wrong areas to make the savings. But fundamentally if you want to - this is a market. If you want to allocate resources, who do you trust? Someone sitting in an office, in the head office, or a family who lives with this child or this adult every day of their lives? And I believe that the more you can devolve control and decision making to the people at the very front line of this life, you will do better.
BEVAN: Lots of texts coming out of this, one person says the ones rorting the NDIS are not the little people, but some of the providers, they are banging up the prices for anything NDIS related. Julie's called from Broadview, hello, Julie.
CALLER: Hello, David, Mr Shorten.
BEVAN: What are you thinking Julie?
SHORTEN: G’day Julie.
CALLER: Well, I have multiple disabilities, and the NDIS - I'm sure there will be lots of families of loved ones agreeing with me as I say this - they have this arbitrary notion that you can only have one impairment. I'm totally blind and partially paralysed down the right side of my body, and the NDIS will only acknowledge blindness.
BEVAN: Yep. So, what do you do with the other disability? Just put up with it?
CALLER: Well, exactly. I don't know what I'm supposed to do with it, but when you've got, you know, guide dogs and whoever writing reports about me saying, you know, multiple impairments, this is what is needed and why, they go oh, we don't understand that. And until we have therapists actually employed at the Agency making the planning decisions, we do a lot better off.
BEVAN: Julie, thank you for your call. Let's go to - is it Sabine? Have I pronounced your name correctly? Good morning, Sabine. Oh, she's on hold. Let's go to Jason from the Van. Good morning, Jason. Oh, good morning, Jason.
CALLER: Good morning. Yeah, yeah, it's Jason in the Van, as you usually know me as. Now, my daughter had a global learning delay about 12 years of age when his system came in place. When I looked at it, I just turned around and said, No, I can't be bothered. This system shouldn't be an insurance scheme. That's where the bureaucracy comes in. It should have been set up just like Medicare, with an extra percentage of Medicare levy on top. This lady before was talking about people not understanding what the claim is all about but trying to process the claim. If it had been set in place, that if the doctor sees the need or a psychiatrist sees the need or whatever the person the physiotherapist sees the need and, in the system, you get it done. You get it done, it's paid for by the levy and it goes like that. Then you have professionals who understand the medical condition, the psychological conditions, the medical conditions, making the decisions, not a bunch of bureaucrats, bureaucrats who run an insurance company. And the system was wrong in the first place.
BEVAN: You think it was fundamentally flawed. It would have been better to just use Medicare to just bump up the Medicare levy and just use Medicare.
CALLER: Yeah, do it that way. Then you would have had professionals doing the assessment on the spot, seeing the person, not some faceless entity in some office, somewhere running like an insurance scheme.
BEVAN: Bill Shorten?
SHORTEN: I don't think Jason and I are too far apart. During the interview. I've been saying the challenge of the NDIS isn’t the idea of supporting people. The challenge is there's too much bureaucracy. I said, what's happening is too many people are putting their two bobs worth in, in what should happen to the person seeking the funding.
BEVAN: Yeah.
SHORTEN: So, I think we need to strip away a lot of the red tape.
BEVAN: Would it be easier just to collapse the NDIS and bump up the - work out how much the thing is costing us at the moment and then divide that by the number of people who are on Medicare, increased the levy by so much to cover it. And if you've got a disability, you go along to your doctor and he or she refers you off to the relevant provider?
SHORTEN: Well, we did increase - at the time it was introduced, there was an increase in terms of Medicare so that bit did happen - I don't think that disability is just a medical thing. So, yeah, the doctor is crucial, but I've got a view that this is about letting people, regardless of their circumstances, if they've got a profound impairment, be able to exercise some control over their life. So, the NDIS will fund more than just medical outcomes for people.
BEVAN: Yeah.
SHORTEN: So, I don't think it is just strictly a doctor driven process. But where I do agree with Jason and what Julie said is that there's not enough awareness of all of the dimensions of people with disability in the Agency. And I'm not here just to bash the Agency, but the reality is that we need to skill it up. There's too many labour hire people and not enough full-time staff in the Agency. Where you've got complex needs, a lot of people in the agency struggle with that. So, what Julie's saying and what Jason is saying are both the same versions. I think of the problem, which I've identified, which is this has become rather than an individual package of support to suit people's needs, it's become an Agency which is about controlling the money and not listening to the person with a disability.
BEVAN: Let's go back to Sabine, and I think we've made connection now. Good morning. Oh, there you are.
CALLER: Oh, hi. I just wanted to let you know that although the NDIS has got a lot of bureaucratic hurdles which we've been dealing with for about five or six years, our son has got severe multiple disabilities and there should be some kind of option for the person to be reviewed only once, because our son will never improve. He's got all of these multiple disabilities.
CALLER: Why can't he just kind of get a kind of a like a gold card or some kind of option that just tells people straight away, we don't need to go through all of these reviews every time?
BEVAN: What is your son's disability, Sabine?
CALLER: He's got epilepsy. He's legally blind, he's got spastic quadriplegia. And we've been looking after him for 28 years. So, the NDIS has been wonderful for us in that he has been able to get some really good services and he's now in excellent supported permanent accommodation. So, we no longer have to look after him. And there was no other option before the NDIS came in, for us to actually find decent permanent support accommodation for him. So, it's been a huge plus and I can't see any kind of easy way out of the whole bureaucracy at the moment, but for really - and it was aimed at severely impaired people initially, and I can't see why now that he's been assessed so many times that we need to go through having him looked at.
SHORTEN: What Sabine, and sorry if I'm not pronouncing your name right, what you're saying David, other listeners mightn't be aware of, is that you go for annual reviews.
SHORTEN: Now this is one of the great bugbears of people with disability. If you're blind, you're still blind.
BEVAN: Well did you set up annual reviews?
SHORTEN: No, I didn't set up annual reviews, but I think what we have learned and what the Agency and the Government has begun to learn, albeit slowly, is that people having to get their plan reviewed every year, it becomes a matter of great anxiety. You might get a good package, but you're constantly worried about losing it. And having to be asked to reprove your disability on a regular basis can be deeply frustrating for someone who's got a permanent condition.
BEVAN: Ok, let's go to Irvine, Irvine. Good morning, Irvine.
BEVAN: Oh, it's Ivan, isn't it? Sorry, Ivan.
CALLER: Yes, I've got a severely disabled grandson. He's blind, with cerebral palsy, wheelchair bound, tube fed and all the rest of it. One thing is we get a lot of carers come and go, we're the grandparents. We do a lot of the necessary babysitting. When we try to go for a booster vaccine, which we should have, we can't get that because we're only grandparents. One thing we'd like to see is these MPs actually go round and talk to the lad and see what they go through themselves and build up a register so they can actually attack them instead of going through - like our local MP three years ago when he actually spoke to the lad, we haven't had a reply in three years, so we've written another letter, went in there and asked because we’ve been in there, they’re supposed to be taking notes. They don't take their notes, but you never get any feedback. You bring up these agencies like NDIS, you don't get any feedback. You got to wait. Every time he goes to hospital, every time it gets crook, it's got to go to the Adelaide Hospital, which ties the name. And the other day, he had trouble getting into the hospital because they wouldn't recognise his thing. But I'd say to these people, would you like to be changing the nappy of an 11 year old boy who is tube fed, you're struggling to lift him and then you've got your land agent saying you've got to get out of your house again, which will be, in 11 years is going to be the third or fourth shift, which is very hard to get rent and enough money for him to do that. He's got two other girls to look after as well because it was a pretty bad thing when he got them, but we just feel that the government just don't - the only government official we've had. Listen, is Rebekha Sharkie. She put on a very good NDIS thing here a few years ago, which explained a lot of it to us, but our local, or ex-Liberal up here don't even want to know, you can't get in touch with him.
BEVAN: Ivan, thank you very much for your experience. Let's go to Diana. Diana, my screen tells me you are a provider for the NDIS. Is that right?
CALLER: That's right, David, I am.
BEVAN: Okay. What are you thinking of this?
CALLER: Well, I'm listening to a lot of what people are feeding back, and I'm thinking back to the person who was talking about levels of bureaucracy and how people can access the NDIS around the Medicare stuff. And one of the problems is, and I've deliberately put my practice in the Northern suburbs, because they were not enough good service providers and at the beginning of the Scheme, they weren't enough, I believe, honest service providers, if we're going back to the price gouging and things like that. I'm certainly not one of them, at least, I hope. And one of the problems about people getting assessments done and then accessing the NDIS is that people in this region can't afford to do that.
CALLER: The initial assessment cost whether it's for psychology or for speech pathology or for occupational therapy for example, I'm an allied health provider, is the most expensive part of the process because it takes the most time. and I know having an early intervention arm, for example, people can get into the Scheme and then continue it if they maintain the fact that they've got a long-term disability.
BEVAN: But Diana, we're got a text here from somebody saying the NDIS provider charged $400 to change two light globes.
CALLER: Yeah, well, that's not the kind of provider I am, and I don't do light globes.
BEVAN: [laughs] I don’t do light globes. But there's a problem here, isn't there?
CALLER: I've seen lots of examples of people say charging $16 for five minutes travel. I think that's ridiculous. I don't treat my NDIS clients any differently than my fee-paying clients, other than the fact is that the bureaucratic requirements on the provider are also very strong. I've chosen to provide services to agency managed clients and as a result, I've had to go through an $8000 audit three years ago and I'll be doing a repeat one this year, when I could actually just back off those clients and not pay for an audit at all.
BEVAN: Diana, thank you for your call. It's just gone half past nine, we've been talking with Bill Shorten, who's the federal opposition spokesman on the NDIS. He’s in Adelaide, to discuss these issues. Before you go Bill Shorten, Ann has called from Hove. Good morning, Ann.
CALLER: Good morning, guys. Yeah, I just text in, actually, and I was rung back just with regard to the rorting. But I mean, all of us parents sort of know that they sort of can charge between, you know, say, $45 or $60-70 an hour. So naturally, where does everybody charge, you know, and that's where a lot of the moneys gone. And also, if you ring up the NDIS or even, I mean, I've got a plan, actually, I've got a plan review coming up on Thursday for my son. But somebody tells you one thing because it's so convoluted and then you ring up some days later or whatever, and somebody tells you the opposite. Sort of like, you know that you can't swap your money from core to capacity. Well, apparently you could. And the thing is that that money is allocated that person, you should be able to dip into the other bucket for something very simple. But my new plan, apparently - things are being paid at the moment out of the other bucket - but when his new plan is done, that can't be done. So, if he runs out of money in one area, but he's got money left over and the other area because circumstances have changed in the 12 months, say, that money is allocated that person, why can't they use it?
BEVAN: Ann, thank you for your call.
SHORTEN: Ann, and to all of those people have called in, you’d need hours to do your case justice, we don't have that. But I just say to Anne, what you've identified is exactly the problem with the NDIS, the participant. When they get a package of money, they're still micromanaged within an inch of their life, and that's not how it should operate. And to Ivan, you know, you feel that you're not getting enough attention. Amanda Rishworth who’s the local federal member in her electorate, she and I have managed to sort out a range of issues, so give her in or give me an email. I'm catching up with Steve Georganas and Louise Miller-Frost at Collinswood to hear more of this at 11 o'clock. All I can promise you is that if Labor was elected, we'll work with people with disability and the service providers. We've just got to get less bureaucracy and just trust the people who we fund to be able to make decisions. We've got to not create checks and triple checks and quadruple checks on stuff which isn't going to change in a person's condition. So, I think we can. NDIS is good. We love it, but it shouldn't be a full-time job for a carer or someone in the Scheme just to access the Scheme. And you shouldn't have to get a lawyer to go
BEVAN: Bill Shorten, before you leave us, what do you think of Peter Malinauskas’ idea of banning political donations to parties?
SHORTEN: Oh, it's a conversation that we're going to have to have. It's probably long overdue. I saw the -
BEVAN: Oh, that’s a politician’s answer.
SHORTEN: On no, let me unpack it. I saw that Palmer at the last election with those dreadful billboards, you know, he spent $80 million. Now we can't have a system in Australia which goes full America, where the person with the deepest pockets can influence the outcome of elections. So that's why I think Peter's on the right track. And also, we still haven't got a Federal Anti-Corruption Commission out of the current Morrison Government, even though we said we'd do it in January of 2018 and the Libs matched the promise then, just haven't got around to it. But if we can take some of the big money out of politics, then I think that it gives ordinary Australians an improved view of the system. But at the moment, I think a lot of people think those with the deepest pockets have the biggest voices.
BEVAN: If it's a good idea to ban political donations at a state level, it's a good idea at a federal level?
SHORTEN: It's a conversation we're going to have to have. It's not Labor's federal policy, and I can't just make policy on the spot.
BEVAN: No, but you’re a former Leader, what’s your personal opinion?
SHORTEN: My personal opinion is that we do need to have donation caps. We've got to be you've got to have truth in advertising rules around elections, the idea that very rich people -
BEVAN: But would you ban it? If you were a leader again, would you ban it?
SHORTEN: I think we're going to have to do something. Absolutely. We've got to lower the ability of big money to buy elections. The status quo is unsatisfactory.
BEVAN: Bill Shorten, thank you for your time.
SHORTEN: Good on you.