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26 April 2021


SUBJECTS: Calls for federal takeover of quarantine; NDIS RoboPlanning with Independent Assessments; state border closures; Labor’s climate policy; culture of Parliament
RAF EPSTEIN, HOST: Bill Shorten is the Shadow Minister for the NDIS, he's also Shadow Minister for Government Services. And he is, of course, the ALP MP for the seat of Maribyrnong. Great to have you here, welcome.
BILL SHORTEN, MEMBER FOR MARIBYRNONG: Yeah, likewise Raf, good afternoon and to all your listeners too, driving home in traffic.
EPSTEIN: Do you think we're going to get a substantially different system of hotel quarantine?
SHORTEN: I think we need to. I think Mark McGowan is spot on the money. When we've asked our city hotels to become quarantine facilities, it's really quite amazing we haven't had more problems than we've had. I mean, these hotels were not designed as medical facilities. And as a result, I think that the failure of the Morrison Government to have special quarantine facilities, maybe, if not on day one, it's now been around for a year, they should have had something going by now, has meant that situations like we've seen in Perth where people are infected in quarantine hotels, just makes it harder for the rest of the country to go back to normal.
EPSTEIN: But is it the hotel or the standard? The Victorian Government now insists they've done heaps of things around ventilation in those rooms, that it can be done well. Is it the building? I mean, maybe if we had a national standard, it could all be made safer than it is.
SHORTEN: Well, I think the answer is all of the above Raf. You know, for Melburnians and Victorians, we're very familiar with the Mornington Peninsula. Down beyond Portsea at the National Park, there's an old quarantine facility.
EPSTEIN: But you can't repurpose that, it's an old building.
SHORTEN: No, I’m not necessarily saying that, I'm sure the people down to Portsea don't want to have that either. What I would say is that back in the 19th century, in the early part of the 20th century, we had quarantine facilities. So, the colonies worked it out. that a ship could come into Melbourne or into the port of Port Phillip Bay and it might have fever on it. And what they would do is put the passengers, the infected passengers, in a quarantine facility before the general population was exposed. So I guess what I'm really saying here is that we knew what to do previously, but in an age of privatisation and just leave it to the market, I'm not sure that the Federal Government has taken enough innovation and initiative. So, I'm sure the Victorian Government's got the right standards and they're doing everything they can, we've learnt the hard way in Victoria. But what about the Federal Government doing it? The Constitution, Section 51, Subsection 9 specifically said - I prepared that for your show Raf, because I know you do your homework - 
EPSTEIN: I know you know the Constitution, but - and you're right, of course you're right. Legally, constitutionally, it’s the Federal Government job. But the states agreed to do it. Last March, everyone sat down and they worked it out, let the states do it.
SHORTEN: The states said that they would take the administration of some of the responsibilities. But where does the Federal Government's job start? If it doesn't start just above the high water line and it doesn't start just below the high water line, what is their job? I mean, this situation where someone has gone to India, people are up in arms. I'm getting calls in my constituency office in Moonee Ponds. There's lots of people who've got good reasons to travel overseas and there's thousands of Australians trapped overseas. Yet apparently this person's gone to India. I'm not even blaming the person - if the Government's given them the tick, good luck to them. But they've gone over, come back infected, and now we've got giant dislocation. Australians want us to go back to normal, COVID-19 is a deadly, deadly virus, but I think people want to see the Federal Government step up as the states have stepped up.
EPSTEIN: We will get to some of the NDIS questions, there’s a few.
EPSTEIN: But just about the vaccine and the hotels.
EPSTEIN: Is there a little bit of racism with the, oh, my God, what were they doing going to India when this bloke went to India, this the guy brought it back to Perth, he went in December, it was actually pretty under control in India. There was a flood of journalists who went to cover the election between Biden and Trump, and the virus was raging in America, no one kicked up a fuss about that. Is there a little bit of racism in the what are they doing going to the Indian wedding thing?
SHORTEN: I hope not. That's certainly not my perspective. I think the perspective I get reflects what a lot of Australians are feeling. A lot of people lost their jobs. A lot of businesses have done it hard. You go through the CBD, a lot of non-food retail’s battled to get back on its feet. I just think people think we've made all these sacrifices and we've also got Australians who are trapped overseas. I just think people want to get back to normal. The job of government isn't to control people's lives and run every aspect of it, but people think, well, we've taken all this sacrifice, we've paid the JobKeeper, we've done this, we've done that. I just think it's more the thing that someone could go to a wedding and come back from overseas. Forget if it's India, you know, it could be anywhere, and I think people would be frustrated.
EPSTEIN: 1300 222 774 is the phone number. Bill Shorten's with us. He covers Government Services and the NDIS as Shadow, part of Anthony Albanese’s team. Harry's in Kyneton, what’s your query, Harry?
CALLER: G’day Raf, and Bill, just a quick joke about the quarantine area. Apparently is still exist, but it keeps the bluebloods in there. That's the difference.
EPSTEIN: Oh, that's just terrible, don’t say that about the people on the Peninsula!
CALLER: I was provoked by the honourable member [all laugh]. In all seriousness Bill, we've got a son with a lifetime disability, he’s non-verbal, doesn't walk. It's the full thing.
CALLER: He's just turned 16 and Centrelink has made us re-prove his entire identity from the ground up, because now he's of pension age. So, you can imagine the amount of paperwork, it’s weeks of paperwork in this and huge amount of effort, including getting birth certificates, the whole thing. So, it's just an incredible time-wasting exercise for a guy who exists on the books already. 
SHORTEN: What's your son's first name, Harry?
CALLER: Felix.
SHORTEN: Well, you know what? On behalf of you and Felix, I think that's outrageous. 
CALLER: We think so.
SHORTEN: I mean, his impairment hasn't changed.
SHORTEN: There's been no cure discovered. And just to ask you to jump through hoops, when the Government were happy that when he was 15, he had the condition, to me it was just bureaucracy run rampant.
CALLER: And honestly, you know, when you try to get a birth certificate, there's no one to talk to anymore. There’s no phone number.
EPSTEIN: Yeah, Virginia had a chat about that, Births Deaths and Marriages, no one answers the phone.
CALLER: You can’t even get the birth certificate from the Government.
SHORTEN: It is really frustrating they make you jump through the hoops. In NDIS, what happens is there's a lot of times people have got to try and reprove their impairment. And that's what - Raf used the term Independent Assessments, the Government's proposing for the 430,000 participants in the NDIS that they will have to re-prove their impairment. That is just frustrating. It's time consuming. It's soul destroying. I don't know why government can't just accept that someone is who they say they are and have this condition, and it hasn't changed.
EPSTEIN: Harry, good luck with Felix.
SHORTEN: Hang in there, mate.
EPSTEIN: Thank you for calling. Just on the Independent Assessments, the new Minister, Linda Reynolds, says they've been suspended until the middle of the year – I know the contracts are still there - but I just want to separate out precisely what Labor is saying, because the idea from the Government is that someone comes along and checks to make sure, this is what the Government says, make sure the system is fair and equitable, that you have an independent person who says, oh, let's just double check that the way people are assessed is OK. Are you opposed to that idea or can that work?
SHORTEN: I'm not opposed to things being fair and equitable self, evidently. But what happens is that for a lot of people, their impairments are quite different. So, first of all, let's separate, if you're blind, you're blind. But if you're somewhere on the autism spectrum of quite severity, a psycho-social impairment, you're not easily categorised. So, the idea that you can create a cookie cutter and that a stranger after two hours can understand your impairment and make almost a life and death decision, do you get you get a package of support or don't you, puts a lot of pressure on the individual.
EPSTEIN: Can’t independent assessor actually be someone who make sure there isn't a cookie cutter? That actually could be quite good, couldn't it?
SHORTEN: Right. But the problem then is you're 430,000 people. Yeah. You do a two hour, three hour interview. Well, there's your first million hours that you're paying for, of someone else. Why couldn't it be, say you've got Harry and his son, Felix. Why is it that – well we didn't hear what Felix’ impairment was, so we’ll pick another person, but why is it that we think that this 23 year old who's got an impairment, which is permanent, who's been treated for many years by the same allied health professionals, why is it the Government doesn't trust the people who know this person best? Why couldn't the Government, instead of saying you don't have to have mandatory re-interviewing to prove your disability again, why couldn't they develop a test and give it to the treating allied health professionals to fill in? Or do they think that once you're a treating allied health professional of a person, that you've somehow become biased, subjective, that your reports can't be trusted? I mean, after all, if the person gets the package, they'll go back to the treating health professional to spend it. So, we trust treating health professional to administer the taxpayer funds properly. We just don't trust their report to begin with?
EPSTEIN: If you have any more questions on the NDIS, 1300 222 774. Some more general queries, including from Tom in Brighton. What's your question, Tom? 
CALLER: Yeah, listen, during the middle of the pandemic in London, Tony Abbott was given permission to go to speak at the conference.
CALLER: A Conservative Party conference. I want to know, would you ever have approved such a stupid thing? 
SHORTEN: I hate to disappoint you, Tom, but the answer is probably I would have. Because there's been 100,000 people have gone overseas, roughly, and I think the number will even be higher, but I heard an answer by the Government in Question Time, remarkably, was a fact. You don't always get that in Question Time. But they heard about 100,000 people have been approved to go overseas. Many of them will have legitimate work purposes to have gone overseas. Whether or not you think that Mr Abbott going to a British Conservative Party conference is legitimate, that's a different debate. But as a former Prime Minister, sure.
EPSTEIN: And he's been employed by another government as a trade representative. So, if he bowls up to DFAT and says, I want to go overseas and work, he's likely to get a yes.
SHORTEN: Leave aside the politics, you have to have that. What I think, though, did frustrate people is that there were people stuck overseas for no fault of their own. They had contracts - initially when COVID hit, a lot of overseas Australians were told, stay over there. And then what's happened is airlines have jacked up the prices. So, a lot of people have found it difficult to come back here through no particular fault of their own. And I think it was frustrating for a lot of Australians with family members stuck overseas that some people couldn't seem to come and go, and others couldn't. So, I understand that difficulty. But I'd just earlier, I use the term that what most Australians want is to go back to normal. And, you know, some people say there is no normal anymore. Well, there's less normal and more normal. And having these sudden shutdowns is not normal. And what we want to do is get on top of COVID, get that vaccination out, and then hopefully, as the rest of the world improves its safety, then we can return to a more regular set of events than we're seeing right now with sudden borders shutting.
EPSTEIN: Mark’s in Elwood. Mark, what did you want to say?
CALLER: Yeah, hello. I would just like to ask the question of Mr Shorten. I'm a person who went over to Perth for two days on business. I had to come back on Saturday. The outbreak happened. There's a three day lockdown in Perth. And so, I had to sign on, fill out a red zone -
EPSTEIN: So, you’re facing fourteen days quarantine at the moment, aren’t you?
CALLER: Yeah, exactly. And the people in Perth are coming out of it tonight. And I just - I mean I run a business, I employ 35 people and I won't be able to do that. I've got to sort of limit.
EPSTEIN: So you’re asking whether Victoria's being too tough on you?
CALLER:  Well I think just if we could ask the Labor Government if they can just show a little bit of leniency here and you know, I haven't been to any of the places where the gentleman went.
EPSTEIN: Yeah. I just want to give him a chance if I can, Mark –
SHORTEN: No, I think I understand your point, Mark. It does seem clunky. Not that you’re you're looking for an equally sympathetic and miserable friend, but we went through 132 days locked down here, but yet I went to Canberra in October of last year, the ACT Government, it made me do another 14 days, even though I'd been restricted for 132 in Melbourne. So, I've gone through some of the equivalent lockdowns. The state system does seem clunky, but I think part of that problem to solve this, Mark got away from us when we didn't have one set of national rules at the outset. Nothing of what I'm saying to make you necessarily feel better, and it does seem clunky, I get that. But I think that part of the challenge has got to be better international border monitoring. Let's get that vaccination rolled out, because we're going to have these inconsistent lockdown's until we have better national border control and vaccination.
EPSTEIN: We'll get to the vaccine rollout, we'll get to more of your questions on the NDIS in a moment. Let's get some traffic.
EPSTEIN: 1300 222 774 is the phone number. I'll get on to more COVID questions in a moment, but there's quite a few text questions about the NDIS, Bill Shorten’s the Shadow Minister for the NDIS. If I can read this one to you, Bill Shorten, from Peter in Blackburn South. My sister, who has chronic MS, had an Independent Assessment. The vast majority of the questions were either not relevant or had been addressed by answers to earlier questions, but they went through every single question anyway. In my opinion, there are only two relevant questions. Are you getting the support you need? If not, what do you need to make your life better? That should trigger the eligibility assessment. That's from Peter Blackburn South. Do you that's happening much?
SHORTEN: Yeah, I think Peter's right and I think Peter's suggestions are right. NDIS is a remarkable scheme. It didn't exist ten years ago. Labor helped create it. Then, of course, we lost 2013. The current Government have been in charge of it. 433,000 people now get support, many of whom never used to get that sort of support. What we have done though is created a bit of a bureaucratic monster. A lot of people complain to me it takes more time to fill in the applications, it's like a second job. We should spend more time with the pre-planning. I think these Independent Assessments are trying to import a worker's compensation approach into the NDIS. And by that, in workers compensation, if you lose a finger in a bandsaw at work, that's sort of - losing a finger is losing a finger, and you can assess that and you can create a consistent compensation. But for a lot of the conditions in the NDIS, it's about helping people set up their goals. Their circumstances vary from person to person. So, using some sort of mathematical algorithm, some sort of RoboPlanning system, and saying –
EPSTEIN: It's not mathematical, though, is an independent human.
SHORTEN: Yeah, but I think that what happens is the Independent Assessment then gets fed into calculations and hey presto, I think you'll find that most packages will come out pretty much the same. Excuse me of being a bit cynical, but the Government, two or three years ago in the Federal Budget, took 4.6 billion out of the scheme. They said no need, it's demand-driven. Now they're saying there's some fantastical crisis and we've got to cut back funding. I mean….
EPSTEIN: Well, they don't say they want to cut back. They say it's demand driven funding still, don't they?
SHORTEN: Oh, they're saying the problem is there's too much demand now.
EPSTEIN: Well, they don’t say there's too much.
SHORTEN: Yeah, well….
EPSTEIN: They say they want to they want the independent assessors there to make - as I say, I mean, the quote from the minister, I know she's not doing any interviews, separate issue, but, it's about ensuring fairer and more equitable access.
SHORTEN: We all want fair and equitable and I want more blue skies. But what I also don't want to do is say that in the pursuit of blue skies, I'm going to cut people's funding. You know, like it's not really what the real issue is. The issue is that they want to slow down the number of people coming into the scheme. I think they're deeply sceptical of all the –
EPSTEIN: They don’t say they want to slow down though.
SHORTEN: Oh, okay. Well, this is what I think. This is my opinion. My opinion is, I think they think there's too many claims to do with autism. I think they think that there's too many psycho-social claims. And therefore, they think that what's happening is that people are getting too generous of packages. I think they think that the housing packages and support are too generous. So now what they're doing is, having decided there's too much money going to some people, they're retro-fitting how they restrict access to the scheme. I want equitable decision making. I do want to see people from poorer backgrounds, people whose first languages isn’t English, people from the bush, people from the regions, getting the same access as articulate middle class families in the big cities.
EPSTEIN: Can we afford what you want out of the NDIS?
SHORTEN: Well, yes. Because these people don't go and live on another planet if they don't get a package. They still - what happens is that they fall through the cracks, and everyone knows that if you can't get support to live in your own home, you end up in hospital. That's 11 times as expensive. So, it's not as if, if we don't have a better organised scheme, it's not as if these people miraculously disappear. They're just hidden. They're just living in a form of hidden second-class exile in their own country. And carers are breaking down. Then people end up in hotels and taken off their families and families get divorced and it's a lot more expensive disaster. Why not have a better preventative, supportive network? The other thing about the NDIS, I'll be very quick Raf, is the NDIS is for profoundly disabled people, but it can't be the oasis in the desert, which everyone has to try to get to. What we need to do is have a national disability strategy. You need to build capacity in our mainstream education. We need to provide more employment for people. We need to have a look at how people on the disability pension are better supported, so that what we don't do is create this magnet where everyone heads to the NDIS because it's the only deal in town if you have a disability.
EPSTEIN: Just a few other issues, and I come to the vaccine.
EPSTEIN: But just on climate change, you don't set policy, I understand that. But do you think that Labor needs to have a higher ambition than the Coalition? Because one of the quandaries your party is dealing with at the moment is what targets you set for the end of the decade. America's now double the current Government here in terms of their ambition. Does Labor by principle need to have a higher emissions target than the Federal Government?
SHORTEN: Well, there were about three or three points in that. The first one is I think we already are much better than the Coalition on our goals and aspirations for climate. So, I don't I don't accept that it's the same choice with a different political tag. And, you know, I'm very proud of the policies we took to the last election. So, I certainly fought on electric vehicles, I fought on taking action on climate. The reality is, though, I think the debate about 2030 targets has become somewhat superseded by the fact that we lost the last election. So, we're that bit closer. So just simply trying to reimpose the same targets as we took two years plus ago is unrealistic
EPSTEIN: I'm not asking if you’re going to go with the policies that they lost the last election, that were there when you lost the election. But I'll try and make my question simpler. Forgive me if I stuffed that up.
SHORTEN: No you didn’t, there’s just a lot in it.
EPSTEIN: Do you need a higher ambition than the Morrison Government?
SHORTEN: I think we do have a higher ambition already than the Morrison Government. We've said zero net emissions by 2050. We said we don't want to be an automotive third world country getting the junky, most pollution-ridden cars of the rest of the world because we don't have electric vehicles. I think good climate policy is good jobs policy. I think our challenge in Labor, as champions of taking action to protect our environment and climate, is that what we've got to do is inoculate against the fear campaign that somehow putting solar on your roof, somehow reducing your energy costs, somehow developing more technology to improve energy efficiency is bad for jobs. It's not. It's good for jobs.
EPSTEIN: Do you need a higher number? Because that's what you're going to be asked to do.
SHORTEN: How do you go higher than zero net emissions in 2050? That's zero.
EPSTEIN: I’m talking about the end of the end of the decade, 2030.
SHORTEN: I think our spokespeople will be working on more of the policy between now and 2030, 2035 and 2050. But we're not going to put all of the policies out right now. You know, for those out there in radio land who are saying, oh, we want you to put all your policies out there, I did. The problem is that what that also means is they're capable of being twisted and manipulated. So, I think that what we're doing under Anthony is taking a measured approach. And we've got a range of policies in a range of areas already out there. But unfortunately, we've seen that Scotty from Marketing won't miss an opportunity to twist a fact. So, I support our you know, let's take a day at a time approach.
EPSTEIN: How long have you been in the parliament?
SHORTEN: Twelve years.
EPSTEIN: Twelve years. Is it necessarily the case that politics is nastier now, do you think it is?
SHORTEN: Yeah, I think it is. It's not necessary. I think, though, it is a fact that it is. You know, I don't know, there's various reasons for that. I mean, love him or hate him. Mr Abbott certainly weaponized a very adversarial politics against Julia Gillard. I think when we in opposition when I was Leader, we were pretty relentless. But I think there's other factors as well.
EPSTEIN: Did you contribute to the nastiness?
SHORTEN: I don’t know about nastiness, but we were pretty tough. You know, they had a union Royal Commission to try and go after former Labor leaders and myself - using the power of the state to try and hunt down and blacken the reputations of your rivals is pretty nasty.
EPSTEIN: I guess it’s less that – and feel free to critique your opponents, that’s your job - I wonder, though, if you feel the general environment –
SHORTEN: There’s other factors.
EPSTEIN: Do you think it’s generally nastier?
SHORTEN: Let's forget the standard Liberal versus Labor stuff. I think some media - what do they say? If it bleeds, it leads, in terms of the front pages of newspapers? I think conflict - if you've got a failing mainstream media market, then conflict naturally seems to draw more eyeballs and clickbait than saying X has done a good job and Y likes X and  X likes Y, but also social media, there's a degree of irresponsibility. You know, it'd be great if you could put a breathalyser on everyone's Facebook after 9pm. You know, you can't drive. You can get those auto-lock devices on motor cars. Imagine, anyone. And just think about any of us, if you have a look at emails after nine o'clock - 
EPSTEIN: Don't send them.
SHORTEN: Well, you know, if it's not nice about someone, sleep on it.
EPSTEIN: Thanks for your time.
SHORTEN: Great to be on your show, thank you.
EPSTEIN: Bill Shorten, the Shadow Minister for the NDIS. He's also, of course, the Labor MP for the seat of Maribyrnong here in Melbourne.