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25 November 2021

SUBJECTS: Linda Reynolds call NDIS a welfare scheme; funding the NDIS.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI, HOST: If you're one of the many enjoying some support from the NDIS scheme, you'll be interested in the next discussion. Should the states be paying a bit more for the scheme? That's what the NDIS Minister Linda Reynolds believes. She said that the scheme is not sustainable at the moment. And also, this is an interesting observation, never intended to function as a welfare scheme for life - these are quotes she's given to the Australian newspaper - and suggesting that whereas the NDIS started as a 50:50 financial split between the Commonwealth and the state and territory governments, that the federal share has been rising and the states hasn't, and they need to shoulder their fair share to. Everybody, I would imagine, I hope, wants to see this scheme succeed and continue. So how should it be funded? Bill Shorten is the Member for Maribyrnong, of course, the Shadow Minister for the NDIS and Government Services and joins me now. Mr Shorten, good morning.
TRIOLI: Is that a fair call? I mean, it is turning out to be a much more expensive scheme than people, possibly even you, anticipated. Should the states get involved in shouldering some of the cost of it here?
SHORTEN: Just a couple of facts to help. What happens is that the Federal Government and the states agreed to have the NDIS on roughly 50-50. So, the Minister's right on that. And they negotiate individual inter-governmental agreements with the states on a regular basis. The amount of increase that the states factor into what their contribution is not as high as what the Federal Government is paying. So, the feds are saying, Oh, well, listen, we don't think that's right. The problem is, though, and there's some truth in that, but the problem is this. This Government doesn't know how to run the scheme, so that's why they're getting a lot more increase in costs.
TRIOLI: What do you mean?
SHORTEN: Well, what's happened is that I think there are improvements you can make to the scheme to reduce some of the costs, such as how you regulate the payments that professionals charge people on the scheme. I think this Government wastes a lot of money taking participants to court to argue about this scheme. I think they overall rely on consultants and contractors. So, what I wouldn't do if I was the current Minister is declare war on the states as your opening gambit, or the other measure they're doing to deal with so-called sustainability problems, it's just cut participants. The real problem here is that the Government doesn't understand the scheme that they're in charge of.
TRIOLI: But they don't actually extract money out of the scheme. For one of those examples that you give Bill Shorten, extract money straight out of the NDIS scheme in order to fund, say, legal actions against people. That's not where that money comes from.
SHORTEN: No, but the point about it is the total pile of money which is spent on the NDIS is payments to participants and administration costs to the agency. And I think this Government is burning cash. Here's an example, though, of where I think the Government - the other problem for the government, as they said, but I don't see it as such a problem, is that it turns out this more profoundly disabled people in Australia than they thought. But this Government, and this is why I was pretty shocked to have you read out what the Minister says is attributed to the Minister, she said. This is not meant to be a welfare scheme for life.
TRIOLI: Yes, I did want to ask you about that.
SHORTEN: Well, the problem with that is that a disability is for life. If you're blind, unless the government can cure blindness or if you're an amputee, your legs don't grow back. If you've got a little child who's got significant developmental delays, the idea that some of these problems aren't for life is ridiculous. If you get multiple sclerosis or if you have motor neurone disease or if you have Parkinson's or Huntington's, like, it's for life. So, when I have the Liberal Government saying, Oh, we never intended payments for life, disability is for life.
TRIOLI: Yeah, look, that was an interesting observation that it was never meant to be a welfare scheme for life, and I guess the Minister will have to be quizzed a bit more on that as to what she actually means. But maybe the issue there is welfare. It's a scheme designed to ensure and to connect participants to society. It's supposed to be a social scheme if you like, that actually make sure they participate and they are included. Is it being used too much as a welfare support?
SHORTEN: Well, I don't like it when the government just describes a payment to a person with disability as welfare. This is not an income support scheme. What this is is it’s about a package of individualised support to allow the person to participate more fully in the community. It's about helping provide them with independent accommodation. It helps meet people's transport costs. I would not liken it as a welfare scheme. I think this is more like superannuation or Medicare. I think this is a universal right and it is not about some form of income support. There’s other measures that governments have. The issue here is we have detected a pattern in this Government, but because they can't run the scheme properly, they're basically making it harder for participants to get funding. And I bet right now there's parents listening who have got their child on the NDIS. And even though the initial funding may be good to help them with, you know, speech pathology or physiotherapy and other related skills, they're always worried about having their packages cut. Like, I just don't trust them. This Government is trying to find - they've had 10 different numbers on sustainability problems. They say there's new legislation to bring into Parliament next week, which isn't about sustainability, but this is all about, I think the federal government think that people with disabilities who are severely and profoundly impaired are just getting too much money. I don't think they think - they think it's too generous. I don't.
TRIOLI: Well, I'd love to speak to the Minister about this. We have asked her on the show and not heard anything back yet, but I hope Linda Reynolds does respond to us and we can have a conversation with her. But thanks for your time, Bill Shorten.
SHORTEN: Super, have a lovely morning.
TRIOLI: Bill Shorten there, the Shadow Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme and Government Services.