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13 May 2021


SUBJECTS: Morrison Government lies on NDIS spending; NDIS cuts by stealth; budget dependence on China.
LAURA JAYES, HOST: The Government says the sustainability of the NDIS is in doubt, as forecasts suggest disability spending through the Scheme will nudge 30 billion dollars within three years. The number of people seeking support through the program is expected to rise to 530,000 over the next several years. The Federal Government maintains it's fully committed to funding the NDIS and will invest about 13 billion dollars over four years. It's looking to streamline and standardised Independent Assessments to lower costs as average payments per person increase. But is the Scheme really more expensive than the Federal Government had expected? Let's go live now to the Shadow Minister, Bill Shorten, he joins me here in the studio. Good to see you. I can't see what's changed since the beginning of the Scheme in terms of expectations, can you?

BILL SHORTEN, MEMBER FOR MARIBYRNONG: That's right. I guess I'm calling the Government a pack of liars on this issue. In 2017, the Productivity Commission, the Government's own Productivity Commission, said the Scheme would cost in the order of 30 billion dollars by financial year 2024/25. And now they've, the Government, has said it's going to cost about that. Nothing's changed from 2017 to now, except the Government is guilty of confecting a crisis to be a camouflage or a cloak to slash the benefits of our most vulnerable.

JAYES: It hasn't slashed anything yet though, has it?

SHORTEN: I think we're seeing the start of it; they want to introduce a measure which they call Independent Assessments. That's just a bit of fancy mumbo jumbo for re-interviewing everyone on the Scheme and kicking some of them off, I suspect, and reducing the support packages for others.

JAYES: So, you fear they’re setting up for cuts. But it hasn't happened yet, has it?

SHORTEN: Well, we've started to see some pretty tough decision making. And so, I do think that that's their plan and they’re confecting a crisis. I mean, they love to say that the NDIS could cost more than Medicare in the future, but they don't say is that whilst they put the total figure for the NDIS scheme, they neglect in the fine print to tell everyone they're scaring, that 45 per cent of the scheme is paid for by the state. So, it actually is not going to cost anywhere near Medicare from federal revenue for the foreseeable future.

JAYES: The Government keeps on saying it is fully committed to paying for the NDIS and fully funding it into the future. We've seen the budget maintain that level of spending to now. But where could they cut? Do you think they might re-prioritise people or kind of reclassify them as not disabled enough perhaps to get the NDIS?

SHORTEN: Well, there's an old saying which I would use here: with friends like the federal Morrison Government, people with disabilities don't need enemies. The reality is that they want to re-interview everyone on the Scheme. They want to spend a lot of money paying independent people to interview a child with a high level of autism, to re-interview a blind person who's still blind, deaf people who still can't hear, and they're going to re-evaluate all their packages of support. This is scary. The truth of the matter is that if you kick a blind person or a child with a severe autism off the Scheme, they're still there. They don’t miraculously go to another planet or cease to have challenges. I was recently at the Royal Melbourne Hospital in the rehabilitation ward there. They're doing a great job. Of the 40 beds they have, 20 beds for aged care and 20 beds are for NDIS recipients who can't get decisions out of the NDIS. It is 11 times more expensive to keep a person with profound disabilities waiting for their accommodation package in a hospital bed than just to streamline and get them into their own accommodation. So, this Government has got savings it can make, but it needs to stop viewing people with disabilities as a cost. And they know the price of everything, not the value of anything.

JAYES: Where are those savings?

SHORTEN: Well, here's three or four that I've been thinking of, and I offer them up to the new Minister free of charge. The first one is, scrap the contracts for 339 million dollars to introduce a whole lot of new assessors into the system. Scrap that, bang. Because you've already got these people being assessed by their own trading allied health professionals. And if you're looking for consistency, why not just give the same questions to all the people currently looking after these people? That's one saving. Another saving is, stop spending 17 million dollars a year on lawyers opposing NDIS participants, appealing government decisions. There's a shocking case of Liam Danher, 23, in Cairns. His family for eight months wanted a seizure mat, because he had epilepsy. and severe epilepsy at that. The Government spent more money fighting his claim for the seizure mat than the mat would have cost, it would have cost 445 dollars. And tragically, this man choked to death in his sleep in February of this year. And the family sincerely believe that if the seizure mat had been available, they could have been notified in the next room that their son was choking to death. So, you know, don't spend money on lawyers fighting the most vulnerable, don't spend money on independent assessors. The other thing they can do is clamp down on fraud. I think that some people with disabilities are getting ripped off by a few dodgy service providers and their accounts are being overcharged. So, there are plenty of ways to save money without actually padlocking the system from people with disabilities.

JAYES: Ok, we'll see the budget reply tonight from Labor. It's been a tough year for any opposition around the country in politics. Yes, but moving towards the election, what is the point of Labor, what does Labor stand for? Are we going to learn that tonight?

SHORTEN: I think we can answer that question already, but I'm sure Anthony will give a sterling presentation tonight. The point of Labor is to be on the side of everyday people. The reality is that real wages are going to fall in the next year, or in other words, wages aren't going to increase by as much as inflation. So that means people's wages have less buying power than they would have otherwise had. 

JAYES: What would you do? 

SHORTEN: Well, one thing I would do is I would have built federal quarantine facilities, because how on earth can we deal with COVID if we don't have federal facilities? The second thing I do, for instance, in my area of disabilities, is I'd roll out the vaccinations for people with disabilities. There's not enough vaccinations being done of people in congregate homes, group homes. More generally, it's all about getting wages moving. I also think that the Government - 

JAYES: You’ve been talking about wages for a long time.

SHORTEN: Yes, it is the sweet spot, I think, of standard of living.

JAYES: How do you do it? 

SHORTEN: Well you improve the bargaining system. There's fewer enterprise agreements being done than there were 10 years ago. So, workers are not able to negotiate better wage increases. I think we should have a better floor on the use of independent contractors and casualised irregular workforce, so that they're not getting ripped off. The Uberisation of our economy means that we've got a new working poor in this country. So, wages, tick. Be more muscular and active in terms of vaccinations. And I think the longer-term question is there's a lot of heroic assumptions in this budget. One of the ones which I think is a real booby trap for the future is, of course, our reliance on China. The reality is that our budget has been written off the income tax paid by workers and by our trade with China. Yet the Government says that we could potentially have conflict with China in the future. This is a contradiction.

JAYES: A budget actually prices that in, doesn't it? Because the Treasury has estimated that iron ore prices would be at 55 US dollars, they’re five times that almost at the moment. So, isn’t that pricing in problems with China?

SHORTEN: What it doesn't do is in the event of conflict, which the Government say we've got to be aware of, China won't be buying our iron ore.

JAYES: Should we spend more on defence?

SHORTEN: Listen, I need to talk to my colleagues who cover that area, but I'm just saying that there's an inconsistency in what the Government is saying, isn't it? On one hand, they say the drums of war are beating away. You know, risk risk, scare scare. And on the other hand, our economy depends on China. I think the sensible path without trying to decide which version is completely correct, is diversification. And that's why I don't understand why the Government's been so arrogant in its treatment of Australians of Indian descent. India is an important opportunity for Australia to diversify economically. They're a fantastic part of the Australian population. And of course, geopolitically, you don't put all your eggs in one basket too

JAYES: So, is that a strategic mistake?

SHORTEN: Well, you've got to wonder, don't you?

JAYES: Bill Shorten, thanks for your time. 

SHORTEN: Thank you.