Main Image

28 April 2021

SUBJECTS:  National Press Club speech on the NDIS; RoboPlan Independent Assessments; Mike Pezzullo’s comments on China
KEIRAN GILBERT, HOST: Joining me now is the Shadow Minister for the NDIS and Government Services, Bill Shorten. Mr Shorten, thanks for your time after your address at the National Press Club about the NDIS. One of your fundamental concerns relates to the Independent Assessments of those on the scheme. Talk us through why that's a problem.
BILL SHORTEN, MEMBER FOR MARIBYRNONG: The National Disability Insurance Scheme has 433,000 participants. There are people who are severely and profoundly disabled. They get individual packages of support. The Morrison Government, in my opinion, and the concern of a lot of people in the disability world, are trying to cut back the Scheme, cut back the support. So, they have got a process of mandatorily, compulsorily, re-interviewing 433,000 people who've already proved to this Scheme once that they are severely disabled.
GILBERT: So, no matter how, what disability, every single person and recipient is going to be interviewed?
SHORTEN: Will have to be re-interviewed. And you know how frustrating it is for a mum who might be picking up her child from special school now, they've got a son or a daughter on the spectrum of autism, how much it annoys a blind person or a quadriplegic, that somehow their assessments, of their allied health professionals, their treating professionals, are no longer listened to. And that instead, the determinates going to be an interview with a stranger for an hour or two. And upon that hinges whether or not they get a package of support.
GILBERT: But in terms of disability, there is a place, though, isn't there, for assessments, because obviously disabilities range from being quite minor to extremely serious.
SHORTEN: Oh, absolutely. You need to assess eligibility.
GILBERT: So, then the interviews probably are relevant, aren’t they?
SHORTEN: The point is they've already been interviewed. Where's the fire? Why do you have to re-interview 433,000 people? I mean, when you've got a permanent disability, they don't get better. When you're blind, you can't see. When you've got autism, you don't miraculously not have autism. When you've got foetal alcohol spectrum disorder, when you've got acquired brain injury, that's it. So, what people resent is not the process of being assessed to be eligible. It's that their own doctors, their own treating professionals, their own individual stories and goals and dreams are now apparently subordinate to an Independent Assessment. This is all about a cookie cutter approach to make sure that a computer algorithm will determine how much money you get. The whole basis of the scheme was individualized packages, and then these people and their families would make scarce taxpayer dollars stretch a lot further than bureaucracies.
GILBERT: You spoke about the in that speech today about your concerns of it being rorted, that that people are finding it easier to rort it than people doing the right thing. So, if -
SHORTEN: Oh no, to be fair -
GILBERT: Isn't that what you're saying?
SHORTEN: I'm saying that the Government's making it hard -
GILBERT: But criminals are targeting the system
SHORTEN: Yeah, no, it's just the use of the word rort. People on the scheme are not inventing quadriplegia. They're not inventing blindness,
GILBERT: But some criminals are exploiting the Scheme.
SHORTEN: Some criminal gangs, according to whistle-blowers, are hacking people's invoice numbers or dodgying up false invoices.
GILBERT: Sorry, rort was the wrong word to use.
SHORTEN: That's right.
GILBERT: But criminal syndicates targeting the Scheme.
SHORTEN: That’s what John Higgins, the former AFP policeman who was a senior fraud investigator revealed last year.
GILBERT: But if that's the case, then doesn't it then justify those independent audits and say, well.
SHORTEN: We need more fraud investigators to make sure the invoices stack up. We're talking about entry to the scheme. This process of mandatory assessment is one where people are going to have to re-prove their disability. The other thing is that not every disability is the same. And so -
GILBERT: Basically, you're saying that the focus of the Government shouldn't be at that the recipient level. It needs to be at those claiming the cash.
SHORTEN: My focus for the Government should be that the participant should be allowed to have a big say in terms of what their plan is, and in terms of eligibility that the participants treating professionals should be taken more seriously than some random government mandated interview.
GILBERT: And the fraudulent –
SHORTEN: And I think if they want to save money in the scheme, look at the way they look at the fraud. Look at the inefficiencies. I mean, do you know the Government spent $17 million dollars last year in legal actions against participants who appealed government knock backs. And by the way, most of the time, the participants appealing it won.
GILBERT: When you say the fraud investigators, they're looking at the providers, is that right?
SHORTEN: They're looking at whether or not the provider's invoices are correct and all of that, yes.
GILBERT: So, looking at that side of it.
SHORTEN: It’s making sure the payment scheme isn't being twisted and manipulated. So, you can save money. Sure. That it shouldn't be the expensive padlocking the scheme.
GILBERT: All right. Now, I want to ask you about this other story that Andrew Clennell and I have been covering this afternoon. Front page of the Times in London has picked up the comments of Mike Pezzullo.
SHORTEN: Oh, did they?
GILBERT: You made some remarks on this.
SHORTEN: I did, yeah.
GILBERT: And as a former leader of the party, I want to get your thoughts on this intervention from Mr Pezzullo, which is also, as I say, now being reported in London. Has he overstepped the mark?
SHORTEN: I think he has. Listen, I think Mike Pezzullo is a very distinguished public servant. So normally I think a lot of what he does is pretty switched on. But I think it actually contravenes some of our Westminster principles. He's the Secretary. He's the permanent public servant Secretary. But he's really editorialising in a way which I think the Government Ministers should. And here's a sentence I never expected to say. I thought Peter Dutton was more nuanced on an interview on another TV channel on Sunday, than Mike Pezzullo’s comments were. I mean, Pezzullo’s not even the Secretary of Defence, although I understand he'd like that job. So, you've got a public servant commenting about another portfolio in a way in which I think should be left to the Government Ministers to do. And I thought his words were very vague and imprecise. I mean, it's like a late 19th century Victorian melodrama, the drums of war beating. I mean, I think William Randolph Hearst published those lines in The New York Times or The New York Journal just before the start of the Spain-America-Cuba War in 1898. I mean, this is dramatic 19th century language.
GILBERT: It seems also the contradiction this afternoon that we've been reporting is this iron ore prices
SHORTEN: Is it the drums of ore or the drums of war. I mean, I think.
GILBERT: One hundred and ninety dollars a tonne, I mean it’s making a huge impact on the budget.
SHORTEN: To be fair to Mr. Pezzullo, I think his comments are vague and imprecise. Like, if we are just five minutes to midnight in a conflict, as he comments would have us believe, then why are we only spending two per cent of GDP on defence? If they really believe that, but I'm not sure they really do. And I think that what we're seeing is a drift in our relations with China – of course we stand up for human rights. And when I was Leader of the Opposition, we stopped an extradition treaty with China. We fought for a better deal in the in the bilateral trade agreement. So, I'm not a China panda in that regard in my policy. But I groaned when I heard otherwise senior sober, cautious public servants issuing views, which I think don't do anything to ease relations with China, and that don't do anything to materially improve the defence of Australia. So, I thought it was a frolic and it was one which, you know, as Penny Wong has said, we should have more cautious and sober language from people in those positions.
GILBERT: Mr Shorten, appreciate your time.
SHORTEN: Thank you.
GILBERT: Talk to you soon.