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23 August 2021


SUBJECTS: National Disability Insurance Scheme amendments; vaccinating people with disability; mental health; Australia’s path out of lockdowns.
LEON BYNER, HOST: Ok, let's have a look at the National Disability Insurance Scheme, which gets talked about a lot. There's an amendment coming up where it's supposed to improve supports for at risk people who might get this benefit. It was subsequently referred to a legislation committee. And what the bill does is amend the NDIS scheme to improve the support and protections to NDIS participants. Bill Shorten is the Shadow Government Services Minister. I know he's very passionate about this, so I've asked him to come on this morning. Bill, thanks for joining us today. What is it we need to do to ensure the NDIS does what it's supposed to do?

BILL SHORTEN, MEMBER FOR MARIBYRNONG: Well, a lot of this current debate in Parliament, it was triggered by the tragic death of Ann Marie Smith in Adelaide. Of course, that was on the 6th of April last year. Labor, federally but also the state opposition spokeswoman, Nat Cook, pushed to have an independent review. That came back with recommendations in August of last year. And now finally, the Government is putting up some improvement to make sure that the Safeguards Commission and the Disability Agency are making sure that people who are receiving NDIS support, taxpayer support, are getting what they paid for. That its quality support, and that never again can we see the tragic and preventable death, which is what occurred in Ann Marie’s case, but also other people around Australia.

BYNER: Are we saying that there are basically two regulators to keep the system honest for those who are supposed to benefit from it?

SHORTEN: I’m saying there's one regulator, the Safeguards Commission, and there's another body, the National Disability Insurance Agency, who pays out the money. What we want is the left hand talking to the right hand. And we want to make sure that when people are paid money by NDIS, participants to provide care, that they're actually doing what they promised they would do.

BYNER: Shouldn't we have done that in the first place?

SHORTEN: Of course, no question. I mean, it shouldn't take - and there's more than Ann Marie Smith's death around the country. And frankly, I think it's gob smacking that the Government's taken from April of last year to now. And part of the turmoil in the Parliament right now is that a lot of disability groups also want to see greater protection, are frustrated because they don't trust the Government. And what they're worried about is that in the name of improving safety, a whole lot of information will be - people with disability’s privacy won't be respected, and we've got to try and iron out that concern. But, you know, this is a Government who does, frankly, two fifths of bugger all for a long time. Then all of a sudden, they get a bit of momentum, they want to do something and then say, everyone must agree with us. I think the golden rule should be, listen to people with disability. See what they want and let's work with them. But we'll try and fashion out something here. But it shouldn't take this long. And still the Government hasn't agreed to investigate the deaths of other people who were receiving NDIS payments or were terminated from getting NDIS payments, and no one checked up on them and they’ve died.

BYNER: Now, I want to ask you about the same clients, where AstraZeneca and Pfizer are involved here, because some disabled people maybe should get the COVID vaccine. Some might not want it. They do have the choice, but the vaccines are available. Plenty of AstraZeneca, more Pfizer coming each week. Can they get the shot if they want to? Is that your reading of this?

SHORTEN: Well, again, this is the difference between the theory and the reality. The theory is yes. The reality is no, not always. The truth of the matter is that people with disabilities suffer a higher fatality rate when they contract the virus. And some disturbing new research has come out of the UK, who've sort of tracked this. And it's the order of magnitude of lethality of deadliness of this virus is far greater for people with disability. So, they should be at the front of the queue. 

BYNER: Yeah. 

SHORTEN: But the fact of the matter is that less than half of people on the NDIS have received their first vaccination and somewhere north of 70 per cent haven't been double vaxxed. So, I don't understand. We know there's a killer virus on the loose. We know that people with disability are particularly at danger from this virus. I don't understand. And what the Government's done is it’s focused on the group homes. That's where people, a number of people with disabilities, live together. But there's a lot of people with disabilities who live in their own homes who are not particularly mobile. And they and their carers should all be the front of the queue.

BYNER: Now, on that, there'll be some workers who don't want to give the vaccine and they're not forced to. But there is concern that some people may walk, which then, of course, would create further staff shortages. What do you say to that?

SHORTEN: I think it's a pretty tough issue. When I say tough, what I mean is that ultimately, if you're caring for vulnerable people, it's not just your own personal choice. I think if you can - vaccination doesn't stop you catching the virus, but it certainly minimises its impact. So, I think ultimately, we'll get to a situation where it's going to be difficult for the carers to be caring for very vulnerable people who don't have the jab. But having said that, first of all, it would be good if everyone who wanted the vaccination could get one. Secondly, a lot of carers I know have had to track it down in their own time. When Mr. Morrison got his jab, he was not off the clock. He was getting paid. But I think it would be good if we could assist disability carers to get the jab without having to lose a lot of money. And also, one of the reasons why some people are hesitant is they say what if I, you know, get sick for a couple of days, which can be an after effect of a virus. I think there should be paid sick leave. And I think the Commonwealth should help foot the bill for that. So, I think there's a range of things which can be done to help people encourage them to get the jab.

BYNER: What do you make of Queensland and WA threatening to keep their borders shut even though we might reach 80 per cent of the population fully vaccinated? What do you think of that?

SHORTEN: Well, there's more numbers flying around here than a mathematics competition. The truth of the matter is, it seems to me a lot of experts say that once you've got 80 per cent of the population vaccinated, that then lockdowns mightn't be necessary in the same way they are now. And I agree with that. The challenge is, of course, when we say 80 per cent, 80 per cent of whom? I think it's got to be at least down to 12-year olds. But at a certain point, the leaders of the nation have got to offer hope. And we can't just keep locking down, but we can't prematurely stop locking down. And if we do that and then a whole lot of unvaccinated people get very sick and we overwhelm our hospitals, that's a disaster. So it’s getting to that balance in the risk management, when we say, okay we’re going to live with COVID, but we'll live with it on our terms, which means that a significant majority of Australians are vaccinated right down to the age of 12, so that if people do get sick that we don't overwhelm our hospital system. But I do think people need hope.

BYNER: And there's another point I want to raise here, and that's mental health, because these lockdowns have created a lot of duress. And I I'm not even sure that we know the full extent yet. What's your take on this?

SHORTEN: Well, I'm in Melbourne, what are we, the most locked down city in Australia? 

BYNER: Two hundred days, you've had. 

SHORTEN: Yeah, yep. And I'm in isolation right now because I was up in Canberra. So therefore, before I can hang out with my family, I've got to go and do 14 days in quarantine. Listen, I think it is having a toll. The group I'm particularly worried about at the moment as the school students.


SHORTEN: Maybe not the preppies, but once you've been in school for a couple of years, it's those kids from about, you know, grade two up to senior secondary school, the very senior secondary school kids, well, they've got their work to do and it's a pretty regimented system. But I reckon there's a lot of kids between about the age of seven and fifteen who really worry me. So that's why we need a plan to get out of lockdown.

BYNER: Bill, thank you for coming on today. That's the Shadow Government Services Minister Bill Shorten, just giving us an update on some of the very important issues that face our country at the moment.