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01 September 2021

SUBJECTS: Morrison Government misleading on NDIS costs; companies receiving JobKeeper; Labor leadership.

LIAM BARTLETT, HOST: We spoke on the program on Monday to Linda Reynolds, Senator Linda Reynolds, who is the Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme. Now, the Minister told us quite bluntly on the program that the costs of the NDIS are going through the roof and have been for quite some time. And the continuance of that is going to mean trouble for everybody, not just those involved or those who are trying to apply to be part of the Scheme, but for the country as a whole, for the taxpayer. The Minister made a comparison that if costs continued on this sort of trajectory, that in about three years’ time the NDIS would cost more for Australians than Medicare. However, in the past 24 hours, Labor has come out swinging and accuses the Minister of releasing fake information in a bid to suggest the Scheme is financially unsustainable. We're joined this morning by the Minister's opposition counterpart, Bill Shorten. Bill, good morning.


BARTLETT: Why do you think the Minister has overstated the numbers, Bill, and overegged the pud?

SHORTEN: Well, first of all, she definitely has got the numbers wrong. The short explanation is that the costs were going down per participant, not up. And for whatever reason, the figures got jumbled. I understand the Minister's office is blaming the Disability Agency and who knows what. But the numbers are average cost per participant from January to June this year was $55K and it's actually close to $53K.

BARTLETT: Are you using the right figure?

SHORTEN: Yeah, we are. We checked it before we went on your show.

BARTLETT: Because you know the Minister's office is saying that you're using the wrong numbers. You're basing it, you're comparing a monthly figure with a six-month rolling average.

SHORTEN: Well, what I would say back to that is that the number of participants in the Scheme has increased more than the cost of the Scheme. So, that figure would indicate that if the number of people in the Scheme is going up more than the average cost increase, that means the amount of money each participant is getting is slightly less. But let's go to the heart of the matter. I think the NDIS is a world leading scheme. It supports 472,000 profoundly and severely impaired Australians. It provides packages of individualised support, which I think is doing a fantastic difference for a lot of people. The problem is that there are more people eligible for the Scheme than I think the Government expected or indeed want. So, the issue is that they've negotiated with the states. The states pay some of the amount and the feds pay the rest. And I think that there is a big argument which the Federal Government want to have with the state governments, asking the states to chip in more money. 


SHORTEN: So that's you know, that's the raw politics.

BARTLETT: But is there anything wrong it?

SHORTEN: Oh, it’s fine. If they want to go negotiate with the states, by all means. But what I don't accept is the attack which the Government is making, which is there's too many kids with autism, are getting packages of support, that there's too many people with dementia emerging. This is our modern society. And the argument that we have a quota of disabled people we’ll help in Australia. And if few more than that quota, then you can't get help, I think is the wrong way to run a Scheme.

BARTLETT: But Bill, this is a bit more than a quota isn’t it?

SHORTEN: Oh, well – 

BARTLETT: I mean, let's look at the total, total costs, because I don't think you can dispute this, but the total costs from the Minister, which come from Treasury, now, they say the scheme is increased by 18 per cent. That's between July 2020, July last year, and July this year, 18 per cent. I mean, that’s massive.

SHORTEN: But the number of participants - there are 80,000 more participants July this year than July last year. That's an increase of 20.5 per cent. So, if the Scheme costs have increased 18 per cent and the number of participants have increased by 20 per cent plus, that means per participant cost is going down. The real challenge -

BARTLETT: Yes, but the average plan value has increased. The average plan value in July last year was $51,750, and now it’s $53,400. So, no one's missing out. But the thing is ballooning out, to the point where taxpayers are going to cop it.

SHORTEN: Okay, but you know what? This Government’s a Government who seems to struggle with the notion that perhaps we are getting more diagnosis of dementia, early onset dementia. Perhaps it's inconvenient for the Government, but we are becoming more switched on about developmental delay in kids. And we're identifying it earlier. You know, parents with kids with severe autism don't ask to have this set of circumstances. If you develop dementia, you don't volunteer for it. The reality is that this nation can and should afford to provide a reasonable, modest safety net for people doing it hard. It's almost like the Government is obsessed about the number of people dementia and autism. But if you want to save some money, perhaps the Government didn't need to spend so much money on JobKeeper for companies who didn't need it or, you know, this is a Government who can find money for other things. Do you know that there's over a thousand matters that this government agency is litigating with people in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, most of which are won by the participants? 


SHORTEN: So, I think the Government's on a go slow and it just really doesn't want to spend money on this issue. That's what I think it's about.

BARTLETT: All right. Well, I've got to say, on the subject of JobKeeper, I couldn't agree more with you. I think you're absolutely on the money there. Now, it turns out this morning it's been revealed that a company run by the husband of one of your senators, Labor Senator Marielle Smith, took 20 million dollars in JobKeeper and then the company posted a profit of more than 37 million dollars. Would you be saying to Mr. Smith, how about giving it back?

SHORTEN: I'd say to any company who received JobKeeper, but their profits and earnings well exceeded the amount of the JobKeeper required, they'd want to think about whether or not they should keep the money. So, it's not a question of one person's husband or wife. It's a question of, a system should have been - 

BARTLETT: But you raise the point, you raise the point about the Government. I'm saying that on both sides of politics, in this case, it was the wife - I'm sorry, the husband of a Labor Senator, whose company has done extremely well. So, will you be having a word in her shell?

SHORTEN: Well, listen, first of all, you’re a professional. I'm a professional. I'm not going to tell one partner in a marriage what the other partner should be doing. But the general principle which you're making, not just assuming about this person, but about people whose companies or businesses, their profits exceeded or grew in the last 12 months when they were receiving JobKeeper, I do think they should return money. But having said that, you know, the Government's spent billions on that, yet they’re worried about a kid who's five years old getting therapies when they're six. Like, I wish - I mean, I think the Government really needs to look at how it reforms the NDIS. I know that there are professionals who charge more for an NDIS package than they do for other government programs. The Government needs to look at that question. I think there are some cases of over-servicing and indeed possibly even fraud, that needs to be checked out. 

BARTLETT: That does need to be checked out.

SHORTEN: I don't think the Government needs to spend so much time litigating its parents of disabled kids in the AAT, when in many cases the amount they're litigating is less than the amount of taxpayer money they spend saying no to the person. 

BARTLETT: All right. 

SHORTEN: So, there are reforms.

BARTLETT: Point taken. Now, listen, just finally, when will you be having a crack at Albo again and taking another run for the leadership?

SHORTEN: I've hung up my running shoes. Albo is doing a fine job. 

BARTLETT: Come on. 

SHORTEN: Do you know, at the moment - and by the way, congratulations to Perth and Western Australia for getting the Grand Final. Poor old Melbourne supporters, they haven't had a win since 1964 in the Granny and now they’re, if Mark lets them in, they'll have to do 14 days, but anyway -

BARTLETT: You could rally them as the people's champion again, as Leader of the Opposition.

SHORTEN: [laughs] You don't have to be the leader to be a leader in politics. 


SHORTEN: Yeah, I think that being a Member of Parliament is a privileged position. And every day I come across issues which I can champion. And I think that people are over politicians talking about themselves. COVID’s dreadful. I mean, Western Australia, through the stewardship of Mark McGowan, has been more fortunate than any other jurisdiction just about, other than Tassie and Northern Territory. But it's still hard. People can't travel. They don't hear us talking about ourselves. 

BARTLETT: All right. 

SHORTEN: No, we're a solid team at Labor.

BARTLETT: No plans, no plans for the no plan knife between the shoulder blades between now and next May?

SHORTEN: Oh, no. Listen, you and I both know that people are sick of the gossip. It’s not correct.

BARTLETT: Come on Bill, you've still got a decent steak knife in your back pocket.

SHORTEN: Oh, Liam, you know what? Whatever you have in your kitchen, in your utensil drawer, you can keep them there [both laugh].

BARTLETT: All right. Good to talk to you this morning.

SHORTEN: Yeah, good on you. Thanks for showing attention to the NDIS.

BARTLETT: No worries. Bill Shorten, the opposition spokesperson for the NDIS.