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15 July 2021


SUBJECTS: Independent assessments; NDIS and disability service accessibility in Tasmania.

BELINDA KING, HOST: Good morning, the federal government has given up on its plan to bring in independent assessments for NDIS recipients. They were seeking, in principle, support from the state and territory counterparts for amendments to the scheme, with the aim of reining in the annual cost of the NDIS, which is projected to reach some 60 billion by the end of the decade. Critics of the proposal say that this is a win for person centered care. Does the Shadow Minister for the NDIS and Government Services agree? Bill Shorten, good morning.


KING: So tell me your thoughts on that. Is this a win for the person-centred care?

SHORTEN: Oh, absolutely. The government was creating a scare campaign. They didn't provide a lot of detail about their allegations that the scheme was a financial problem. And based on dodgy information, they were going to basically, in essence, make 430,000 profoundly and severely impaired people reapply, be reinterviewed as to whether or not they had a disability. This was going to be incredibly frustrating. And a lot of people, including myself, thought this was just the government trying to cut down on the benefits which people receive.

KING: So before we get to dealing with the person, let's just tease out the money side of it a little further. If the federal government and they have been airing their desire to rein in the cost of the NDIS and reining in the cost of government services. I think most people would agree can be a good thing. Are there other avenues that Labor would support them pursuing to control the costs of this scheme?

SHORTEN: Oh, yeah, absolutely. We're up to the efficient and equitable administration of the scheme, but this government's been in charge of it for eight years, but only really in the last few months have they said there's a financial problem. I mean, they're the people who've been in charge of it. But the sort of reforms which I think the government should have been looking at as opposed to what they were looking at is getting the pricing right that some service providers charge. There are some reports out there, and I've spoken to people that some service providers, once they hear that you have an NDIS package, charge you more than if you didn't have the package. I also was speaking with some really switched on people from Tasmanian Legal Aid yesterday, and they were making the point that sometimes the government would force people to go to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, spend a lot of money, including the government spending a lot of money, and then in the end just give in and prove that what the people were appealing about was actually right but the government just hopes that by litigation and red tape and appeal, they could discourage people from making claims. So I think litigation service provider fees, I think there are some things which you can do to improve the efficiency of the scheme without making all people with disability have to start again and prove that they have a disability, which is pretty rude for most people with profound and severe disability.

KING: Now, we've invited the public to comment and throw some questions into us this morning. Brooke has said, how can the review process for plans be streamlined? You shouldn't have to wait so long without therapy while the plans take so long to be reviewed. What can be done to improve that?

SHORTEN: Brooke is 100 per cent correct. What happens is in this scheme, where the agency, the decision maker seems to hold all the cards, is that if you want to review or change your plan, you get a package of support to suit you and you think I need a bit more on this and a little less on that. The agency can sometimes take months to give you an answer. So one thing I would do, Brooke, if I was the minister is I put some deadlines on the agency to make a decision. In other words, if you want to get a house modification, say you don't have proper facilities in which to wash. The government has to make a decision within four weeks about your proposal rather than keeping you waiting for months and months to get an answer if you want a new wheelchair, because the old one has broken down. I don't see why the government should sit on that answer for months and months. There should be deadlines on government decision making, putting the onus on the government not to just bury the file.

KING: We've got a question here from Meagan and she says, Why does it take so long for a review for remote and rural areas? I live in a remote area, and three times since my son's been with the NDIS, we've been underpaid and we believe it's because of the area we live in. Are you hearing stories of similar stories as to Meagan's here?

SHORTEN: Oh, absolutely. I think there's a couple of issues there. One is that point I just made and answered to Brooke, there should be pressure on the government to have deadlines on their decision making, and if the government doesn't make a decision by the set deadline, then the claim should be deemed accepted that will hurry things up, I guarantee you. But in terms of remote and regional access and waiting times, one of the massive issues I'm hearing is that people are waiting months, if not years, to see psychologists, to see allied health professionals. I think that generally Tasmanian health doesn't receive, Tasmanians don't get the same standard of health care that mainlanders get. This is an issue, I think, that the state government can also work on with the feds. I mean I know you've just had the state election in Tasmania, but Bastian Seidel, who was part of Bec White's team, proposed a very good health plan because I think waiting lists, waiting times in Tasmania, not just for NDIS but generally for allied health professionals is too long.

KING: We've got a question here from Sean. Good morning, Sean, where he says he's tried three times with an application and three times he's been rejected. He's saying, please help me with mine. How can people that feel that they're in need get heard and get some assistance?

SHORTEN: Well, I think the advocacy services are useful for Sean. I was at Speakout Tasmania, which is a fantastic group which encourages people with impairment to be advocates and self advocate. So Sean, I'd go to an advocacy service. Alternatively, depending on where you live and do broadly know where Sean lives, that identified in the question.

KING: Let me have a little little look. Here he is from Georgetown. So about 50 kilometres out of Launceston.

SHORTEN: Oh, well, he should contact Senator Helen Polley. And we can at least, you know, quite often MPs now have to because of the all of the problems we're hearing, like you're getting questions here. Sometimes the MP can at least put in a letter to the agency and say, what's going on here? What's the problem? I can't guarantee Sean's claim will be accepted. I don't know all the facts, but perhaps he might contact Senator Helen Polly's office, who has an office in Launceston, which is not far from Georgetown.

KING: This one's a bit trickier. Reading the wait, this is from Jacinta, reading the wait times for therapy after getting approval for NDIS why are things like ADHD not covered by the NDIS? That's a bit trickier.

SHORTEN: Well, again, it depends on the person's condition. This scheme is for profoundly and severely impaired people. It's not for every person with an impairment. But I don't know if the person qualifies. So severe cases of autism are covered by the scheme and there's plenty of people getting support for it. So if you have a child who's got a diagnosis of autism and it's quite significant on the spectrum, then they are able to get some package of support for early childhood intervention. It will come down to the circumstances in each case. In Tasmania at the moment, 10100 people receive NDIS packages out of the 430,000 people. I think there's about 2300 people on the north west region, about the same number in the northern region and then about 5000 in the south and Launceston oh sorry in Hobart and surrounding areas.

KING: Well, one more here, this is from Amelia. How can this be more public so all people understand what it is, who is eligible and how to apply? She goes on to say, can we have an explicit chart to show parents what the procedure is when applying and the expected timelines between each stage of applying?

SHORTEN: There is information available. I'm not, but I'm not here to be the spokesperson for the government or the agency. I do get that and say if you're a parent and you've had a child, beautiful baby and at, 12 months, 24 months, your instinct is that the child is developing in the way which you hoped, that can be pretty traumatic. I would just say that there is information. I think St Giles does a good job, for example. Reach out to services, ask questions. Interestingly, I'm here with the candidate for Braddon, he actually has got a background in disability, working with early intervention and helping parents. I think the NDIS should put more information out there. Communication's fundamental. It can be very bewildering dealing with a maze of government services. I like the NDIS as a concept, but I think it's lost a bit of sight of its values and vision about providing individualised packages of support. I believe that if you give a family or a participant a package of support, they will make that stretch further than if you just sort of keep it within a large bureaucratic welfare system. But what I worry about under the current Liberal government is that they don't actually get the individualised notion that people can have plans and goals and they're really trying to bring it back in-house and just make it a rationed welfare scheme. I think by all the questions you had this morning, Belinda, and I bet there's probably plenty more.

KING: Yes.

SHORTEN: People want the NDIS to succeed, but the government doesn't get it. Like, you know, you might expect them to say this, but I don't think the federal liberals get it. They don't understand that a person with a disability shouldn't just be judged by the impairment. It's by the whole system, by the whole personality. And I just wish they'd stop trying to cut the scheme and instead work with people with disability to make it more efficient, because all of the problems we heard this morning, they're not problems of people on welfare trying to rort the system. They're people who get frustrated by the delays, the lack of transparency, the lack of information. That's how you improve the scheme, work with people. Don't just put it all in a black box and act like you're you know, you're God and the people you're dealing with are just sort of silly children.

KING: Bill Shorten, what do you have to take away from your visit to Tasmania, your forums yesterday and the visit this morning?

SHORTEN: Well, I've been I've come down for a few days, three days. I think it's better you don't just fly in, fly out. I love Tassie. I've spent a lot of time here one way or the other over the years. I've been in Wynyard, Burnie and Devonport on this trip. I think that in Tassie we've got to remember that I don't think they're getting the same level of support in their disability needs that the mainland is getting. I think a couple of the burning issues for me is how do we get a better health workforce down here? I mean, hats off to the people already working here, but there's not enough of them. So I think that we're seeing perhaps second best outcomes because of a workforce shortage. I think the other thing here is that there's a lot of success stories and if we just give families and participants a bit of a hand, I think they can move mountains if they just get a bit of hope.

KING: Bill Shorten, thank you very much for your time this morning.

SHORTEN: Lovely to chat. Thanks for the interest, bye.

KING: Shadow Minister for the NDIS, Bill Shorten with us on ABC Northern Tasmania.