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15 July 2021


SUBJECTS: NDIS; Robodebt; COVID vaccine and lack of federal quarantine; Jobs in Tasmania.

MIKE O’LOUGHLIN, HOST: Now, Bill Shorten, the Shadow Minister for the NDIS and Government Services, is in Tassie at the moment, so we thought we'd check in with Mr Shorten and find out what he's getting up to. Bill's on the line now, Bill. Good morning. Welcome to Tasmania Talks.


O’LOUGHLIN: Well, thank you. What brings you to Tasmania initially?

SHORTEN: Well, I've been here for three days. I've been visiting in Wynyard, Burnie and Devonport. I want to hear how disability services are going on the north west coast. So I've been meeting with people with disability, their carers, service providers, advocates, just getting the lowdown on what's good and what's bad and what needs to improve.

O’LOUGHLIN: Well, you met with some Tasmanians living with disability as well as industry workers and advocates, as you mentioned yesterday at the Devonport Disability Forum. How did that go?

SHORTEN: It was really interesting. It was a great turnout. Thirty people came along to tell me their stories, tell me what's working, what isn't working. I tell you what, though, you know, when I was Opposition Leader, I used to campaign and hear these problems, but they're still there. The waiting lists for people to see allied health professionals in Tasmania is just too long. People are waiting to see psychologists and physios and other people. And, you know, clearly we need to get more services into Tassie because I don't think it's- people here are not getting the same treatment that they get on the mainland, and that's not acceptable.

O’LOUGHLIN: Well, they obviously would be among the big issues raised at the forum. But I also find, Bill, an interesting figure, 25% of Tasmania's 10,100 NDIS participants are from Braddon, the region. You're pretty well, is that right?

SHORTEN: Yeah, absolutely. There's 10,100 people are on the National Disability Insurance Scheme. For listeners who are unfamiliar with it, that's a scheme. It's a safety net which provides an individualised package of support for people with profound and severe disabilities. There's about 430,000 people nationally, but 10,000 of the NDIS participants are in Tassie. And you're quite right. The homework's right. It's about 25% are in the north west.

O’LOUGHLIN: And look, you've said you believe we're getting that second-class health outcome here in Tassie. I mean, how so? A little bit more specific, Bill.

SHORTEN: Yeah, well, last night I met with a great bunch of people with disabilities who are part of an organisation called Tasmania Speakout. This is people with principally intellectual disabilities who are taught to advocate and speak up. And they told me some stories about waiting for appointments to see allied health professionals taking months and months and months. And really when you need treatment, that’s an unsatisfactory state of affairs, isn't it?

O’LOUGHLIN: Well, the government announced an NDIS reform, as you're aware, but has since withdrawn that due to lack of support, which is understandably created confusion and concern throughout the community. So where are things at here?

SHORTEN: Well, what happens is that the NDIS was established in 2013. So it's a relatively new, I think it's a world leading system of support. It's a safety net of individualised packages, as I said, for people who are profoundly disabled. But in recent times, the government started to say there's a financial crisis, too many people on it, it's too expensive. And they were going to propose reinterviewing, wait for this, every one of 430,000 people to see if they had a disability. Now, between you and I, this is rubbish. Most people, if you're deaf, your hearing hasn't come back. If you're an amputee, your legs haven't grown back. I mean, I know that's pretty grim language, but that's how people felt. If you've been in a terrible car accident and you've got an acquired brain injury, it's there. And so, I think the government was taking a sledgehammer to crack a walnut. I think it could improve the NDIS. And I think there's a lot of bureaucratic inefficiency in the system. And we heard some really hair raising stories of that yesterday, but making it harder for genuine people with impairment, profound and severe impairment to get on the scheme. I mean, don't padlock the front gate, just make sure the money isn't being wasted out the back on service providers, overcharging, lawyers taking things to court and bureaucratic delays

O’LOUGHLIN: And Bill, most concerned would be the assessment, wouldn't you agree, of individuals?

SHORTEN: Yeah. You're spot on, Mike. What the government was proposing was, and some of them sort of said it in meetings, they said, oh, we don't trust the treating health professionals. We think they are just captured by their client. So, we wanted people to do an interview with a stranger over a couple of hours to see if that was the plan was right. I mean, most people with disability don't have, you know, two coins to rub together. And the thought that they could lose their minimum package of support is traumatizing. And again, just thinking about if you've had a lifelong impairment, to be told that somehow, you've got to reprove it. Oh, surely there are better ways to do business than terrify 430,000 people. And if there's a financial problem, which, by the way, the government for seven years said there wasn't, then all of a sudden sprung on us. They didn't even mention it in the budget, the budget was only in May, it seems to me that you've got to work with people, not just sort of act like you're God and you're going to send thunderbolts from heaven down to people and, you know, they win or lose.

O’LOUGHLIN: But you've got to you've got to admit it's not just a Tasmanian problem.

SHORTEN: Oh, absolutely. I mean, it's a challenge everywhere.

O’LOUGHLIN: Absolutely it is. It's all Australian. But you're heading to the Autism Specific Early Learning and Care Centre in Burnie this morning.


O’LOUGHLIN: What are you expecting there? Same sort of comment?

SHORTEN: Yeah. And I think it's- in an early learning centre, what happens is and we all know the stories, but, you know, you have your parents, your child's been born. And then at 12 months or two years or three years, your precious, fantastic child is not developing in the way which you hoped, and you go and get a diagnosis, and it's a form of grief. It's the death of one dream and it's the start of a new reality. So early learning, if you can diagnose kids learning delays early, then you can actually improve their outcomes. You know, you use speech pathology, occupational therapy, psychology and early intervention does help kids. It helps all kids. But it's really powerful with kids with disability. And I've seen the stories and I've met the kids who are perhaps non-verbal at the start of early intervention. And they have a couple of hundred words. This is a world of difference. So, we're going to see what's happening in Burnie this morning. I was recommended to go there by Chris Lynch, he’s Labor's new candidate, federal candidate for Braddon, and he works in the disability services area himself, and he said this was a good place to go and visit.

O’LOUGHLIN: You're also guest speaker, I believe, at a dinner for Speakout, which is a state-wide advocacy service of members with intellectual disability. They aim to develop a respectful and inclusive community for people living with a disability. And I certainly believe a great organisation.

SHORTEN: Yeah, I was, listen. I've been around, you know, I've met a lot of great Australians travelling all over Australia. But I tell you, last night the group I met was as good as any group I've met in Australia. These were people with intellectual disability. And I think it just it was pretty humbling. You know, people just sometimes shut up and listen rather than talk, if they're on receive rather than transmit. What happens is I had the chance to talk to these people and they've got stories, they've got dreams, they've got hopes. And I think this advocacy service, giving them the confidence to speak publicly, which can be daunting for anyone. Talk about their stories, they talked about some of the discrimination they get, some of the challenges they face, these people are just fantastic. I met one young Tasmanian woman, heading towards more middle aged now, but she'd been to Geneva with Speakout and, you know, talked about intellectual disability in front of the world. And, you know, there she was in the Burnie Greens Bowls Club last night. I was really impressed.

O’LOUGHLIN: There's certainly, as I've said, a great organisation and you mentioned briefly touched on our Labor candidates. So now we've got the federal seats of Braddon and Bass have been announced. Burnie City Councillor Chris Lynch in Braddon, former Labor member for Bass, Ross Hart. Well, and you know, Labor's in trouble in Tassie.

SHORTEN: Do you mean federally? No, I think we're competitive. Obviously disappointed to Bec White and the team. I thought they're prioritising the health of Tasmanians is important. I mean, in life, if you've got your health and everything else is a go, but if you don't have your health, then nothing else is a go. But sure, we’ve got to win the confidence of the voters. I know that better than most. I've been campaigning in Braddon when we won the seat and when we've lost the seat. So, I think Chris is a good, solid local with great roots into the community. Ross Harts been a lawyer in the local community, he knows his way around the place. I think they're both good advocates for Tassie.

O’LOUGHLIN: Well, let’s talk the Morrison government, in particular handling the COVID and the vaccine. Look, the whole rollout and the word I've used on Tasmania Talks for a long time is shambolic and a lot worse. Now we're looking in regard to the to the world, we were a world leader and now we're on the bottom of the barrel.

SHORTEN: Well, you know, it's a bit like to use a sporting analogy, we had a great first half, but I think we've gone to sleep since half time. We've been, I think the word complacent is probably a nicer word than perhaps other words I’ve used this week, but complacent is you know, I think we’ve rested on our laurels. The only way we're going to get out of this dreadful lockdown situation, and lockdowns work, but the problem is they come at a big economic cost, is we get people vaccinated. A vaccine doesn't stop people catching COVID, but I tell you what it won't make them as sick. And my heart goes out to the people in intensive care on ventilators in Sydney right now. If we're ever going to beat the cycle of lockdowns, we need vaccination. And the government has been slow. Labor warned the government last year, we said get five different vaccine contracts, not three. And of course, there's been the AZ, I've had an AZ injection, I'm not fussed for myself about it, but it's been had some controversy and challenges for younger people. So, we should have had more vaccine contracts. We didn't. The federal government should have built some purpose-built quarantine facilities. We did that 100 years ago with Spanish flu. And for some reason, they just handballed it to the states. And so, I'm disappointed. I think we've been complacent. We did a good job smashing it early. But if we open our borders, get travelling again, then we need to have people vaccinated.

O’LOUGHLIN: What about the new ad campaign for the jab? Arm yourself. I mean, I know we haven't seen in Tassie, there's been, you know, communication in regard to some media organisations showing that woman lying in bed gasping for air in a hospital bed, quite drastic and being a younger woman as well. Like yourself, I had my first Astra. I think I'm due in about another month for my second. But I think I think the new ad campaign, I mean, arm yourself at least it's probably an improvement on previous campaigns.

SHORTEN: Yeah listen, just as everyone's become a vaccine expert, everyone’s now a marketing expert, although I did think the Prime Minister actually was meant to be a marketing guy, I'm surprised we haven't had a public health campaign in the previous 15 months. I have a couple of observations. Listen, we're talk about the ad. I guess that's a good thing. But the first thing is for older people, we've got to encourage people to get vaccinated. Did you know in America they use Dolly Parton? She's of an age group to encourage older people, I think, in England they even rolled out Michael Caine and Elton John. And the Germans showed a bit of a sense of humour, they got the Hoff into promote that. I mean, maybe we should have got Shane Warne or, you know, someone not as young.

O’LOUGHLIN: Well, they got a Molly Meldrum.

SHORTEN: Yeah, well, that's a start, too. I mean, Warnie seems to look younger every day, I guess I don't know if it's a mixed message. But I mean, seriously, maybe a younger person has to wake up and frighten young people. But I think the challenge is just get people vaccinated. So, yeah, you know, listen, I suppose there's always the critics about the ads, but I do think we should have one public health message. And I think people are confused. Do they have to make an appointment? Can they just go to a vaccine hub? You know, there's been a lot of reporting in the news which undermines the ads. You know, this vaccine doesn't work, or they want to wait for a Pfizer. So, I actually think the public health message has been woeful. It's been messy, woeful and controversial. And what people just want is straight information with no rubbish.

O’LOUGHLIN: Well, the business sector, as you're probably aware, is calling for the rollout to be ramped up and standardised, a national framework to be put in place so they can plan their operations during lockdowns and restrictions. With almost 40, there's been 40, almost 40 Tasmanian businesses liquidated last financial year. Now you can appreciate the concerns.

SHORTEN: I do. This is not a question of different parts of the community being at each other's throats, we've got to pull together. And I get that listeners may hate politicians criticising each other. I do think the federal government has had sixteen months to get the message right. I mean, this isn't the first time it's appeared on our shores. I mean, this is not March 2020. It's now mid July 2021. And they should have built quarantine facilities. We should have more vaccines. But I live in Melbourne, my suburbs have been locked down for about 135 days. It's a dreadful experience, but there's basic things that haven't happened. I don't know why they just didn't open up facilities and tell everyone who wants a jab to get one. You know, don't complicate my message.

O’LOUGHLIN: Well, speaking of complicating the message, I mean, you continually hear things. I mean, you look at former PM Kevin Rudd being in contact with Pfizer. And I've read the letter that he sent. I mean, he's obviously not too pleased with the rollout. But what do you know about that? I mean, he's also saying that, hey, it's me that's given the push to get more than 40 more million, but actually Pfizer, it’s still part of the original contract.

SHORTEN: Yeah, listen, I don't know all the ins and outs of what Kevin Rudd or Malcolm Turnbull or any of them have done in terms of those negotiations. But there's a sort of basic rule, and you've been an observer of politics for some time. Politics hates a vacuum. And when Mr Morrison's not filling the vacuum, then other voices will. So I think in times of crisis, the leaders have to step up and not go missing, because if you go missing, politics hates a vacuum, someone will fill it.

O’LOUGHLIN: Well, it's really Kevin Rudd and his mate, Malcolm Turnbull. It's the two of them together, you know, being embarrassed to be out of politics. That's my take on it, because I don't know that they've got any pull at all. If we move on to Centrelink, if you don't mind, will we ever see Robodebt make a comeback after that huge payback?

SHORTEN: I sincerely hope not. I helped organise the class action on Robodebt. What I noticed when I went into the Government Services portfolio after the election, was I noticed a pattern that whenever people complained about their Centrelink bill, when it was one of these Robodebt letters which was generated on a computer algorithm, people took the government to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. More often than not, the government would settle at the door of the court. Now, as I said, this is not my first rodeo. And so, I notice a pattern on many occasions. The government's settling the matter if someone's got the wherewithal to go to the AAT. I thought, what's going on here? So, I spoke with lawyers and experts and I formed the view that the government didn't have the lawful power to issue letters of demand and process services and chase people just based on a computer program. So I hope the government's learned the lesson, but I don't think they have because get this, even though the class action ensured the debts of $1.9 billion nearly, were unlawfully raised by a government against, in many cases, its most vulnerable citizens, and the government raising illegally, debts against vulnerable people, $1.9 billion, no one's lost a job at the top end of the government or in the bureaucracy. No one knows how it happened. For four and a half years, people were put under financial pressure and worse, process servers, legal actions, debt findings against your names. You can't get a rental. You know, you can't get a lease or getting registered for a job, dreadful. And yet no one in the government was responsible. I think that's appalling. So, I'm not sure they've learned their lesson yet.

O’LOUGHLIN: Well, when you think in that regard, we don't look after our aged care as well as we should. Don't forget the Aged Care Royal Commission's final report and the government response in last week's budget. I mean fallen short by $17.7 billion. And to me, it's an embarrassment to say here's ten dollars a day for nursing home residents for nutrition.

SHORTEN: Yeah. I mean, you judge your society on how you look after its most vulnerable. In the case of older Australians, there's real fear about going into aged care. Now, let me be very clear. There's some really excellent aged care facilities. And by and large, the workforce in aged care is doing an outstanding job. But there is real fear in the community about going into, you know, residential care now. And part of that reason is because the government for years has been underfunding the system. You can't fix aged care unless you're willing to admit that you got it wrong. The Royal Commission has said we've been getting it wrong and it's going to require a giant effort, not just a Band-Aid.

O’LOUGHLIN: Well, it's not just aged care. You think of the pensioners with COVID as well. They've got absolutely bugger all in the bank.

SHORTEN: Yeah, that's right. And I mean, COVID has been dreadful. And you can't underestimate, I mean, there's two groups who I mean, there's many groups have been affected. And I suppose as a Melburnian, I've seen it first hand. But there's small businesses who have been really knocked around, travel agents, live events. You know, that's been hard. But there's also the mental health strain on people. Ah, but also there's another group and perhaps they're not the pensioners that you directly referred to. But I wouldn't mind giving a shout out like this to health staff in Melbourne because of the prolonged efforts, there’s burnout amongst our medical workforce. And I'm sure that's happening in Sydney. And I'm sure when you have periods like this, I mean, Tasmania has been more fortunate than most, but it's wearing people out.

O’LOUGHLIN: Mm. Look, I in regard to elder abuse, this is something I know personally some great things are concerning financially, physically and emotionally. We've seen people being beaten in beds, etc. But recently in Tasmania, a report on that heartbreaking situation involving a 78-year-old patient was found infested with maggots. I mean, this is, you know, Tasmania's top mental health facility with some of our most vulnerable are supposed to receive the best care. I mean, is it because we don't have enough workers? I'm not going to lay this on the line and say the workers are doing a bad job. I don't think they are. I think they're doing a great job. You're right. It's burnout and not enough.

SHORTEN: Yeah, it's never as simple as just scapegoating someone, although if an individual transgresses, they should have the book thrown at them. I think it starts with what sort of system do we want? I mean, I think it's better to keep people at home when we can, and that's what most people prefer. So, you've got to have some well-funded packages there. I think the workforce isn't remunerated well enough in many cases. You've got a lot of people work in aged care, have got to go to two or three facilities just to make ends meet. I mean, if you pay the workforce peanuts, it's a problem. But also the safeguard. The watchdogs. They may have enough powers, but do they assert them enough? Are they funded well enough? When you've got vulnerable people, and I see it with disability, I guess you can see it with the little kids, I guess you certainly see it with older people. How do you check that the service which they’re meant to be getting is actually happening? In Melbourne, we in Victoria, we used to have a visitors program where you check individuals and they were happy to be visitors and then just go and check in facilities to see if things are happening OK. How do you just make sure that vulnerable people don't get caught in a dependent relationship where there's one person they're dealing with and all of a sudden that person turns out to be an abuser? How do you put eyes on people without necessarily invading their privacy? This is not a new problem, though, mate. We've had royal commissions and investigations, but one thing's for sure, you can't do stuff on the cheap.

O’LOUGHLIN: No. And I think it'll be ongoing. It'll be watch this space in regard to this investigation. If we can talk about Federal Labor Leader Anthony Albanese, has he shared his full employment white paper that he committed to the National Press Club in a speech. Has he shared that?

SHORTEN: Well, we're going to prepare one if we're in government. That's what he announced at the Press Club. I think what he's talking about, jobs, it is the central theme. If you've got a job, then you can you know, basically your health and your job are the two keys and family. They're the three key factors in life, aren't they? If those things are okay then everything else is. You know, I was on a plane coming down to land in Devonport and I was talking to a diesel fitter from Beaconsfield, one of the blokes who, you know, dealt with during the rescue of the mine all those years ago. And he has to, with the demise of or not demise, but with the lack of mining jobs here, he's got to fly to Olympic Dam. You know, this is tough. I mean, I was walking round the shops of Burnie this morning just going for a bit of an early morning constitutional. And you see some great looking shops, but they're empty. So, jobs is a big issue in Tassie, isn't it? So, I think Albo talking about employment, that's on the money.

O’LOUGHLIN: And the Morrison government has called their budget a jobs budget.

SHORTEN: Well, it's one thing to say it in Canberra, you know, just before the canapés and the drinks. It's another thing to deliver it on the ground in Burnie. And, you know, I know these communities here and, you know, from Georgetown across to the West Coast, I've been to a lot of the mines, got to have real jobs here, don't you? And they can't just be service jobs. I mean, service jobs are great, but we need to have some manufacturing and we need to have some kind of big industry, too.

O’LOUGHLIN: Well, I live in Georgetown and of course, before that I lived in the West Coast in Queenstown. So I, and far as I can see, absolutely I'm concerned about the jobs for 500 families and Rosebury with MMG because they're being taken to account continuously with another tailings dam that is on the land that they lease. It is on mining lease, and yet they're being taken account. What people forget and it's lovely to come from the mainland and protest to do (inaudible) you like, chain yourself to a machine. These families and if Rosebery, if that mine closes, that's 500 families minimum.

SHORTEN: Well, I mean, I've had the chance to go to Rosebury when I was with the Australian Workers Union and the Tasmanian secretary, Ian Wakefield, worked at Rosebery as an underground and as a miner there. I think it's important that Rosebury has a future. Sure, we want to protect the environment, but we're not going to stop mining altogether. And that would be a disastrous outcome if we did. I think tailings dams are not new technology. I'm sure that if we get the right, you know, safe design and it's on that land, it can work. So, you know, I'm more committed to see those 500 jobs survived. And I just think, you know, sometimes we've just got to take a deep breath. And rather than one point of view insisting everything's black and white, it's not. And these jobs are vital. So, I'm a supporter of them getting it right, but a supporter of it being got right and proceeding.

O’LOUGHLIN: Well, Bill Shorten, the Shadow Minister for the NDIS and Government Services, I thank you for your time this morning and enjoy your stay in Tassie.

SHORTEN: We’ve covered a lot, good on you mate.

O’LOUGHLIN: We have indeed. Good to talk to you. Thank you for your time.