Transcript by Senator the Hon Mitch Fifield

7BU FM Radio Burnie with Brett Whiteley MP and Leigh Kenworthy

Location: Tasmania

Program: 7BU FM Radio Burnie

E & OE

KENWORTHY: The Federal Minister for Braddon, Brett Whiteley, firstly good morning to you straight off the bat.

WHITELEY: G’day Leigh, how are you? You’ve given me a promotion too – I’m now the Federal Minister!

KENWORTHY: I’ve put you straight in there.

WHITELEY: Well that’s great, it’s good to be here.

KENWORTHY: And the Assistant Minister for Social Services, Mitch Fifield joins us as well. Mitch, welcome.

FIFIELD: Thanks very much Leigh, good to be here.

KENWORTHY: Now you’re here and have made some very very special announcements. The Abbott Government’s unveiled a new initiative to help people with disability access advocacy services. Let’s hear a little bit about it.

FIFIELD: Well the NDIS, as you know, is being spread across Tasmania and in a number of trial sites across the nation. And it gives people choice that they haven’t had before – it puts them at the centre and in charge. And when you have choice, if you’re someone who has an intellectual impairment for instance, you sometimes need advocacy and support services. And we’ve announced an access finder – a website based tool on the Department of Social Services website which can help individuals find the advocacy services that are right for them and that are near them.

KENWORTHY: And the NDAP gives all Australians with disability access to advocacy services to work and promote their rights and improve their ability to basically participate in the community.

FIFIELD: That’s right. The National Disability Advocacy Programme is provided by about 59 agencies around the country, and last year it helped around 11,000 Australians with disability to get the services that they want. We’ve announced an extension of funding for the National Disability Advocacy Programme because we want to take a fresh look at advocacy in the NDIS world. So two things – we’ve extended the existing funding for the National Disability Advocacy Programme, and we’ve also announced an advocacy web-based finder to assist people to get the service that’s right for them.

WHITELEY: Indeed. I think it’s important that people with disabilities across Northern Tasmania and state-wide basically to receive that access and the services to help them get the support that they require.

FIFIELD: Absolutely. And I can’t emphasise enough that at the heart of the NDIS is the individual – at the centre and in charge. That they’re assessed, and they then take their entitlement to the service provider of their choice. And an important part of choice is informed choice. And people with disability, sometimes, because of the nature of their disability, do need advocacy services, and we’re determined to make sure that those individual advocacy services are there and are accessible.

KENWORTHY: Do we know how many people do require that support?

FIFIELD: Well nationwide it’s about 11,000 people. Under the NDIS, that will grow. The NDIS at full scheme will have about 460,000 participants. Now not all of those people will need individual advocacy, but it’s important that it’s there as an option for those people who do need it.

KENWORTHY: Brett Whiteley I’ll bring you in here. That’s great news, isn’t it?

WHITELEY: Terrific news. And it’s been exciting to be with the Minister just this morning for an hour or so down at the local headquarters of NDIA. It’s an exciting programme that we’re seeing rolling out. We’re still obviously in the trial stages of this, but for the Minister and I to meet a couple of young people and to hear their personal life stories about how the NDIS as we know it is benefiting them and to meet parents who are excited about the way in which they now have choice. They are in control, as the Minister just said. They now have a package of funds available to them. They’re not being dictated to as to how they spend it. They know their needs, they know the areas in which they need some support. And it was actually quite a moving and humbling experience just to talk to the two young people that are feeling so much more in control of their lives. So it was terrific and it’s great to have the Minister here, and we’ll be going up to Devonfield shortly and we’ll be going to the autism centre in Burnie to reaffirm that great announcement the Prime Minister made last week. And we’ve got a round table with a few providers this afternoon, and then I think the Minister might be heading out on a plane some time after that. So it’s going to be a busy day.

KENWORTHY: And can I just hark back to Friday when we last spoke, Brett, it’s been nice and positive hasn’t it? Each time we’ve had a bit of a chat over the last few days, good news for families across the state.

WHITELEY: Very much so. And as the Prime Minister himself said yesterday, good government is about gently nudging good policy along its way. And I think that’s what we’re doing as a government. We’re gently nudging good policy and we’re getting about the business of providing choice for people, providing certainty, trying the best we can with the limited help we’re getting out of the Senate – trying to build a strong economy to make sure that things like the NDIS that the Minister’s been talking about have the funds that we need to make sure that these younger people and older people as well as they’re rolled out to later, have access to the services they need. But it has been a great few days in Tasmania. It’s been a great month – when we think back to the irrigation announcement – what is it the 31st of March today? All this has happened in the last four and a bit weeks. The irrigation announcement, a massive injection of funds into the Tasmanian freight equalisation system which is going to be huge for exporters. And then last week I have to say over and above all that, probably the most monumental policy announcement as far as I’m concerned as the Federal Member was to see the certainty provided to those 40 young people who are the beneficiaries of the autism centre. And I want to pay tribute to Mitch as the Minister and his staff for the way in which we’ve been able to work our way through that over the last three or four months. And just to see the expression and the emotion on the face of those parents last Thursday night when the Prime Minister surprised them with that announcement was quite humbling.

KENWORTHY: And that’s what it’s all about Brett, isn’t it? It’s all about funds and access, and you can’t get much better than that really. That’s what we require.

WHITELEY: It is. And I think, as I move around, and you know there’s a lot of political noise and nuance going around at the moment, but I think most people are smart enough Leigh. They get it. They get that if we want to provide quality services – such as the NDIS at $22 billion once it’s fully rolled out – the economy has got to be strong. And the Budget’s got to be in good shape. And we’ve got to prioritise and we’ve got to cut out some of the areas that we think really shouldn’t be spending money on when there’s so many other more pressing needs for more vulnerable people. And until we get that right, we will never be able to provide the services that I think people should expect. I don’t know what Mitch thinks about that but I suspect he thinks similarly.

FIFIELD: Absolutely Brett. What we are focussing on are those things that are the core business of government. And from my perspective as the Minister, that’s providing some assistance to people who face extra challenges for reasons beyond their control – people who have disability and their families. That’s where the NDIS comes in. And one of the reasons why we’ve had to take a number of difficult decisions in other portfolio areas is to make sure that we’re always in a position to fully fund those things that are the core business of government. Things like the NDIS.

KENWORTHY: You’ve got to make sure those families aren’t neglected, as you pointed out there.

FIFIELD: Absolutely. And I emphasise again, people who face extra challenges for reasons beyond their control – people with disability – are entitled to good support. And the community wants to have good support provided to them.


WHITELEY: In the words of Stephen Covey, if I could choose those from a moment. He talks about priorities in life and about getting the big rocks in the bucket first. And that’s what this government’s about. We got elected to get the big rocks in the bucket – to get things under control. To make sure that the big rock of the NDIS is put in the bucket and that we’re not wasting money on other things and we can’t fund that. We want to fund that. We want to make sure that our welfare system going forward, and that’s what Scott Morrison is working on, we want to make sure that pensions are sustainable in the future. That’s another big rock. And I think people get it. I think when you move away all the social media trolls and all those people that want to just attack the Government for whatever reason – when you get to the smart people in the community who are the predominant number, they actually get it. It’s not different to their own home budget. You’ve got to get the big rocks in the bucket first. If you can’t pay the mortgage, you’re in big trouble aren’t you?

KENWORTHY: Brett there were a few issues, and I heard a few rumblings over the weekend, particularly when the Treasurer Joe Hockey came out and basically said we would be taxed on having our wages going into the bank.

WHITELEY: I don’t think he said that. I think the press are saying that that’s where the Government is heading. I don’t think I’ve heard the Treasurer say that. I may be mistaken but I don’t think I am. And look, there’s a bit of chatter. This is what they call the ‘crazy season’ before the Budget. And I’ve been around long enough to know that what happens is that there’s a lot of rocks pelted in the pool to see where the ripples go. And most of those aren’t from us. But I suspect there’s a few of that rock throwing going on at the moment. So let’s just wait and see. The Treasurer’s got a big task. He’s got good Ministers working alongside him, and again let’s get the finances under control. But as the Prime Minister said, there will still be tough decisions that have to be made. But this will be about jobs, this will be about families, and it’ll be about small business.

KENWORTHY: Perhaps it’s a situation of just floating a few ideas and seeing what happens in preparation for the May Budget.

WHITELEY: Well it depends who’s floating them. I suspect our opponents like throwing a few rocks in the pool, the Minister may have a different view. He’s been around a while – Mitch used to work for Peter Costello so I’m sure he’s seen how it works.

FIFIELD: That’s right. I know, having worked for a former Treasurer, Peter Costello, that there are all sorts of rumours and speculation in the lead up to the Budget. And we just have to wait and see what’s on Budget night. But we know that Joe Hockey is working hard to craft a Budget that’s based around fairness for families, support for small business, and getting the Budget back on track.

KENWORTHY: You’ve got a busy day ahead, Mitch, and thank you for coming in this morning and sharing a few words of wisdom with us as the Assistant Minister for Social Services. And you’re heading down to Devonfield in the not to distant future.

FIFIELD: That’s right Leigh, and I’m looking forward to catching up with the supported employees there. And look, I think it’s important that we acknowledge the terrific work that so many disability organisations to. Devonfield, like so many organisations, was founded by parents in the 1950s who wanted to provide the best opportunities for their kids and it’s important that we acknowledge and pay tribute to those organisations.

KENWORTHY: Assistant Minister for Social Services, Mitch Fifield, I thank you for your time. And I thank you for popping in as well, the Federal Minister for Braddon.

FIFIELD: He could get used to that!

WHITELEY: I just want to say to you, as a good Swans man, go the Blues on Thursday night.

KENWORTHY: No way. Up against Richmond to kick start the AFL season.

WHITELEY: I notice no one is picking us to make even the top 12, but I think we might surprise a few Leigh.

FIFIELD: I should declare at this point that I’m a Hawthorn man.

KENWORTHY: If I’d have known that this chat wouldn’t have taken place! Thank you very much to you.