Transcript by The Hon Stuart Robert MP

Interview on ABC News regarding NDIS review to cut red tape and wait times


JANE NORMAN: Stuart Robert, welcome to the program.

MINISTER: Jane, how are you?

JANE NORMAN: Well, thank you.

Now, Labor says there have been 20 reviews and reports on the NDIS in the past six years. So, why do we need another one?

MINISTER: We went to the election, Jane, promising a participant service guarantee, which is a guarantee to participants on how long access will take, how long review [inaudible audio] someone who will spend a couple of months thoughtfully speaking with participants about how a guarantee should be implemented, and I think the responsible thing, the sensible thing, I think everyone acknowledges the right thing to do, is to get someone serious – and David Tune is serious – to go and ask proper questions to proper people about how we do the election commitment.

JANE NORMAN: So it’s not a delay, it’s part of the process to actually fulfil that election commitment?

MINISTER: Well, we’ve promised a legislated Participant Service Guarantee. That will require some consent from states and territories. It will require input from all participants, advocates, consumer groups, from providers. All of that takes an enormous amount of time. We’re not reviewing the legislation. This is not another review into how the NDIS operates. This is looking at how do I implement and legislate a Participant Service Guarantee quite niche, quite detailed, quite effective and I think quite proper.

JANE NORMAN: You’ve appointed David Tune to head this review, he’s a former Finance Department boss. Why is he the appropriate person to lead a review into what is really a pretty big social program?

MINISTER: Because the beauty of finance secretaries is they’re used to spending years of their life getting across the biggest of government programs. I’ve used David Tune previously to do an efficiency review of the Department of Human Services. He’s done reviews for us in aged care. So quite large bodies of work. And people generally don’t argue with finance secretaries, I find. They’re always thorough, always consistent. Governments have always listened to their advice and I think in this case, it’ll be no different.

JANE NORMAN: You’ve made it clear that the idea of this legislation that you’re drafting is to force the agency running the NDIS to be making decisions much more quickly, whether it’s a review, whether it’s a new plan. How can the agency do this within its existing budget?

MINISTER: We’ll have a lot more to say in the coming weeks about the wider plan to finalise what I think is the last 20 per cent of the process rollout of the NDIS. That’ll include resource surging as well as other areas that we’ll talk about in the coming weeks. But right now, this is all about saying we have an election commitment. We’re committed to it. We want to put those Participant Service Guarantee. I have intervened ministerially at the end of June by giving a 50-day deadline as a KPI for early childhood early intervention. I think it was appropriate for me to intervene in that space. But I think when it comes to the wider plan, good process is good policy and I don’t want to rush to failure on this, and that’s why David Tune looking at this over the next few months will be quite important for us.

JANE NORMAN: Resource surging sounds like increasing funding. Is that what you’re open to here?

MINISTER: Well, we’ll wait and see what David Tune comes back to and of course, we’ll have more to say in the coming weeks about the Government’s wider plan for what is the last difficult 20 per cent of this fabulous scheme.

JANE NORMAN: We know that last financial year, there was a $1.6 billion underspend in the kind of envelope of money set aside for the NDIS. Would the Government be looking at making sure that money is actually pumped into the scheme this financial year?

MINISTER: Remember, the NDIS is uncapped and demand-driven. In some ways, if you like, like the aged pension scheme is uncapped and demand-driven. If there is more call on the aged pension, then the Government provides more funds. Less call, less funds. And NDIS is exactly the same in that respect. And whilst there are certainly budgeted numbers, putting appropriation bills, because Government has to go forward and predict its expenditure, because it’s uncapped and demand-driven, the numbers could be higher and it could be lower. It depends precisely on the number of participants in the scheme.

JANE NORMAN: Okay, well your Shadow Minister Bill Shorten’s put out a statement saying you should just skip this review and hire some more people to fix the waiting list. You of course do want to be fixing the waiting list, so isn’t that ultimately where we’re going here? That you’re going to be needing to bring on more people into the NDIA agency to actually help speed up this process and fix some of the problems?

MINISTER: Well, we’ll wait and see. People like to jump to simplistic solutions. I like to look at the totality of it. I think it’s wise that we actually set aside some months with some pretty seasoned people to go around and ask participants, providers, advocates, their view. I am sure Bill Shorten is well meaning, but I’m pretty sure the nation is more interested in participants’ views rather on how the scheme’s going to work, rather than Mr Shorten’s.

JANE NORMAN: Well, there is a staffing cap on the agency running the NDIS, it’s a pretty controversial one. Would you be open to removing that cap if David Tune found that is what needed to happen?

MINISTER: Well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. David Tune is going through the process. Again, we’ll be announcing our wider plans in the coming weeks, and then once David Tune has finished his review, we’ll be announcing what we’ll do in particular on the Participant Services Guarantee. We’re absolutely and utterly committed to delivering the scheme, and reaching the goal of 500,000 Australians over the next five years. And right now we’ll look at everything on the table.

JANE NORMAN: It is a massive scheme. $22 billion, it’s been plagued with many problems since the rollout began. I think the agency gets a thousand complaints a month. Do you think that it has been rolled out too quickly? Is the ambitious time frame what’s led to a lot of these problems?

MINISTER: Four years ago, so the 15-16 financial year, the combined state and territory and Commonwealth budget spend $8.4 billion on disability. This year it will be approaching $20 billion, and next year $22 billion. So within five years, you’ve seen a 300 per cent increase on expenditure on people with disability. That is extraordinary, not just in Australian terms, but in global terms. The rollout’s been ambitious, block funding from states has been completely transformed so that 500,000 Australians will all have an individual plan catering for individual needs. When you do that sort of world-leading change on this scale, we’re going to have issues. We acknowledge that. I acknowledge that. My job is to continue to rollout, to get the NDIS on an even keel, to deal with the remaining 20 per cent of quite challenging issues we have to deal with, interfaces with the states, progressive rollouts and numbers of people coming through, very thin markets. I was in Kalgoorlie with Minister for Indigenous Australians looking at how to provide services to remote Aboriginal communities. These are not easy problems, they are very, very complex. But I’m convinced if we move purposefully and sensibly, we’ll solve them, and that’s what this government is intending on doing.

JANE NORMAN: So what do you say to people with disabilities and their families who are dealing with the NDIS, feeling like they’re trapped in an endless cycle of paperwork and dealing with the bureaucracy – the NDIA – that doesn’t really work for them; what do you say to those people?

MINISTER: The scheme improves every day. A 300 per cent increase in funding, 300,000 Australians in the scheme, something like 2 to 3000 new participants joining every week as we transition from all the state-based schemes. We can’t do a state transition into the federal government NDIS without there being some issues along the way. We are absolutely committed to solving the issues and streamlining it. I say to Australians – be patient with us, we’re getting there, and we’ll get it right. I think Australian will find as the months turn into years, we are going to have an enviable scheme on global terms.