Transcript by The Hon Bill Shorten MP

Productivity Commission Issues Paper on Disability Care and Support, bushfire reconstruction and Newspoll – Doorstop, Melbourne

Location: Melbourne

*** E & OE – Proof only ***

JENNY MACKLIN: We are here today to welcome the release by the Productivity Commission of its issues paper investigating the national disability insurance scheme. Now’s the time for everyone who’s interested in this issue to get a hold of the issues paper, put their views to the Productivity Commission, come along to any of the public hearings that the Productivity Commission will undertake. This is a very significant inquiry that the Rudd Labor Government has asked the Productivity Commission to undertake. We understand that there is a need for major reform in the disability support system. We have delivered a very significant improvement to disability services funding and to the disability support pension but there’s a lot more work to be done.

JOURNALIST: Minister do you think that the Rudd Government can give a commitment now to making a significant commitment to disabilities and the national disability insurance scheme in the next term of the Rudd Government?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well we’ll receive this report from the Productivity Commission in 2011. It is a very, very significant inquiry. We do understand that there are major issues that do need to be addressed as a result of this inquiry and so we’ll wait until we receive the recommendations before proceeding any further on the question you specifically asked. But we haven’t stood still. We have understood how important it was when we first came into Government. We signed the national disability agreement with the States and Territories. We dramatically increased the level of funding for disability services, and last year in September made a significant increase to the disability support pension. But we do know there’s more to be done.

JOURNALIST: Minister, any scheme that comes up in the next term will be costly, there’s no denying that a Productivity Commission will look at ways to fund it, but funding will be expensive. And there’s not a magic pudding out there. What are you going to be, how are you planning to sort of handle the high costs should you go ahead with that in DIS?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well funding issues are very important and a very significant part of this inquiry. Many of the issues that have been raised in this issues paper today go to the issue of funding or financing of a possible disability insurance scheme. As the inquiry will show, there will be efficiencies that can be made. Certainly the Disability Investment Group in its report also indicated where efficiencies could be made. I have no doubt that the Productivity Commission will investigate each of the financing options and recommend to the Government the best way forward.

BILL SHORTEN: If I could add to that Stephen. In terms of cost, we’re already spending $21 billion a year on all aspects of disability from income payments, to carer payments on disability. It’s not as if any new idea should be compared without looking at the existing system. There is a cost of not doing something. Half a million carers are not engaged in the workforce, a lot of people on the disability support pension, a lot of people with disabilities not getting a fair go. So before we start debating the price tag on a scheme which we haven’t yet seen, we’ll wait and see what comes in. We’re already spending a lot of money. The question is are we getting the value that we should for what we’re doing and I think the new Productivity Commission report will, I think, look at what we are doing and the inevitable increase that does as opposed to any other changes it may recommend.

JOURNALIST: Just on another issue, you’re probably aware of the story that was in the Sunday Herald Sun yesterday about bushfire rebuilding. What role do you think Christine Nixon’s had in regard to those people not having their houses built. Is she responsible for it?

BILL SHORTEN: Christine Nixon’s been doing a very good job on bushfire reconstruction. The problem is that some private sector builders are not fulfilling the contracts they promised to fulfil. We’re seeing some people who aren’t getting their houses completed on time. In terms of what the Authority and Government’s been able to do, all the public infrastructure’s working very well, and many builders are getting the job done properly. But there will be some people having undue delays facing a cold winter because some builders aren’t keeping the promises that they made.

JOURNALIST: So she’s not to blame for any of that? You’re saying that’s solely the builders, the private builders involved?

BILL SHORTEN: All of the families I’ve met in Kinglake, the issue is there that they’ve entered into good faith for contracts to get their houses rebuilt. Christine Nixon and her Authority, the Government have been doing their bit. What’s happening is a number of people are being let down because other builders perhaps have overstretched themselves, or overcommitted, the tradesmen haven’t been available. What we need to do is make sure that families aren’t getting stranded because some builders aren’t doing the good job that other builders are doing.

JOURNALIST: Finally, should she be responsible for making sure those builders are accountable?

BILL SHORTEN: I mean we’re not going to nationalise all the houses in Australia. The idea that Government’s got to be there with a hammer and expecting Christine or anyone else with a carpenter’s bag and a hammer putting up each house, and unless they’re doing that, that somehow it’s someone’s fault. At some point when Australians are asking other Australians to do a job we’d like to see some of those tradies, and they are the minority, turn up, do the job, and move on.

JOURNALIST: Minister, will you back Julia Gillard as Prime Minister?

JENNY MACKLIN: I think it’s fantastic that we’ve got both Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard in our leadership team. We’re very lucky to have them both, they work fantastically well as a team and I have no doubt that they will continue to do so for sometime.