ABC Radio National Breakfast with Fran Kelly


FRAN KELLY: Christian is the Federal Social Services Minister with responsibility for the NDIS. Minister, welcome to RN Breakfast.

MINISTER PORTER: Thanks Fran, good morning.

FRAN KELLY: It’s true to say that you are trying to gain more control of the NDIS isn’t it? Is that because you want to limit the number of people gaining access to the scheme?

MINISTER PORTER: No it’s certainly not that. And I wouldn’t describe it as gaining more control. I would certainly describe it as trying to reform some of the administrative processes so that it can be responsive and efficient. And I’d just like to say from the outset that it was good to hear those quotes from Bruce Bonyhady. I also read that material from business people and Bruce is quite correct. We are on time. We are on budget. There is a high degree of confidence that the Government’s commitment will see its full fruition and people have been very satisfied with the product so far.

FRAN KELLY: So in terms of what sort of changes you were proposing, it’s difficult to see how it’s not wanting more control. If you look at Attachment A which you presented to the state disability ministers on Friday, it seems to be crystal clear. If I can just quote from it, “The National Disability Insurance Act will be amended so that the Commonwealth Minister may give directions, make appointments and make rules in the consultation without the need for agreement”. How is that not trying to gain more control?

MINISTER PORTER: So there’s a hierarchy of governance in the NDIS. It is the Act, then there are the rules then there are processes that allow you in the future to amend the rules. Now yes, we are interested in having a discussion around how we can change the processes that are used to amend the rules because we think that this is a scheme that as you roll out from 20 odd thousand people to 460,000 people in three years you are going to need the ability to respond quickly to changing circumstances to any issues that might arise. But this is not as has been suggested by some, rather foolishly I think publicly, this is not in any way an attempt to change the substance of the Act which goes to issues like what constitutes a reasonable and necessary support or what constitutes eligibility. What we do want to discuss is how we could amend the processes – modify the processes that change the rules. And what the rules deal with are not unimportant things but -

FRAN KELLY: What do the rules deal with?

MINISTER PORTER: Okay. So the rules deal with things like how the CEO might assess what is value for money or how the CEO might release information about decision making. So if you read the document on its face without an understanding of how the scheme actually works, it might give you a misimpression. But what we are talking about -

FRAN KELLY: Do the rules cover, sorry for interrupting Minister, but do the rules cover for instance the support packages that are available and the definition of what can be in those support packages for individuals?

MINISTER PORTER: No. The definition of what is reasonable and necessary support and the definition of eligibility is contained in the Act. There’s simply no suggestion in any of the documents put before you, and I know this because I drafted them and was responsible for them, no suggestion that those things are sought to be changed. What we are suggesting is that when you go down that hierarchy, the rules and processes for modifying rules - we are wanting to have a look at the process for modifying the rules. Now the rules are subsidiary instruments, you’d be familiar with how this works, where they deal with secondary processes around decision making undertaken by the CEO and you’ve spoken to the NDIA. So I’m afraid it’s a whole lot less glamorous than great big changes to the Act. It’s about the rules and yes, in some instances where the Commonwealth think it would be a far better, more efficient scheme and would be in the interests of the clients whom it will serve if there can be consultation, say for instance, with just an affected jurisdiction. I’m sorry I’ve got my alarm going off here – just an affected jurisdiction rather than every jurisdiction in a circumstance where a rule change only affects one jurisdiction.

FRAN KELLY: Well then why didn’t the States understand that? Because the reason we’re speaking to you today is because the States we spoke to yesterday, the Victorian Disability Minister Martin Foley, he said “Christian Porter in a bushwhacking eleventh and a half hour stunt is seeking to control the NDIS”. He said “it seems like the Federal Government is seeking to shift the problem of his Budget onto people with disabilities, walking away from the national consensus of 2013 and ripping up the bilateral agreement that is in place”. That’s the Victorian Minister. And the Western Australian Minister, Helen Morton, she’s quoted as saying the Government’s going “too far in terms of narrowing access to the NDIS – you would get cost shifting and the implementation of this programme becomes more difficult”. So they saw it as you wanting to intervene and get more control. 

MINISTER PORTER: Yeah, I saw Martin Foley’s comments particularly and I thought they were very intemperate I must say. Now I’m sure that he’s -

FRAN KELLY: Well I think they were angry by what they were confronted with on Friday.

MINISTER PORTER: Well it’s interesting because that anger wasn’t expressed to me in the meeting or at the meeting. So sometimes people are more lionish outside of meetings than they are lambs inside of meetings. But what I would say about that is it does demonstrate, I think, a misunderstanding about the way in which hierarchy of the Act works with reasonable and necessary supports and eligibility criteria. Because the inference there is that these are things we are seeking to change and we’re simply not.

FRAN KELLY: You’re simply not. So when you say you want to streamline the scheme, give us all that’s listening because it is hard to understand the NDIS yet. It’s new -

MINISTER PORTER: It’s very complicated.

FRAN KELLY: An example of something you’ve put to the board and it’s rejected.

MINISTER PORTER: Ah well these things are just under discussion at the moment. But when you say put to the board, these are rules. So what I put is to the council of state ministers who are responsible for disabilities in each of their states, what we’ve put to the states are processes to change rules. Now at the moment some rules can’t be changed without unanimity after consultation with every state and what we’ve proposed in some instances is that where a rule change would only affect one jurisdiction that we need the Commonwealth only consult with that jurisdiction. In some instances we say that a rule might be able to be changed after consultation, but not necessarily with agreement with all jurisdictions. So what we’re trying to do is have a scheme where the Commonwealth is able to respond more quickly with any of the issues that arise. Keeping in mind of course that when the scheme goes to full roll out in 19-20, 100 percent of the risk is borne by the Commonwealth of any cost overruns or anything of that nature. So we need to have a scheme that’s responsive, in the best interests of clients, and to be frank Fran in some instances with minor matters such as how you determine how you determine value for money, or how the CEO determines value for money, having to get eight plus jurisdictions to agree unanimously after consultation means that you are going to be very, very slow to respond to changed circumstances. And they will invariably arise.

FRAN KELLY: You are listening to RN Breakfast. Our guest is the Federal Social Services Minister, Christian Porter who has responsibility for the National Disability Insurance Scheme. You want to make changes to the board you are planning on replacing half of the board. Why are you -

MINISTER PORTER: No Fran we are not. Had nothing been done, what was suggested by the Commonwealth, the entire board would have had their terms ended on 30 June of this year. We the Commonwealth suggested that as a matter of good continuity, that half of the board should have their terms extended by six months and the other half by 12 months, so that we can undertake a full executive search process and have a staggered replacement of the board. And of course existing board members, many of them are doing excellent jobs and might likely reapply in that normal natural process. But it was we the Commonwealth who have suggested this continuity arrangement whereby there is an extension of half by six months -

FRAN KELLY: Is it good practice for you as the Minister or whoever the minister is, to be in charge of that shortlist and have the final say on that? Is that good practice?

MINISTER PORTER: Well all governments end up being in charge of government boards as a matter of process. But the Act is quite clear. What it establishes is the Commonwealth can undertake a process. They have to consult on the process with the states and they have to consult with the states with their personnel who might eventually be appointed. And if agreement can be reached unanimously within 90 days then the Commonwealth has the power to exercise their own judgement in these matters. Now that’s just what the Act says. Its what it has said from day one, so we are not doing anything that is not within the terms of the Act. And in fact we are not doing anything other than at the moment reappointing those who are already on, who are state representatives.

FRAN KELLY: Will Bruce Bonyhady remain as chair of the board given as he’s told us and you’ve seconded the NDIS is on time and on budget?

MINISTER PORTER: Well Bruce was one of those who had his term extended so the answer to your question is for the time being yes. But no people remain chairs of boards, commercial or government, forever. But Bruce is doing a very good job, as is David. And we are very satisfied with the way things are going. And we’re in a very difficult period of transition where we’re rolling out pursuant to bilaterals in almost all states now. So things as were noted are going very well.

FRAN KELLY: Minister, can I ask you a couple of political questions. A report in the Fin Review today suggesting the budget is considering, the government is considering bringing the budget forward by a week. Is the government looking at the logistics of bringing the budget forward and is that about locking in a double dissolution?

MINISTER PORTER: Look I’ve not read that report yet I must say.

FRAN KELLY: Do you know that?

MINISTER PORTER: But I do sit on ERC and I in fact sat on it last year and nothing is different from this year to last in terms of the orthodoxy of the timing and process. So as far as I am aware, no.

FRAN KELLY: And the Newspoll two weeks on now, 50-50 again. Two party preferred with Labor and the government level pegging. Are you disappointed? Are you worried about that?

MINISTER PORTER: No. I think that these are always very competitive processes and circumstances slightly wax and wane. One thing that does concern me is this notion that there hasn’t been much policy. I mean I see Ministers like Mitch Fifield and the Prime Minister delivering media reform policy, which frankly is a policy can that’s been kicked down the road by a whole range of governments before this one. Intensely difficult, complicated, often controversial policy and very substantial. It gets out there in the great marketplace of the media and ideas and seems to get half a days attention and then disappears. But I think that is a very, very important reform for the country. So my disappointment is that things seem to get lost very quickly in what is a very noisy marketplace at the moment.

FRAN KELLY: Christian Porter thank you very much for joining us.

MINISTER PORTER: Thank you Fran.