Mornings with Ray Hadley – 2GB

Program:

Mornings with Ray Hadley

Interviewer:

Ray Hadley

E&OE

RAY HADLEY:

Minister, good morning.

MINISTER PORTER:

G’day Ray, how are you?

RAY HADLEY:

Not bad.

Look, we’ve got all these problems – you’ve got the Productivity Commission coming out yesterday saying that, as specified in the bilateral agreements between governments, the scheme’s success and financial sustainability are at risk. It’s result in the NDIA – the governing body – focussing too much on meeting participant intake estimates, and not enough on planning processes, supporting infrastructure and market development.

Then you’ve got the story of the front page of the Daily Telegraph – carried in the Courier Mail and the Herald Sun – that 40 per cent of the children on the NDIS don’t have a problem. The ones with a problem are us, because we’re all paying for this Minister, via the impost via Medicare. Where do we go?

MINISTER PORTER:

Well Ray, first of all, and I listened to the issue about Down Syndrome and the carers – I might come to that in a moment – but yes, the Productivity Commission report, interim report, came out yesterday and it highlighted a range of risks, and of course the risks are present, they’re ongoing and they’re risks that we have to manage.

I would note though, that what the Productivity Commission report did say is that right now during transition, the scheme costs are broadly on track – so we are not experiencing budget blow-outs or anything like that – we started with a whole range of estimates, about who would be the type of people joining the scheme and how many there would be in each group, and in some groups, with children – the numbers coming in are above estimates, in other areas the numbers coming in are below estimates.

But, I’m not pretending here that this isn’t a massive challenge and enterprise where we have to constantly manage risks. And what I would say, with respect to that Daily Tele article, it did note as the Productivity Commission noted, that one of the categories where we’re seeing more people than was estimated was children – but I don’t think it goes anywhere near as far to suggest that the children coming in to the scheme don’t deserve to be in the scheme and that there’s not real issues there. So when we’re talking about autism, or developmental delay, we are talking about the serious cases. And so for instance with the example of a young child with Down Syndrome and the carer; we, through the NDIS and the taxpayer through the NDIS does not pay for holidays, does not pay for air fares. We will, if the needs are reasonable pay for someone to have a carer if they’ve got a serious disability, and like any citizen if they go to America, that carer can go – but that would be paid for privately, but we would pay for a person to have a carer to the appropriate level of need. Now if they decide to take that carer with them on a holiday, which people with a disability will have a holiday just like the rest of us, then the carer can go and we pay for the carer. We don’t pay for airfares, we don’t pay for holidays or anything like that…

RAY HADLEY:

You just pay the normal fee?

MINISTER PORTER:

That’s right.

So if a child needs the carer because of the severity of a disability like Down Syndrome, and what they do is they have a local area coordinator – they sit down with them and develop a package of care and support that that individual needs, that’s the nature of the NDIS.

Now, very often that will be a carer, because that’s what the Australian with a disability actually needs. Now, if that person goes on holiday, the carer can go with them and the carer is there all year for them – but we don’t pay for holidays or airfares or anything like that.

And look, there’s no disagreement with you Ray, that this is a massive challenge that involves high levels of scrutiny and stringency to make sure that it is operating inside budget, and a great deal of my time is taken up making sure that we are operating inside budget – and we certainly are at the moment.

RAY HADLEY:

I don’t wish to be disrespectful, but what you’re enunciating here was exactly what was said to me by Mr Garrett many years ago…

MINISTER PORTER:

Not a comparison I would hope to have…

RAY HADLEY:

I know that you’re not a rock singer and you won’t return to that, and you may return to another form of employment in the future – but what I’m saying to you is, that he told me the same thing;

Oh Ray, the pink bats – stringent. Stringent. We’re putting safeguards in place.

Now, just back to your point about this story in the Telegraph right? 44 per cent of participants younger than 15 – nearly half the 43,000 children in the scheme are diagnosed with autism, a third have an intellectual disability – including being delayed – developmental delay -– that still leaves me with 16,000 children who don’t have a problem according to the story.

MINISTER PORTER:

I don’t know quite why we would say that 16,000 children don’t have a problem. In fact, those figures are a little bit old now – but children between 7 to 14 years of age make up about 22 per cent of the participants, and these numbers literally change from month to month – but to get into the NDIS, you go through a rigorous assessment as to the nature and severity of your disability.

Now, throughout Australia rates of autism diagnosed by GP’s for kids vary quite widely. So for instance rates of autism diagnosed by a GP in South Australia are much higher than they are anywhere else in the country and the experts struggle to explain why that is. But the mere fact of a diagnosis for autism does not guarantee entry into the NDIS, and so we go through another level of stringency.

I accept what you say about the fact that Ministers will say that processes are stringent and sometimes they are and sometimes they aren’t. Again here, what the Productivity Commission report noted is that we are on track and we are inside budget. And the reason that we are inside budget at the moment is because a great deal of effort from me, my office, the NDIA Board and organisation is put into that assessment phase to make sure that only people with serious disabilities – whether they are intellectual, psycho-social or physical – come into the NDIS. And that’s a process we’re going to be managing for years.

RAY HADLEY:

Just on – I’m reading this story again and I’m – look I wouldn’t walk a day in the shoes of someone with a disabled child and I have the greatest admiration for people and I’m really, really, really supportive of any money we give to those people – because I just think if you have four healthy children, as I do, and you’ve got some poor blighter out there with a child with a disability whose life is totally and utterly committed to that child – we have to help them. But I’m struggling to understand – 40 per cent of the children in the NDIS do not have a – quote – “identified deficit” compared with other children of their age – according to the Productivity Commission.

Now are you saying to me that this deficit could include children with autism – is that what you’re saying? I don’t quite understand where we’re heading.

MINISTER PORTER:

No, what I’m saying to you is that – with something like autism, there are obviously levels of seriousness of autism, what I’m saying is that configuration, that language used by the Productivity Commission doesn’t reflect what goes on, on the ground, in terms of assessing the level of seriousness. So, there has to be a level of seriousness of a condition like autism before you go into the NDIS.

One thing that those figures include is the fact that under six years of age there are 2,500 children who are being supported with early intervention that have not yet gone into the NDIS, and the reason that we support them before they go into the NDIS is we’re hoping that the condition improves through the support so that they actually don’t need to come into the NDIS.

And with a condition like autism, a whole range of kids – so about 2,500 – will be receiving early intervention and supports in the hope that their condition improves and they don’t come in – equally it’s the case that some people, in particular young people who come into the NDIS, because of the care and attention and effort that’s put in that wasn’t previously, their condition improves to the extent that they come in, stay inside for a period, and exit the NDIS because they are constantly re-monitored to make sure that the condition is at a level of seriousness that still warrants them being inside the NDIS.

RAY HADLEY:

Ok, but allowing for all that – are you still concerned as the Minister responsible for dolling out this money, that we have 40 per cent of the children who are average kids – and by average, we know what average means, in terms of how they achieve, what they do – they’re average, every day, normal children – I would rather say normal than average. Normal children.

Are you concerned, because I’ve had discussions with your colleague, Scott Morrison, in an earlier portfolio – that whenever we allow billions of dollars to be provided to the public there will be people who’ll rort the system. We’ve seen it in childcare, we’ve seen it in pink bats, we’ve seen it on a whole range of fronts where – get the money out there, we’ve got this money, we’ve allocated a budget, there’s $22 billion there, we’re charging the Medicare levy to make sure the money’s there – are you concerned, as the Minister, that there will be people whose child is average/normal trying to dip into the system?

MINISTER PORTER:

Well I think that for a parent whose child suffers some kind of developmental delay, they obviously – and it’s not malicious or anything of that nature, and it’s not what I would describe as a rort – that many of the see the NDIS as a way in which you get service delivery that you would not otherwise get.

And yes, this is a risk that we are managing now and will have to continue to manage, but the bottom line here is that the NDIS is for serious levels of disability, whether they’re psychological, physical or developmental delay or autism. And you’re quite right, what we have to ensure as this scheme moves forward is that we are only having entry points for the level of seriousness that is at the higher end of the scale.

RAY HADLEY:

Ok, now are you confident after our last discussion, because if I go downstairs to the accounts department and say – look I’ve got a parking slip here, I stayed at the airport and I used this and it’s $184 because I was away for five days, can you give me the $184 and they say “yes Ray, most assuredly, you’re on company business where’s your receipt?”

Well I haven’t got one. Well then the accountant says to me, “Well Ray you haven’t got $184, I’ll see you later” – are we doing something to make sure people, either providers or those seeking help are compelled to show receipts before they get up to $21,000 as I’ve illustrated to you previously, in relation to honest people.

MINISTER PORTER:

Your program and your listeners are far from unhelpful, and every time we have an example, whether it’s through a program like yours or elsewhere we chase it down and check whether or not the claims are correct and where there’s an issue we work to fix it. But the point is this – most people inside the NDIS, so 92 per cent, don’t have a situation where they are what we would describe as self-managed, so the money is, in effect, it isn’t coming to them – they don’t expend it, it’s all done through the NDIA, the National Disability Insurance Agency. So the sort of problems that you’re talking about don’t arise.

RAY HADLEY:

Well hang on, they do. Because you just heard from Austin as you were waiting on who spoke to me this morning from rural New South Wales, he just sends them off the bill – it’s cost $32,000 for this really important wheelchair – and he’s an honest man, I’m not suggesting Austin is doing anything wrong – and they just say ‘yep, and 12 hours later the money is in the account, honky dory, you beauty – but he says he’s not asked by the NDIS to actually say – if I’m going to get my car panel beated I want to see a detailed list before I pay for it and so does the insurer – so the NDIS should be asking Austin, well Austin, give us the rundown on how you got the figure of $33,000.

MINISTER PORTER:

I’d certainly invite Austin to contact us in my office to give as much detail about his circumstances – but it looks to me that he is, that is a situation where it is self-managed. So in effect, the package is devised, there’s obviously a serious level of disability here requiring a wheelchair – part of that package is the assistive technology – they call it – so a wheelchair. An amount would be, through the planning process, allocated to that assistive technology, the wheelchair; the whole point of the NDIS is that Austin’s son I think it was…

RAY HADLEY:

No, no you’ve got it – I nearly said something rude there – Austin is actually a supplier – Daryl was the gentleman with the son and it was $21,000 – Austin is today’s caller. He’s a supplier who built the wheelchair and when he wanted to be paid he simply said to them – here’s the wheelchair, that’s what it cost and he said do you want a detailed submission – he was told no, just tell us how much.

MINISTER PORTER:

He’s obviously…

RAY HADLEY:

And he’s an honest man – he didn’t pork barrel – he just told them what it was and that was it.

MINISTER PORTER:

Sure, but the supplier is having to certify to the NDIA the cost of providing the wheelchair was whatever it was, and we take that information on its face – there’s auditing of those types of things that happen on a rolling basis…

RAY HADLEY:

Don’t talk to me about auditing, because now you’re starting to sound like Mr Garrett again – he said there would be audits and by the end of the process with the pink bats we were owed billions of dollars by the rorters and we never got it back.

MINISTER PORTER:

Yes, but the point here is that the plan would be devised so that there is an amount which is allocated to something like a wheelchair – and we at the NDIA know how much wheelchairs cost in various settings for various levels of disability – so we know what they cost, and only an amount which is accurate and correct to allow for the purchase of that particular type of wheelchair that is needed for that particular type of disability is actually ever allocated in the package.

RAY HADLEY:

Ok, but Austin’s an honest man, he would never get a drink out of the wheelchair because he’s an honest man. But what I’m getting from other people Minister, you have to explain this is – they got a service or a particular item previously from someone who’s not on the NDIS as a supplier, and it cost $1600, immediately it’s passed to the NDIS supplier – it’s $2800…

MINISTER PORTER:

Well you know, it’s interesting because we set prices for the supply of goods and services in the NDIS and when I meet with providers of services, very often their complaint is you’re setting the prices too low, it’s hard for us to operate…

RAY HADLEY:

I imagine they’d say that all the time because they want a bigger drink…

MINISTER PORTER:

Well, as I did say to many suppliers, and it’s not very often that suppliers in a government scheme come to the government and say you’re setting the prices too high – but the complaint that I continually get from suppliers is that the pricing is set too low. And we constantly go back and look at pricing so that we make sure that a supplier who is supplying wheelchairs regularly to Australians with a disability in the NDIS, is being remunerated in a way that their business is sustainable, that their operation is sustainable. But we have a whole range of prices set for every imaginable type of assistive technology and service and you can’t get more than what you are priced at in your package for that particular service or technology.

RAY HADLEY:

I bet you can’t wait to be appointed Attorney-General.

MINISTER PORTER:

Look I really, really enjoy this portfolio.

And rolling out the NDIA is – it’s a once in a generation reform which has the capacity, if we get it right to really improve the lives of Australians with a disability – but it’s a big enterprise…

RAY HADLEY:

If you get it right.

Anyway, look just before you go – I don’t like to do this but I just want you to listen without any criticism – there’s a gentleman phoned in;

Paul, the Minister doesn’t know you’re on the line – I didn’t know you were going to call – just tell the Minister simply what your problem is so he can possibly address it. What’s the problem?

PAUL:

My partner has two boys who are regarded as on the extremist level of autism, one is also psychotic, so he does need – particularly, you know, a whole lot of care with phycologists and so forth. The package that she used to get before, where they have someone come in and they’d have a social worker or a care worker come in and help her all the time with the two boys. Now that’s gone.  And she’s going through the process of the NDIS now, so she spent six hours, three hours with an interview for each boy, going through details – she was absolutely in tears after it because it was all ‘yes – no’ answers – they wouldn’t cover any psychologists appointments, they wouldn’t cover anything – she can’t take him into the public service because they won’t treat him because he’s too dangerous.

RAY HADLEY:

Paul, if I could be rude and interrupt you – are you telling me that it’s stopped and it won’t resume until the NDIS accepts your partners children into the process?

PAUL:

She’s in the process of going over  - at the moment she’s been told that she won’t get psychology services and any other sort of help – like the things that she used to get she won’t be getting under this new NDIS, and she was extremely distraught that the whole process was just yes-no answers and then when she was saying – will you be working on this, the person who was doing all the – taking all the details, she said I can’t even give you a copy of the notes, what I’ve put down on here, which a lot of the descriptions she was getting back seemed to be completely inaccurate, and then she said no I take this back, someone else grabs it, they work on it and they’ll come up with a package – so it’s so removed from actually being someone in contact with her and saying – ok look, this is what we’re going to work through with you like it used to be, it’s now just someone in the office looking through the yes-no answers and then saying, ok, we’re going to give you this.

RAY HADLEY:

Minister, obviously that’s a deficiency the system – if the old system was better than the new system in relation to Paul’s partner, well that’s not good.

MINISTER PORTER:

First of all Paul, if you leave your details with Ray I’ll look into this matter individually.

We’re moving at the moment, we’ve got just over 82,000 people in it and it will grow to 400,000 – so a lot of people.

What we’re constantly trying to do, obviously, in the planning process – and I take it Paul that your partner’s boys have been accepted into the NDIA and now are at the stage where the coordinator is devising the package of care and reasonable support for each of the two boys – and this is the central tension Ray that you’re raising is that we do have to go through a process that is not always an easy process to make sure that the way in which the package is designed meets the criteria of the NDIA and community expectations, but it’s not too much and it’s not too little, but it represents the reasonable and necessary supports as defined in the Act.

Now I certainly accept that process is a very difficult process for a range of people and wherever we can learn from individual instances where that’s been a not a happy process than we absolutely will look at it. Perhaps I’ll get Paul’s details…

RAY HADLEY:

We’re dealing with Paul off-air now so we’ll deal with Paul off-air and we’ll put him in contact with your office directly.

MINISTER PORTER:

What happens very often Ray is that people, because we are exacting a level of stringency will have an experience that they find quite difficult. But of course, we have responsibilities both to individual entrants during the planning and package development, just like we have a responsibility to taxpayer to keep the scheme, as a whole, inside budget which is happening at the moment.

RAY HADLEY:

As always I appreciate your time. Thank you