MARK RILEY: The way the National Disability Scheme is being rorted is a national disgrace & needs to stop

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Mark Riley
The Nightly
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MARK RILEY: The way the National Disability Scheme is being rorted is a national disgrace. And it has to stop. But ensuring that happens is an enormous task.
MARK RILEY: The way the National Disability Scheme is being rorted is a national disgrace. And it has to stop. But ensuring that happens is an enormous task. Credit: Supplied

The way the National Disability Scheme is being rorted is a national disgrace.

And it has to stop.

But ensuring that happens is an enormous task.

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The National Disability Insurance Agency’s head of integrity, John Dardo, told Senate estimates this week that about 5 per cent of the scheme’s funding was being defrauded or misspent.

NDIS Minister Bill Shorten told 7NEWS it could be as high as 10 per cent.

In a $45 billion scheme that would mean $4.5 billion is being stolen every year.

That is a massive amount of money.

And it is money that should be helping change the lives of some of the most vulnerable members of our community.

It is now obvious that a scheme that was designed to express the very best of human nature is being railroaded by the very worst.

It seems defrauding the NDIS has become a national sport.

Dardo told of one family who gamed the system to make all its members NDIS participants, then successfully applied to become NDIS service providers so they could each be paid to care for the other.

It was the perfect criminal money-go-round. They all drew funds from NDIS plans to pay each other for services they didn’t need and didn’t get.

And it took years for them to be caught.

The estimates hearing was also told of dodgy service providers forcing participants to take NDIS dollars out of ATMs to buy drugs, gifts and holidays.

“You name it, it is on the list,” Dardo said.

But not all the fraud is that obvious and overt. Much of it is subtle, almost casual.

It is the supplier who suddenly adds another thousand dollars to the price of a wheelchair when they realise it will be covered by the NDIS, the gardener who charges an extra $20 an hour, the cleaner who doubles their weekly fee and the contractors who casually tick the boxes for services they have no intention of ever providing.

Shorten says there seems to be a feeling that because it is “only government money”, it is fair game.

It’s not.

Defrauding the NDIS isn’t a victimless crime.

It is stealing from the disabled and it is stealing from taxpayers.

“I want the crooks out of the system,” Shorten said.

“I loathe them. I think ripping off disabled people is just scum activity and I can’t stand them.”

Weeding them out, though, is no small task.

The Government is putting $300 million into greater detection, investigation and prosecution of NDIS crooks.

It has doubled the number of investigators. But even that might not be enough.

Just like the scheme itself, the extent of fraud has grown way beyond anyone’s wildest dreams.

When Julia Gillard launched the NDIS in a teary speech to Parliament in 2012, she anticipated that it would cover about 400,000 participants and cost $8 billion a year when fully operational.

It now has 660,000 participants and the government actuary has warned the annual cost could blow out to $105 billion a year by 2034.

And the fraud problem is not new.

This scheme has been ripped off from the moment it began.

It seems the designers of the scheme concentrated their energies, reasonably enough, on getting the service delivery end right.

But in doing so they left a heap of doors and windows open at the integrity end that crooks, ranging from opportunistic individuals to organised crime groups, have easily exploited.

Shorten has now committed to slamming those shut.

He told 7NEWS he has set a target of cleaning up the system within two to three years.

We are used to ministers making bold promises that have 10 and 20-year time frames that won’t be reached until they are long gone from politics.

But two or three years isn’t that far away. And if Labor is still in government and Bill Shorten is still in Parliament in that time, he will be held to account over whether he has cleaned up this national disgrace.

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