Bill Shorten slams Greens, Liberals for wasting $1 billion of taxpayer funds by delaying major NDIS reforms

Ellen Ransley
The Nightly
NDIS Minister Bill Shorten has accused the Coalition and Greens of forming an “unholy alliance after they delayed major reforms. (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas)
NDIS Minister Bill Shorten has accused the Coalition and Greens of forming an “unholy alliance after they delayed major reforms. (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas) Credit: MICK TSIKAS/AAPIMAGE

NDIS Minister Bill Shorten has accused the Coalition and Greens of forming an “unholy alliance” and wasting $1 billion of taxpayer funds after they teamed up to postpone major reforms to the scheme by at least two months.

Labelling the move “horrific and obscene”, Mr Shorten was on Tuesday furious that the opposition and minor party had joined forces to put Labor’s “Getting the NDIS Back on Track” bill before yet another inquiry, while a number of senators on the committee went overseas on a two-week junket.

The bill, aimed at cracking down on the scheme’s growth and cost, had just returned to the Senate after a 12-week review.

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But the Liberals and Greens say further consultation is needed, as they accused Labor of putting the legislation together “behind closed doors, in the dark” without proper transparency.

The Greens said they were particularly concerned Labor had dropped “massive sheets” of amendments to the bill that had caught the disability community off guard.

If Labor is unable to change either party’s mind before the amendments are voted on before parliament rises for winter break, it will mean the bill will go back before the Community Affairs legislation committee, and won’t return to the Senate until at least August.

Mr Shorten lambasted the delay, saying it would not only have a “seismic $1.1b financial cost to the scheme”, but would also mean Australians with disabilities could “continue to be exploited by dodgy providers and criminals”.

As he defended Labor’s plan to get the $42bn a year scheme back on track, he slammed the senators for keeping taxpayers on the hook while Greens and Coalition members of the committee - alongside some Labor senators - headed overseas to visit Brazil and the Americas on a two-week junket to “sip caipirinhas on Copacabana”.

“Liberal MPs and Senators have said on numerous occasions that NDIS funds should not be used for holidays. Now we find out they’re jetting off on their own junket that will cost the NDIS $275 million,” Mr Shorten said.

“At the same time that cost of living pressures are at an all-time high, how the Liberals and their Greens puppet masters think that wasting a billion dollars of taxpayers’ money to drag out critical legislation is beyond me. This is a horrific waste of taxpayers’ money.

“They are more interested in sipping caipirinhas on Copacabana than working to ensure the long-term sustainability of the NDIS.”

Under the Government’s bill, loopholes around intra-plan inflation - where participants request more funding and support than originally budgeted for — would be closed; entry requirements for the scheme would be clarified; and a crackdown on what items and supports can be funded would be clarified.

Catching the shonky providers in the NDIS.
Illustration: Don Lindsay
The government is on a mission to crack down on the NDIS. Illustration: Don Lindsay Credit: Don Lindsay/The West Australian

Mr Shorten and the Labor government view the bill as a crucial piece of the puzzle in tackling the exponential growth of the scheme and is in response to the extensive NDIS review.

“(This) is just a lazy delay … I’ve got a responsibility to all those hundreds of thousands of people on the scheme, the hundreds of thousands of people who work in the sector, and their families and the people who love them to make sure this scheme is there for the future,” Mr Shorten said.

“And the reality is the people saying delay and vote no, they don’t have a plan to rescue the scheme.”

But Coalition NDIS spokeswoman Hollie Hughes, who on Monday moved to amend the bill to refer it back to committee for reporting by August 5, said she had a litany of concerns over the Government’s proposed legislation.

She questioned why, if Mr Shorten was so worried about a two-month delay, he didn’t give senators “adequate time” for consultation.

“Any consultation he proposed he did was behind an NDA,” Senator Hughes claimed, referring to reported gag orders on disability organisations involved in the bill’s co-design.

“And his claim of $1.1bn is extraordinary when you consider his complete inaction over the past two years.”

Liberal Senator Hollie Hughes
But Coalition NDIS spokeswoman Hollie Hughes, who on Monday moved to amend the bill to refer it back to committee for reporting by August 5, said she had a litany of concerns over the Government’s proposed legislation. Credit: Dominic Giannini/AAP

In her speech to the senate on Monday, Senator Hughes said she was particularly concerned about what a participant could do if they don’t agree with an outcome of a needs assessment, and said more broadly there had been a “lack of transparency” in the entire development of the bill.

“Insufficient time has been provided for proper consultation on the bill with the sector and the community, who have expressed widespread misgivings about the current legislation,” Senator Hughes said.

Mr Shorten on Tuesday said he was “horrified” that “after 12 months of reviewing the NDIS and then another six months of discussing the review, including (in) the last three a Senate committee having public hearings calling for submissions”, there were critiques that Labor had not done enough.

The Greens also voiced concern about poor consultation, and referring to criticism from disability community said they they didn’t want people who were reliant on the NDIS to be worse off.

Greens disability spokesperson Jordan Steele-John said Labor’s NDIS bill had been “developed in the dark behind closed doors”.

“This is the most significant change that has been proposed to the NDIS in its decade of existence, and it is a change which the government is seeking to implement to give effect to its $14.4b cut to the scheme announced in it’s in the budget,” Senator Steele-John said.

The Greens are particularly concerned Labor has dropped “massive sheets of amendments” to the bill without adequate consultation.

Mr Shorten said he had been on a listening tour for the last seven months as he put together the NDIS review.

“As a part of this listening tour, I hosted nine town hall meetings on the Review’s findings and recommendations, which were attended by more than 5,200 attendees in person and online,” Mr Shorten said.

“I have never run into a single Liberal or Greens senator at one of these forums.”

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