Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme
Minister for Government Services

Transcript: 5AA interview with Leon Byner

30 March 2020

The Hon Stuart Robert MP

Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme
Minister for Government Services
E&OE

LEON BYNER:                       

Now the NDIS scheme is having a couple of changes. The plans are to be extended by up to two years, 24 months, ensuring continuity of support and increasing capacity. Discussions have been between the Minister and the Disability Reform Council which is a group comprising all states. So to find out exactly how this is going to be changing or modified, let's talk to the Government Services Minister Stuart Robert.

Stuart, thanks for coming on today. Essentially, what is going to happen if you are either applying for NDIS or you're already waiting for a decision, or you're on a plan, what happens?

MINISTER:

Yeah. Thanks Leon. Good to talk to you. The Disability Reform Council and ministers, all state and territory ministers, we had an emergency meeting on the 18th of March, almost two weeks ago. And of course your local South Australian Minister Michelle Lensink was there who is brilliant at this. And substantial changes are being made. People can go to the NDIS website to see a COVID-19 update that gives all of that. But we're seeking to ensure that all providers are viable so they can claim a month's worth of their normal expenditure upfront in a direct cash injection. There's substantially more funds in terms of core support, people can now have their plans for two years, 24 months if they want to so they won't expire. So if people are comfortable where they are, they can instantly go for two years. We're moving of course to- from face to face to telephone meetings. But in terms of people coming to the scheme, access to the scheme, all of that continues as normal.

LEON BYNER:

Now, what's going to happen to the waiting time? Because I know that you've had a real headache, you've been pulling your hair out for some time on this, where the waiting time to either get a plan and then have it implemented has been somewhat delayed. Have we fixed that to some extent?

MINISTER:

We have. The average time or the average access is four days and that's down from well over 50 days, six to nine months ago. So very happy with in terms of time from call to access, and then access to plan. Now as we've moved from face to face to [indistinct], I don't think that should move in any great extent. Now DRC is again meeting, Disability Reform Council, on the 6th of April and we'll have a look at those numbers and we'll just review the decisions we made on the 18th to make sure they're still right that people's access is still there and providers are still viable. But I don't suspect there should be any change from that, but we'll have a better view on the 6th of April, Leon.

LEON BYNER:                      

Have you got any feedback from providers who then provide the service once you've got the plan in place? Have you got any feedback that they're short of staff?

MINISTER:

We had a fair bit of feedback leading up to the 18th of March emergency DRC and of course the Quality and Safeguards Commission that is the regulator, if you like, [indistinct] the providers there. And the feedback was about participants withdrawing from things like therapy or community support and moving more into home, in line with the Prime Minister's guidance. And there was concern that there may be some issues with staff not being available because they may be self-isolating. So that's where we provided a lot more funds to them. The Quality and Safeguards Commission has been providing advice and of course we've started to call all 28,000 more vulnerable participants and [indistinct] help from the NDIS just to ensure a regular contact with them. So we're monitoring it carefully. At present it's more of a concern that there may be shortages because people are self-isolating. But at this stage, there doesn't seem to be any widespread shortages that have been reported to us.

LEON BYNER:

And just generally, how are you going with the immense, immense traffic on Centrelink numbers, websites and so on and phone services for people to register and also get what they need?

MINISTER:

It's certainly been an event. What happened last Sunday night after the National Cabinet and the Prime Minister spoke at about 10:30, saw the greatest [indistinct] I think the country has ever seen - hundreds of thousand, maybe up to a million people suddenly find themselves in extraordinarily difficult circumstances which is just heartbreaking, Leon. Well what we're saying to people is, yes, it was certainly overwhelming for any nation's systems, [indistinct] countries can't prepare for that sort of deluge. But we're saying to people the online channels have been massively strengthened, we strengthened them prior, on that weekend, to a thousand per cent capacity. Turns out we needed 2500 per cent capacity. That's all been done now. But we say to people go online, if you need to register with the JobSeeker and you've got a customer reference number, straight to myGov. If you don't have a customer reference number, again, go to myGov. Use your credentials for Medicare or for tax and you can register an intent to claim and then we'll contact you. So for example, last night we contacted hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people who put in an intent to claim and had no customer reference number. And today we'll be contacting many hundreds of thousands more who have got a customer reference number. So we're actively communicating with people that there's no need to go to a shopfront. Go online first and the telephone as second.

LEON BYNER:

Now, I have a question which I don't think spills the beans. We had Josh Frydenberg on a while ago and he will be explaining later today and indeed on our show tomorrow about this subsidy. But if we're going to have a subsidy paid to employers to give to employees. Is there an expectation that the pressure on Centrelink will somewhat diminish?

MINISTER:

[Indistinct]… I just speak in the peripheral on this because I'm not across the details of if a subsidy may well come across or what it would be. But you'd have to think that that would be yes. Because if people are saying in work, they wouldn't need a JobSeeker payment. So on the surface you'd have to say that that would certainly relieve really pressure. Although the Centrelink network is now, in terms of the digital channels and working through the enormous volume of people who put their hands in the air for support, is working through that really well now.

LEON BYNER:

By the way, few questions, if people want to apply for a job because I know Centrelink is still recruiting; what do they do?

MINISTER:

Just go Google Centrelink online and you'll see the- on the website where the application process is. We're certainly looking at bringing 5000 extra staff on board. Also we're certainly looking for people but we always are, I mean, we're constantly recruiting because a couple of hundred people leave our 30,000 strong workforce every month. So we're also engaging very large workforce blocs. For example, Flight Centre, if they're no longer using their call centres, that's something that we're actively looking at - can we use their call centre and processing centre? So that's a centre of a thousand people already set up with gear and everything ready to go. So we're certainly recruiting in big blocks like that, but we're always looking for great people.

LEON BYNER: 

Alright. Stuart Robert, Government Services Minister, thank you for joining us today. As I said, we'll keep you well up to date.

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Page last updated: 1 April 2020