Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme
Minister for Government Services

Transcript: Sky News Live, AM Agenda

14 July 2021

Senator the Hon Linda Reynolds CSC

Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme
Minister for Government Services
Australian Government Disaster Recovery Payment

LAURA JAYES: Now, the New South Wales Government has laid out the foundation to lock Sydney down for another four weeks. Their Premier stood alongside the Prime Minister yesterday to unveil a $4.1 billion in economic support for struggling workers and businesses. Now, the payments are split and it is 50/50 between the New South Wales and Federal Government. So to explain what it means and how you get these payments from the Federal Government aspect of all this, Linda Reynolds, the Minister for Government Services joins us. Linda Reynolds, thanks so much for your time. What is the Federal Government responsible for and when will people get these payments?

LINDA REYNOLDS: Well, good morning Laura. And, the Commonwealth Government has evolved its payments and supports for COVID-19. And they've done that in conjunction with New South- in fact in partnership with the New South Wales Government. So, as the Prime Minister announced yesterday, there are two changes to payments that will come into effect if New South Wales does extend the lockdown further into the fourth week and beyond. It's best described as, we've got two main form of payments. The first one, it goes directly to workers and that is the COVID-19 Disaster Payment, which is already in effect from the third week- from the second week, sorry, and beyond. So, that payment will continue and we've increased the rate.

So, for workers who have been impacted by over 20 hours a week, that payment has gone from $500 to $600. For those who have been impacted from eight to 20 hours, it's gone up from $325 to $375. So, the change is also that it's not just now in hotspots in New South Wales. This now applies to all workers in New South Wales who have had their hours impacted. The best way to claim is to go online to Services Australia, or through myGov, and people can apply that way. So, that's the first change and that is for workers directly, to help them and their families through what may be an extended lockdown.

Secondly, the payment is then for small- there's a new payment, which again is a 50/50 split between the Commonwealth and New South Wales Government, and that is really all about helping small to medium businesses with a turnover of 75,000 to 50 million, to help them reopen after the lockdown and also keep all of their staff on the books. So, the eligibility for that is for companies who can demonstrate that they've lost 30 per cent of their turnover from an equivalent period two years ago. They can apply for this payment, through Services New South Wales, and it is based on, they must keep, the numbers as of yesterday, they must keep people on their books. So, we've evolved with the COVID pandemic. Now, it's important to know that this is- both of these, will be available should any other state or territory unfortunately have to go into an extended lockdown.

LAURA JAYES: Okay. Let's look at the Disaster Payments, just quickly. What do you need to do if you are an employee, you've lost those hours, what do you need to do from here? Because they're already available but they've been upped. So do you need to reapply and then are they, you know, automatically paid to you for the length of the lockdown?

LINDA REYNOLDS: Yeah, so those people who have already applied and have received it, they have had to reapply every week, so if they reapply again this week, it will then become an automatic payment until one of two things. Either, the hotspot has been lifted and the lockdown has lifted, or secondly, if their personal circumstances has changed so that their income has changed, then they must go in and report that so they can get an adjustment to their payment. So, you go online to myGov-

LAURA JAYES: [Interrupts] What documentation and proof do you have to provide?

LINDA REYNOLDS: Well, it's self-certification. So, people have to go on and there are a series of questions, they go through either on the phone, but preferably, and it's quicker, to go and do it online. So, like many things, we have relied on people's honesty. So, there will be checks as well, done by Services Australia, but really people- we've tried to make this as simple and as quick as possible. So, people can go online, they can register, and they will get payment- their first payment, within 24 hours. So, we've gone to make it quick and as easy as possible for families throughout New South Wales.

LAURA JAYES: And can you guarantee that when this lockdown lifts, there won't be any kind of Robodebt style pursuing of this money if people have claimed it incorrectly?

LINDA REYNOLDS: Absolutely. As you know, Robodebt is no more. All of those matters have now been settled through the courts and we have changed our procedures. But, again, this is designed to be simple. It is designed to be quick, but again we do rely on people being honest, but also, we rely on them to update Services Australia when their circumstances have changed.

LAURA JAYES: Minister, have you put on extra capacity so that these web services do not crash? Because millions of people potentially might be trying to access this over the next couple of days.

LINDA REYNOLDS: Yes, we have and Services Australia are extremely good at doing this. They regularly support a surge in requests in payments for a wide range of disasters. In fact, over the last couple of years, over 19 separate declared disasters. So, Services Australia are very good and they are very efficient at doing this.

But I reiterate that the best way for people to do it is if you have access to the Internet, is to do it through your myGov account, or you can go to the- or Google Services Australia and the page will come up and you can go online and register. But if for any reason you can't do that, you can certainly ring 180-22-66 and talk to a Services Australia staff member.

LAURA JAYES: Well, thanks for talking us what is a really complex thing for, I think, business and individuals to get their heads around with all that is required. That said, I mean, people really understood JobKeeper in the end, it worked so well. Why didn't you just reintroduce that?

LINDA REYNOLDS: Well, JobKeeper was designed- it was a national programme and it was designed to be rolled out very quickly to keep people in touch with their companies, and it did that, I mean, it did it remarkably well. But like the pandemic and like the epidemiology which is evolving, the Federal Government is evolving its support in conjunction with states and territories. So, these- the combination of these packages is certainly equivalent to JobKeeper, but we think that it is more targeted.

So, we, we have money going directly to families to give them that cash flow to keep food on the table during an extended lockdown; and again, to help businesses with their other expenses because obviously it's not just their payroll, they do have many other expenses. So, this is designed to be as quick as possible, but also to keep their doors open to get through the pandemic.

LAURA JAYES: Okay. Minister, you are also the Minister for the NDIS, so let me ask you about independent assessment contracts. This was a plan that ultimately failed, but companies were still awarded tenders. Are you now up for a big bill? Do you have to pay compensation?

LINDA REYNOLDS: Well, I'm getting some further advice from the NDIA on that, but my understanding at the moment is that [audio skips] fee for service contracts and because we haven't started using these contracts that it will be minimal, or negligible cost. But I'm still waiting on final confirmation of that.

LAURA JAYES: Okay, well, who's to blame for this failure in the end?

LINDA REYNOLDS: Well, the independent assessment process was a trial and it's done what the trial was supposed to, supposed to do. We've learnt a lot of lessons from, from that trial process. And look, Laura, it was really clear to me when I became Minister for the NDIS three months ago that there was a lot of angst about the trial process.

So, I did straight away freeze the process and the legislation associated with it so I could listen to participants and I could talk to my state and territory counterparts. Because ultimately this is a scheme, it's not just a Federal Government scheme, this is a true scheme of the federation of all states and territories.

So, I spent three months consulting and it was very clear to me that this process and the trial had, for a variety of reasons, caused angst and that there was significant work to do to, to better engage the sector. So, I'm very grateful to my state and territory counterparts. We had a really productive and a very collegiate meeting on Friday. And we did two really significant things at that meeting, Laura. The first one was we had a really good discussion about the sustainability of the scheme itself. So, we've agreed to do some more work together over the coming months before our next meeting to really better understand the cost drivers of the scheme and to make sure that we really understand where the scheme is not fair and it's not consistent. So the second-

LAURA JAYES: [Interrupts] Well Minister, this does sound like a bit of damage control here because trust for some of our most vulnerable people seems to have been completely broken. So, what responsibilities does the Chair and the CEO hold here? Do you still have confidence in them to do their jobs?

LINDA REYNOLDS: Absolutely, I do. This was a trial and we've got more work to do. So, the second key outcome from the meeting on Friday was, we all agreed, all states and territories agreed with the Commonwealth Government that we, in a sense, go back to the drawing board. Because we do need to work out a way for eligibility criteria to enter the scheme. Because every other insurance scheme that I can find in Australia and internationally has some form of eligibility criteria. They either do it through an incident, so like a car accident, or they do it through functional assessments, or a combination of both.

So, we need to- absolutely, we need to work with the sector now to hear from more people with lived experience of disability, to develop a new method or model for assessments. But ultimately, we all came together because we all want to see this scheme endure. But to do that, it has to be sustainable and it has to be a far better scheme for all participants.

LAURA JAYES: We'll have to leave it there. Linda Reynolds, thanks for your time.

LINDA REYNOLDS: Thanks very much, Laura.


Page last updated: 14 July 2021