News | 1 March 2018

Interview: Shadow Minister Jenny Macklin


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Thank you so much, Jenny, for your time today, and for agreeing to spend time with us.

I’ve got a list of questions for you. Some of them, we’ve put together,
and some of them had been sent in by Every Australian Counts supporters, so thanks for your time.

Jenny: Glad to be here.

Your office gets lots of calls from people with disability who are having trouble with the NDIS.

What’s the most common problems you hear about?

Jenny: Mostly frustration that people can’t get the National Disability Insurance
Agency to respond in a timely way, so whether it’s that they can’t get through on the phone, they can’t get their emails answered, they can’t get their planning
appointments, they can’t get their review done on time, that they’ve got their plan,
it doesn’t reflect what they thought was gonna be in their plan.

Unfortunately, we’ve had too many of those.

And then there’s all the IT problems, which there’s been an absolute multitude, so generally, it’s just people who are very, very frustrated with how long they have to wait for a whole range of things.

– What do you think should be done to fix them?

Jenny: There’s just not enough staff, so that’s the first thing
that has to change.

This conservative government imposed a cap on staffing on the National Disability Insurance Agency.

Some people have to wait to get their phones answered, or their emails answered, or get their plans done on time.

If you don’t have enough staff, you can’t do the job.

As the Productivity Commission recommended in their recent review, the staffing cap should be lifted, and that should be done as a matter of urgency.

That really is the most important thing to do straight away.

The second is to fix the problems with the IT system.

I suppose, for me, one of the most distressing things has been the way in which the IT system, and the way that’s been created has really determined the nature of the National Disability Insurance Scheme in a way that none of us wanted.

It’s made it very bureaucratic, so it’s not only the delays.

Delays with people getting their money, providers and people with disability, all sorts of technical problems, which I know still exist, but it’s also the way in which that’s influenced the culture, and I think that’s been…well, for many people, quite devastating.

They are the kinds of problems that you hear about from people who get in touch with you, but what do you think some of the biggest challenges are facing the NDIS?

Jenny: Well, as I say, the biggest thing, I think, is this cultural problem. When we were designing it, right at the start, it was supposed to be about the individual.

That was the thing that was driving us all to make sure that people with disability and their families and carers could have a better life, and the last thing we want is a really bureaucratic system.

If we are to make sure that it honours the original promise, we have to make sure that this
bureaucratic culture is changed.

I think that’s possible.

It will require a whole range of things to be changed, including the IT system, but also just the whole approach has to be focused on the individual, rather than this bureaucratic culture.

It’s very frustrating to us.

Some people with disability feel that they’re worse off under the NDIS. Some people are wondering why we fought
so hard for something that hasn’t made things better.

When people say that to you, what do you say back to them?

Jenny: Well, first of all, we try to look at the detail of what’s happening to them, personally, to try and fix it, because, of course, nobody should be worse off.

That is just wrong.

I take a very practical approach to that.

They can’t be left worse off.

We’ve got to make sure that they’re better off, and it is the case, of course, that for many, many people, they are better off.

It might have been frustrating to get there, it might not have happened as quickly as we would like it to happen, but I am every day being told of wonderful stories.

A lot locally, of course.

I ran into a lady just on the street outside, when she had a companion dog, and she now is able to deal with her anxiety and the issues that come from her disability in a much better way because she’s getting supports that she never got before.

I’ve got another friend, also lives locally, they’ve never, ever had any support at all, even though one of their children has very severe disabilities.

As we know, we all remember the original Productivity Commission enquiry.

The old system was broken.

It wasn’t delivering to people.

I know so many people who just got nothing under the old state system, and now, some of these people just can’t believe it.

Finally, instead of having to get up 12 times a night to deal with a child that’s fitting, and all the things that come from that, they can actually have someone that comes to their house and helps and it just changes their lives.

There’s so many great stories, but you’re right, there are people who have found that they are worse off, and that is just unacceptable, but that can be worked…that’s got to be worked through, and it can’t be left that way.

You were the Minister responsible for introducing the NDIS.

When you see how things are going now, how do you feel about it?

Jenny: Frustrated. (LAUGHS)

Probably is the most common response.

This bureaucratic issue that I’ve mentioned before, but think of all the other things that, unfortunately, because we haven’t had…you know, I don’t mean to be political about it, but honestly, you go to drive a big reform, you have to have the energy and desire to see this happen and to make it a success, and if you don’t have a minister that’s actually really determined to do that and to really drive it, then all the things that need to be done to make it a success, don’t get done.

We know that the National Disability Insurance scheme is gonna create the largest numbers of new jobs.

Fantastic for Australia, fantastic for people with disability, but where’s the workforce strategy?

Where are we making sure that people are encouraged to go into working in the disability

Where’s the work going on to make sure that the jobs are good jobs?

People with disability don’t want the workers to be short-changed, and of course the workers
shouldn’t be short-changed.

So, but where is that strategy?

It doesn’t exist.

As you would know, housing is a huge issue.

I have been banging this drum for years, and still, we’ve got
this huge frustration.

We know the money is there in the National Disability Insurance Scheme to spend on housing.

The government and the agency have just been so slow at making that happen.

We hear story after story of people not being able to…

They get their plan, they get the money in the plan, but they can’t find the services because nobody’s been out there really encouraging the creation of new services through market development.

They’re just some of the areas desperately needed to make it a success, but you’ve got to have the drive from the top.

Unfortunately, we just haven’t seen that.

We’ve had some really great
questions from our supporters.

Lots of people wanted to ask us about
two issues in particular; the issue of respite and the issue of housing and
supported accommodation.

What do you think needs to be done
in these two areas?

Jenny: Yep, and I hear that too all over the place.

Probably I hear a few more than just those two issues, but on respite, the thing that I would want to see in respite is man, many more options.

Not just can I have somebody come to my house and have the care and support provided at home, or alternatively going to some form of institution.

There’s a whole range of different ways in which people want to be able to have a break.

Might want to go to the beach, for example, or things that the rest of us like to do to have a break.

So, I just think once again, there needs to be a much greater engagement with people with disability and carers about the whole range of different ways in which respite can take place.

Where are the ideas?

Drive it, drive the solutions, rather than just expect it somehow to happen.

On housing, as I said before, I just find it’s really frustrating because we’ve been saying to the department and to the agency myself in government, and even the opposition, where are the options?

Where are the financing options?

Where are the deals you’re doing with developers?

How are you making this happen?

Once again, just story after story of how frustrating it is.

So, just get on with it.

– I think our supporters would say the same thing.

We have to ask you about funding for this scheme.

The bill to increase the Medicare levy to fund the NDIS is stuck in the Senate at the moment, and people with disability and their families are getting more and more worried the longer that this drags on.

They want to know that funding for the scheme is secure.

Will you increase the Medicare levy to help pay for the scheme?

– Well, first and foremost, the scheme is secure. It always has been right from the start.

It’s been fully funded. It is fully funded now.

This is actually something that , as you know, makes me very angry.

I think the government has really been totally irresponsible in the way in which they’ve dealt with
this issue and have played politics with people with disability in a very, very cruel way.

We funded the National Disability Insurance Scheme from the start.

We did increase the Medicare levy.

We also made a lot of other very difficult decisions – means testing the private health insurance rebate, increasing the excise on tobacco and so on, all of which were designed to make sure that the budget had the money to fund the National Disability Insurance Scheme in full, at full scheme.

That money is in the budget.

If the government says it’s not, what have they spent it on?

I actually think it is in the budget because the government has actually
signed agreements, bi-electoral agreements, with the states and territories.

I think that’s been a good thing.

I’m particularly pleased Western Australia’s in, so that’s great.

Those agreements are signed.

Governments don’t sign into governmental agreements if the money’s not in the bank to pay their contributions.

The money is in the budget for the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

That’s the first thing.

People do not need to be worried about that.

The second thing is, yes, there is a need to, of course, continually make sure there’s enough money in the budge for all the things that we all need governments to address.

We have said, Labor has said, that we will support an increase to the Medicare levy for peoplewho earn over $87,000
and we’ll also keep on what was called the deficit levies, so increase that extra amount for the top income earners.

Together, those two things that Labor wants to do would actually raise more than the government increasing the Medicare levy on everybody, so we think it’s a fairer way to go.

It puts extra tax on those who can better afford to pay and protects the low income earners.

The government wants to put more of the pressure on lower income earners, take the deficit levy off the top, which we think’s unfair, so the question is which is the fairer way to raise this extra money for the budget.

Ours is definitely is a fairer way and it actually raises a little bit more money, but the important point to emphasise is that the National Disability Insurance Scheme is fully funded, always has been, and certainly under Labor, always will be.

People with disability in families are frustrated that with all the attention on the NDIS, other issues for people with disabilities seem to have fallen off the agenda.

There are people with disability who are not eligible for the scheme and there still people with disability
having problems with other systems, like health or education.

You are the minister who is responsible for the National Disability strategy.

What do you think are the most important areas that government needs to focus on to improve outcomes for people with disability?

Jenny: Well, you’re right. It’s completely fallen off the agenda, and frankly once again, there’s just no drive in this government to make it happen.

If you want to bring about change you actually need a minister to make it happen.

And in this area of the National Disability Strategy,

it requires a lot of effort to engage a lot of your ministerial colleagues,
both at the Commonwealth level and the states.

Because a lot of these services, of course, are delivered by the states.

Health, education, the justice system, we know there’s an enormous amount of work to be done in the justice system.

Transport, another hugely important issue and so on.

So all of the issues that are in the National Disability Strategy are all there because, of course, people with disability have lives that intersect with all of these different areas of service delivery, and all of them are important.

So, you know, once again get in there and drive it.

Make sure that in each area, health, education, transport, justice, employment and so on, recreation.

Make sure that in each area you’re working with people with disability to get improvements in every area.

I really think you have to…

That was the point of the National Disability Strategy.

Not to choose one thing, but to really recognise that people’s lives are whole, and we need improvements across the spectrum.

– Lot’s of people with disability in their families are really worried about the rates of violence and abuse experienced by people with disability.

One of our supporters, for example, sent in a question about working with children checks for taxi drivers.

You’ve said if you win government, you will hold a Royal Commission into the abuse and violence experienced by people with disability.

What do you hope that a Royal Commission will achieve, and what are the kinds of things that you want to see changed?

Jenny: Yeah, so first and foremost, of course, the reason that we’ve committed to
having a Royal Commission into the abuse of people with disabilities is because we know from the evidence that the level of abuse is far too high, and much higher than for people in other circumstances.

So, it is because the situation is so serious.

So, that’s why we need to do it, and we hope through the Royal Commission to, of course, give people a voice to have their…abuse understood, and for the community to better understand the nature and extent of the abuse.

But also as we’ve recently seen with the final report of the Royal Commission into child sexual abuse in institutions…what we see from that final report and all the recommendations – more than 400 recommendations that go to so many aspects…governments federal, state and institutions then are confronted by very real proposals about what needs to be done.

Working with children checks is but one.

So, we don’t have a national working with children check, for example.

So, different states have different checks.

They, of course, people move from one state to the other but also the level of protection is different.

So, that’s just one issue.

There’s a whole range of recommendations that have come out of the child abuse Royal Commission that go to the criminal justice system.

A whole range that go to the way institutions operate.

I think the great thing about a Royal Commission is that it has the opportunity to really look in-depth at the nature of the abuse, where it’s taking place, the systemic issues that need to be changed, the legal issues that need to be changed, and, of course, the individual people who need to have the opportunity to come forward for their own cases to be pursued.

As we’ve had with the child abuse Royal Commission, individual cases have now been referred to the police.

There are cases in court now where people are being pursued, where I would hope perpetrators will go to jail and people will get justice.

The whole question of redress is in the parliament, so a redress scheme is being finalised.

There are issues with what the government’s proposed, but, of course, the fundamental issue is that people are entitled to redress.

A Royal Commission can really facilitate the most serious attention to these questions.

– You’ve been in parliament for a little while now.

More than 20 years. You first entered
parliament in 1996, and you’ve held a huge variety of roles.

How do you maintain your passion, you know?

How do you get up every Monday morning and face flying to Canberra again?

Jenny: I get very angry about the attacks on vulnerable people.

I’ve found the way in which this government pursues people who are disadvantaged, people who can’t find work, people with disability, the way in which people on as they describe it, as the conservatives describe it – people on welfare they describe in a demeaning way.

I find it really, frankly, enraging and so I don’t have any difficulty.

There is such a fundamental difference in view.

My view is that if you can’t find work, or if you are unable to work, for all sorts of reasons, then you are entitled to support.

That’s what a civilised society like ours has agreed to do.

And one of the wonderful things that I’ve found in this very difficult period while people who are on social security have been attacked by this government has been the way in which the Australian people have said,

“No, actually we think it is our responsibility to come together and look after each other.”

And I think that’s been a very positive response to a very nasty way of attacking those who really deserve our support.

– Right, thanks very much for your time,
Jenny. We really appreciate it.

Jenny: My pleasure.

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