Bill Shorten is the new Minister dedicated to the NDIS

It’s official – the Federal Member for Maribyrnong and the former Shadow National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) Minister Bill Shorten is the new NDIS Minister.

Following Labor’s victory at the recent Federal Election, Mr. Shorten was this week announced as Labor’s first ever dedicated Minister for the NDIS – a Scheme he helped establish and has championed ever since.

He will also be Government Services Minister.

Mr. Shorten has been a long-time supporter of the NDIS and one of the avid proponents of the Scheme as far back as 2008 when he was Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities and Children’s Services under Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.

In more recent years he’s been quite vocal about reforming the Scheme and has made no secret that he planned to put participants first, promising not only an overhaul of the Scheme but also close scrutiny of staff qualifications, numbers and National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) leadership, repair the NDIS and restore trust.

“It is my great honour to serve people with disability, to defend the NDIS and oversee the Robodebt Royal Commission,” Mr. Shorten said on Tuesday, just after the announcement of his Ministry.

“I would like to thank Prime Minister Anthony Albanese for choosing me for these important roles.”

“I will work every day to make Australia better. I look forward to the work and I won’t let you down.”

Back in April, in the leadup to May’s poll, Labor had promised an overhaul of the Scheme’s appeals process as Mr. Shorten launched a stinging attack on the leadership of the NDIA’s current boss, Martin Hoffman in @The Guardian.

Unveiling the opposition’s vision for the $30 billion scheme back in April, Mr. Shorten said in the article that if elected the party would hire another 380 agency staff and crack down on rorting providers and the NDIA’s use of consultants and private law firms.

Mr. Shorten, Labor’s NDIS spokesman, said it was too early to say how much could be saved by cutting spending on consultants and the use of private law firms, on whom the agency has forked out $32 million in the past eight months, up from $22 million in 2020-21.

Mr. Shorten told The Guardian Labor would establish a new appeals process separate to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT)  process, which is facing massive delays after the number of appeals increased by 400%.

Labor said the number of new appeals reflected increased cuts to NDIS packages, which the then Morrison Federal Government government disputed.

As it stands now, NDIS participants who have had their plan cut or a support denied can ask for an internal review conducted by the NDIA, before taking it to the AAT.

The massive increase in appeals has created a backlog at the AAT. Last year, NDIS participants could expect to wait about 23 weeks – or about five months – to have their AAT appeals, a wait which is likely to have increased further in recent months.

@The Conversation reports Labor has outlined six strategies it hopes will return the scheme “to its original vision” because being on the NDIS shouldn’t be like “having a second full time job”.

These are, as outlined by The Conversation:

  • Removing the NDIA staff cap: While originally designed to have just under 11,000 staff, under the Abbott government the number of staff at the NDIA was restricted to 3000. While this has been gradually lifted it is still well short of the amount needed, meaning external labour hires are widely used.
  •  Fewer lawyers, less waste: Labor committed to reducing the use of external lawyers such as those associated with tribunal hearings. They will also seek to cut down on waste through criminal activities and fraud.
  • Better planning: Labor will streamline the planning process to ensure plans are more “efficient, fair and investment focused”.
  • Justifying cuts to plans: There has been a commitment to stop arbitrary cuts to plans and to introduce an expert review process to sort out disagreements. This should reduce the number of people who are forced to take the government to tribunal.
  •  Regional service improvements: In regional areas of Australia, there are often insufficient numbers of providers to deliver services to those with plans, leaving some individuals with allocated funds but no ability to use them. Nationally the average proportion of allocated budgets spent sits at about 71%, in East Arnhem this sits at just 38%.
  • Collaboration with people with disability: Labor committed to co-designing changes with people with disability. Previously proposed initiatives have been formulated without their input. Labor also promised more people with disability on NDIA’s board.

Mr. Shorten was born and raised in Melbourne, graduated from Monash University in Arts and Law and also has an MBA from the Melbourne Business School.

Becoming involved in the Labor Party at university, Mr. Shorten worked as a lawyer after finishing his studies.

“Our story – the Australian story – is all about protecting and promoting the interests of working men and women,” he said.

“The future for Australia is all about a good job – about giving people the support and opportunity they need to get the job they deserve.”

He joined the union movement in 1994 when he began work at the Australian Workers’ Union as an organiser. Passionate about getting a fair deal for Australian workers, Mr. Shorten became the AWU’s Victorian Secretary and then National Secretary and then a director of Australian Super before entering parliament in 2007.

His experience in the union movement and with Australian Super have given Bill the belief that Labor can and does deliver for working people.

Bill lives in Maribyrnong with his wife, Chloe and their three children.

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