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Transcript of press conference: Commonwealth Parliamentary Offices, Melbourne: 4 September 2015: National Disability Insurance Scheme



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SENATOR THE HON MITCH FIFIELD ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR SOCIAL SERVICES MANAGER OF GOVERNMENT BUSINESS IN THE SENATE SENATOR FOR VICTORIA

TRANSCRIPT

Media Conference

Commonwealth Parliamentary Offices Melbourne

4 September 2015 12.50pm

E & OE

Subjects: National Disability Insurance Scheme

FIFIELD:

Well thanks very much for gathering. I thought it was important to respond to some of the baseless lies by the Federal Opposition in relation to the Government’s commitment to the National Disability Insurance Scheme. One of the heartening things up until this point has been the bipartisanship that all parties have demonstrated in relation to the NDIS. So it’s extremely disappointing that today and over the past week or two, the Federal Opposition have sought to set aside a bipartisan approach, which is one that we embraced when we were the opposition.

The Federal Labor Party are seeking to cause unnecessary and baseless concern to Australians with disabilities and their families, that the Federal Government is not fully committed to the 100 per cent rollout of the National Disability Insurance Scheme. Nothing could be further from the truth. We currently have seven trial sites operating around Australia, with about 18,000 people with disability receiving packages through the NDIS and the better deal that they deserve. We are working extremely hard on the rollout for the NDIS to have full national coverage and ultimately support around 460,000 Australians with significant disability.

Now there are two lies that Labor are putting forward at the moment. The first is that the Government is seeking to do something odd or inappropriate in relation to the board of the NDIS. It’s a fact that all current NDIS board positions expire in the middle of next year. That’s the timeframe that the previous government made in relation to those appointments. Now it’s not good corporate governance to have all the board positions expiring on the one day. Nevertheless that’s the situation that we’re in. If the Government was to do nothing in relation to board appointments, then we would not have a board from the middle of next year. So what I have embarked upon is a process of consultation with the States and Territories to lay out a process to look at the appointment of a new board from the middle of next year. What we are seeking to do is to have a board that is a mix of current members and also new members.

This is an extremely important project. We are moving from the trial phase of the Scheme to full national rollout and it’s important we take the opportunity to make sure that we have the best

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possible board with the right skill sets. The current board have done an extremely good job, and I want to thank them for their efforts to date. The current board members are very welcome to express interest in continuing on the board and seeking reappointment. It’s important I emphasize, that we recognise the need for continuity. So the new board will be a mix of current board members and new board members.

The other area where the Federal Opposition are being deliberately misleading is in relation to the negotiations which are currently underway with the States and Territories for the full rollout of the NDIS. The States and Territories currently own disability services. The Commonwealth cannot act unilaterally in relation to the NDIS, which is why I’m conducting negotiations with each State and Territory to establish bilateral agreements, which will lay out the plan for the rollout of the NDIS beyond the current trial sites through to full national coverage. Now COAG set a target date of August for those negotiations to endeavor to be concluded. It was a target date. It wasn’t a deadline. These are complex and detailed negotiations. It’s important that we get them right. They are going extremely well. We are not looking for ways to slow negotiations or to slow the rollout of the Scheme. We want to ensure that we deliver the best NDIS possible, as quickly as we can. And rather than focusing on the commentary there may be around on the part of some, including the Federal Opposition, I’m focusing on negotiations, on landing those, so we can see the NDIS rolled out in full.

But I would call on the Opposition Leader and Jenny Macklin to - for heaven’s sake - put partisanship aside when it comes to the NDIS. Do not use the NDIS, do not use the concerns of people with disability to seek to gain partisan electoral advantage. Surely, if there is one area of policy where we can put partisanship aside, it’s the NDIS. And I would urge and encourage Ms Macklin and Mr Shorten to do just that.

JOURNALIST:

Is it the case that the board members were not given a heads up that their positions were about to be advertised.

FIFIELD:

The board members were advised yesterday that ads would be appearing today, and were also advised that I’d be writing to them to invite them to be a part of the process if they had an interest in continuing to serve on the board. I also wrote to the chair of the NDIS board about six weeks ago outlining the process that we would be going through. And again, important to emphasize, that this is not something that I as the Federal Minister can unilaterally do. The appointments to the NDIS board are made collectively by me as the Federal Minister and by the State Ministers. And this is a process that the States and Territories have been consulted on.

JOURNALIST:

Could we just clarify that because our understanding is that the chairman particularly wasn’t notified. Can you tell us more about six weeks ago you wrote to him informing him that the entire board would be spilled?

FIFIELD:

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Well let’s be clear. The board is not being spilled. All board appointments under the Act expire naturally in the middle of next year. So there is no spill of the board. All the board positions expire in the middle of next year. And therefore, if we did nothing we wouldn’t have a board. We need a process to appoint or reappoint board members. That’s what has commenced today with the placement of advertisements calling for expressions of interest. And that process was outlined to the chair of the Agency about six weeks ago. It hasn’t been a state secret that there will need to be a process, I have previously written to every State and Territory Disability Minister and every State and Territory Treasurer outlining the process that we would be going through and I think every board member should be aware, would be aware, that their terms come to conclusion in the middle of next year. What we want to do is to have an orderly process. Yes, it is nine months until those terms expire, but, we want to check on the level of interest and the range of interest from members of the community. We also need to get the agreement of each State and Territory in relation to the nominees and ultimately, I will also have to go to Cabinet. So there are a number of elements in relation to this process and it is important that we make sure that we take the time to do it and do it well

JOURNALIST:

And is Mr Bonyhady welcome to apply for the role if we wishes?

FIFIELD:

Every board member is very welcome to express interest. I don't prejudge anything in relation to this board appointment process. It’s important to make sure that we have the right skill set and the right combination to deliver the best Scheme possible. And we’ve got to keep our focus. Every single thing we do in relation to the NDIS has got to be laser like in its focus on ensuring that we get good outcomes for people with disability. Everything else is got to come second to that. That is our focus.

JOURNALIST:

And the chairman in particular you said the board had done a good job in its work to date, do you endorse the work of the chairman?

FIFIELD:

The chairman has done a sensational job. It would be fair to say that the NDIS probably would not have come to fruition if not for the work of Bruce Bonyhady as chair, and also John Walsh, who is a board member, who has been one of the intellectual drivers behind the original concept of the NDIS.

JOURNALIST:

The advertisement selection of candidates requires board experience on a large company or significant GBE. How would you be sure that you actually get candidates that also have disability experience? Because it looks like some members of the board would not qualify for that.

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FIFIELD:

The intent of the ad is to indicate that one of the useful backgrounds to have is board experience on a large GBE or a listed company. So we certainly want to have some of that experience on the board, but that is not the exclusive or sole criteria for consideration of board membership. And indeed, the criteria for membership of the board is laid out in the NDIS Act. It covers things such as the board needs to cover the field in relation to experience in insurance, experience in disability organisations, experience in corporate governance. So what we want is people with a range of backgrounds who cover those particular areas. And also we'll be very mindful in relation to ensuring that there are board members who have a lived experience of disability.

JOURNALIST:

So the board will cover the field as a whole, rather than individual candidates having each of those criteria?

FIFIELD:

That is right. The expectation isn't that each board member or board candidate has each of those particular qualifications. The expectation is that the board as a collective covers those range of skills and experiences.

JOURNALIST:

When did the other board members get informed? You said the chairman was written to six weeks ago. The other board members, was this discussed with them?

FIFIELD:

Board members were formally advised yesterday that there would be ads appearing today and also that I was writing to them to invite them, if they had an interest in continuing, to be a part of appointment process. But it may well be that through the correspondence that I have had with State and Territory Disability Ministers, State and Territory Treasurers and with the chairman of the board, it may well be that they had an awareness of some of the elements of this process previously. But all board members would be aware that their terms expire during the middle of next year and that there would at some point be a process for appointment and reappointment.

JOURNALIST:

Could the board be effective without significant representation on it from the disability sector lived experience?

FIFIELD:

It is essential that the board has representation from people who, as well as skill sets which I've outlined, have personal and lived experience of disability or who are people who have worked in

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disability organisations. That is an important perspective, an important skill set to have around the board table.

JOURNALIST:

Earlier you spoke very glowingly of Mr Bonyhady's work in getting the NDIS to this point and you, in your mind’s eye, is there now a different set of skills required or do you think his skills would qualify him to continue that role?

FIFIELD:

I have the highest opinion of each member of the board and I have an open mind in relation to the ongoing contribution of each individual board member. What we’ll ultimately do is to look at the combination of skills that applicants possess, both those that might continue on the board, and those who will be coming onto the board for the first time.

Media contact:

Vincent Tulley | 0409 244 865 | Vincent.tulley@dss.gov.au