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Wednesday, 6 September 2023
Page: 70

Senator REYNOLDS (Western Australia) (16:24): Not even the writers of Utopia could possibly have imagined up the last 18 months under the Labor government and their mismanagement and lack of transparency on the NDIS. That lack of transparency has again been there for all to see in Senator Gallagher's response—or in fact her nonresponse. I commend Senator Steele-John for pursuing this motion—you can rest assured that we on this side of the chamber are with you all the way—to get this information from the Labor Party.

For those of you who are not familiar with the background, let me fill you in. Before the election, when I was Minister for the NDIS, I went to Bill Shorten and said, 'Let's take a bipartisan approach on this.' He basically gave me the two-fingered salute. Instead of working with the government to fix what clearly ailed the NDIS, he started saying, 'There's no sustainability issue,' and he started riling up the sector for political gain.

Just before the election he also said that he didn't need any more money for the NDIS, because he thought it was fully funded. After the election—surprise, surprise!—he'd clearly never read any of the budget documents or quarterly reports and never heard anything from estimates to actually see what was happening with the NDIS. Instead of taking action—because it is very clear, for the reasons I'll go through in a minute, what needs to be done with the scheme—he has commissioned an 18-month inquiry. Basically, he's Nero fiddling while the scheme is burning. We'll get the report sometime later this year. They've done a good job so far in identifying the problems that another 30 reports before this one had already identified. There is no indication that this government has any clue or any desire to take measures to fix this scheme.

What happened? After the April National Cabinet, it was announced:

Whilst the Scheme remains demand-driven, the NDIS Financial Sustainability Framework agreed by National Cabinet will provide an annual growth target … of 8 per cent …

This is for a scheme that is already increasing by 14 per cent per year. I think the NDIS financial framework, unicorns, dragons and fairies have one thing in common—they actually don't exist. At estimates in May, I asked the officials if there were papers for the National Cabinet—'yes'. They agreed National Cabinet wasn't cabinet-in-confidence. Then I asked, 'Could the papers, or at least the strategy framework, be tabled?' It was: 'Oh, no, we can't do that.' Then they came back and said that the first ministers would need to agree on the release of any documents. I don't see that as a reason in the PII that the minister has just claimed as a reason not to provide it.

In the response to the order for the production of documents on 3 July, a letter from Jim Chalmers was tabled by the minister. He wrote:

I continue to claim public interest immunity over the document prepared for the National Cabinet meeting … as its release would be detrimental to relations between the Commonwealth and the states and territories.

The release of a document that consists of four words—the title—would be detrimental, I suspect, because it simply does not exist.

I'll come to the PII response from the minister today. What the minister didn't read out is that if the minister concludes it's not in the public interest to provide the information, the minister must do two things: first of all, provide a statement of the ground for that conclusion. Tick! That was provided. However, the guidance also says the minister must specify the harm to the public interest that could result if the information is provided. The Treasurer and, now, the Minister for Finance have not met that threshold. There is no reason at all for them not to provide this. I bet you it's something to do with the fact that they've got a 14 per cent annual increase, they've said they're going to take it down to eight per cent and in fact cut by $15.3 billion, but they haven't said how. There are two drivers of costs for this scheme: participant numbers and average cost per participant. They have no plan to deal with both, but they must have some idea because they've said they're going to reduce it from 14 to eight per cent.

They are not being honest with the Australian people and particularly with the 610,000 Australians who rely on the NDIS with their families. Shame on you! I call on everybody in this place to keep the pressure up on the government, because they have not met the PII test. (Time expired)