‘It’s a simple question’: Bill Shorten in fiery interview with ACA host Ally Langdon

The government minister responsible for the National Disability Insurance Scheme, Bill Shorten, defended his record in a heated interview with A current affair.

Mr Shorten, a former leader of the Labor Party, appeared on Channel 9 on Monday night. His interview was preceded by a story about complaints against an NDIS provider named Denise Clissold.

“Months elude us,” ACA presenter Ally Langdon said of Mr Shorten.

“NDIS Minister Bill Shorten is finally out front. And I have a lot of questions for you.”

Langdon confronted Mr Shorten about providers who “owe the system millions of dollars” while their customers are “left on the street”.

“Concerns about this woman were raised with the NDIS Commission months ago. She was not banned. It’s clear you should lose your job—and some might say the same about you,” Langdon said.

“I don’t know where you came to that conclusion, part two, Ally, but I think it’s your job to say that,” Mr Shorten replied.

“My job is to make sure these imposters and fraudsters are not part of the NDIS. The truth is, this interview you showed makes my blood boil.

“These people are being investigated. I would like to tell you that tonight I can click my fingers and ban all the bad people. That would be the best outcome. But we have to go through the proper process.

“As soon as you contacted us about this shocking case, I immediately contacted our regulators and said, ‘What are we doing about this?’ And they said they are already investigating it.

“This conduct – we have to prove it. I think you did a pretty good job. So that’s very good, thank you very much.”

“Then you’re saying that it can take over vulnerable customers until you finish this investigation, which could take months. I mean, who knows how long?” Langdon said.

“Aren’t we protecting the wrong person here?”

“I’m not protecting them,” Mr Shorten said.

“But it is not forbidden. She’s not even suspended, Mr. Minister,” the leader responded.

“Yes, you’ve said that before and I get it,” Mr Shorten said.

“I’ll tell you, I went to our investigators and said, ‘It looks like the case is pretty much open and shut.’ And they said: ‘Minister, we have to go through the processes.’

“But the fact is that what we saw with this person, I don’t think is an isolated case. When I became a minister two years ago, I was shocked by the fact that very little attention is paid to detecting fraud, catching fraudsters, eliminating them.

“In the last two years, we have doubled the number of investigators. We put in – there were no systems to catch people. There was no way to check whether the claims were inflated, duplicated or genuinely dubious.

“The tools we had when I became minister were not adequate to properly monitor the scheme, so we are preparing changes in Parliament when we talk about improving the detection and prevention of fraud.”

“So do you think the NDIS is in good shape at the moment?” Langdon asked.

“I think the truth is that he’s changing a lot of people’s lives and he’s doing a great job. I think for some people it doesn’t deliver that,” Mr Shorten replied.

“And I think the truth is that most service providers are probably doing the right thing, but there’s a minority who seem to see it as their God-given right to go after disabled people, investors, taxpayers, and they’re not — in that they are alone.”

“But if you can’t even stop a provider like the one we just explained in this story, I’d say the system is failing,” Langdon countered.

Mr Shorten claimed that the number of investigations and the people he employed had increased markedly since he took up the role.

“The other thing I have to say, Ally, and this might be a little bit against your style of journalism that I have, this argument that these cases mean that the scheme is broken, the scheme no devastated,” he said.

“Unfortunately, this great Australian tradition among an element of the community who think they have a God-given right to steal taxpayers’ money and disabled people, but that’s not the whole story.

“I appreciate your bringing these matters to light. I mean it. Because it just draws attention to the crooks. But what we also need to do is—”

“But then we can’t even stop the rogues,” Langdon interjected. “That’s the fundamental problem.”

“That’s not right, Ally,” Mr Shorten replied.

“Ally, just because tonight’s investigation didn’t convict the people on your show doesn’t mean we’re rejecting due process. One thing I won’t do is let myself be conned, Ally, just to get a quick sound here tonight.’

“No, no, wait, you did it,” he added as Langdon tried to jump back.

“You wanted me to get rid of the crooks. I get up every morning and do it. We chase it every morning.

“But what we have to do is get the budget. We have that now. Get the people. Let’s hire them. We need to get the right technology to investigate the claims. And I have to enforce the laws.

“I’m glad you’re interested in this question. But you know, before you bit me a bit, that you kept chasing me for months on the show – you interviewed me 100 times in Today show you never picked up the NDIS when you were there.

“This is not just an evening TV story for me. It’s a 24-hour passion for me.”

“Hold on. Do you want to go that way?” Langdon shot back.

“Now we talk to each other. And let’s think of the people at home who want answers about the NDIS. What we’re hearing from people writing in: It’s not fast enough. We get emails every day about the NDIS.”

“That’s fair,” Mr Shorten said.

“People come to us as a last resort because they don’t feel the system is listening to them,” Langdon concluded.

“But you know what? Actually you say. I’ve said before that I’m grateful that you’ve disclosed these things,” Mr Shorten said.

Langdon then turned to the revelation, reported on Monday, that Mr Shorten’s speechwriter was paid $310,000 a year. She framed it around the issue of “suppression of waste and fraud”.

“Is it appropriate to spend over $620,000 over two years on a speech writer?” she asked him, adding that it was a “bad look”.

“What happened, if you keep in mind today, is a kind of cheap Liberal tactic in Parliament,” Mr Shorten said.

Langdon interjected again, asking if that was a reasonable amount of money to spend on a speechwriter.

“It’s a simple question. I’m asking about a speech writer,” she said.

“The speechwriter was hired by Australia. I had no idea what kind of payment it was,” said the minister.

“So if you’re trying to hook me up with that, you know, good luck. The bottom line is that the person involved, who is a speech writer, does a very good job. I am not responsible for negotiating her contract.

“But the NDIS you got me here for – I just want to say to your viewers: I hate crooks. I helped set up the scheme. These people have no place in it.”

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