The federal minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), Bill Shorten, has said he is deeply concerned about allegations criminal gangs are stealing millions of dollars from the government’s disability scheme.
The allegations were made by the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission Chief Michael Phelan to the Sydney Morning Herald on Aug. 14. Phelan is calling for the creation of a specialised multi-agency taskforce to tackle organised crime gangs using coercion and other criminal tactics such as accessing the accounts to steal an estimated 20 percent of the NDIS’s annual national $30 billion cost.
Speaking to ABC Radio National on Aug. 15, Shorten said that he had been worried about the issue for the last couple of years while he held the shadow ministry for the Scheme, although he noted his estimates of the rorting were much smaller at around five percent.
“I think there is a problem. I said it before the election, and since the election, I’ve started alerting colleagues, pushing the agency, talking to state ministers about the need for government agencies to work together to combat the scourge of fraud,” said Shorten.
Shorten revealed he saw up to three potential avenues for the system to be taken advantage of, including organised criminal gangs, ghosting (false invoices and false clients) and then padding of invoices by those who work with the Scheme.
“So I think there’s a range of different ways,” Shorten said. “And the other thing is, whilst it’s not fraud in the sort of crime gang sense is, just people overcharging for services, full stop. And I just- you know, don’t rip off a person with a disability on the Scheme just because you think it’s taxpayer money. It’s actually scarce services going to people who desperately need them.”
The minister signalled that he would be examining the Scheme fraud investigative services to see if the existing levels of resources are adequate.
“If we need more resources, we’re going to have to find them. Because frankly, it’ll pay for itself. If we can stop some of the money being ripped off and we spend instead greater resources on fraud detection, it means that we still have a better, sustainable scheme, and people with disabilities are getting those extra hours of therapy or support or home modification, which at the moment these crooks are denying them,” he said.
This is not the first time there have been accounts of rorts in the disability insurance scheme, with the Australian Federal Police (AFP) arresting and charging a man in June on suspicion of defrauding the Scheme.
According to a media release from Shorten, it is alleged that the man received more than $430,000 in NDIS payments during a five-month period to April, of which more than $314,000 has been identified as being fraudulently claimed.
“This action taken by the NDIA’s fraud team is evidence that this Government won’t allow our participants’ funding to be the target of any criminal activity,” Shorten said in June.
“I am very concerned there is fraudulent transactions taking place by organised crime, and we remain committed to protecting participants and the scheme from criminals.”
The NDIS was established in 2011 by the Labor government of Prime Minister Julia Gillard after an inquiry into disability services in Australia by the Productivity Commission recommended the development of such a scheme to support Australians who suffered permanent and significant disabilities.