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ABSTAINED – Motions — National Disability Insurance Scheme

Paul Fletcher

I move:

That so much of the standing and sessional orders be suspended as would prevent the Manager of Opposition Business from moving the following motion forthwith:

That the Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme be required to come into the House immediately and withdraw his factually incorrect claims about the issue of media releases concerning the NDIS and fraud under the previous coalition government, and apologise for misleading the House.

This is urgent, because what we have seen is the most cynical and deliberate misleading of this House. I'm going to ask my colleague to—

Milton Dick

Manager of Opposition Business, please resume your seat for a moment. The Leader of the House?

Tony Burke

On a point of order. The word 'deliberate' was just used. It is not possible for that word to be used during a suspension motion. That is highly disorderly and should be withdrawn and ought not be said again during the suspension debate.

Milton Dick

I'll get the manager to withdraw that word and ensure that that's not used—deliberate.

Paul Fletcher

I am happy to withdraw the word 'deliberate'. Let's just remind the House what was said by the minister for the NDIS. He made the factually incorrect claim that none of the seven ministers for the NDIS under the previous coalition government had issued a media release in relation to fraud. He went on to emphasise that statement with the use of words like 'zip' and 'nada', but what he said was completely, factually incorrect.

I want to make the point that on 18 October 2018 a media release was issued by the now Leader of the Opposition, together with me, then Minister for Families and Social Services, and the minister with responsibility for the NDIS at that time, headed 'NDIS taskforce makes first arrest'. It read:

The Coalition Government established the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) Fraud Taskforce in July to tackle potential fraud against the NDIS.

Today we can announce that the Taskforce has made a significant arrest.

That was not a one-off. That was not the only media release issued over a period in which a number of coalition ministers had responsibility for the NDIS. For example, on 22 April 2021, a media release was issued by the then Minister for Home Affairs and the then Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme. That media release was headed 'Morrison government moves to protect NDIS from organised crime'. It read:

Operation Pegasus is a months-long NDIS Fraud Taskforce investigation into an alleged criminal syndicate …

It was an investigation being carried out in relation to alleged fraud against the NDIS, and a media release was issued by two coalition ministers, including the coalition minister then responsible for the NDIS. On 31 July 2021, a media release headered 'Extended crackdown on NDIS fraud' with the then Minister for the NDIS Senator Reynolds said:

The National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) is extending the NDIS Fraud Taskforce …

We had a media release on 15 November 2021, which said:

More than $10 million of incorrect or non-compliant payments from National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) providers has been identified since July.

The media release spoke of the specialist National Disability Insurance Agency Compliance Response Team. Then, of course, there was a media release on 7 December 2021—again, a joint release between the then Minister for Home Affairs and the then minister with responsibility for the NDIS reporting:

… the Australian Federal Police (AFP) executed search warrants across three premises—

working jointly with the National Disability Insurance Agency fraud team. That is just a handful, a sample, of the releases that were issued by coalition ministers in relation to fraud and the National Disability Insurance Scheme and the National Disability Insurance Agency.

I inform the House of that to allow the House to then consider the accuracy of the statement that was made by the Minister for the NDIS some 30 or 40 minutes ago here in this place in question time. He had this to say:

I went through my file about when did the ministers of the government start talking about fraud. I went through all of the seven coalition ministers for the NDIS. They never put out one press release on challenging or detecting fraud, not one—zip, nada—

Dan Tehan


Paul Fletcher

The Hansard says 'milch', but I think it might be 'zilch'. That statement is completely incorrect. It is entirely incorrect. It's not something that he just made up on the fly. He told us he prepared for this. He told us that he'd gone through his files.

Angus Taylor

His speechwriter has been working at it!

Paul Fletcher

He may well have had the assistance of his $620,000 speechwriter in preparing those remarks, which he has just made in this House!

The fact is that the member for Maribyrnong has form in being highly misleading. The workers of Chiquita Mushrooms, for example, thought that he was acting, in an unqualified way, in their best interests when he was the secretary of the Australian Workers Union. But, in fact, we know that there was a deal done under which Chiquita Mushrooms workers, represented by the AWU, ended up with terms that were not as good as many other workers'. There were unusual payments to the union. The union received a $4,000 payment per month over six months in return for what the union, then led by the current member for Maribyrnong, claimed was for health and safety training.

The fact is that it may be the case that the member for Maribyrnong is used to operating in environments where he could get away with making statements that are entirely factually wrong and, by consequence, make claims against individuals and indeed people who have had significant positions of responsibility in this nation which are entirely factually incorrect. He may be used to working in environments where he's able to do that. But this is not such an environment.

If you make a statement in this place which is clearly demonstrably and factually wrong, and if you make that statement and preface it with clear evidence that you have prepared making that statement and that you've gone through your files, you can hardly then say, 'It was an accident; I somehow managed to miss the five media releases—' which I was able to find with the assistance of my hardworking staff and other hardworking coalition staff in about 15 minutes. Five media releases—there may very well be more. We haven't found just one that proved that what he said was factually incorrect. We haven't found just two. We haven't found three. We found five in literally a few minutes. I doubt there has been, certainly in this term of parliament and perhaps for a very long time, such an exercise in making a statement which is clearly untrue and which is clearly calculated to provide political advantage.

What the minister was seeking to do was position himself as some kind of holder of virtue on this matter as the person who has solely twigged to the fact that there may be a risk of fraud. He should have twigged to this a very long ago, because he was the genius who created this in the first place. Every one of those coalition ministers worked very hard to try and clean up the mess he created. In the two years that he has been in government, he has done very little about it. The best he can do is make statements which are entirely factually incorrect about the record of coalition ministers. So this minister needs to return and apologise.

Milton Dick

Is the motion seconded?

Michael McCormack

The motion is absolutely seconded. The suspension of standing and sessional orders is very important because we now have one hour and 15 minutes left of parliament this week and it's so important that the member for Maribyrnong, the Minister for the NDIS, responsible for one of the most important parts of government, comes back into this chamber and explain why he has, accidentally or otherwise, misled the House on this very important issue.

He cannot have gone through his files and found that the coalition, when in government, did nothing about fraud in this important space. To say otherwise is to malign those very good, hardworking ministers of the coalition who did absolutely everything to make sure that any fraudulent activity was not only addressed but brought to heel by the then government. The member for Maribyrnong has been here since 2007. He knows better than to go to that dispatch box and suggest that something otherwise was done. Indeed, we put in place measures to absolutely crack down on fraudulent activity. You heard from the member for Bradfield, who feels slighted by the fact that something else was suggested, that the member for McPherson produced a media release that absolutely said that not only were we cracking down on fraudulent activity but there was a fellow who was arrested for that very thing.

Milton Dick

Order! Member for Hasluck, it doesn't help to have continual interjections.

Michael McCormack

Sont les mots qui vont tres bien ensemble—maybe he's thinking of adventures in gay Paris! Maybe his speechwriter has suggested otherwise and he has his mind on other things, maybe ambassadorial roles. But he knows better than to go to that dispatch box in question time, where the truth is important. The truth is important. When you are a minister, you have to tell the truth. Whether it was an accident or otherwise, we do believe he has absolutely misled this House. It's important that he has an hour and 12 minutes to come back into this chamber. The House Practice absolutely demands he do so. We are requesting that he does so. Convention of the Westminster system absolutely makes it crystal clear that he should come back into this House and explain himself, come back into this House and admit that he was wrong. It's not hard to say you were wrong. It's up to him to say that he was wrong. He knows that he was wrong. He can't suggest that the coalition never put out a media release and his file suggested there were no media releases, because we know and have proven in these statements that the actual fact was otherwise. It is absolutely plain as day. The member for McPherson, the then home affairs minister said:

All Australians suffer when public money is defrauded. That's why this Government—

the coalition government—

is serious about taking strong action to protect against fraud.

It's rather damning to suggest that the coalition when in government did not do anything about fraud in the NDIS space. The minister, the former opposition leader who led Labor to the 2016 and 2019 elections—not quite sure how that went for him!—is very senior. He's been in this place as the member for Maribyrnong since 2007. It's incumbent upon him to come back into this chamber, explain himself, admit that he got it wrong and admit that perhaps that speechwriter to whom we're paying $600,000 worth of taxpayers' money got it wrong. Somebody got it wrong, but the buck stops with him because he was the one who said it. He was the one who erroneously claimed that the now opposition—the then government—did nothing to crack down on fraud in the NDIS. We did, and we've had minister after minister say that very thing. We've got the media releases.

I hear the member for Watson. We've proven it. We can table those media releases, obviously. The member for Maribyrnong says he hasn't got them in his files, but he would have. He only had to ask his department and they would've produced them. To suggest anything else is breaching convention. It is breaching the Westminster system. It is breaching House of Representatives Practice and it's breaching the good grace of this parliament, where truth is important.

Labor came to office in May 2022 and they said, 'We will restore integrity. We'll let the sunshine in. We'll be transparent.' This minister, today, has not been any of those things, and it's up to him to come back into this chamber now, and if the member for Watson, or whoever is following me in the speech, has even an absolutely slight consideration of how important House Practice is, how important the Westminster system is—and here he is, thankfully! Hopefully, he's going to make that truth be accountable.

Long debate text truncated.


Date and time: 4:05 PM on 2024-06-06
Allegra Spender's vote: Abstained
Total number of "aye" votes: 52
Total number of "no" votes: 70
Total number of abstentions: 29

Adapted from information made available by

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