Thursday, November 14, 2019

Today by Paddy Manning

Go figure
The NDIS minister can rattle off stats, but he’s not convincing everyone

National Disability Insurance Scheme Minister Stuart Robert today delivered a gushing defence of his government’s handling of the world-first, “truly national endeavour”, and rattled off a stream of facts and figures from what he describes as the most “data-rich” agency in the Commonwealth. Releasing the National Disability Insurance Agency’s report for the September quarter, alongside an updated plan with six “swim lanes”, Robert insisted that the NDIS was delivering improved outcomes. At his first National Press Club address, Robert simply batted the hard questions away today: there is “zero” backlog of people waiting for access to the NDIS – although disability advocates say otherwise; the scheme is “absolutely fully funded”, and there is no $4.6 billion underspend; and its chief executive, Martin Hoffman – whose salary and past social media posts have stirred controversy recently – is “an extraordinary Australian”. All good then? Hardly.

Speaking to the ABC afterwards, Romola Hollywood, director of policy and advocacy at peak body People with Disability Australia, described the minister’s six-point plan as “a really good start”. Except, she pointed out, that the NDIS is now more than five years old, and the problems that Robert is now purporting to address have been highlighted constantly by disability advocates. “We would’ve liked to see an announcement regarding removing the staffing cap for the National Disability Insurance Agency, and greater training of staff regarding disability rights,” she said. On the government’s claim that there was now no waiting list for people to access the NDIS, Hollywood was blunt: “That isn’t our experience.” Many people are struggling, she said, and there are too many barriers to accessing the scheme – particularly for people of an Indigenous or ethnically and culturally diverse background.

When it came time for questions at the National Press Club today, Robert was surprisingly brittle. Take his defence of his friend, NDIA chief Hoffman, who has been awarded a controversial [$] $160,000 pay rise, taking his total remuneration to $720,000, and who was the subject of a Labor grilling [$] in estimates this week over pro-Trump tweets. Robert said he had “absolute confidence” in Hoffman, singing his praises as a senior bureaucrat who’d served both sides of politics, and saying he had a right to tweet whatever he liked before he was reappointed to the public service. “I actually believe in freedom of speech,” said Robert. (This might put him at odds with the prime minister, who is trying to work out how to implement his anti-democratic crackdown on so-called secondary boycotts by activist consumers and investors.)

Similarly, Robert deflected questions about the governance of the NDIA, including revelations in The Saturday Paper that NDIA chair Helen Nugent was doing agency business using her Macquarie Bank email account. A combative Robert pointed out that the very first set of board minutes sent out by the NDIA under Labor were all sent to private email accounts. Still, he’d moved to ensure everybody would now use an official NDIA email address. Robert got into a fruitless argument with ABC reporter Stephanie Dalzell about why a 49-page report on NDIS waiting times, obtained through freedom of information, had been so heavily redacted, and tried blatantly to duck a question from Guardian Australia’s Paul Karp about the legality of robodebt. It was not a convincing performance.

Everyone wants the NDIS to succeed, and Robert himself concedes it has not lived up to the high expectations. Robert was most persuasive today when he said he and the PM agreed the NDIS had to have bipartisan support, and be above the rough-and-tumble of politics. “You won’t find me going after Mr Shorten or the Labor Party on this issue,” Robert said. Even taking him at face value on this, Robert still has to be accountable, and that means answering the hard questions.  

“We’re here today to talk about the current bushfire emergency gripping Australia, but underlying that is a climate emergency. We’ve been trying to call on the prime minister and the government since April this year to meet, because we could see what was happening … We wanted to give the government information on what was likely to occur, and what needed to be done to better protect people from climate change–driven extreme weather events … This government fundamentally doesn’t like talking about climate change.”

Former NSW Fire and Rescue chief Greg Mullins, speaking on behalf of the Emergency Leaders for Climate Action.

“I don’t think that’s the issue, is it?”

Billionaire Kerry Stokes, executive chair of media and resources conglomerate Seven Group, after the company’s annual meeting, when asked whether the government was doing enough on climate change in light of the bushfires.

ASIO officers broke law on warrant
We don’t know what exactly happened or what ASIO was investigating; those details are secret. We do know that early last year the spy agency broke the law while conducting an operation.


The number of days it took NT Police to charge Constable Zach Rolfe with murder over the shooting death of Kumanjayi Walker in Yuendumu on Saturday. Rolfe will plead not guilty.

“Any transitory person who is brought to Australia for a temporary purpose must be detained whilst in Australia. That detention must continue until the time of the person’s removal from Australia or until the person is granted a visa.”

The Independent Health Advice Panel, in its quarterly report tabled in the Senate overnight, contradicts claims by Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton that medevac transferees to Australia can’t be detained or returned to PNG or Nauru.

The list

“As in Alan J. Pakula’s 1976 Watergate film, All the President’s Men, The Report interpolates real news clips of US politicians into its fictionalised version of events, but it lacks Pakula’s sense of American governance as a bottomless murk of self-interest and corruption. Though a good deal of the action takes place inside basements and bunkers, the moral trajectory of Burns’s film is always headed towards the disinfectant of sunlight.”

“Here we are six months after the federal election and upon swaths of citizens it has dawned that they have bought tickets to a flop. If it’s cringeworthy now, imagine another two-and-a-half years of this clapped-out music-hall routine.”

“How similar are Morrison’s Quiet Australians to Howard’s battlers and Menzies’ Forgotten People? … Each is implicitly contrasted with noisy minorities who get all the attention. Quiet, ignored, forgotten: the message is the same.”

Paddy Manning

Paddy Manning is contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly and has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is also the author of three books, including a recently updated unauthorised biography of Malcolm Turnbull, Born To Rule?


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