The task force set up to investigate fraud in the National Disability Insurance Scheme is under-resourced and dysfunctional, a whistleblower claims.
The federal government announced the establishment of the taskforce in July 2018, saying a squad of 100 officers would be set up to target people ripping off the national disability scheme and ensure a culture of integrity around the NDIS.
The task force announced its first arrest in October of that year.
Former federal police officer John Higgins says he joined the NDIA working for the taskforce last January.
Mr Higgins said when he left the agency in September it only had “10 or 15” members to cover the entire national disability scheme.
“Most of them are based in Melbourne and most of the fraud is taking place in the western suburbs of Sydney. So you have a great expense for even the fraud investigators to actually investigate the matters, but it’s simply too much fraud for too few people,” he told a media conference on Sunday.
Mr Higgins said he suggested boosting the number of investigators to a team in each capital city with a team leader and seven or eight investigators, but was told the agency was prepared to accept “somewhere along 10 per cent as being fraud”.
The management of the fraud department was “almost dysfunctional,” he said, adding he left the organisation in frustration.
Mr Higgins called for NDIA investigators to be resourced or to put money into the AFP to create teams.
The NDIA denied it had a 10 per cent tolerance level for fraud and said it was continuing to build its capability to respond to fraud, non-compliance and dishonesty in the NDIS.
“At no stage has the NDIA agreed that the Agency’s tolerance level for fraud was 10 per cent. Any suggestion to the contrary is wrong,” it said in a statement on its website.
Disabilty support workers underpaid by $84,000
Meanwhile, a Sydney respite and care facility that deliberately underpaid two disability support workers $84,000 has been ordered to pay a hefty fine.
The operators and director of Elizabeth Cottage in Peakhurst were ordered by the Federal Circuit Court to pay $41,580 for ripping off the workers, both of whom were recent migrants at the time.
Lovely Care Pty Ltd was fined $36,000 and its director, secretary and shareholder Elizabeth Bonilla will have to pay $5,580 for their role in the underpayment.
The employees, a man from Egypt and a woman from China with limited English, were paid flat rates of as little as $200 for working 15 hour shifts in contravention of the industry award.
One employee was underpaid $54,115 and the other was underpaid $30,335.
Fair Work Ombudsman Sandra Parker, who took the matter to court in 2015 after receiving complaints from the workers, said it should serve as a warning.
“Migrant workers are some of the most vulnerable to underpayments in the community as they often have a limited understanding of workplace laws. Unfortunately some employers take advantage of this by paying them unlawfully low rates,” Ms Parker said.
“This judgement should serve as a warning to employers who would exploit migrant workers that they will get caught and face significant consequences for their actions.”
Lovely Care admitted underpaying the workers repaid them with interest shortly before the trail was due to start but Ms Bonilla denied any involvement.
The Court found last January that Ms Bonilla was involved in some of the contraventions, including that she had knowledge of the employees’ casual employment, the hours they worked, and Lovely Care’s failure to pay the full minimum ordinary time entitlements, casual loadings and other allowances.