MONDAY, 12 NOVEMBER 2018
SUBJECTS: Morrison Government’s $323,000 cut to Foodbank Australia; food insecurity in Australia; Bourke Street tragedy; National Security; Free Trade Agreement; Asylum Seekers.
TIM WATTS, FEDERAL MEMBER FOR GELLIBRAND: Good morning, my name is Tim Watts. I'm the Federal Member for Gellibrand in Melbourne's West. I want to thank Brianna Casey for welcoming Bill Shorten and I to the Foodbank facility here in Yarraville in Melbourne's West. Now, Foodbank isn't just the incredible facilities and the dedicated people that you see working around us. It's a national network of thousands of businesses and Australian community groups working together to build a logistics change - logistics chain that delivered 700,000 Australians with food relief and last year.
Unfortunately the call for Foodbank services is only growing. Research by Foodbank found last year, four million Australians experienced food insecurity at some point the last 12 months, they didn't know where their next meal was coming from. And the sad reality is, is that more and more of these people are working Australians, Australians who are in a job - the working poor. Unfortunately in Australia today the cost of living just keeps on increasing, and wages just aren't keeping up. That's why it's incredible to me that Scott Morrison can have ignored this need, can have disregarded this critically important national network by announcing hundreds of thousands of dollars of funding cuts to Foodbank, immediately before Christmas. It's just more of the same out of touch cuts that we saw from Scott Morrison as Treasurer.
I call on Scott Morrison to immediately reverse these out of touch cuts, and I welcome Bill Shorten for coming to Yarraville in Melbourne's West, for standing up for a fair go for all Australians, for an economy that works for all Australians, not just the top end of town. So thanks for coming out here to Yarraville Bill.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: No worries Tim, and it's great to be here with Tim Watts, the local Federal Member for Gellibrand and also Brianna Casey, CEO of Foodbank in Australia. I'm here today because the Morrison Government has made an unfair, mean and foolish decision to cut nearly half the funding to Foodbank Australia. What Foodbank Australia does, is it supplies meals for about 710,000 Aussies every month. About 183,000 Aussie kids depend for their food, on Foodbank.
What the government has decided to do, is to take the money which has been given to Foodbank and give it to someone else. I think this is a really unfair decision. Foodbank is doing a really good job, they're literally feeding the hungriest and disadvantaged Australians. Increasingly though in 2018, some of the people who rely upon Foodbank are people who go to work. But the problem is this government doesn't have a plan to do anything about energy prices, wages growth has been hopeless, if you're on Newstart that's very low. So Foodbank, the food here, the meals for schools programs does make a real difference.
This organisation actually doesn't take a lot of money from the Federal Government. It is supported by the farmers, it's supported by growers, it's supported by food manufacturers, it is supported and works with charities, it works with schools. But they do require a little bit of strategic funding from the government to make sure that the key staples you know, rice, pasta - things which Australians take for granted, to make sure that they can get some key staples. What they do is, they especially get it manufactured at very low rates, very low costs by the food manufacturers, just to make sure that in every food hamper the kids and the adults are getting the right balance of food. So when the Government takes $323,000 and only leaves the organisation with barely over $400,000 dollars a year, this is fatal to the provision of key staples in the diets of Aussies who are doing it hard. You see the shelf behind me? They're only half full now. If this government cut goes through they'll be empty. This is a disaster.
I say to Mr Morrison, your government never fails to surprise me. But even this change, this cut is really, really, really mean and foolish. I say to Mr Morrison, please don't be stubborn on this one. The wrong call has been made. You don't need to have a review, you don't need to pay a consultant a lot of money, just pay the $323,000 to Foodbank annually. You could find $444 million for a Barrier Reef Foundation that didn't even ask for the money, you were prepared to give $17 million to big banks, why not give $323,000 to the Foodbank. I'd now like to ask Brianna Casey to talk a bit further about what this means and why this is just a really bad idea.
BRIANNA CASEY, CEO, FOODBANK AUSTRALIA: Thank you Bill, and thank you for your representations to the Prime Minister and the Social Services Minister. We are absolutely shocked by this decision. Six weeks out from Christmas, in the middle of a drought, on the cusp of summer, we have had our funding substantially cut, in fact almost halved. We are assisting 710,000 Australians each and every month, and our ability to keep doing so has now been compromised. I'm a mum, that is not okay to do to children right here in the lucky country. We have got one in five Australian children at some point throughout the year, affected by food insecurity, and I'm proud of the role that Foodbank plays in assisting them. Why wouldn't we be given the funds necessary to keep that going, to make sure that we can keep assisting these families.
It is a mean spirited decision, but hopefully an accidental decision. I call on the Prime Minister to reverse this decision. I call on the Prime Minister to find the funds necessary to keep our Foodbank trucks on the road, to know that when the next bushfire happens, the next flood happens, the next natural disaster happens in this country, we can keep doing what we're doing. 40 per cent of our national food relief volume goes to the bush. The National Farmers Federation is worried about this decision, the Australian Food and Grocery Council is worried about this decision, the Council of Social Services is worried about this decision - I am worried about this decision. I meet the mums and dads who rely on Foodbank to feed their children, and I can't defend this decision - it wasn't my decision. I call on you Prime Minister, please reverse this decision. We need the funds, we need to keep assisting hungry Australians, we need to keep doing what we do best at Foodbank Australia, and that is fighting hunger in Australia. Thank you.
SHORTEN: Thanks very much, and just to be very clear, I hope Mr Morrison has the character to reverse this decision today. Labor will fix the decision, but the election is probably not for another 22 or 26 weeks. In the meantime a lot of Aussie families are going to do it hard. This is so easy to fix, this decision, it should be done straight away.
JOURNALIST: Just a quick question to Brianna if I may? What are the other charities that received the money that you've lost? Second Bite says they're actually happy with the funding allocation, saying that it was a fully open and transparent process. So why do you think your application didn't succeed in getting it fully restored?
CASEY: I think the issue we have here, is the total funding envelope has not changed over a period of years, and this is in the face of food insecurity rising year on year. So we're now in a situation where we're assisting more people than ever before, and splitting those rare and very minor funds across more organisations makes it even tougher. The challenge we have is that we are the only food relief organisation to be manufacturing food, and I'm not questioning for a moment the merits of funding food relief organisations, we all need to do more. We're turning people away because we haven't got enough food, so why turn away the one organisation that can manufacture the key staple products that those hungry Australians need?
JOURNALIST: So why do you think you, your organisation then missed out on that funding? What was it about your application that they did better according to the criteria?
CASEY: We'd love to know. From our perspective the first I heard was when the Minister's office rang asking for a quote welcoming this funding. So I've not had an explanation. I don't know what we did wrong, because year on year on year we keep delivering, and we keep delivering better and better results for the government. In fact if we look at the social return on investment that we have provided as an organisation, just in the last 12 months we delivered an $850 million social return on investment through the food relief activities that we conducted. If there is a better investment out there I'd like to hear about it, and maybe we're being punished for our efficiency.
JOURNALIST: You in February called for $10.5 million over three years, is this even a drop in the ocean towards that?
CASEY: I think it is laughable the amount of federal government funding that goes into food insecurity in this country. We have got a massive problem in this country. We are not doing enough. We have been at pains to call on the government for a whole of government food security strategy. We have a whole of government food waste strategy and that's terrific, but it doesn't solve hunger. This is as relevant to regional development, to agriculture, to education, to health, as it is to social services. We need to drop the stigma and assume that being hungry in Australia is about a social services problem alone, and providing a social services outcome is so much more than that. It needs a whole of government response, it needs long term funding to match the long term demand that's out there. We're not getting that. We are getting band aids over gaping wounds.
JOURNALIST: Quick question, and you just said you would restore the funding to Foodbank, but do the other charities who got funding in this - increased funding in this deal, do they keep that funding as well? Would you increase the envelope?
SHORTEN: I think this nation is rich and generous enough to find an additional $323,000. I mean look at what this government spends money on. They've spent three years fighting in the trenches to give the big banks a $17 billion tax cut. They really can't find enough money to help feed 710,000 people? And you know, if the best that the Morrison government can do is say well, we want to take some of the money from one food relief organisation and give it to another food relief organisation, you know, I think that's a joke. I think the fact of the matter is, we need to do more to help feed the hungry in this country, and I think most Australians would agree. I encourage most Australians to contact the Prime Minister's office to say, you know stop being so out of touch, this is a mean decision. I think we just need to say enough is enough. This government wastes money left right and centre, but when you've got genuinely needy and hungry people - what Brianna was explaining to me is that, when a cyclone hits they contact Foodbank to make sure in advance that there's food there available. They've just taken 10,000 food hampers to drought affected parts of Australia. They feed here - they've got a schools program which goes to nearly 2,000 schools, 500 alone in Victoria. If kids can't get a square meal at the start of the day, then that really interferes with their ability to learn. This government shouldn't hide behind bureaucratic speak, or economic rationality, or competition theory, they should just say we got this one wrong. I think this is a test of Mr Morrison's character, he ought to reverse these cuts and he ought to reverse them now.
JOURNALIST: On the issue of Bourke Street, there's been a lot of talk about the Muslim community and other religious leaders needing to do more to identify this problem when it emerges. But we know that Shire Ali was known to authorities in 2015, he was well and truly on ASIO's kind of, monitor yet they weren't actively monitoring him. How much do you see that this is a failure on their behalf not to be actively monitoring someone who is deemed too dangerous to fly overseas, yet we're not actively keeping watch of him here, and his connections as well to other accused terrorists?
SHORTEN: I've lived in Melbourne my whole life. I'm like most Melburnians at some point I'd have walked past the Commonwealth Bank building and Bourke Street where this tragic event took place. So I think most Melburnians and most Australians want to know how can this happen. And then we get into an argument - whose fault is it. I'm not going to start second guessing the security agencies, there will be a coronial inquest. That is the appropriate body to see what lessons there are to be learned. The broader issue is can we all do better? Yes we can. But I'm not just going to single out one religious community and say it's all on to them. I completely repudiate the violent Islamic extremist message. I totally work with the government about that matter. But what I'm not going to do is lump everyone of that faith into one basket. There are radicalised troublemakers. We need to make sure the security agencies have got the resources they need. But what we need to do is we need to see what's happened, see if there are lessons to be learned as you've said, but let's do it through the appropriate processes.
I've deliberately pursued a strategy of bipartisanship. That's a fancy word for saying Liberal and Labor working together. That doesn't mean we always agree with the Government on the fine print of every one of their ideas, but it is worth recognising and I say this to Australians, that while I've been in charge of the Labor Party we have worked with the government on no less than 10 sets of updates of the laws. Ten times the government's come to us and said well we need to update or change our laws and we've worked with them. Sometimes we've improved it, but we've always got to the right outcome. I want to reassure Australians I don't see what happened on Friday as anything other than an evil, terrible, tragedy and we've got to make sure that we can do better, provide the resources, and at a time like this and I know I speak for lots of Melbournians, lots of parents I've spoken to, lots of people who work in the city, we just stick together.
JOURNALIST: How much do you see what happened as an issue of mental health and substance abuse? It's an ongoing narrative for these lone wolf attacks that they are dealing with mental health issues or drug abuse. How much do you see is it as that is the problem as opposed to religious extremism?
SHORTEN: Well again I don't know all the facts in this case, and I know when something tragic and evil happens like this, people want immediate explanations to make sense of it. I was having to explain to my kids what it all meant, but we simply don't know everything yet. Now that's not hiding behind that but we've got a process to investigate it. In terms of general features, I've got no doubt there is an element of mental illness. Someone who's mentally ill does these things or you know, sorry someone who may have mental illness would potentially - that's what's happened here. But I'm not also going to excuse a violent extremist message. You know, you can try and explain what's happened but there is no good excuse why it happened.
JOURNALIST: We had the Home Affairs Minister today again come out hard on the Judiciary here in Victoria, not doing their job -
SHORTEN: oh Peter Dutton.
JOURNALIST: Do we have a serious issue here with the legal system?
SHORTEN: Listen, I'm not going to respond to every comment of Peter Dutton's. Again, he knows better than most that what you do in times like this is you pull together. But there he goes again wanting to blame this or that and get people riled up about something. You've got to have appropriate sentences and the sentences have got to be meaningful I get that, so you know that's a logical point. But again I’m not going to blame the whole of the Islamic community, I'm not going to blame ASIO, I'm not going to blame the judges. If we can do things better, we should. But the sort of Prime Minister I want to be is to bring people together as we work through it, I'm not interested in anyone making excuses, you can't condone the evil tragedy which happened on Friday afternoon. I'm very grateful to the work of the Victoria Police. I did say to the police officers who I met when I visited the site, that our operational frontline police are owed a debt of gratitude by Victorians. That young police officer, relatively new out of training you know, thank goodness he was there. So I'm only grateful to our police in this context. I'm also grateful to the bystanders. I know some bystanders may want to take photos, but others wanted to help, and I just say to those who wanted to help thank you very much.
If it was one of my kids caught up in that - I'm grateful to the police and to the bystanders who didn't walk past.
JOURNLAIST: Does Victoria's legal system actually need change though, because we're seeing these repeat offences and the commentary is falling in a similar nature. Do we need a change in the Victorian legal system.
SHORTEN: I don't know what change Mr Dutton's proposing, it sounds like he wants a headline. If there's a sensible policy proposition he's got to make, by all means we'll listen to it. I'm not going to politicise this issue. I think Australians can smell when someone is trying to play just overt politics on this tragedy. Doesn't mean there aren't lessons to learn, doesn't mean that Mr Dutton doesn't have points to make like other people. But I just think we work best when we work together - don't make excuses for the evil, but we work together.
JOURNALIST: And in regards to encrypted messages, that's been about the point of contention that police can't access what's going on in these conversations. Is it something you would support changing through parliament?
SHORTEN: Well currently the relevant Parliamentary Committee is looking at it, and before people think oh you know that's just more bureaucratic doublespeak, what we do when there are security laws which the government think - or the experts think need upgrading, is we go through the Parliamentary processes. As I said in an answer to an earlier question, Labor has worked with the Liberals on no less than ten sets of laws they've wanted to update. So I get that the government or individual Ministers may be wanting to sort of, have a little headline. But the real issue here is that I've practiced bipartisanship, but of course having updated - the government has come to me on no less than 10 times and said oh actually we need to change something. This is the process we do, we examine it, Mr Dutton knows that.
JOURNALIST: The Prime Minister says there's no plans to sign the Free Trade Agreement with Indonesia this week, despite saying there are no further negotiations needed. Is this proof that the embassy issue actually effected relations?
SHORTEN: Well you know I'd like to see the agreement advance, that's where I'm coming from. I've got no doubt though that Mr Morrison made a shocking advertising man's error by assuming the spin was more important than the substance, when he just sort of, let off an idea the week before the by-election. He said we should move the embassy from where it is in Israel to Jerusalem. That is a provocative decision. You're not saying never but you've got to work through that issue. Mr Morrison did it to chase the votes of some of the voters in Wentworth, who he thought would like that idea. The problem is he did it just for domestic political reasons. It was hopelessly cynical and superficial. Now of course having done it, the Indonesians have a different view. I don't think you should move the embassy, I think it's a bad idea, not because the Indonesians say it's a bad idea, but because it was a rushed, cynical bad idea. Now of course we've got to sort of, get things back on track with our neighbours. I mean if you want to make a decision you can't always keep your neighbours happy, but it would have been better perhaps for them to have been spoken to and advised earlier than reading it in the paper, or getting a text message from the Prime Minister. So listen, I say to Mr Morrison please don't be stubborn on this. Do not confuse stubbornness with leadership. The call is wrong, just back down say okay we got that one wrong let's move on.
JOURNALIST: Quick question in NSW. Do you think Luke Foley should sit on the crossbench?
SHORTEN: That will be a matter for NSW Labor. I said on Friday and indeed Thursday night that you know, the behaviour which was complained of was completely improper, inappropriate, totally unacceptable. My main focus in anything I've said publically has been to ensure there's support for the woman journalist who was at the centre of this problem, and I said out of respect I wouldn't be saying anymore and I won't.
JOURNALIST: It still affects the Labor band though which you also represent.
SHORTEN: I'm not going to comment any further on it.
JOURNALIST: What do you think about our Premier Daniel Andrews down here actually finally releasing the memorandum of understanding with China.
SHORTEN: I wasn't surprised that he did release it, and I think it was much hyped in terms of the Liberal conspiracy theories, and now they're going to have to go back to talking about hospitals and schools and public transport in Victoria.
JOURNALIST: Do you think it's something that he should have been able to organise with China though?
SHORTEN: Listen, this government it's - Premiers on both sides of politics have been taking delegations to China, trying to interest investment in their particular part of Australia. I think that is the normal day to day work of state politicians.
JOURNLAIST: Should refugee children from Nauru who are already in Australia for medical treatment be able to stay here permanently?
SHORTEN: I think that we need to see what the advice from their treating medical staff is. I mean again, why don't we just take the New Zealand option, they're happy to take the American option. I just think again there is a pattern emerging in this government of stubbornness, they're just - sometimes there's nothing wrong with compromising. We want to deter the boats and stop them starting again so that people don't take unsafe sea voyages and drown at sea. We want to make sure that we have control over our approach on immigration, we support that. But that shouldn't be at the price of indefinite detention. The sooner the government resettles people from Manus and Nauru in third party countries the better, and in the meantime where medical treatment is required by people in our care, they should get it. Alright everybody, thanks.