THURSDAY, 15 DECEMBER 2016
SUBJECTS: Little Saigon Market fire & the Les Twentyman Foundation; MYEFO; AAA credit rating at risk under the Turnbull Government; Mr Turnbull’s unfair attack on pensioners; submarine contract.
TIM WATTS, FEDERAL MEMBER FOR GELLIBRAND: Good morning everyone and welcome to Footscray and Little Saigon Market behind me today. I'd like to thank Bill Shorten, the Leader of the Opposition and Les Twentyman for coming down here to speak about this event here today.
Two days ago, Footscray awoke to a tragedy unfolding behind us here today. The Little Saigon Market, the wet market, is really a part of Footscray's identity; a thriving, bustling, diverse, alive market that really gives us a sense of who we are as a community here. And when Footscray residences awoke two days ago to see that market in flames, it really tugged at our heart strings. It was a great tragedy for our community. There are a number of immediate affects coming from this fire. Firstly, there are 25 small businesses who have lost everything in the lead up to Christmas. Importantly, they have also lost everything in the lead up to the Lunar New Year celebrations that are starting in Footscray next year. The areas around where we stand today, tens of thousands of people come to Footscray in January to celebrate the East Meets West Festival, and the lack of the Little Saigon Market, the absence of that market from those celebrations will be keenly felt by everyone here in Footscray.
But of course, we also know that there is another tragedy that has unfolded with the fire at Little Saigon Market, and that's the tragic loss of the donated Christmas gifts and textbooks collected by the Les Twentyman Foundation. Just the night before this fire, I was at the awards night for the Les Twentyman Foundation's ‘Embrace Youth Leadership’ program, and I heard first hand from dozens of young men and women from Melbourne's west talking about what the Les Twentyman Foundation has done for their lives; the changes that it has helped them make, the new horizons and new futures it has opened up for them. So to go from hearing those inspiring stories the night before to waking up the next morning to see what Les has lost, I felt really acutely and that's why I am very pleased to see the community in Melbourne's west coming out in support of Les Twentyman. Coming and really digging deep to replace those lost Christmas gifts, to fund-raise to help replace those text books. My office has been open as a venue for donations of Christmas gifts all week and we've had a procession of people coming through the door, saying 'I've got some stuff for Les'. And that's the way the community has reacted and I am also really pleased that people like Bill Shorten have pulled together the broader community in Melbourne for a fundraising effort later this week.
So I'll hand over to Bill to talk a little bit about the Les Twentyman Foundation and the fundraising efforts underway. Thank you, Bill.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good morning everybody and I just want to thank Tim Watts. I heard about this devastating fire while I was in Iraq visiting our troops and Tim was on the phone as a conscientious representative of Melbourne's west saying that in amongst the fire which has hurt the small businesses, and we can see the fire-damaged buildings behind me, that Les Twentyman's operations had been severely affected. Some of the toys and textbooks which he provides disadvantaged kids and their families this Christmas had gone up in flames. I’m really pleased to, as we approach Christmas, to put politics to one side and work with Melbourne to make sure that we can help make good the damage which Les Twentyman's group have suffered.
Les Twentyman and I have known each other for about 20 years. Les Twentyman always stands up for kids who are doing it hard and their families in the Western Suburbs of Melbourne. He calls it as he sees it. He has a knack sometimes of rubbing people up the wrong way because of his fairly frank honesty, but a day like today and this week, as we head towards Christmas, Les Twentyman has been there for us, he has been there for the disadvantaged kids of the west and for families at Christmas - it is now our time to be there for him. I have seen first hand the work that his foundation does. He makes sure that young kids who might otherwise fall into a life of crime and gangs, who might miss out on the basics which we take for granted in many parts of Melbourne; he will make sure these kids get put on the right track.
We all have a chance to help Les this Christmas. I have been really pleased at the response from corporate Melbourne, people like Lindsay Fox at LinFox, Gerry Ryan from Jayco and many others, the Crown Casino and also, I have to say, the unions, digging in to help Les Twentyman be able to make sure that kids this Christmas don't miss out because of a fire.
I would like to hand over to Les to talk more about the good work he does and then we're happy to take some questions – Les.
LES TWENTYMAN: Thanks Tim and Bill.
When I first started as a youth worker some 20 - it's actually 30 odd years ago, I was finding when I was working for the city of Sunshine that kids would come into me not because they were in need of counselling, but they were in desperate poverty. They didn't have school books to go to school, and as we know, this morning's news talked about the crime rate going up, one of the things we are very proud about is that we have been able to get a lot of kids out of the gangs and back into life.
I have two youth workers who work for me at the moment that were refugees and when they came to Melbourne they couldn't speak English and they fell into the gang stuff but because of our basketball program, our back to school program and leadership programs, these kids have climbed out of the mire, gone back to University and now are working full-time for us. The most effective workers I’ve ever seen in all my time as a street worker.
The Christmas party, the second year we ran it, we had Brad Hardy who was a Brownlow Medallist played Santa Claus, which was a bit of a bonus because we didn't have to pad up the suit for Brad. Anyhow, Brad was giving out the presents and he gave one to a little 7-year-old girl who got a handbag, and she opened it up, put all of the wrapping in her bag and then went around and picked up all the other wrappings. And I said to the social worker "That young girl has a thing about tidiness" and he said "No, Les - that would be her first present ever in her life and she is just collecting, saving the moment. If her parents knew where she was, they would kidnap her and kill her". And a couple of years ago I was up doing something with Channel Nine up in Sydney near Kings Cross and this girl was working on the streets sort of waited until the cameras turned off and came over and said "When I was eight years of age and a ward of the State, you gave me my very first present".
So that's the sort of stuff, you know, she was running from a terrible situation. Her mother had been murdered by Peter Dupas and she thought he was after her as well as the police. But they're little stories. Another woman rang me last year and said that she's a single mum and she heard about the party and could she bring her 7 and 9-year-old child because normally on Christmas Day she has to pull the blinds down and lock the door so her children can't see the kids out in the street with their new bikes and so forth. So they're the sorts of people we've been helping out for 34 years.
With the education, as Tim said, he went to our leadership group. We have been running that for the past ten years [inaudible]. We've got 500 kids that used to be in gangs all playing basketball twice a week. We had nine kids last year in America on basketball scholarships.
We know how to get kids out of crime and into a positive life and the fire the other day, all that looks like it's gone up in smoke. But the amazing people of Melbourne have come together. The Williamstown footy club where I played some years ago and coached, they rang me - first to ring me. The Western Bulldogs, which is - I remember in 1989 I was part of the fight back and I said that champions get up when they can't and that's what the Bulldogs did in 1989 and of course this year won the premiership.
The champions today are the people of the western suburbs who have come together, along with Bill and Tim, to give this Christmas something special. Adversity sometimes can turn into something positive and tomorrow we ask the people who can afford it to come along to Crown and we’ve already had offers. Rodney Hogg, one of the best speakers - one of the funniest cricketers of all time has offered his services, Elliott Goblett and people like that. So, as I said, the great people of Melbourne have put their hand up again. Thank you.
SHORTEN: Are there any questions to Tim, Les or I about how we're going to help Les's group be able to provide presents for kids at Christmas?
JOURNALIST: Have you a got a sense, just with the damage bill and how it's affected services, what's actually needed to get the foundation back to how it was operating before the fire?
TWENTYMAN: We would have lost, probably about half a million dollars’ worth of books, computers and all that sort of stuff. We are currently searching desperately to find a place to set up our back to school [program], because that starts at the second week of January. I think school starts either the first day of February or the last day of January. So that's urgent - so we need a building so that we can get these books, so kids can come and get their material so they can start the 2017 school year with all the resources.
JOURNALIST: So you've got a bit of a rush before Christmas but are you anticipating there will be further fund raising needed next year?
TWENTYMAN: Yes, that's right. Some of the problems have been is that a lot of the book lists that we had also went up in flames and there's only less than a week of school left. So people are going to have to go back to the welfare coordinators at the school and get a new book list. Another thing I only heard about yesterday is there was a chemist here that runs one of the biggest methadone programs in the whole of the State. Well that's all gone up, so those desperate people there, you know, they're going to be sort of hanging pretty desperately over this. So hopefully some of the other pharmacists in the area will be able to take on that program.
JOURNALIST: Bill, if I could just ask one question on this though. How important are services like what Les provides in keeping our crime rate down, given we've just seen how horrible the crime stats are for Melbourne - they only came out an hour and 15 minutes ago, but there was a 9 per cent increase in the year to September, 30 per cent increase in car-jackings, so, I mean, how important is this work and others that do work like this?
SHORTEN: What Les does is he gives kids a long-term way out of a path into crime. The Western Suburbs, like every part of Melbourne, is a great place to raise families but there are some kids who fall through the cracks. And what Les does with his program, or his range of programs, is gives them things to do which I think alleviate boredom, give them role models, give them exposure of the potentials of a better life.
I think what Les does is an important tool in the fight against crime because what it does is it provides young people opportunities and paths to avoid going down the slippery slope, and it helps to rescue young people from the scourge of gangs. That's why this is not a political issue helping raise money for Les and his foundation, it is a community issue. Again, I congratulate the corporates, the unions, but also individuals who were so keen to help Les do the work he does.
I've seen firsthand what Les Twentyman does and it does make a difference. Just imagine on Christmas Day, if you didn't have enough money to be able to give your kids a present. That is an experience which no parent wants to experience. What Les does, through for instance the Christmas party, is he gives parents the chance to be parents again and feel they're not letting their kids down. That's a pretty fundamental human feeling which Les is providing to families.
JOURNALIST: Bill, should there be more Budget savings before MYEFO?
SHORTEN: No other questions on Les?
JOURNALIST: None from me.
SHORTEN: Listen, Mr Turnbull can do two things straightaway to help save our AAA credit rating. The first thing he can do is drop his unfunded, unnecessary $50 billion corporate tax cut to multinationals and big banks. The second thing he can do is take up Labor's sensible improvements and reforms to negative gearing tax concessions and capital gains tax concessions which are helping discourage first home owners entering the market and prioritising investors with taxpayer money getting their tenth house. Put bluntly, Malcolm Turnbull can do two things, drop the $50 billion tax cut, reform the negative gearing rules and he can add $80 billion over the next 10 years to the Budget bottom line and help save our AAA credit rating.
JOURNALIST: On that one the Treasurer is blaming Labor for putting it at risk, are you?
SHORTEN: The Liberals have now been in power for nearly four years. When will they stop blaming everybody else for their own inaction? It has been long enough for the Liberals to get a hold of the range of the economy. They just fought an election on a meaningless slogan of jobs and growth. If the Treasurer and Prime Minister want to do their day job, they can borrow Labor's ideas, drop the $50 billion tax cut to multinationals and big banks. Why is Mr Turnbull rewarding big banks over the next 10 years with a $7.5 billion tax cut at the same time as he is cutting the money to pensions? The Liberals have got their priorities all wrong and they are hopelessly out of touch.
JOURNALIST: We've already seen some market reaction to the US Federal Reserve lifting interest rates. What do you think that means for Australia?
SHORTEN: There's things that a Government can control and there are things they can't control. Realistically no Australian government can control the decisions of the US Federal Reserve. But what the Turnbull Government can do is improve the Budget bottom line and they can either do it one of two ways. They can cut Medicare, school funding and pensions. Or they cannot give $50 billion in unnecessary tax windfalls to the big banks and big companies of Australia.
It is clear to me what the choice should be.
If Mr Turnbull wants to guarantee our AAA credit rating, he can stop stubbornly defending the banks and multinationals and he can cancel the proposed $50 billion Budget give away to big companies and to big banks. At the same time Mr Turnbull could gain another $30 billion plus to the Budget bottom line by reforming the current negative gearing tax concessions which currently mean that every Saturday, when a first home buyer and their parents are going to bid for their first home, they are competing against investors purchasing their tenth house, subsidised by the taxpayer.
There's $80 billion for Mr Turnbull to pick up tomorrow, save the AAA credit rating, improve the Budget and make housing more affordable for first home buyers. That is the plan.
JOURNALIST: You mentioned unions earlier, the ACTU has been making robocalls about the changes to the pension. Do you endorse those actions? They're being called un-Australian?
SHORTEN: I think if you look at the choice about who you criticise - do you criticise the ACTU standing up for pensioners who are either partly or wholly being pushed off the aged pension? Do you stand up for them or do you stand up for the Turnbull Government who is taking pensioners and making them worse off but yet they’re going to reward big companies and millionaires with tax cuts that those people don't need?
This is the choice the Turnbull Government faces as it approaches Christmas 2016 with a Budget under pressure and our AAA credit rating under pressure.
Do you penalise the sick by cutting Medicare. Do you penalise kids and parents by not properly funding our schools. Do you penalise pensioners by partly or wholly removing them off the aged pension by changing the assets test. You could do that, or you can decide that you won't go ahead with $50 billion worth of corporate giveaway to companies who don't need the money, to multinationals who will send our taxes overseas to help their profits. You know, the choice is clear.
The Turnbull Governments has got to decide is it on the side of millionaires and large companies or is it on the side of the battler, the pensioner, the kids going to school and the people who need a well-funded Medicare system?
JOURNALIST: And are you comfortable with robocalls being made?
SHORTEN: I think on the balance of comfort, I'm not comfortable the pensioners are copping it in the neck. That Medicare's copping it in the neck. That the schools aren't being properly funded. That's what disturbs me about the Turnbull Government. If people want to call out the Turnbull Government all we see here is the Turnbull Government shooting the messenger but not having a look at why people are unhappy with them taking pensioners on 1 January partly or wholly off the pension.
JOURNALIST: There's some details about the submarine program that were leaked to the media, the Government’s had some words to say about that and whether or not it should have happened. Do you have a view?
SHORTEN: I think you always want to make sure that crucial Defence information is protected and preserved. But this whole process that the Government has had with submarines, you know, it's been a shemozzle from day one. I'm really pleased that the submarine contract finally through a lot of wrestling by Labor and other parties has forced the Coalition to build Australian submarines rather than buying them off the shelf from overseas. For me what I want to see is a government who is focused on our defence, through prioritising our defence industries. For me the test on submarines is a bit like the test I apply as we look across the scene of the Australian job markets; build Australian, buy Australian, employ Australian. That's what I want to see this Government do, get behind Australian jobs.