MONDAY, 26 JUNE 2017
SUBJECT/S: Support for drug and alcohol addiction; Australian Federal Police; marriage equality; Liberal Party division.
CLARE O'NEIL, SHADOW MINISTER FOR JUSTICE: Good morning everyone, my name is Clare O'Neil and I'm Labor's Shadow Minister for Justice, and I'm here with the Leader of the Opposition Bill Shorten. We've just had a fantastic tour of the facility at Turning Point here in Fitzroy.
This is an extraordinarily effective drug and alcohol counselling service. There's a call centre that's run upstairs, which is one of the few early intervention models for people in Australia who have a family member who is struggling with a drug or alcohol condition, and it was fantastic to talk to some of the workers today about what they're learning are effective techniques to help Australians deal with this incredibly important and growing national problem.
Now, I'll hand over to Bill to talk to us about some of his thoughts.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thanks Clare, and I just want to thank the staff at Turning Point for the work that they do and showing us around today. One of the things I've been doing as Opposition Leader is holding town hall meetings. I've done 40 or 50 right across Australia. But it doesn't matter if it's a big suburban town hall in one of our big cities, or a small country town - the scourge of ice and other drugs of addiction is tearing families apart. Ice or alcohol abuse or other drugs of addiction, those issues aren't going to change whose in government or not, but they're changing lives of families of the addicts and of course the communities in which these people live.
So Labor is taking this time in opposition to sit down with the experts, to talk to the frontline staff, to talk to families and see what can we do, to help people who have fallen off the rails get back on again. One of the services we hear good things about is Turning Point, that's why Clare and I have chosen to visit this today.
We know that with some strategic government assistance, we can help people who want to help themselves. I believe that it is possible, especially in our outer suburbs, and the regions of Australia, to do more to help families and individuals who are dealing with drugs of addiction, and of course I talk about ice, but not just ice. I also talk about alcohol and other drugs of addiction which are causing such tremendous harm to communities, to workplaces, to families and of course to the individuals. So we're going to keep working on this, because we think that making sure that we provide a strong safety net, and a fair go for all Australians is something which should motivate all sides of politics.
I might get Clare to talk a little bit about the Federal Police, and some of our views on this, and then get into question and answer.
O'NEIL: Thanks so much Bill, so just quick comment on the announcement today that the Australian Federal Police is going to play a role in fighting gangs in Victoria. We are pleased to see an increased level of cooperation between police federally and police in Victoria. I would just say that what we really are concerned about is the support that the Australian Federal Police are getting overall. Now we know that we have a Justice Minister in Canberra and a Prime Minister who love to shroud themselves in the Australian flag and talk about how important the Australian Federal Police are. But what we see is when they go into the Cabinet room, they cut the funding for this important organisation.
We saw in the last budget that there are $184 million being cut to this organisation over the coming four years. Over the next year, the Australian Federal Police will lose 151 staff. That's in one year alone.
So I would say to the Prime Minister, to the Justice Minister, it is great that you are putting extra responsibilities onto the Australian Federal Police, but that needs to be followed up with appropriate resourcing.
I will just make one more comment about the enterprise bargaining agreement that is being negotiated at the moment between these hardworking Australian Federal Police staff and the Government. This is a government that is talking all the time about how much it values the Australian Federal Police as an organisation. We say then, let's see you pay those staff properly.
What we are seeing is a government that is cutting $35,000 in the conditions of some Australian Federal Police officers, in fact these are the officers that provide protection to the Prime Minister himself. That is not good enough. We value these people who put their lives on the line for our safety every day, and we believe that they need to be properly resourced to do so.
SHORTEN: Thanks Clare. Are there any questions?
JOURNALIST: Just regarding Christopher Pyne, do you welcome reports that he is trying to revisit and accelerate moves towards same sex marriage?
SHORTEN: Everyone knows my view on marriage equality, I support it. I just want the issue fixed. I think It would take about five minutes for Malcolm Turnbull and I to go into Parliament and put the issue to a vote in the Parliament. I think Australians just want us to get on with it, they just want this issue fixed.
There is lots of things going on in this country and people want us to focus on them. I think most people wonder why we are still arguing about marriage equality. Parliament sits for about 20 weeks each year. That is what we are elected to do, vote on laws. We should just get on and do it, and I don't really want to comment about the internal sort of shenanigans in the Liberal Party. It is much more important we focus on the issue. But I say to Malcolm, together we can make marriage equality a reality. Let's just do that the next time Parliament meets.
JOURNALIST: So when he says, quote, "Bill Shorten doesn't care about same sex marriage" would that be wrong?
SHORTEN: No I think he is lashing out a bit there. He knows as well as I do that we both support it. I don't doubt Malcolm Turnbull supports marriage equality and I certainly do as well. We should just have a vote in Parliament. I mean, we do meet 20 weeks of the year.
I think Australians are almost over this argument, and when I say that, it doesn't mean I don't think it’s important, of course it is. We should get on and do it just have a vote. Let's not make it an issue going forward, let's just vote on it, decide it. Marriage equality should be a reality. Plenty of other countries have gone down this path and we could do it very easily.
JOURNALIST: If you want the issue resolved quickly why don't you just support the plebiscite?
SHORTEN: Well first of all, the arguments around the plebiscite were litigated and the Parliament has voted to reject that. Why do we need to have a divisive opinion poll funded by taxpayers when we are all there already?
Surely this nation could use $170 million better than trying to placate the right wing of the Liberal Party? I understand Mr Turnbull has got disagreements in his own party, but I don't think he should come out and just bag everyone else. Let's just work together.
People are sick and tired of the 'he said, she said', you know, the bickering going on in Parliament. Marriage equality is a very good example of where we can reclaim some faith in Australian politics by us just having a vote in the Parliament. It is literally as simple as that.
JOURNALIST: Tony Abbott has lashed out at the Liberal Party's left party, what do you think his plans are?
SHORTEN: I can keep up with most things, but even I can’t keep up with the internal bickering in the Liberal Party. I don't really want to comment on their internal divisions. I can though understand Mr Abbott's outrage at the boasting of his Ministers saying they never supported him.
This is another example of the circus in Canberra. People want politicians to put the national issues first, not their internal bickering, and I'd certainly put this into that category. People are sick and tired of it.
Do you know what I think people want? They don't want their penalty rates cut, they don't want to see millionaires getting tax cuts at the same time as penalty rates are being cut. They want to see the schools properly funded. They want us to govern in the interests of the people, not in their own interests, so it's certainly about time this government put the national interest first rather than their own interests.
JOURNALIST: Does this secret recording reveal that Christopher Pyne could actually be an ally of yours in their situation?
SHORTEN: Well I think there's a lot of people in the Liberal Party who just want to get on with marriage equality, but they're intimidated by the right wing of the Liberal Party. Quite genuinely, we could go into Parliament and have a free vote and we could sort this issue, and move that issue out of the way, and get on with the next issue. We don't really need to drag this issue on beyond the next election and I offer Mr Turnbull, that if there's a free vote in Parliament, we could do that in the next session of Parliament.
JOURNALIST: Will you make contact with Christopher Pyne and try and get him involved in discussions on achieving this?
SHORTEN: To be honest, if he's got a plan, and other Liberals of conscience have a plan, I'm not sure I'm necessarily going to help their plan by me saying xyz. But if there are Liberal Party members who want to have a vote for marriage equality, a free vote, I'd welcome that.
JOURNALIST: Talking about drug and alcohol, you've emphasised how much alcohol causes issues. Would Labor support more restrictions on when alcohol is served in an effort to stem issues with addiction?
SHORTEN: There's no doubt that when you talk about drugs of addiction, alcohol abuse still remains one of the major constant sources of addiction. My visit today is about what services we can offer people when they've hit rock bottom and they want to climb out of the hole that they're in. I'm interested in talking to Turning Point about what works in terms of helping people.
When you're an addict and a lot of the options in your world are closed off, and you decide to try and do better, and reconnect with your family, there's that moment - a window where people want to do better - I want to make sure that the services available then. That people who are battling their demons, battling their addiction be it alcohol, ice or some other sort of drug or substance of addiction. I'm not convinced that when people want to get out of the mess that they're in, that the services are currently there as frequently and as available as they should be. That's the focus of my visit today.
And I'm interested to hear from the people at the front line, and the people who are doing the research, what works. If we could do better, at providing a hand up for people who want to climb out of the hole of addiction, it's that timing I'm interested in getting exactly right.