THE HON TANYA PLIBERSEK MP
DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION
SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT
MEMBER FOR SYDNEY
WEDNESDAY, 6 AUGUST 2014
Subject/s: Homeless Persons’ Week; Youth Connections; Budget Cuts; Anti-Terrorism Legislation; Surrogacy; 18C RDA
TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY OPPOSITION LEADER: I'm here with Peter Sutcliffe and Josh Field from the Salvation Army and I am also here with Penny Sharpe and Edwina Lloyd, who are two candidates for our State election. I wanted to talk to you this week, during Homeless Persons Week, about this fantastic service at the Oasis Youth Centre, run by the Salvation Army. This is a terrific service I know that for a fact. My office was across the road for many years and I spent a lot of time in this service. It provides accommodation for homeless young people but it provides something more than accommodation. It provides this education facility, this school that we're standing in right now. This classroom where young people who are staying here and other young people from the area are able to get an education. One of the most important things about Homeless Persons’ week is understanding that there's more to ending homeless than just putting a roof over a person’s head. What we see if we take a simple approach to homelessness is that people cycle through homeless facilities. You can put a roof over their heads but 6 months later they're on the streets again. What we need to aim to do as a community is end homelessness for a person. Give them the life skills, the opportunities, to move permanently out of homelessness and one of the most critical things that we can do is make sure that young people have an education and have a job because the surest way permanently out of homelessness is to get a job. Unfortunately, in the most recent Federal Budget, three youth education programs have been cut. They've already been cut but the Government has an opportunity to reverse that decision. The three programs are Youth Connections, Partnership Brokers and National Career Advice. These three programs are aimed at getting young people into the education and training they need to get a job and then getting them work. Youth Connections, the program that funds this school that we're standing in today, has been a fantastically successful program. It's helped more than 100,000 people already and 80 per cent of people who go through Youth Connections are still in work or training 18 months later. The average cost of putting a young person through a Youth Connections program is just over $2000. So you think about the difference between investing in getting someone an education and getting them into the workforce and getting them permanently out of homelessness compared with just paying for them to remain homeless. Paying for them to stay in facilities like this or, unfortunately, even worse, end up homeless, end up in hospital, end up in prison. Youth Connections works, it’s cost effective and it makes absolutely no sense when the Government's talking about reducing unemployment to cut the very programs that help unemployed young people into the training they need or into the jobs that they can stick to. I'm going to ask Josh from the Salvation Army and Peter to say a few words about how important the Youth Connections program is for homeless young people.
PETER SUTCLIFFE, SALVATION ARMY: Thank you Tanya. For the Salvation army, the Youth Connections program is a really important part. We currently have 33 students enrolled in our program here, we have three who for the very first time, through our school here, will complete their HSC this year. Now that's important, these three young ladies, if they'd have been in the normal school system, would never have been able to complete their HSC. We've tailored a program that meets their needs. Students who come into our Oasis Youth Centre have a whole range of complex needs and they can't attend normal school because of these complex needs they have. We work with them, we tailor the program to suit. Three young ladies who will complete their HSC this year, we have another 19 completing year 11 and then the rest are completing year 10 or completing basic numeracy and literacy classes. Now for us that's an important part. What we do here at the Oasis Youth Centre is, if you like, the services we provide are like a 3-legged stool. We provide the accommodation services for them, we case manage the students and we also supply the education. Cut one of them off and you become a very unstable stool that no-one wants to sit on and so for us, the Youth Connections program, the education program we provide here is very important. So important that we're going to look at how we can continue this Youth Connections program, the school right here, even after the funding is cut. That means we've got to look at the others services we're providing and just see how we can continue to do this because we see education as an important part of stopping this endless cycle of homelessness. Around 44,000 young people every night homeless, and we've got to end this. Josh will just talk about the young ladies who are completing their HSC and what they're doing and just how it has worked with them.
JOSH FIELD, SALVATION ARMY: The current HSC students, they’re working in this environment and they actually support each other in this. There's not a chance they would have been able to get through their HSC without the support of this program and without the support of each other. They've worked exceptionally well. A couple of our students are doing food tech and only last week made this 4-layered tiered colourful cake which was fantastic and they shared that with the whole of the Oasis staff which was great so, yeah.
PLIBERSEK: Thanks, Josh. Alright, I might make some more general comments now about other areas if you like.
This week during Homeless Persons Week, we see this $128 million cut from youth programs just like this that actually permanently help young people leave homelessness but this is not the only cut that this Government's made to homeless programs. $44 million cut from all of the new building programs out of the national partnership agreement on homelessness, no new building for homeless services. We also see that the national partnership agreement on affordable housing ends in June next year. The Government's got a White Paper on Commonwealth-State relations that says basically that housing's none of the Commonwealth's business so what happens to public housing funding after June next year, who knows. We know that there were 10,000 more national rental affordability scheme properties to be built. This Government canned them in the most recent Budget as well so that's 10,000 affordable homes that would have been available under existing funding except this Government has ended that program. So everywhere you see this Government making life harder for the people who can least afford it. Cuts to pensions, cuts to supports for homeless Australians, cuts to the supports for unemployed young people. We also know that none of this was expressed before the election. Before the election Tony Abbott was saying no cuts to health, no cuts to education, no change to pensions, no new taxes. In fact, today one year ago he said, "Taxes will always be lower under a Liberal Government." We know that there's been a raft of new taxes introduced. Any questions?
JOURNALIST: In terms of the Budget cuts to this particular program, where are those negotiations at, when are they likely to come before the parliament and what is Labor doing in terms of trying to stop that?
PLIBERSEK: This program didn't require legislative change to be cut so it’s gone, the funding has already gone. The only hope is to have enough public outcry about the fact that on the one hand the Government is saying unemployed young people, we will cut their income for six months of the year, they should apply for 40 jobs a month, we want them get work and on the other hand, they’re cutting three successful programs that help unemployed young people get a job. Because this cut didn't require legislative change, it’s done. The only hope is enough public pressure to reverse this cruel cut.
JOURNALIST: There have been a number of other Budget cuts though across the board in many social services and welfare sectors and public services, what makes this particular education centre different to all of the other cuts in terms of helping stop the Budget crisis?
PLIBERSEK: Well, where do these kids go? This is a school that is built for kids who wouldn't survive in mainstream education. Many of them are homeless because they have had unimaginable trauma in their young lives. They are kids who have been let down in many cases by their families and they have been let down by mainstream schooling. They come here as a school of last resort and because of the fantastic expertise of the teachers here, because they have got the support of the Salvation Army to deal with the other issues in their lives, because they have got a stable roof over their heads, they manage to succeed through massive will and massive hard work, they manage to succeed. How can it possibly be, in our society's interests to deny these kids an education? How can it possibly be in the long term interests of these kids, we want to help them get permanently out of homelessness and the best way we can do that is to make sure they have got a job and the best way we can make sure that they have a job is make sure that we make up for the gaps in their schooling. Make sure they can read and write, make sure that they graduate Year 10 and in the case of these three young women, the HSC. And that opens so many doors to these kids who have been – many of them from a very early age have been brought up with the idea that they will never succeed.
JOURNALIST: Just on some other general matters. Do you think the Government should be making it easier to slap preventative detention orders on terror suspects?
PLIBERSEK: Well I saw the same press conference that other Australians saw yesterday, with the Prime Minister, the Attorney-General and the Foreign Affairs Minister all making some statements about what the Government’s got planned. That’s all the detail that we as an Opposition have. We hope to be briefed later in the week about the details of what the Government's proposing but we have no details at this stage. I think it is important that our security agencies, which do such an excellent job, have the support they need to prevent terrorist activity but we also need to be sure, as a democracy, that there are proper checks and balances, proper oversight when powers are increased. We don't know what the Government's proposing, we don't know the details - we don't know the details of the proposal and we certainly don’t know any details of proposed oversight or any sort of checks and balances.
JOURNALIST: The Government wants to take away the sunset clause on them. Would you agree with that?
PLIBERSEK: We were very critical of fact that the Government got rid of the independent national security legislation monitor earlier this year. They had one of these red tape repeal days and got rid of the independent position, the person whose job it is to oversee whether national security legislation is indeed doing what it is supposed to do, providing a safer environment or whether it is in fact infringing peoples' rights. They got rid of that position. George Brandis has backed down on that and he is doing a lot of that lately but he has backed down on getting rid of the independent oversight. That position, as far as we know, has not been filled. We need to have the confidence that if there are tough laws to prevent terrorism, there is also tough oversight so that our citizens and our parliament can be confident that these laws are not misused.
JOURNALIST: Do you feel that some of these new counter measures go too far?
PLIBERSEK: Well I can't say whether they go too far because all I have seen is a press conference and a press release. We need to have legislation released in draft form by the Government. We need a proper briefing for the Opposition so we can say, with confidence, that, yes, tougher laws might be needed but that goes with stronger oversight. We don't have any of that information at the moment.
JOURNALIST: In terms of the case of baby Gammy, the Prime Minister says there is not much the Federal Government can do because surrogacy is a matter for the states. Do you think that the Commonwealth could do something more?
PLIBERSEK: Well surrogacy is a matter for the states but I think it is very important that we say very clearly that no law should be changed that makes it - that increases the vulnerability of poor women in developing countries to the sort of exploitation that this young Thai woman has experienced. There is no question that any Australian that I have talked to, when presented with the information that a couple are the biological parents of a child and have taken one, a healthy baby girl and left the sick baby boy are shocked that that is possible. This 21-year-old woman, obviously in desperate financial circumstances or wouldn't have agreed to the surrogacy in the first place, now left to her own devices to raise and care for a child that obviously has expensive medical needs going into the future. It is completely unacceptable. Of course, I am pleased that Australians have been generous in contributing to a fund for her but that is only because we know of this case. We don't know how many other cases, young women in similar circumstances who have been exploited and left on their own. It is important that we work with the states and territories to make sure that we don't commercialise this relationship in a way that allows vulnerable young women like this to be exploited.
JOURNALIST: Given that there are different laws in different states, is there room, do you think, for the Federal Government to intervene in any way or to have legislation?
PLIBERSEK: Certainly if the Federal Government's interested in developing a national approach, we would look at that on its merits. But I don't think the problem is different laws in different states, I think the problem is unscrupulous organisations overseas that get into the business of babies to make a profit. I think in addition, we have got a problem in this individual case of a couple who have made a decision that, frankly, I can't understand and I think most Australians would have trouble understanding.
JOURNALIST: The Federal Government's backed down on the proposed changes to 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. Apparently George Brandis has said this morning that he still believes in those changes in their original form.
PLIBERSEK: This just shows that the Government's a mess on this as it is on many other areas of policy. They have gone too far. They have gone too far when it comes to allowing bigots the right to be bigots. George Brandis has been put back in his box on this one. George Brandis went too far in saying that occupied East Jerusalem wasn't occupied. He was put back in his box on that one. It seems like George Brandis is just shooting off his mouth, saying whatever he chooses. There is chaos in this area. It doesn't fill me with a lot of confidence that we have an Attorney-General at odds with the Prime Minister on some of these most critical pieces of legislation. What I would say on the other hand when it comes to back downs, is if they are going to do a back down on 18C, they should also do a back down on cutting Youth Connections and they should do a back down on the cuts to health and education and the cuts to the pensions that have turned up in this Budget. This is a problem of extremists in Government being let off the leash and then the extremists having to be hauled back when it becomes apparent that are out of step with the Australian public. Thanks everyone.