Linda Burney with David Speers on Sky News - Wednesday, 11 September 2019

SUBJECTS: AIHW Report; Drug testing of welfare recipients; Labor’s policy review.


DAVID SPEERS: The Shadow Minister, Linda Burney, joins me know.


LINDA BURNEY, SHADOW MINSITER FOR FAMILIES AND SOCIAL SERVICES, SHADOW MINISTER FOR INDIGENOUS AUSTRALIANS, MEMBER FOR BARTON: The snapshot concerns me on a number of fronts, and I really think it is what sits behind the snapshot and that is it does say that loneliness has become a real issue in the Australian community. It particularly mentions men and young people.


SPEERS: Yes, not just elderly Australians.


BURNEY: No, not just elderly Australians, a lot of young people find themselves very lonely. I think that is a very big societal issue.


SPEERS: Why is that do you think? What do you put that down to?


BURNEY: I think young people, and that’s what the report goes to, are feeling very isolated. I think they are feeling very uncertain about their future, particularly in terms of home ownership, which the report goes to; insecure work, which the report goes to as well. But also, I think they are just fearful of what the future holds for them as young people in Australia, and more interestingly in a global context.


SPEERS: Do you think part of it is that social media age we live in, the way people communicate? Does that, I mean while we get online and communicate with each other are we losing personal contact? Is that part of the reason behind this?


BURNEY: This is a very personal view – I think that social media has, made young people’s worlds a bit smaller, strangely enough. In the sense that you are often communicating with people that you actually don’t know. And, that it’s a lot easier to use social media to communicate than to actually sit down and to have a conversation and um interact with people. Perhaps that has something to do with it. But as Tanya Plibersek said David in the um Question Time today, we are seeing the lowest number of apprentices in 10 years in Australia and we’re also seeing, I think and I know just talking to um young people in my own sphere is that the idea of home ownership, which is such a strong part of the Australian ethos, is slipping away from them.


SPEERS: Sure, but it wasn’t all bad news in the report today though.


BURNEY: No it wasn’t.


SPEERS: I see that the number of people with jobs is up, that’s a good thing: civic engagement; year 12 attainment; some of these figures were positive weren’t they?


BURNEY: A number of the figures were positive and the ones that you’ve just articulated were some of those figures. But the report also had a fairly substantial section on Aboriginal Australia and I have to say that the school participation rates, the level of poverty is so disproportionate in that, in that community. And, what the report really says is, it gives us an overall view of how things are nationally, but there are pockets of extraordinary disadvantage.


SPEERS: Well, let’s now talk about the welfare sector, because this gets to the Bill that’s now been introduced and that to trial drug tests of welfare recipients. Have you had a chance to look at the legislation yet and what do you think?


BURNEY: Well that the third time the Government brought it back.


SPEERS: It’s the same Bill?


BURNEY: It’s the same.


SPEERS: Not changed?


BURNEY: It’s the same piece of legislation, the dust has been blown off it. It is the same piece of legislation. And it has been rejected twice by the last parliament. And the Government, as they are doing for a number of pieces of legislation, which they weren’t successful with in the 45th parliament, are bring them back to the 46th parliament. It’s still the same three trial sites.


SPEERS: The Prime Minister’s argument here is, we don’t want people on welfare taking drugs - right, that’s a given. Why not have a mechanism where you can identify the people that need help and provide it to them?


BURNEY: Very straightforward answers to that – it’s indiscriminate, I don’t think, the Minister or the Prime Minister have thought through the practicalities of administering this particular…..


SPEERS:  Like what? What would be the practical issues?


BURNEY: Some of the practical issues is where is the initial drug test undertaken?


SPEERS: Hasn’t it been made clear?


BURNEY: Who’s going to oversee it? And what hasn’t been made clear is what the cost is. And what Labor is doing, very responsibly David, is listening to the experts that are saying that this is punitive, this does not work. And looking particularly at the New Zealand experience, where 8,000 people on social security were drug tested, with 8 people proving positive. It was abandoned.


SPEERS: Well, we don’t know if this will be exactly the same. To the cost questions, I assume this would go to tender for a provider to do the drug testing.


BURNEY: It is completely unclear. And there are lots of assumptions. As I think that the Minister displayed yesterday. I think it was on a Sky Interview about how it would work.


SPEERS: But if the costs, if the costs can be managed, if that can be addressed: Is this still in principle something that could help some of those on welfare?


BURNEY:  Well, let’s put it this way. I don’t know how many people are watching us in this interview have had a loved one that is, that has, a drug addiction issues – trying to get those people into some sort of residential or some sort of treatment program is virtually impossible. And I would argue strongly that perhaps the Government shouldn’t have taken $1 billion dollars out of the Budget for drug dependency. And that is money will be better spent on up front services. I mean if you’re receiving a social security payment. If you or I are going onto Newstart and we automatically have to have a drug test to keep the right to have Newstart, there are questions there about individual rights. But if you, by prescription, are taking the place in a treatment facility of someone that is truly committed and not compelled.


SPEERS: Was that your concern here?  That they might take the place in a rehab place of someone who has volunteered to get that service?


BURNEY: Well, I do think that that is a concern for many people. My fundamental issue is that we are listening to what experts in the field are saying, and they are saying this is not a, not a method that will work.


SPEERS: The Government does point to data though showing that there has been a decrease in the number of welfare recipients who have recorded drug addiction. I mean, what’s your plan to do something about that?


BURNEY: Well, if there are people who have drug addiction problems, whether they’re receiving a social security benefit or not, they should be getting support to deal with those addictions and so should their families. And the other incredible statistic, I know that you know this, but let me say it – is that the group of people that is the growing group in the Centrelink, in the Newstart cohort are people over the age of 55 that have been retrenched or their industries have been closed down. Do you really thing that it’s okay to ask a grandparent to go through that process?


SPEERS: Before I let you go, where are you at in this internal debate in Labor about sticking with or ditching some of those policies, like franking credits and negative gearing and so on? What do you think?


BURNEY: My view is that we should all allow the review process to take its time.


SPEERS: So everyone should stay out of it until it’s done?


BURNEY: No well, what I, people, if you want to have an input into the review you can do that and obviously we are at the beginning of this term of government and I think the judicious thing, the sensible thing to do, is to work thoroughly through those issues, listen to what the review has to say and then make decisions about policies going forward. Well thought out costed but, you know there is time to do that.


SPEERS: But in reality you know that you are going to have to change some of these policies, right?


BURNEY: I will go through the review process. I have put forward to the Leader, in the areas I have responsibility for what I believe are the solid policies that we should be pursuing and we will take that process through.


SPEERS: All right, Linda Burney, Shadow Minister for Social Services and Indigenous Australians thanks very much for coming in this afternoon. Thank you very much.


BURNEY: Thank you very much.