10 September 2019




SUBJECTS: Cashless welfare cards; Drug testing of welfare recipients; Changes to lockout laws in Sydney; Extreme weather conditions and climate change; Margaret Fulton; Cooking.

RICHARD GLOVER, PRESENTER: It's the Monday Political Forum. With us this week - Tanya Plibersek is Labor MP for Sydney, the former Deputy Leader of the Opposition, of course. Dr Andy Marks is Assistant Vice Chancellor of the Western Sydney University and Dai Le, independent Councillor for Fairfield City Council. And Andy and Dai are with me in Sydney, good afternoon.

DAI LE, COUNCILLOR: Good afternoon Richard.


GLOVER: And Tanya Plibersek is there in Canberra. Good afternoon.


GLOVER: Now let me talk about the thing that was just in the PM promo there. Welfare recipients should be subjected to both random drug testing and to having their benefits placed on a cashless welfare card that would basically quarantine 80 per cent of the benefits to prevent them being spent on alcohol, drugs, gambling. Both measures are being pushed by the Government as a way, they say, of helping people get back on track. Since many people in work face drug tests, is it so wrong that this measure be in place for those who receive their money instead from the tax payer. Tanya Plibersek, if somebody working hard for the ADF or for BHP has to be drug tested why not the welfare recipients?

PLIBERSEK: Well I guess there's a couple of things to say about this. The first is it is just very deliberately a distraction from bad economic data that the Government doesn't want to talk about. It doesn't create a single job. It doesn't see wages increase by a dollar. It doesn't encourage business investment. It doesn't deal with any of the fundamentals of the Australian economy which are very weak, and what we know, from having looked at this legislation in the past, is that all of the evidence around the world is that drug testing of welfare recipients is a completely ineffective way of reducing dependence on drugs. Now if the Government were really serious about reducing dependence on drugs they wouldn't have cut a billion dollars from our Health Flexible Funds that support things like drug and alcohol counselling services and so on. If you walked into Centrelink tomorrow and said 'I've got a drug problem, I want to get off drugs cause I want to get a job' they'd say 'Oh okay, well come back in maybe 6 weeks, maybe 12 weeks, and we might have a place' - well, I mean you wouldn't go to Centrelink but they'd say, you might find a place in 6 weeks or 12 weeks, or you know, go to your parents and get them to pay thousands of dollars for a place in a private clinic that you'd also have to wait for. So if the Government is serious about helping people with a drug addiction problem, and they should be, then they should re-invest in treatment programs that people can get on to. And I've just got to say also on the cashless welfare card. Where trials like this have been welcomed by the community, they can make a difference but the idea that you blanket treat everybody across Australia - so if you're a 50 year old car worker and you've lost your job in the car factory and you need to go in and pee in a cup and have your money managed by Centrelink, it's just profoundly insulting, isn't it?

GLOVER: We are confusing the two separate policies. There's the drug testing, maybe the drug testing is too radical, but what about the cashless card? There's no peeing in the cup with the cashless card, it simply says here is your money, it's all on the card but understand that 80 per cent of it can't be spent on gambling and cigarettes or alcohol. A lot of people would say that's pretty reasonable from the point of view from the tax payer.

PLIBERSEK: And what we've said is that there should be evidence that this is actually effective, and the Government haven't yet presented any evidence that this is effective. We were open to the trials and there have been some communities that have welcomed some form of income management for some people. If the community's up for it, that's a different matter, but the idea that this should just be extended now before the evidence is in, when the only information we actually have is from the Auditor-General saying that it's a not a good value for money program, I think that is really preempting a proper investigation, and it's certainly, why now? Ask yourself, why now? It has to be because last week we had some of the worst economic data, certainly that we've seen since the Global Financial Crisis and in some cases you know these numbers haven't been as bad since the Menzies Government.

GLOVER: Yeah, Dai Le, as I say, there are two slightly separate policies which I put together in the same question but, you know, what do you think of them?

LE: Look, I think that in terms of cash, in terms of management, you know, people who are on unemployment benefit, I have obviously been exposed to communities that are lower socio-economic backgrounds and you know as far as the Northern Territory to even south west Sydney, and those families who are.. who've got children in particular and those children rely on that welfare benefit. I think it has to be managed in a way so that money goes toward feeding the family.

GLOVER: You're saying there is real evidence of people with a limited income through a welfare benefit spending so much on beer that they can't feed the kids?

LE: That's right, there's evidence of that, there's anecdotal evidence of that in the community at a grass-root level, whereby I think that parents that are either addicted to gambling, alcohol, drugs, are not being responsible with the money. Now I would say that that group of people on welfare dependency, it's not a big chunk of our budget but it is worth, from my perspective, exploring and looking at where...

GLOVER: What about those Dai, who say it's shameful for the people, that they have to go into Woolworths like the rest of us but when their standing in the queue everyone else in the queue can see 'Oh you're a welfare recipient"?

LE: Look, I mean, I grew up in a south west Sydney, I grew up where at the time there's a lot of families experiencing hardships through children of parents who are addicted to gambling or drugs and everything. I don't know about the perception of shame if you're queuing up or whatever. I think as a responsible community we have to ensure that not just handing it out without any kind of overseeing how that money is spent and it's spent in order to, you know, actually look after that family. So I, yeah, I come from a different perspective in that. It's not about shame, I mean sure, from a western perspective you might think that's shameful, how could you quarantine 80 per cent of my welfare benefit, but I think in the circumstance if you wanting to ensure the livelihood of those families then I think that's the right thing to do.

GLOVER: Andy Marks, what about that argument, that this is about making sure that in the end, dinner gets put on the table for the children?

ANDY MARKS: It's discriminatory though. I mean look on the drug testing front, I mean pensioners receive probably four times, in the Federal budget, the amount of funding that Newstart recipients do. Are we going to drug test them? That's tax payers money. Are we going to drug test everyone who gets a Disability Support Pension? We know that people on Newstart, indigenous populations are overly represented, we know people who have limited educational outcomes are over represented among Newstart recipients. It's discriminatory.

GLOVER: Okay, what about the cashless cards? Even though maybe you're right that the drug testing is too much but what about the cashless welfare card? It's still saying 20 per cent of the income can be spent on other things but 80 per cent has to go on basically at the supermarket on the toilet paper and the food and the washing powder. What's wrong with that?

MARKS: That's a fundamental undermining of your rights as a citizen. I mean you may be unemployed for a period of your life. The rest of your life, your adult life, you may be working. I mean what's to say that you haven't earned the right as a citizen, as a taxpayer, to lead your life with a reasonable level of freedom. I agree with what Dai's saying around ensuring that kids are looked after but that's a separate question.

GLOVER: But how do you do that if you don't use the quarantining of the fees? Sorry, Dai.

LE: Can I say that I think that we need to actually have a discourse, a discussion around welfare recipient and welfare overall. I think that we kind of get caught into this more discussions around, you know, a cashless card or drug testing. It's not a holistic approach. So during my campaign in March this year, for instance, I was campaigning people were saying...

GLOVER: This is for Fairfield Council right?

LI: Yeah, that's right, no campaign for the State election - as an independent. So people were saying to me 'Oh is it true that if we voted for you, our pension or our unemployment benefit will be cut?' Now to me, for our community to be so dependent on welfare, is a sad problem because there are such an entrepreneurial spirit there, so what have we as a Government, as a leader of this society, what have we instilled in the people of our community to make them kind of...

GLOVER: Expect a, expect welfare as a-

LE: Expect that, that's right.

GLOVER:- as a natural course.

LE: So that's a small percentage, I'm not talking about large, but that's a normal person in the street.

GLOVER: Can I go back to Tanya Plibersek, because Dai has put this sort of strong argument about looking after the children in welfare dependent families.

PLIBERSEK: Yeah, no, I completely agree that a parent's first responsibility is to put a roof over the head of the family and food on the table and all the rest of it. But we've got two trials underway at the moment in Ceduna and East Kimberley. Why don't we actually get the evidence from that and see if it's making a difference? There are a whole lot of practical problems as well, Richard, like if you're living in a town where the big supermarket's got the card but the small independent grocer doesn't, you can't do your shopping there. You can't compete on price. You know, you and I and probably plenty of people love it when we are driving along the highway and you see a farmer with a stall selling their terrific vegetables, straight from the paddock there - you can't spend your money there, you can't make a decision to spend your money in smaller retailers often, so let's see from where this is actually being implemented whether it is making any difference before we start talking about spreading it.

GLOVER:But I suppose the other side of this, would it almost not be a practical side of whether it works it would be taxpayers saying that there is something morally offensive about me giving my taxpayers money to buy someone else's gambling ticket?

PLIBERSEK:No I agree that people should be, first and foremost, spending their money looking after their families and all of the evidence, Richard, is that the vast majority of people who are, as Andy says, on benefits temporarily, are very, very responsible about where every dollar goes because they can't afford not to be.

GLOVER: So, is this really a policy which is designed most of all to try to catch the Labor party in a difficult position?

PLIBERSEK: I think this is a policy designed to distract from the fact that this third term Government has no agenda and last week's economic data shows that dwelling investment is down, we've got declining business investment, we've got weak consumption growth, we've got weak employment growth, we've got wages that have flat-lined. I mean, everywhere you look, across the horizon of economic figures, things that are going up should be going down and things that are going down should be going up.

GLOVER: Tanya Plibersek is here, Dr. Andy Marks and Dai Le who is an independent councillor on Fairfield City Council. Let me ask you about a more local issue - the Berejiklian Government has decided that the city's Lockout laws will virtually be scrapped with the exception of Kings Cross. The announcement has brought cheers, of course, from those who report a big downturn in the night-time economy following the new laws and those, often health workers, who celebrated the impact of the laws on limiting violence in Sydney. I don't think anyone doubts the laws were well-intentioned but is the government right to scrap them due to the unintendedly large consequences of these laws? Dai Le.

LE: Well, I think that, you know, with Keep Sydney Open - that party that did quite well at the last State election, I think that sent a message to the Government. In a community, again I can speak only for the area that I represent, where there is a lot of young people and young businesses and entrepreneurs, the idea that you have to lock down by a certain time and there is no business and their business relies on the night-time economy, I thought that was a real, I think it was just overly cautious and we have kind-of killed our night-time economy. You go across overseas, I mean I am just back from Vietnam - a few weeks ago, last month - and in the evening, young people are out there, shopping, eating, all of that and that is what keeps the economy going. By closing it down, what do we do? We go home and you know by 8 o'clock or whatever and sit at home.

GLOVER: Go on it's 1:30am not 8 o'clock! But you know, on the other hand, the laws came in because there was this, there were some particular awful crimes, but there was also, you know, you'd go to Kings Cross on a Saturday night - it would be disgusting, it would be like a war zone of vomiting and fights and-

LE: Absolutely, I mean, I think Australians, we can't hold our alcohol and I think we tend to over-drink and binge drink and that is in some areas and I am glad that, obviously, the lock-down laws still are in areas where it is needed but I believe, in other areas, that has a lot of impact on local policy because that impacts on the way that we create policies for our local economy and this will actually give us more freedom, so that the police aren't overly watching and hampering the way that we actually do business.

GLOVER: Too restrictive says Dai Le - those old laws. Do you agree Tanya?

PLIBERSEK: Look, I think it was time to have another look at the laws because I do take on what the Keep Sydney Open and others are saying about the money that we are missing out on with the night-time economy but I also think it is really important to listen to the medical staff, the paramedics and others, particularly at St Vincent's because they are the ones that cop it worst. Like, my first place out of home was in the Cross, when I was 20, and I saw some pretty appalling behaviour there on a Friday and a Saturday night, in particular. So, somewhere here there has to be a balance, where the larger venues, in particular, take more responsibility for people's safety, where the Government, the police, work out home to get people home more effectively so they are not hanging around outside venues and I look back on the time of the Olympics and I think about the spirit on the street then, the way people looked out for each other, people were out, they were enjoying their evenings without getting absolutely hammered all the time. If we could find some way of returning to that kind of spirit where yes, we're out and we are enjoying our beautiful city at all hours, but in a way that is responsible and in a way where we look after each other.

GLOVER: Yeah, and couldn't the night-time economy include the odd bookshop and maybe a frock shop and maybe a library and maybe a record store and maybe a cafe! It doesn't all have to be big - and maybe some lovely small venues with live music and glasses of wine, I am not being anti-alcohol, but-

PLIBERSEK: Exactly, and people on the street, as well, because that sort of active use of the streets, people being in position to observe if things look like they are getting a bit hairy somewhere and perhaps intervene to calm a situation down. You know, we've got fantastic cities around the world and even here in Australia, where we do see a bit more of that happening. We need to figure out how to import that here.

GLOVER: Don't come all over praising Melbourne, Tanya! You are the Member for Sydney, just remember it!

PLIBERSEK: I was very careful not to, you'll notice.

LE: There is still individual responsibility, as well. I think if you drink, drink responsibly. Drink so that you, or you go out and ensuring that the environment so that if you want a night-time economy, I think I agree with you Richard - you have a frock shop, a cake shop...

GLOVER: I don't think they are called frock shops anymore!

LE: No, dress, school shoes whatever! Makeup whatever - but at least there is actually a night-time economy, not just somewhere we you can go and get a drink.

GLOVER: Exactly.

PLIBERSEK: It's on the venues as well. You know there are so many stories of venues serving people until they are almost at blackout and dumping them on the footpath outside. You cannot, cannot allow that sort of thing to continue.

GLOVER: Andy Marks, is there a way of getting a balance here where we don't just leave this disaster for our medical workers but we also don't shut down the town?

MARKS: Yeah, totally agree Richard. I reckon the Lockout laws were a really blunt instrument to fix a complicated problem and one of the things that you are seeing happen in places like New York and Amsterdam and London is that they are appointing, wait for it, Night Mayors - whose job it is, right - if you thought Local Government was bad during the day - they are appointing people to look after the night-time economy to do just the sort of stuff you are talking about, so there is more options at night. You know, museums stay open later, there is more transport options to clear people out of the venues, all the kind of stuff that you know, goes to make going out of an evening fun again, because it is actually structured.

GLOVER: Well, that transport thing is important part.

MARKS: You can't get out of the Cross!

GLOVER: That was part of the problem, that was part of what was wrong with the Cross back in that time.

MARKS: Yeah, you couldn't get a bus or a train out of there and you know, I think that is so important that economies are taking that 24 hour cycle and if you have somebody on the job to do that - as they are doing overseas, you know, you lessen the impact.

GLOVER: But it is also in the details, and one of the best things that has happened in Sydney is that small bar movement and people hit the roof when it was suggested that we license all these places and oh, there will be more drunkness! Well, you know, sorry the Chardonnay is $12 a glass - you can only have two! But I go to them all the time and there is a band in the corner, and fantastic glass of wine and the food...

MARKS: Live music, yeah!

LE: But listen, there's food! You have to come to our city, I mean I have to plug Fairfield City here. You know, we have a strip whereby in the evening, it's all the restaurants with different types of food are open and people are out there eating till late at night.

GLOVER: That was an ad by Dai Le there from Fairfield City Council. She is an independent councillor there. She's also joined by Dr Andy Marks who is the Assistant Vice-Chancellor of the Western Sydney University and of course, by Tanya Plibersek, the Labor MP for Sydney among other frontbench duties with Labor. It is currently 8 minutes to 6 - we will quickly check the traffic if you are battling around town and then we might talk about the idea of a Federal ICAC, which came up of course through the Senate today.

(traffic report)

GLOVER: Richard Di Natale, the Greens Leader, has attacked the Emergency Management Minister, David Littleproud, saying he is putting the lives of Australian people at risk by failing to recognise that climate change is real. This, of course, as dozens of fires burn out of control in both New South Wales and Queensland. We've got one at emergency level right now near Yamba. Is it fair enough to link the fires to climate change and what about accusing the Minister of putting lives at risk? That takes it too far doesn't it? Tanya Plibersek?

PLIBERSEK: Look I think it's pretty emotive language when obviously at a time like this our first responsibility and our first thoughts are with the people who are facing the fires right now, both home owners, land owners and of course our emergency services personnel. But I think when you take a longer look at this, not at such a high pressure and difficult time, I think it is important to acknowledge that even the insurance industry says that if we don't address climate change more of these extreme weather events are going to happen and if you look at the cost of natural disasters to the economy at the moment, it's about $18 billion a year. The insurance industry thinks that that will double by 2038, and yet we still see our pollution increasing here in Australia. So first of all, let's deal with the problem right in front of us an focus on that, but when we have the time and the space, let's have this sober conversation about how we are increasing the risk of these extreme events.

GLOVER: Dai Le, some people say Australia's always had bushfires, we've had terrible ones, you know, back in the 1930s.

LE: Absolutely. Look I agree with Tanya in terms of we need to focus on the SES and the people and the land owners and all of that. For me, climate is constantly changing. That's beyond our control. But I think what is within our control is how we manage population growth, how we manage land use, how we manage the number of cars that we put on the road, how we manage getting rid of trees in order to build roads. All of those actually impacts the way that the environment is and therefore contributes to those kind of catastrophe that we are seeing.

GLOVER: Okay you accept that there is some man-made climate change, don't you?

LE: Oh look, absolutely contributing to it, that's what I am saying, we're contributing to the whole impact of the environment and how we live and how we don't look after the environment, so that contributes greatly to the way that the climate and the environment is constantly changing.

GLOVER: Andy Marks?

MARKS: Richard, I've got to say, you know the extreme rhetoric is the stuff that polarises people politically, so you know he's got to tone it down a little bit and I think stick to the facts, but you know if the Nats are putting lives at risk, well the Greens voted against an ETS ten years ago. When they had their chance to do something about it so they're in the bubble as well.

GLOVER: They let, what's the phrase, 'perfect be the enemy of good'?

MARKS: Yeah totally.

GLOVER: I think that was the phrase at the time.

MARKS: Absolutely.

GLOVER: Let me finish with this. The State Funeral today for Margaret Fulton, the author of Australia's most successful cook book. How did you learn to cook and what was the recipe book used to teach you? Andy?

MARKS: Look I didn't graduate far beyond the two minute noodle packet in student house so-

GLOVER: They were the instructions were they?

MARKS: Yeah look I even managed to burn them most of the time, Richard, so look it may be chocolate crackles off the back of the Cornflakes packet.

GLOVER: The really desperate person is the no-minutes noodler who just eats them uncooked.

MARKS: I didn't want to say.

GLOVER: You're one up from that. Dai Le, what was the cook book and how did you-?

LE: A cook book? Well Margaret Fulton actually came out I think in 2010 when I was campaigning out there and we took a photo together and she's a good friend of Kara Severaja who is also a well known chef. But I learned how to cook in a camp, in a refugee camp, when I was told I had to cook a pot of rice. It's my first time to cook, and-

GLOVER: So where's the camp? Describe the camp for me?

LE: This was in the Philippines and it's basically, you know, living with obviously other Vietnamese refugees and being the eldest I was told to put on a pot of white rice and I didn't know how to cook but I put it on and left it there and went out and God knows what happened out in the camp area and of course, suddenly people were saying 'Something's burning' and it was my pot of rice so that was-

GLOVER: Because you didn't realise that part of cooking is putting it on but also taking it off.

LE: Standing there watching it.

GLOVER: Tanya Plibersek, which was the book, who taught you, all of that?

PLIBERSEK: Well of course Margaret Fulton was a constituent of mine in Balmain and I got to meet her and I've got a signed copy of one of her fantastic cook books and I particularly like her scone recipe, her plain scone recipe. I learned to cook from my mum and dad, they were both excellent cooks and my mum, when I was a very little girl, used to take me up to the Council where they had cooking demonstrations once a week, so we went from her beautiful cooking at home to learning about recipes such as the curried frankfurter with tinned pineapple in it. Very sophisticated 70s cooking there!

GLOVER: Welcome to Australia!

PLIBERSEK: (laughter).


GLOVER: At that point your mum said 'Maybe we should go back home?".

PLIBERSEK: Well I tell you what I was saying - you make better stuff than this at home mum!

GLOVER: What was her best recipe?

PLIBERSEK: Oh well, she's still a fantastic cook but probably my favourite is she makes a beautiful, beautiful ricotta strudel, an apple strudel, straight from scratch. She gets the pastry and pulls it out, covers the whole kitchen table, and then puts the filling in and rolls it up. It's fantastic.

GLOVER: Yum yum. Well she can make that, you can make the scones, and we'll all come to tea.

PLIBERSEK: Sounds good.

GLOVER: Tanya, thank you very much. Tanya Plibersek, the Labor MP for Sydney joining us from our Canberra studios and with me in Sydney, Andy Marks from Western Sydney University, he's the Assistant Vice Chancellor there, and independent Councillor at Fairfield City Council and now adequate rice cook-

LE: Yes I am.

GLOVER: -but only after training, Dai Le, thank you so much.