15 October 2019




SUBJECTS: Pill testing; screen time for parents and children.

GEORGIE GARDNER, PRESENTER: So to discuss this we are joined now by Minister for Agriculture, Bridget McKenzie and Shadow Minister for Education and Training Tanya Plibersek. Good morning, welcome to you both.



GARDNER: Bridget, in addition to pill testing, Coroner Harriet Grahame want to see police powers and presence and festivals reduced. Now where do you stand on this?

McKENZIE: Obviously it's a tragedy when any young person loses their life, especially when they're heading off to enjoy a day out, awesome music with some mates. But there's a reason drugs are illegal - it's 'cause they do you great harm. Obviously, this is a matter for the coroner and the New South Wales Government but we cant, my personal belief is, we can't have places in our community where the law doesn't apply, and making sure that young people, in particular, can't be taking drugs and therefore having those devastating effects and losing their life needs to be something we need to ensure can't happen.

GARDNER: During this inquest the Coroner attended two festivals, to witness first hand police activity and other procedures and, Tanya, she said it was intense. She said the lines of police and sniffer dogs made her feel nervous. Isn't that the message authorities want to convey, that there are risks associated with taking drugs?

PLIBERSEK: Look, I'm a great supporter of the efforts of the police to disrupt criminal trade in drugs. Bridget's right, of course - you can't safely take drugs. Something that's made in a bikies' bathroom isn't likely to be good for you. But I think we have to take a sensible look at the Coroner's recommendations because as well as policing, we need to look at health interventions that keep people alive. In my electorate we've got the medically supervised injecting centre, that was set up as something coming out of the New South Wales Government's Drug Summit close to 20 years ago and that has definitely saved lives. And it's worked very cooperatively with the police and with the local community. So absolutely, drugs are bad for you. We should be telling people not to take drugs. We should be supporting our police in their efforts. We should be investing in rehabilitation services because it's terrible if you come to the conclusion that you're ready to give up and someone says to you "That's great come back in six weeks time or three months time we might have a bed for you then." But we also have to listen to the experts, look at what's happening in the ACT and around the world to make sure we're doing our very best to keep young people alive.

GARDNER: There's no question we want to keep people alive but I'm wondering, Tanya just quickly, how you respond to others or some experts who suggest that pill testing will have a negative effect. It will have the opposite effect because it will normalise drug taking.

PLIBERSEK: And I think that's why we have to proceed very cautiously when we're having these debates. I'm not an expert but I think it's important to listen to the experts - to the doctors and to emergency services personnel, to police and, of course, to parents. There are sadly too many parents who have lost their children in this way. We need to hear their voices in this debate as well.

McKENZIE: I think Tanya's right Georgie, you know, the experts themselves have divided, parents who have suffered a tragic loss such as this are divided as well. So we need to make sure that the Coroner and obviously the New South Wales government as they consider these findings, make the decision in the best interests of the community.

GARDNER: Yeah, there's no simple solution, that is for sure. Change of pace now, more evidence of the impact our devices are having on our relationships and this time parents are in the firing line. Not kids, parents. A ground breaking study out of the United States has found around 50 per cent of mums and dads with kids under the age of five are turning to technology as a way of withdrawing from their kids. To get a bit of relief from bringing up kids. It's called 'techno-ference' Bridget and its impacting kids' behaviour and making them more demanding, which is hardly surprising.

McKENZIE: Well I think toddlers are pretty demanding, at the best of time. You know, I think we've got to be careful not to be going down the path of parent-shaming here. You know, with the breast versus bottle, the work versus stay-at-home wars that sometimes encapsulate parenting, which can be a very stressful time of your life. It's also a wonderful, joyful period of life. So I'd rather focus on increasing physical activity that can also decrease your stress. Because our physical activity guidelines say that young children between three and five years should only be having about 60 minutes of screen time a day. And that means more time for mum and dad to get on the bike, get down to the park, go for a walk - great physical and mental health outcomes, but also great stress relief and you're together as a family.

GARDNER: Tanya, no ones out to shame parents, that is for sure, and we all know it is a really, you know, difficult task a lot of the time. However, if kids are missing this really vital interaction and contact with their parents because the parents are on a screen, it's not surprising its having detrimental effects on our kids?

McKENZIE: Well we're human beings right, we've developed in a way that requires physical interaction and the way we learn speech as young children, the way we learn behavioural cues et cetera, emotional responses, are all from interacting not with a screen but with another human, predominately our parents in those early years.

GARDNER: Yeah so Tanya, what ...

McKENZIE: So it is important to make sure that parents minimise their screen time, that's why its part of our physical activity guidelines.

GARDNER: And do you think a study like this Tanya, is a wake-up call to parents, or is this just the new normal?

PLIBERSEK: Look I agree that we shouldn't be parent-shaming but I think it is really good to remember, as a parent, that you are your child's first educator and if your behaviour is screen addiction then it's very likely that you will have screen-addicted kids. So in our family, it's probably the biggest source of conflict but it's also something that we have pretty strict rules about - the younger the kids are, the less they should be using screens, not at all when they're very young. That gets a bit harder when they are teenagers but we try and make sure that we have screen-free time as a family, sitting down to dinner together, making sure the phones are well away from the table when you are doing that and we also try for screen-free holidays as well. That's become a bit more controversial with the teenagers as they get older, but it really does give you time to reconnect and it forces us, as adults. to do a bit of a digital detox too.

GARDNER: Yeah well that is the whole point, isn't it? It's not just about getting the kids off the screens, we as parents have to get ourselves off them as well. We are out of time but lovely to chat to you both as always. Thank you very much.

McKENZIE: Fantastic.

PLIBERSEK: Thank you Georgie. See you.