ABC Radio Adelaide – Constitutional recognition, Murray Darling Basin Plan, homelessness

Wednesday, 10 July 2019

Radio interview, ABC Radio Adelaide Breakfast

SUBJECTS: Indigenous constitutional recognition; Murray Darling Basin Plan; Homelessness; ALP Election Review

ALI CLARKE: Good morning to James Stevens, Liberal MP for Sturt.


CLARKE: Centre Alliance’s Rex Patrick is with us.


CLARKE: And definitely he has pointed out he is in jeans not sneans so that’s a good thing. And a happy birthday to Amanda Rishworth.


CLARKE: Well we had a caller who said hey are you aware it’s Amanda Rishworth’s birthday, Labor MP for Kingston. So you’re coming in to do Super Wednesday on your birthday.

RISHWORTH: Couldn’t think of a better place to celebrate.

CLARKE: You might need to get out. Okay, Ken Wyatt we heard all through AM that he wants a referendum on Indigenous recognition in the constitution. James Stevens is this something you’d support?

STEVENS: Absolutely Ali and thankfully it’s a goal that’s supported in a bipartisan way by all major parties. The Prime Minister made it clear in the Parliament last week that he’s been engaging with Opposition Leader Albanese, as has Minister Wyatt and the Shadow Minister from the Labor Party. We all want to see this done. I think the important thing, and I understand there is some frustration from people that want this to be a little more rapid than we think we can achieve, is that it does have to be a referendum which means the entire nation has to vote to change the constitution. The worst outcome would be putting something to the people of Australia that they weren’t on the whole comfortable with and hadn’t been properly convinced to support, and the referendum were to fail. No one wants that to happen. Referendums don’t tend to be successful, I think that at least two-thirds or more have failed over the course of our Federation. I don’t think there’s any prospect that this won’t succeed but the process has to make sure there’s no risk to it whatsoever.

CLARKE: Because we’re talking up to three years if we’re getting it in the new..

STEVENS: Yes that’s the Minister’s timeline.

CLARKE: Amanda Rishworth is the timing right for this? We keep hearing now more than ever that our community or country is more divided perhaps than it’s been, so is this the right time?

RISHWORTH: When I talk with Australians I think they recognise that it’s been a decade since the apology to the stolen generation. That was a very healing process, not just for our First Nations people but also the whole community. I think that was a very positive moment in Australia’s history, but more than a decade on from that apology we do need to take the next steps and constitutional recognition is a really important step. I think it’s important that we make sure we have the voice of First Nation’s people as part of moving forward, it is very important that we recognise the Uluru Statement from the Heart and that we do progress both constitutional recognition but importantly a voice to Parliament, and we continue focusing on closing the gap. But making sure that First Nations people are part of this process, as well as the wider community, is really important to its success.

CLARKE: Neil says on the text line “We don’t need talk, first we need action on the problems that our Indigenous peoples are facing”, Rex Patrick.

PATRICK: Look firstly I’d start off by saying I agree with what James and Amanda have said, I think everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet. We do need to be careful about how we go forward with this because it does actually require bills passing through the Parliament, constitutional alteration bills, and then we do have to put it to the people. So it can’t be rushed, it has to be a balanced approach and something that is saleable to the Australian public in general.

CLARKE: I feel a bit awkward all of you agreeing, that never happens on Super Wednesday.

RISHWORTH: We can change that.

CLARKE: Yes well why don’t we move to something that does divide and that is the Murray Darling Basin and the plan. Four Corners report on Monday has brought it to the forefront yet again and South Australia’s Water Minister David Speirs sat in this studio and was on with me and he insisted that he has influence and South Australia has influence in discussions in and around these policy discussions. James Stevens does he really?

STEVENS: Absolutely, the plan involves all the constituent parts of the Basin, all the relevant states, Capital Territory and the Commonwealth working together. This is a process much like our previous topic that’s been going on for well more than ten years. It was the Howard Government that initiated that legislation and to be fair the Labor Party who developed the plan against that legislation. And it’s a plan that no one absolutely loves which probably means we’ve got it right, because if it was very popular upstream it would not be good for us down stream and vice versa.

CLARKE: Or we’ve got it all wrong maybe.

STEVENS: Well, I certainly don’t think so I think the best thing that we can do for our State is implement the plan. If we can achieve what the plan sets out the 2,750 plus extra 450 gigalitres for South Australia, if we can focus on achieving that that’s the best opportunity for the river’s future and for South Australia’s reliance on the Murray going forward. I think furthering enquiries and debates about whether the plan is perfect or not is just an excuse for some people who want to tear the whole thing apart to succeed. From South Australia’s point of view that’s not a good thing.

CLARKE: Well, Rex Patrick you’re one of the ones who are calling for a Federal Royal Commission, another enquiry.

PATRICK: Yeah look a plan is a means to an end, it’s not the ends itself. When people talk about busting up the plan, we’re not in favour of that but we have a plan that is not being executed properly, it’s not being governed properly. We’ve had rorts and theft, we’ve had dodgy buy-backs, we’ve had a claim just in the last 24 hours that the efficiency measures are doing the opposite of what they should be. We’ve seen water running out, we’ve seen the Menindee fish kills. This is not a plan that is being executed well and we need to start looking at what has caused some of the abhorrent conduct and we have to deal with it. As we move forward implementing the plan, we must make sure it is governed properly.

CLARKE: So should this have been a deal-breaker for you before you supported the Coalition tax cuts if this is one of the things you wanted?

PATRICK: One of the difficulties of a Royal Commission and the political realities is I think the Coalition would split before they agreed on a Royal Commission. A Royal Commission is an Executive decision not a Parliamentary decision. There is a bill before the Parliament at the moment to try and set up a Parliamentary empowered Commission, but unfortunately we’ve got a Coalition where the Nationals who are most interested in backing irrigators simply will not allow a Royal Commission to proceed.

CLARKE: James Stevens would that happen, would you split before allowing a Federal Royal Commission?

STEVENS: I don’t support a Royal Commission at all I don’t think anyone in the Coalition supports holding another enquiry just to delay the implementation of a plan that we need to get on with.

CLARKE: Did you watch the Four Corners report?

STEVENS: No. We don’t make policy off the back of Four Corners.

RISHWORTH: I think what happened in Four Corners and what we’ve seen come out time and time again is exactly what Rex has said, and that is there is a plan on paper but then when you actually see it executed there are so many problems. And there does need to be an immediate independent audit into this on-farm irrigation program, because this program was meant to actually deliver water efficiency – and I’ve seen some great examples of that on properties – and actually deliver water back to the river. Clearly in the Four Corners report there are allegations that this is not occurring, we have had allegations of water theft. I can probably point to why this sort of stuff is occurring, and that’s because the National Party is constantly being put in charge as the Minister for these areas and they are just not interested. We’ve seen Barnaby Joyce when he was in charge say that he had no interest in reaching the 3,200 gigalitre amount that was set out. So we’ve seen an absolute lack of interest. There are serious questions for the government around a whole lot of water buy-back and now irrigation infrastructure that needs to be dealt with. And an independent audit immediately I think is the right way to go, this needs to be dealt with.

STEVENS: Well that’s already inconsistent with Rex’s position so there’s not even consistency outside the Government on what we should do, one wants a Royal Commission, one of you wants an audit, at the end of the day we have to..

RISHWORTH: Well, do something.

STEVENS: .. all these distractions are only going to take away from the important work of securing increased environmental flows for the river.

PATRICK: This is a $13 billion plan, $13 billion of taxpayers’ money, there is no question that there are issues that need to be looked at. In the context of that $13 billion a Royal Commission is not expensive and I’ve just got to ask James what are you afraid of?

STEVENS: I’m afraid of the delays it will cause in securing environmental flows..

PATRICK: It can run in parallel with the execution of the plan.

STEVENS: Well it can’t, distracting the entire process with a Royal Commission..

RISHWORTH: James are you seriously saying there’s nothing wrong with the implementation of the plan? Because that is not what the South Australian Royal Commission found, it’s not what some of the reports coming out of New South Wales and other areas are saying about water buy-back or infrastructure. We need to get this right because we’re not going to see the environmental flows and indeed the long-term sustainability of the river unless we actually get this right. And to say there’s nothing to see here and we just have to keep doing what we’re doing, I think does show the Government is turning a blind-eye to some of these issues.

CLARKE: Amanda Rishworth your party didn’t have the answers either when you were in power.

RISHWORTH: I have to say the plan is one thing on paper, returning the water through infrastructure and water buy-backs, it’s another..

CLARKE: So you’re saying the plan is okay, it’s the implementation that’s the problem?

RISHWORTH: The execution of this plan in terms of some of the allegations we’ve heard about water buy-backs, of not actually buying environmental water that is useful for the river. We’ve heard allegations that on-farm water infrastructure programs have been used to expand irrigation. I think there’s some issues that do need to be looked into because they weren’t the intention.

CLARKE: The Greens’ Sarah Hanson-Young says money flows should be frozen, Rex Patrick do you agree?

PATRICK: Look I think we need to continue working on the plan, I don’t agree with James that having a Royal Commission stops the plan. It doesn’t stop any execution in any particular policy area, we’ve had many Royal Commissions that have been run into many different areas. What we need to do is we need to draw breath, we need to look at exactly what is going wrong with the plan so that we can get the plan right.

CLARKE: It’s 14 minutes to 9, that’s the voice of Rex Patrick, Centre Alliance Senator for SA, James Stevens is with us, Liberal MP for Sturt, and Amanda Rishworth, Labor MP for Kingston, is here. It’s all for Super Wednesday. Yesterday we heard Assistant Minister responsible for reducing homelessness say that he wanted to put a positive spin on homelessness and not just say Australia is in a housing crisis when it effects a very, very small percentage of the population. James Stevens is there a positive spin really to be had about something like this?

STEVENS: The Minister clarified those comments subsequent to making them, in the sense that there is some positive data and some positive progress being made, but obviously particularly when we’re in the grip of winter it is very front of mind the awful situation for people no matter what percentage of our community are sleeping rough and don’t have a roof over their heads. It’s a very complex area, the challenges are clearly not just the acuteness of the need for more affordable housing but investment into mental health and domestic violence services etc it’s not a straightforward area. It’s something that’s primarily the responsibility of state governments, at a Commonwealth level we put about $6 billion a year into housing and homelessness services. We’ve got two separate Ministers now reporting to Anne Ruston one for homelessness and one for housing, in particular social housing. So at a federal level we’re doing a lot, of course we can do more and we can work more closely with our state and territory governments to hopefully achieve as little if not no homelessness whatsoever, that’s obviously is the goal.

CLARKE: Amanda Rishworth, that split in concentration and putting more people on the job as James Stevens has just outlined, do you think that’s a positive thing?

RISHWORTH: Well I think it would be good if the Minister probably consulted more widely, his comments really drew a lot of criticism from broadly the whole homelessness and housing sector. I think he got some of this statistics wrong and indeed I think he didn’t really understand what a concerning issue homelessness is in our community. It has increased between the two Census periods and that should cause a lot of alarm. In addition to that of course we know there’s housing stress and a range of other issues that contribute to homelessness. So we need a holistic approach and if a number of Ministers can work together to do that or one Minister can, I’m not fussed how many bodies are actually looking into this issue, I’d just like to see something done. And by putting one’s head in the sand on this and saying ‘it’s not really a big problem because only 0.5 per cent of the population is actually homeless’ I think is pretty concerning from the Minister who’s meant to be advocating and arguing for solutions in this sector.

PATRICK: It is a complex issue and it needs an integrated approach. I live in the east end of Adelaide and every night I walk past people who are sleeping on footpaths, it’s a tragedy and I cannot imagine talking to any of them about a positive spin.

CLARKE: While we’re talking about this issue we did hear from Ian Cox from the Hutt Street Centre early this morning and he did say this winter has been the most challenging, and just wanted to take the opportunity to continue to get the word out that Code Blue has in fact been activated for tonight with this weather that’s coming in, which means Hutt Street will be open longer and WestCare will be open for overnight stay, and Hutt Street will look at helping people get there and transporting them to that Wright Street base as well. Amanda Rishworth, a lot has been said increasingly about which pre-election promises will be dumped by the Labor Party. Former Premier Jay Weatherill is with Craig Emerson, he’s leading up the review into your election loss. What’s the biggest thing you think they’ll find?

RISHWORTH: I really don’t want to pre-empt the review, I’ve got a lot of respect for both Jay Weatherill and Craig Emerson and I think they will dig very deeply. The review will cover a range of areas, not just our policies but looking at our effectiveness on social media and digital media, in advertising, a range of different areas. I don’t want to pre-empt it.

CLARKE: Amanda Rishworth are you telling me you have not gone home to your husband or the people in your electoral office and said right this is what we should have done differently?

RISHWORTH: Certainly I think there’s been issues around our ability to communicate, social media is a big challenge in how you get your message out. I’ve mentioned on this program before combatting misinformation about the death tax was a big challenge. But we’ve also got to review our policies that we took to the election, there’s substance in that we can’t just talk about the advertising, we’ve got to review our policies as well. And we will go through that process.

CLARKE: I’m sure James Stevens and Rex Patrick could help.

RISHWORTH: I’m sure they could and I could give them a critique of some of their policies.

STEVENS: To pay Amanda and the Labor Party a compliment I don’t think they struggled to get their message out at all, they made their positions very clear and people adjudicated on them.

CLARKE: I don’t even think we can bend that into calling it faint praise at all James Stevens. We do have to leave it there. Amanda Rishworth all the very best I know you’re heading off onto maternity leave and I hope your birthday gets better. Enjoy happy birthday Amanda Rishworth Labor MP for Kingston, James Stevens Liberal MP for Sturt, and Centre Alliance’s Rex Patrick. Thank you all for for coming into the studio.


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