ABC Illawarra Radio - Real Action Needed on ice

PETER RILEY: Last week the federal Opposition was critical of the federal Government's response to the ice epidemic.

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Of course the Prime Minister announced a national hotline for ice criminals which has been slammed by the Member for Throsby Stephen Jones as a mask for bigger issues right now. Mr Jones good morning.

SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR HEALTH, STEPHEN JONES: Good to be with you Peter.

RILEY: You have been pretty critical of the Government's response to the ice epidemic, why?

JONES: Well, the Government is playing a little bit like an under seven soccer team, they are all running around trying to chase the ball instead of playing in position. We already have a crime stoppers hotline in most states around the country, we don't need to be duplicating what the states are already doing. So finding himself in a hot situation the Prime Minister is looking for a distraction. We know that there is community concern about ice, we need to act on it. But the one big thing that the Commonwealth could do here would be to restore funding into drug and alcohol treatment services, which are sorely wanting in this state and right around the country. 

RILEY: So instead of suggesting an ice "dob in line", which is really what it is, you are wanting more money to go back to helping people who have already got it. That doesn't actually stop those people from using and the illegal processes going on around ice though, does it?

JONES: No, and the point I'm making is that we don't need to be duplicating what already exists. We've got scarce resources and if the Commonwealth is to make a difference what it could be doing is putting money into drug and alcohol - particularly ice - treatment services. Typically around the country you've got a six month waiting list before you can get in. So this is a person who has decided that they want to turn their life around, they want to stop using, they want to stop a life of crime and they want to get into a drug and alcohol service; well you've got to wait six months until you can get a spot. That just doesn't make sense.

RILEY: We've had a lot of discussion on this radio station about ice and there seems to be a lot of people in the community who want something done about it. There have been ice forums held nationally and I'm sure you are aware of the concern coming through. Why is it that you are saying no to federal intervention and pushing it all to the states?

JONES: No, let's be very clear here I am not saying no to federal intervention. I am saying that every player needs to play in their position. The Commonwealth Government can really assist here by putting money into drug and alcohol treatment services, into services which are going to help people get off the drugs and turn their life around. The point I make here Peter is that we have six month waiting lists, that's six month waiting lists, in these services around the country. These are for people who want to turn their life around, they want to stay off drugs and they need help to do that. So if the Commonwealth has got extra money to throw around, wouldn't it be better to put that into a service that is currently struggling rather than duplicating a service that already exists and is run very well by state governments around the country.

RILEY: What role should government play in law enforcement at the federal level?

JONES: There is an important role for government to play, they control the federal police and the customs service. This includes cracking down and trying to intercept drugs as they are being imported into the country, an incredibly important role that the Commonwealth plays generally in coordination with the state agencies. So that is one role that they can definitely play, funding these services. As I've said they are very important indeed and having a nationally consistent approach to our law and order and health services is very important.

RILEY: What would you do, if Labor was in government now, we are twelve to sixteen months away from a federal election, what would Labor do?

JONES: We would restore the money that is being cut from the drug and alcohol treatment services and other services around the country. Over $800 million has been cut from the Flexible Funds, which fund these services amongst other things. That would be a first place to start. We also need to ensure that there is a greater connection between the police services, the court system and the referral and treatment services. You need to have a joined up strategy. Even the Police Commissioner himself has said that we cannot arrest our way out of this problem. So having a law and order strategy alone will not work. 

RILEY: Now on another issue, you have spoken about a front for other matters. Are you alluding to today's same-sex marriage bill from Warren Entsch, which will go to Parliament?

JONES: I was actually alluding to the fact that we have record unemployment in my region and many other regions around the country. The Government doesn't want to talk about it. But I think that Warren has done a gutsy thing in standing up against his Prime Minister and putting that bill into Parliament. As you know I support it, I think the Government should provide a free vote on the issue and get the issue done. It's not the most important thing we need to do in Australian society at the moment, but that doesn't mean that we shouldn't do it and do it quickly.

RILEY: It won't actually come to a vote, will it?

JONES: No regrettably, I think that is silly. A lot of people woke up last Thursday morning feeling a bit disappointed in their Prime Minister and their country. They were thinking - what's all the fuss about? What's all the fuss about here? Why don't we just do it so we can focus on all these other issues.

RILEY: We've run out of time, thank you.

JONES: Thank you Peter.

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