SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR HEALTH, STEPHEN JONES: Right across Australia communities are concerned about the scourge of ice.
We know that in Western Australia they have almost twice the national average in terms of people using amphetamines. That is why last week Bill Shorten stood up in the electorate of Canning and committed $2.7 million worth of additional funds for drug treatment services. We challenge the Government to match that funding, because we know that treatment is the most effective way of helping people in the community of Canning turn their lives around. Regrettably, the Liberal Party’s star candidate has refused to match that commitment of additional funding for treatment services, he has offered instead nothing more than a talk-fest. Now is the time for the Government to put the money where its mouth is. We know that treatment is the most effective way of dealing with ice. Yet right throughout Australia, including in Western Australia and the electorate of Canning, there is a shortage of treatment services. People are queuing up trying to get access to services – detoxification services, treatment services – which will help them turn their lives around and those services just aren’t there. We know why this has occurred, the Government has cut $800 million from the funds which finance treatment services, including $8 million in cuts to these services in the Government’s first year alone. The Government needs to do much better and put their money with their mouth is.
JOURNALIST: On Syria, why do you think there has been this very rapid shift in political and public support for refugees? It seems it has been a pretty toxic debate over the past couple of years, why all of a sudden do we have this change of heart from both sides of politics?
JONES: I think the Government has been shamed into doing the right thing. When Labor came out a couple of days ago and said we should have a minimum of ten thousand people coming from this terrible, war-torn region the Government was made to sit up and say - what are we going to do here? I welcome the fact that some people from their own backbench stood up and said we need to do the right thing. There is nothing like a graphic image to humanise the issue. I think what has happened unfortunately over the last few years is that people who want to use this as a political football have done their best to de-humanise what is a human tragedy.
JOURNALIST: Just on Syria, the Defence Minister this morning has flagged that the campaign that will include Syria and Iraq will take two to three years, are you comfortable with Australian forces being involved in the conflict for that long?
JONES: I’m not comfortable with Australian forces being in a war zone for one day longer than they need to. But we know that we cannot sit on our hands when it comes to ISIS, we need to be part of an international effort to bring these terrorists to book.
JOURNALIST: Is ice the all-pervasive threat the Government portrays it as?
JONES: Look we know that ice is a problem. As you get around communities, particularly in regional Australia, we know that there is deep-seated concern. We know also from talking to experts in the alcohol and other drugs sector, that there is a bigger problem with alcohol and a problem with other drugs. But ice does present an acute problem with specific needs in the community and the community wants us to do something about it.
JOURNALIST: But it appears to get a disproportionate amount of attention at the moment, wouldn’t you say?
JONES: I think if there is anything good that has come from the focus on this area is that it is making us sit up and look at what the most effective ways are of dealing with alcohol and drug addiction in our community. We know that some of the existing strategies aren’t working. I welcome the fact that the head of the Government’s Ice Taskforce has said that they can’t arrest their way out of this problem. That opens up the possibility of a more sane approach to drug and alcohol policy in this country.
JOURNALIST: Warren Mundine has written a fairly scathing column in the Fin Review today about the approach the parliamentary Labor Party is taking to the China Free Trade Agreement. Do you think the parliamentary Party is out of step with Labor elders?
JONES: I think the parliamentary party is in step with community expectation. They want us to reach free trade agreements with China and other countries. Let’s not forget that during our entire term in office we did all the work on the China Free Trade Agreement. But they expect us to put Australian jobs first. They expect us to say when we are reaching these agreements that if there is investment coming into this country and there are new projects starting up, Australians should be at the front of the employment queue not down the back.
JOURNALIST: Labor did much of the groundwork as you say but was unable to seal the deal. Was that because this was a sticking point over the jobs provisions?
JONES: Labor would not have reached an agreement with China or any other country that did not ensure that Australians were at the front of the employment queue when it came to a foreign or any other company investing in Australia in these large projects. This is what it is all about; of course we support free trade, of course we want the China Free Trade Agreement to be landed. But we want to see benefits for Australian workers, when there investment coming into the country in these large projects we want Australians at the front of the employment queue. When you come from an electorate like mine, where today there are around about 10,000 people who are looking for work, what is the benefit to them of new investment in my region or any other region if they are not the ones getting the jobs.
JOURNALIST: But this is turning into a dangerous game of chicken though, isn’t it between Labor and the Coalition who are both unwavering in their particular views about what is going to happen. There is a lot at stake here isn’t there?
JONES: Let’s not be silly about this. You know as well as I do that we don’t get to vote on a free trade agreement in total. We do get to vote on some of the arrangements that are necessary to implement parts of the agreement and we have made it quite clear that we won’t support any arrangements that put Australians at the back of the job queue when it comes to these large projects that are contemplated in this agreement.