Chatting to ABC Hobart on my recent trip to Tasmania

JOURNALIST: Federal Labor today will announce funding towards a hospice in Launceston if elected. The Shadow Minister for Regional Communications and the Shadow Assistant Minister for Health is in Devonport for that and other announcements. Stephen Jones, good morning to you.   



JOURNALIST: You are starting the day in Devonport talking about the drug Ice. What specifically will you be announcing?

JONES: Today I’ll be with Justine Keay and Senator Anne Urquart. We will be announcing that an elected Shorten Labor Government will invest $970,000 to support Mission Australia to expand its Youth Beat Program - which operates very successfully out of Hobart - into Northern Tasmania. The reason we are doing this is that we know prevention is always better than treatment and cure and what we want to do is ensure there are preventative services to stop people taking up drugs like methamphetamine or getting involved in other drugs of addiction.     

JOURNALIST: Is this about rehabilitation or is this about prevention in the first place?

JONES: It’s about prevention. This specific investment is about prevention. It’s about providing Mission Australia with both the capital cost to purchase a van and some staff running costs as well so they can have youth workers out on the street at night in places where young people at risk are congregating to provide education services, harm minimisation services and if there are people they believe are in need of referral to treatment services then they can provide that first line of assistance and referral as well.

JOURNALIST: You’ve looked at this issue on the mainland where your own electorate is, is the problem in North West Tasmania any worse that communities than what other regional communities nationally are feeling?

JONES: What we know is that there’s a stubborn correlation between areas that are struggling with high unemployment, lower than average incomes, with other social problems. We know there’s a stubborn correlation between that and problems with addiction, whether its alcohol or other drugs. We know that those things are often going hand-in-hand so, in an area that’s going through challenging times like we are in Northern Tasmania – and in my own electorate in the Illawarra in NSW – we know that we have spikes in these sorts of problems.

JOURNALIST: What about tougher, Queensland-style laws to deal with the sorts of people who deal in these drugs in the first place?

JONES:  Look I think we need a balanced approach. I think we can’t be tough enough on the people who are pedaling drugs who are pushing drugs at our young people and preying on the vulnerable. But what we know is that those strategies alone aren’t going to lick this problem. The head of the Government’s own Ice Taskforce said last year that we can’t arrest our way out of this problem. We’ve got to look at the causes of addiction, we’ve got to look at the causes of the problem.  And when somebody wants to turn their life around, when they stick their hand up and say my life’s a mess, I need help, we should be there wrapping around and helping them, getting them detoxed, getting them into treatment and getting their life back on track because it’s a lot cheaper than sticking somebody in jail or some other sort of institution.

JOURNALIST: Of course, briefly, this is an election promise and little more. If you were elected, when would that $970,000 be delivered to North Western Tasmania?

JONES:   It’ll be over a three-year period, starting in the first year of an elected Labor Government. So its providing capital costs up front for the van and staffing costs over the next three years.

JOURNALIST: On other matters this morning, two months ago the State released a controversial report that showed Northern Tasmania does not need a palliative care hospice, that there are enough services available that exist at the moment. You’re going to come out an announce support for a palliative care hospice today in Launceston – why?

JONES:  We know that there are 10,000 people in Launceston to date living alone. We’ve got an ageing population, stress on our hospitals and we see that we’re going to have a problem down the track.  A hospice provides an alternative, a very good alternative to hospital-based care, a cheaper alternative to medical-based, hospital-based care for people who are in their end of life, in palliative care, that can’t, for one reason or another, receive that at home. There are a lot of people that might be living alone, not unwell enough to have to go to hospital but still need support at the end of their life – or they may have a carer who is themselves struggling – so a hospice provides if you like a half-way between that highly medical, intensive model of care that is provided in a hospital and the very very low levels of medical intervention or care that are available in somebody&rsqu o;s home. It’s always better if somebody is in their home but a hospice if you like provides a halfway house between those two, three models of care.

JOURNALIST: So you’ll be announcing support for one today in Launceston. Will you be announcing funding for one or funding to look at establishing one?

JONES: I’ll be in Launceston later today with Ross Hart and Senator Helen Polley and we’ll be announcing that an elected Labor Government will provide $3 million to build a hospice. This is capital money and on the reports that we’ve had and the discussions we’ve had from proponents, the $3 million will meet the capital costs of building the hospice, which will provide that facility and which will provide an alternative model of care for the people in Northern Tasmania.

JOURNALIST: The communities of Devonport and Burnie want fibre to their businesses and the residents in that area want fibre to their home. They’re slated to get fibre to the node which is not necessarily what they’re telling us they want.  I want to take you to your recent policy announcement on the NBN in Australia. Your policy says you’ll deliver what the Libs have already promised on the current schedule and you might change things from there. That effectively means that NBN in Burnie and Devonport will be fibre to the node, doesn’t it? 

JONES: We can’t tear up contracts Leon, but we think Malcolm Turnbull’s made a mess of this and the heavy rains, tragedies up here in Northern Tasmania – and in my own electorate as well I’ve got to say so I know what the communities are going through – one of the things you find in the aftermath of it, it exposes all of the rotten copper networks that have got to be remediated and phone signals and internet signals go down immediately after those sort of heavy weather events. So we know that problems are there. We are for those areas where fibre to the node has already been rolled out – or is underway – where contracts have been let – we are going to commission Infrastructure Australia to put together a pathway for us to look at what we can do to get them a first class service.

JOURNALIST: But to be clear, in Devonport and Burnie, contracts have been let for fibre to the node, for copper in other words, to businesses and homes in Devonport and Burnie and under your policy, that’s also what they’ll get under Labor.

JONES: As I said Leon, we cannot tear up those contracts. It’s almost impossible under our Constitution for us to be tearing up those contracts and what we’d find ourselves in is a situation where we’d be paying for the contract that Malcolm Turnbull made and not getting any service whatsoever into those areas.

JOURNALIST: So under Labor, to be clear, fibre to NBN, for Devonport and Burnie, will be the same, whoever gets elected in July?

JONES: No that’s not quite true Leon. We’ve announced that – let’s tell the whole picture for Northern Tasmania – we have announced fibre to the premises for Queenstown, Zeehan and Rosebery – a significant announcement for Northern Tasmania. We are able to do it in those areas because the Malcolm Turnbull mess has not yet arrived in those towns. But in those towns where the rollout is already underway or is just about to commence, we can’t tear up the contracts but what we will do is to commission a panel of experts, immediately on coming to government, to provide advice to us to the pathway of how we untangle that mess, how we provide a first class service – the best way to provide a first class service for those towns that have currently got fibre to the node. Now we’ve got to be upfront with people, we can’t unscramble this mess overnight.

JOURNALIST: And just finally this morning, the Mersey Hospital at La Trobe, survives on a two-yearly funding commitment that rolls over with much debate and concern in the local community, every 700 or so days. It is very difficult to run a hospital on that basis. Would that change if you were elected?

JONES: We’ve got no plans to change any of the funding arrangements for the Mersey Hospital but I’ll obviously be talking to locals about all of the health issues as I’m up here today and I’m sure that they’ll want to get into my ear about that as well.

JOURNALIST: They no doubt will and they will be asking for a more concrete commitment, a long term commitment to the future of the Mersey Hospital. Do you have any plans to change the structure of the funding arrangement at the moment?

JONES: Like I said Leon, I’ll listen and talk to locals but I’m not in a position to make any announcements about the Mersey Hospital today.

JOURNALIST: Appreciate you talking with us today. Stephen Jones, Shadow Minister for Regional Communications, Shadow Assistant Minister for Regional Health.