*** Date not accurately recorded ***
HOST PETER VAN ONSELEN: I’m joined now by Labor’s Stephen Jones, he is Labor’s Shadow Assistant Health spokesperson.
First up, this reshuffle that I’m looking at, mental health – it’s now going into Shadow Cabinet. Of course it was in Cabinet under the previous Labor Government. Is this a policy area you think where there needs to be greater attention given what some of the health experts are telling us?
SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR HEALTH, STEPHEN JONES: Absolutely, and giving it to Katy Gallagher, former Chief Minister of the ACT and probably one of the Australia’s longest-serving health ministers, is a great choice. She is going to do a fantastic job with that portfolio and it is going to elevate it to the level where it needs to be. We’ve just come off the back of Mental Health Week and Labor has announced its mental health policy which features halving the suicide rate at the heart of it. Katy is going to be a key figure in driving that policy forward, in Cabinet and in public.
PVO: Too many cooks can spoil the broth though; it’s a big Shadow Cabinet. Bill Shorten obviously didn’t want to dump anyone –
JONES: The quality in there is outstanding –
PVO: I’m talking about the size; it is a Hewson-esque Shadow Cabinet.
JONES: When you have people of the calibre of Katy Gallagher, of Jim Chalmers, of Sam Dastyari and Terri Butler of course you want to bring them into the decision-making forums and the policy-driving forums of the Opposition. I think they are going to do a fantastic job. They are very well regarded within the party and the community. They have all been doing fantastic jobs; I’m excited about what they are going to do.
PVO: Michelle Rowland has moved into Shadow Cabinet with her small business responsibilities. Is this one where Labor acknowledges that it is a little late getting its act together? It was one of the things that Tony Abbott did do, bringing small business into the Cabinet.
JONES: He was right to bring it into the Cabinet. He was also right to pick up all of those policies which Labor was either implementing or had part-way implemented when we were in government and adopt them and make them his own –
PVO: He went much further in the last –
JONES: Well, not much further, not much further I have to say. I think that Michelle is going to do a fantastic job. Formerly, before coming to this place, she was a commercial lawyer with a strong background in communications. She gets it, she gets the needs and interests of small business and she will be a champion for them.
PVO: You’re a senior figure in the Labor Left, putting your civil liberties hat on for a moment - this idea that people can be detained not for eight days but 28 days. That seems to be a long time to be detained without charge.
JONES: I have the same concerns about this that Malcolm Turnbull had about a month ago when they were looking at a whole raft of these national security laws. Of course everyone is devastated about what happened in Parramatta a few days ago, but you’ve got to ask yourself – would these laws have made any difference? The answer is probably not, tragically not. So we’ve got to look at what it is we are trying to fix by ever-ratcheting up the laws that this Parliament and other parliaments put in place. I’m not sure they would have made a difference to these tragic circumstances, because here we had a guy who wasn’t on the radar.
PVO: Well, they wouldn’t of. There are two elements to this though; Luke Foley certainly wants to know more about the power to detain people going up from eight to 28 days. The other one is the one splashed across the Oz, control orders to apply at age 14 not age 16. Do you have worries about that?
JONES: I do have concerns about that; we want to see much more information. As the bloke who was formerly overseeing these laws, the honest broker if you like, said this morning - these changes only ever go one way. So we are proposing to move them by two years to 14, is the next step 12, is the next step 10, eight, six?
PVO: That’s an unusually conservative argument, the slippery slope –
JONES: I think in an area where you are talking about eroding peoples’ basic rights as an Australian citizen that you do require a cautious approach. So we will want a lot more information from the Government. What is the evil that they are attempting to overcome with these laws? As I said, they are clearly motivated by that terrible incident in Parramatta. But would they have made a difference? I don’t think they would have.
PVO: But how confident are you that Labor will take that view? It keeps trying to narrow the difference on national security?
JONES: Labor has taken a responsible approach to this; we don’t want to inject politics into it. We think that there are some things that should be above the political fray and national security is one of them. We have taken a responsible approach to each of the other proposals that have been brought to us by the Abbott and now Turnbull governments. But we are not just going to wave things through because we are too timid to stand up to the sorts of things that a loyal opposition is supposed to stand up for. Peoples’ rights and liberties that we have fought for - for hundreds of years - should not be discarded.
PVO: One final one, health has fallen off the radar a lot lately in terms of the public consciousness and the policy debates that are in train. How is Labor going to get it back on message? Because really the policies haven’t changed that much for the Government.
JONES: I think that it’s about to bite. With the Medicare rebate freeze, the GP Tax Mark IV or it might be Mark V, people are going to be paying more when they go see their doctor. People are going to realise that under Malcolm Turnbull, just like under Tony Abbott, going to the Doctor is going to be a more expensive exercise in this country. Out of pocket expenses are going up and with what we are suspecting might be in this TPP deal the price of medicines could go up as well.
PVO: Stephen Jones we appreciate you joining us on the program. Thank you.
JONES: Great to be with you.