Matter of Public Importance: Comunity Services

Mr STEPHEN JONES (Throsby) (15:13): The Abbott government's budget cuts have had a particularly harsh impact on community services across Australia. Vulnerable people including those trying to get treatment to free themselves of the ice addiction and women and children fleeing domestic violence are the ones who are going to suffer as a result. The government has made plenty of promises about combatting ice addiction but it has been wanting when it comes to action.


It takes a special kind of incompetence to spend $20 million three days before budget night telling the people of Australia that we have got a problem and then three days later ripping $800 million from the solutions to that problem. This is exactly what this government have done. They spent $20 million on an advertising campaign telling Australians that we had a problem with ice addiction and then, not three days later, the Treasurer stood at that dispatch box and ripped $800 million from the funds which provide the solution to ice addiction and other drug and alcohol addiction in this country.

A few moments ago, the Minister for Health, in answer to a question that I put to her about the cuts to services which are providing relief to people with drug and alcohol addictions, denied there had been any cuts to those services at all. She stood at that dispatch box and lectured me for having the temerity to ask her a question about the cuts that they are imposing upon alcohol and drug services throughout the country, particularly those in the electorate of Canning—and in Western Australia we have one of the highest levels of amphetamine addiction in the country. She said that we were misleading the parliament. She said that it was not true. In the time that she made that denial and misled the parliament, I had made available to me and the House a copy of the transcript from the Community Affairs Legislation Committee of 1 June 2015, where Dr Bartlett, of the minister's department, was asked directly about cuts to the Substance Misuse Prevention and Service Improvement Grants. In answer to a question from Senator Di Natale, Dr Bartlett had this to say: 'We have cut $7 million.' So, when the minister comes back into the House, we will be expecting that she apologises to the House, to the people of Western Australia and to the people of Canning for lying to the House, for misleading the House about the cuts that they have made to substance misuse programs, including those programs which are providing relief to people who are addicted to the terrible drug ice or methamphetamine in Western Australia.

In the last two budgets, the government has quietly ripped a total of almost $800 million from the health flexible funds, which include substance misuse funds supporting illicit drug treatment and rehabilitation as well as prevention strategies. We still do not know—and the minister had the opportunity to clarify this during question time today but she refused to—exactly how much money is going to be ripped from those funds, which are providing money to drug and alcohol rehabilitation services throughout the country. It could be from all of them; it could be from any of them.

If you contrast the position that has been taken by Bill Shorten's Labor opposition to providing security and certainty and funding to those critical services with the position taken by the government, the contrast could not be greater. Only Labor understands the importance of supporting workers and the services that they provide in front-line treatment. That is why last week, in the electorate of Canning, Bill Shorten announced that a Labor government would provide $2.7 million in funding for drug treatment services to the Palmerston Association Inc. and Hope Community Services in Canning. This would guarantee funding to those services through to 2019. In addition to that, the Leader of the Opposition promised that we would also support women and children escaping domestic violence to get the legal support that they need, by investing $270,000 for the Peel Community Legal Services. The government had an opportunity to match that promise. The government was given a specific opportunity to match that promise. Indeed, the Labor spokesperson stood up and asked the Labor candidate for the seat of Canning, 'Will you match Labor's commitment to provide $2.7 million worth of funding certainty to the drug and alcohol treatment services in the electorate that you want the people to vote for you in?' He refused to give that guarantee. When asked what he was going to do, do you know what he promised? He promised a talkfest. We have got a National Ice Taskforce. It seems to be that their answer to everything is a task force. When asked to match the funding, all the person who wants to be the next member for Canning could guarantee was that he would convene a workshop and there would be a Canning-specific ice task force. There you have it. The contrast could not be starker. We had on the one hand the Labor candidate promising to secure funding of over $2.7 million to those much-needed services, and we had the Liberal candidate squibbing the issue, offering nothing more than a talkfest.

As I said at the opening, the government have promised a lot but delivered very little. They ran a $20 million television advertising campaign telling the people of Australia something that they already knew, and that is that there is a problem with ice in our communities. But then, three days later, they ripped the money out of the services that were providing an answer to that problem. Their priorities are all wrong. They had the opportunity, and indeed the minister had the opportunity, to provide some certainty for the services right around the country in terms of their funding, but she could not do that. Instead of guaranteeing funding for the full three years over the forward estimates, all that she could do was confirm that there would be one year's guaranteed funding and no more. You would think that, if we have got a problem of the magnitude that the government tell us we have got when it comes to amphetamines and methamphetamines and ice addiction in this country, they would be guaranteeing more than one year's funding to the services that are providing an answer to that problem. But that is all the minister could do.

Well, it is not just those services, because we know that we have a significant problem with residential rehab services and detoxification services and waiting lists right around the country. A few months ago, we saw the member for Dobell give a speech in her electorate where she made the outrageous claim that she knew firsthand of a situation where somebody had walked into a public hospital after gouging their eyeballs out and eating them with a spoon, in an ice-induced rage. We know of course that the story was not true, but the member for Dobell, in her defence, said that this was evidence of the concern that both she and members of her constituency had about the scourge of ice on the New South Wales Central Coast. We contacted the Kamira Alcohol and Other Drug Treatment Services in Wyong on the New South Wales Central Coast, and we heard of the problems that they are facing. They have waiting lists in excess of three months. This is a service which provides specialist treatment for women in particular. If these people do not get treatment inside a one-month period, they face having their children removed from them. They have over 30 people calling this service every day seeking access to a residential rehab service, and they have to turn them away.

I hope the member for Dobell is raising this issue with the Prime Minister and the Minister for Health, who could do nothing more than deny the truth that they are cutting funds from these services. I hope each and every one of those members opposite who have been running those forums in their electorates, whipping their constituencies up about the concern they have with ice and the fact that they have a national task force will ask themselves what they are going to do about the solutions to the problem. We know that they are cutting $7.2 million from the funds. We know that in Dobell, in Alice Springs, in the Northern Territory and in Canning and in services right around the country they do not have the resources today. The problem is getting worse and all this government can do is cut funds from the services which are the answer to the problem. Their priorities are all wrong: $20 million to tell Australia we have a problem; $800 million from the solution to the problem. The people of Canning and the people of Australia deserve much better.