MIL-OSI Australia: Minister Shorten doorstop interview at St Johns Crisis Centre, Surfers Paradise

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Source: Ministers for Social Services


SUBJECTS: Community Partnerships Announcement; Inflation; Global Shipping; NDIS; US Election; Senator Fatima Payman;

BILL SHORTEN, MINISTER FOR THE NDIS AND GOVERNMENT SERVICES: It’s quite fantastic to be here at Saint John’s Crisis Centre on the Gold Coast, Surfers Paradise. We sometimes think of this part of Australia as a place for fun and for holidays. It’s a great place to live in fantastic weather and beaches. But there’s still disadvantage. People who are down on their luck have fallen out of the system. They’re fellow Australians, and they need help. So, I’m really proud to be here at Saint John’s Crisis. And they do a fantastic job, they do. They’ve provided 30,000 meals last year. This is a welcoming place for people who are really doing it hard. Today, though, we’re announcing a new initiative to help the good work that’s already been done by a marvellous community of Saint John’s Crisis Centre and fantastic volunteers. Today I’m pleased to announce we’re extending what we call a community services programme, where we get really amazing skilled operators out of Services Australia and we embed them beyond the front line, beyond the Centrelink office, beyond the phone call system, beyond the digital portal, right out where the people are on the streets. So, Saint John’s has been successful in getting one of our resources. That resource has a face, and a name. It’s Larissa. She’s going to do a great job here. What we are determined to do is help Australians who are down on their luck. They’ve fallen beyond the safety net. We want to just provide a helping hand to bring people who need that. So, for people who are under-documented, undocumented, the people who might have tremendous challenges with their mental health or addiction, people who are just not coping.

This is an easier place to go to get help than perhaps going into an intimidating Government office. So, Saint John’s is one of eight new organisations, nine new organisations who are receiving a support where the Government goes to the people. Larissa is here. She works with the staff and the volunteers here. And when someone’s doing it really hard, they get not just a friendly conversation, not just some fantastic support here, but we get them back into Medicare. We make sure that they’re getting some child support. We make sure that if they’re entitled to a disability pension, they’re getting the minimum. So, we started with two pilot programs two years ago when Labor got elected in Melbourne and Sydney. We built crews in the Salvos in Melbourne. We’ve rolled that out to 18 organisations. We’ve reviewed it. It’s working. I’m pleased to say that because of this program in the last two years, 33,000 of our fellow Australians who are really doing it incredibly hard, are now treated with decency. They’re treated as human beings in this lucky Country. And now we bring this service to the Gold Coast. Why don’t I hand over briefly to Dianne, who’s the general manager of Saint John’s Crisis Centre, and then we might hear from Larissa as well about the sort of work. It just means that the glitter on the Gold Coast, the glitter. A fantastic time at Surfers Paradise. It also means that the people doing it hardest, they’re not forgotten too. So, I’ll hand over to Dianne and then I’ll hand over to Larissa. Thank you.

DIANNE KOZIK, SAINT JOHN’S CRISIS CENTRE: I’d just like to say thank you for this amazing, amazing initiative that you’ve introduced to us. Saint John’s is really proud to partner with Services Australia to help break the barriers and to give easy access to people to get their payments and services, and to help people that are homeless to access service in an easy way and do it every day, which is fantastic, and also to help build trust with Government again and benefit our community.

JOURNALIST: Could you explain some practical examples of what people might do when they come here?

SHORTEN: Why don’t we get Larissa? And then why don’t we do all the questions as a bunch? Is that all right?

LARISSA, SERVICE AUSTRALIA: Hello. My name is Larissa, Community Partnership Specialist Officer. My role here is to work with Saint John’s Crisis Centre staff. And we provide a service where we support our mutual clients who are facing significant vulnerabilities and barriers, and work with them to link them in with payments and services, and whether that be Government Services or community agencies. And we support them the whole way through.

SHORTEN: So, in answer to the question, what are some things you’ve done since you anticipate doing it, joining people up here, what sort of questions do you get?

LARISSA: We get a variety of questions. Every person is an individual. So, the best one that we can do is ensuring that they are on the right payment, that they are on a payment, and again, linking them in with any service that they may require.

JOURNALIST: What are some of those services? What sorts of things can you help people get?

LARISSA: For payments? So, it would just depend on each person’s living situation. So it could be that they need to be on a jobseeker payment or the disability payment. It just depends on each individual.

JOURNALIST: And how long have you been doing this here

LARISSA: In the Gold Coast?

JOURNALIST: Yeah. Or are you now starting to do live here in this centre before you’re doing it?

LARISSA: So, I previously was in Alice Springs working at the Youth Accommodation and Support Services. So, I worked there for nearly 10 months, and then I moved here to be closer to family. And now I’m working here in the Gold Coast at Saint John’s Crisis Centre. So, 12 months I’ve been undertaking the role.

JOURNALIST: Do you have any examples of like, people being able to get up on their feet through these services?

LARISSA: Yes. So, again, we find I think the most difficult thing is people who aren’t able to attend appointments with like a job provider and having that suspended. So, it’s about working with them to make sure again that they are receiving the correct support through the provider, or whether there are other avenues that we might be able to go over and internal support that they might be able to get.

JOURNALIST: Can you tell us a bit about, I guess, the people that come to you for help here and what that moment is like when they’re able to get that sort of support and how that changes their lives.

LARISSA: The people that come are facing significant vulnerabilities. Homelessness is definitely a really big one for them. So, to be able to know that I’m building those trust-based relationships with them and knowing that they’re going to get supported is really an amazing feeling. And, you know, being able to give an outcome and also point them in that right direction.

JOURNALIST: How busy has the last 12 months been for you here?

LARISSA: Well, I haven’t been here for the 12 months I’ve only been here since.

SHORTEN: Maybe Dianne can tell a bit about what they’re seeing, the traffic they’re coming in, and cost of living pressures.

KOZIK: Yeah. So unfortunately, we’ve seen people come to the Centre that haven’t required help before. We’ve got double income families that can’t afford rent, can’t afford to put food on the table for their families. And it’s quite confronting for these people to come to a place like this when they’ve never had to do it before. Of course, we have a lot of people that are homeless. We have a lot of people that are suffering from domestic violence as well. And having Larissa here has made a big impact to the service that we can give, because it’s an immediate service. So, it’s not a matter of, oh, look, we’ll link you with Services Australia. It’s we will talk to them today and get you sorted out today, which has been absolutely fantastic for so many people. Thank you.

SHORTEN: So, to be really clear, some Australians get themselves in a set of circumstances where we don’t judge. Life has a way of tipping you, perhaps on your side when you least expect it, trauma, child abuse, addiction. But here there’s zero judgment. What we’re trying to do here is that some people don’t have a DSS number, a Department of Social Services number. They don’t have what we call a customer number. Some Australians are not even on Medicare. Some people don’t know how to access the basics to be able to get a minimum payment. Our social security payment system is not generous, it’s the minimum. But what they’re doing here is that you can get a meal, you can get a food support, but now, at the same time, in real time, rather than sending someone away to go to an office which does their head in, wait on a phone queue, which you know can make the people in the best of situations feel a bit bad. You can get it all done in one go. And the trick with rescuing people and that’s what these two ladies, that’s what the volunteers do here. That’s what this does. This literally rescues our fellow Australians who’ve fallen out of the net and gives them a helping hand and puts them in the safety net. So even in places as glamorous as here, there is a disadvantage. And they’re doing great work. And the Government’s taking services to the people, rather than expecting people to find a treasure map and try and navigate Government Services.

JOURNALIST: Is this the only Gold Coast location where this is a thing?

SHORTEN: No. We started, as I said, at the top of Bourke Street in Melbourne at the Salvo 614 project and Bill Crews Foundation in Sydney. We’ve now rolled it out to cities and regions all around Australia. Today we’re announcing, for example, that there’ll be services in Toowoomba, will be services in Cairns. There’s already services that we’re supporting in Brisbane and that is the case all over Australia. Disadvantage does not know a particular postcode. There are certainly some postcodes doing it harder than others, but people doing it hard. They’re everywhere. And so, our clear and welcoming message is if you’re doing it hard, don’t be afraid to put your hand up and you don’t have to necessarily come into a Services Australia office or you can come to a place like here, not be judged, be supported. And there are 33,000 Aussies who’ve had positive interactions and are now receiving some of the basic supports which many of the rest of us take for granted.

JOURNALIST: So sorry, how many locations on the Gold Coast?

SHORTEN: Oh no, this is the main Gold Coast one. Yes. Sorry.

JOURNALIST: Is there any, I guess like chance that we could see more of these programs.

SHORTEN: As the program succeeds, I hope it spreads. We started with two, two years ago. We moved to 18, 12 months ago, 10 months ago. Now we’re expanding it to 27. And it’s just all about making sure that people don’t have to find Government, that Government can work and take itself to the people. And as Dianne said, in a modern day where a lot of people don’t trust Government, these little acts of common sense and support, I think, actually help bring the whole community together in a more socially cohesive way.

JOURNALIST: You touched on it briefly, but I guess, there’s a cost-of-living pressures kind of pushing people closer, especially on the Gold Coast, to these kind of services

SHORTEN: Everywhere It’s a challenge. When Labor got into power, inflation had a six in front of it. Now it’s low, of course, but mortgage rates are putting pressure on a group of Australians who probably never thought they’d needed support. But then there’s a whole lot of people for whom having a mortgage is a mirage, it’s a dream. So that’s why our $300 energy payment, which started on the 1st of July, is good. I did a little bit of homework in preparation for coming to South-East Queensland, but when you look across the seats at Moncrieff, McPherson, Fadden and write something like 340,000, 340,000 taxpayers this fortnight will see their tax cuts coming through, which that will also help. There’s also cheaper medicines, which we’re pushing. And for people on the minimum wage, we’ve seen wages move a bit for the first time in a long time.

JOURNALIST: Shipping freight rates are up 300% in the last year are you worried that this is driving up inflation?

SHORTEN: Australia is an island nation. We depend on shipping. We get over 90% of everything comes by ship. The reality is, though, that we’re not in control of every sea lane, in every ship in the world. We’ve got the dreadful Houthi terrorism in Yemen, which is putting pressure on all of the shipping prices, the insurance which come through the Red Sea and the Arabian Sea. Also, there’s speculation that if, President Trump was to be successful, America would put tariffs on Chinese goods. So, we’re seeing a mass exodus of Chinese goods through Asian ports, which is again, there’s only a certain number of ships in the world. And if there’s more stuff to be carried on the ships and ships available, that puts upward pressure on prices. So yes, this is a challenge. It’s not one which a nation state like Australia can simply click its fingers and wish away, but it does mean that our reduction in Government spending and our cost-of-living relief couldn’t be more timely.

JOURNALIST: What, if anything, could be done to reduce those freight prices?

SHORTEN: Well, it’d be good if the Iranian funded Houthi terrorists pull their head in and stop trying to terrorise the rest of the shipping lanes, Obviously, it’s important that we are able to ensure that there’s stability in the Asia Pacific, and, you know, that the American election process is up to the Americans. It’s a bit out of our control. It does, though, make you realise what a lost opportunity Australia has had over 50 years by getting rid of our own shipping. If Australia had more Australian flag ships, then at least we’d have some greater control, at least some competitive edge. In terms of our shipping, the best thing we can do domestically, is be as productive as we can. Keep our war on inflation going, make sure that the, our measures, the cost, delivery and relief flow through to the people.

JOURNALIST: On the opposition to nuclear policy. Have you and your colleagues been instructed not to post memes mocking it?

SHORTEN: I haven’t posted any meme mocking it. I would just like Peter Dutton to explain how much it costs. I mean, can we all just take a deep breath about this? It is an, it is an energy policy which will theoretically lower prices in 2050. But hello Peter Dutton, it’s 2024. I don’t want an energy policy which will do something for my grandkids. Not that I even have grandkids. The point about it is what about now? The Coalition has gone down a rabbit hole of a fantasy project where the economics don’t stand up. I defy you to find a single large reactor built in the West in the last 20 years, which hasn’t become a gigantic economic white elephant. Why are we having a war about a theoretical idea where the economics is unfunded? It just doesn’t add up. What this nation doesn’t need is another unicorn promising, you know, cheap fantasy prices in 25 years’ time. Let’s get on with solar. Let’s get on with renewable. Let’s get on with gases. Our mainstream, dispatchable baseload power.

JOURNALIST: Your comments on the weekend? Just about only 1 or 2 NDIS participants, getting access to sex workers. If the scale is so small, why go after that? Aren’t there bigger savings to be made?

SHORTEN: Then why do journalists keep asking me about it. I answer the questions I get. I’m not banging on about it. But there is 100 million NDIS transactions a year. The ones that get approved. The Greens want to argue about something which isn’t getting funded, and the Liberals want to get all moral and pure and pearl clutching about something that isn’t getting funded. This is literally a Seinfeld argument. You know, Seinfeld was an episode that secret of Seinfeld series. They have arguments about nothing. Most people on the Scheme are doing the right thing. Most providers are doing the right thing. What the Government wants to do is just be very clear about what you can spend your NDIS money on. So yes, we don’t think it should be spent on certain services, but we’re also tackling fraud. We’re also looking at how we make sure that unregistered providers are clearly accountable, and how registered providers deliver better quality. But I have to say in the media world of clickbait mentioned the word sex, everyone goes nuts.

JOURNALIST: Did you arrange it? Did you raise it with advocates before you made the comment?

SHORTEN: This is an issue which has been around for years. And by the way, when I talk with advocates, I have met tens of thousands of people with disability. I have met with their advocates. For me, what the main game about the NDIS is, is to get it back to its original purpose. It’s literally changing hundreds of thousands of lives for the better. But I also believe in telling the truth. The truth is that some service providers, and you’ll see them up here on the Gold Coast, are ripping the Scheme off. The reality is that some participants are spending money on things they shouldn’t be. So, let’s clear up how you get into the Scheme. Let’s clear up what you can spend your money on. Let’s clear up who you can spend your money with. And let’s start also building a system that supports the people who don’t need to be on the NDIS but have still got disabilities and need support. We’ve got a plan we’re following through. The big shame is that the Liberals and Greens, you know, they’re just off chasing the wrong issues.

JOURNALIST: Is it appropriate for young Labor members to host your former colleague Senator Fatima Payman, given the events of recent weeks?

SHORTEN: As a general rule, I would have thought the Labor Party would host Labor Party politicians. Fatima has chosen not to be a Labor Party politician. But, you know, Young Labor is Young Labor.

JOURNALIST: Thanks. Are these global shipping trade industries like China? Registration or divine ownership? I think they’re charging money for it in Australia. Is this something the Government would consider to help?

SHORTEN: I’m sure the ACCC will be looking at unfair pricing policies, but I couldn’t add much more than that at this point.

JOURNALIST: Are colleagues in Western Sydney are worried about the Muslim vote, and do you think we should have political parties based on religion?

SHORTEN: A lot of politicians have as part of their value-base faith. That’s fine. Some of them are raised Muslim in Labor, some are raised Jewish, some of them raised Christian, Catholic. So, we bring our values. And obviously, if you’ve been raised with a religious background, you have some of that. But I also know that it’s a spectrum and personally really fundamentalist based religious parties I’m uncomfortable with. I think when you come to this country, we’re the nation of the second chance. And I think that when you sign up to be an Australian, you sign up to our values, which is freedom of worship, by the way, but also pay your taxes, adhere to the laws, be a good neighbour, raise your family well, I think Australians of Muslim heritage are not one homogenous group. There’s, just like Christians are not one homogenous group. So, when people talk about a party, a Muslim party, I actually think they’re talking more about the Palestinian issue. My experience of the tens of thousands of Australians of Muslim heritage I’ve met, it’s just like my experience of the hundreds of thousands of Australians of Christian faiths.

They’re not defined by just one ingredient. Australians of Muslim heritage are like their neighbours of Christian heritage. You know, what are the kids seeing on social media? Can they afford to pay the bills? Have they got a job? Do they have enough superannuation? Where will they go on holiday next month? What’s the price of energy? So no, I think that this talk, whilst anyone’s allowed, I suppose, to dream up anything, I think most Australians of most religious faiths, or none are not simply defined by one characteristic. So, I know our track record in Western Sydney is fighting for the underdog and that won’t change.

JOURNALIST: You mentioned Donald Trump would be difficult. The election of Donald Trump would be difficult for shipping. Do you think Joe Biden should run against him?

SHORTEN: What I actually said is that there is some concern that if he was elected, he may put tariffs on. So, we’re seeing some increase in exports out of China to get ahead of what they think may happen. I stress the word ‘may’. Who the Democrats pick and who the Republicans pick is up for the American people. And there’s nothing I can add to that. That’s their domestic politics. It’s interesting, but my view is like anyone else’s.