2CC Stephen Cenatiempo Breakfast Show- 22/02/2022

22 February 2022


SUBJECTS: Political panel with Liberal Senator Zed Seselja; ACT drug decriminalisation; Aged care crisis.

STEPHEN CENATIEMPO, HOST: It's time to talk with our local federal politicians for our regular political panel. Alicia Payne is the Labor Member for Canberra. Alicia. Good morning. 


CENATIEMPO: Zed Seselja is the Liberal Senator for the ACT and Minister for International Development and the Pacific. Good morning Zed.
Good morning Stephen.

CENATIEMPO: The AFP Commissioner Alicia has warned in Senate estimates against decriminalizing illicit drugs. I think it's a lay down mesire that it's going to happen here in the ACT. I think there's a, I got to say, philosophically, I have a problem with this, because I think it's very different to the decriminalization of cannabis when, particularly when we're talking about drugs like heroin and ice.

PAYNE: Yes. Well, obviously, the police commissioner brings an important perspective to that debate, and one that is one of many who've contributed to the inquiry, that has ultimately recommended that the decriminalization should go ahead. And I think that we've seen from the evidence around the world that harm minimization is the best approach to take to drugs. That the so-called War on Drugs hasn't worked and we often see lives destroyed by small amounts of drugs, leading people to be in jail and have criminal records. When really what those people need is a health response that can help them to get out of those situations. And a strong justice response can actually make that even harder for people to address the help that they need if they're getting a problem with addiction. So I think that this is a welcome thing that we're decriminalizing these small amounts of drugs, and it will reduce the trauma and the stigma around drugs and see us approaching it more as the health issue that it is.

CENATIEMPO: Zed, there's a couple of problems, and on the face of it I think we all want these people to get help. But there's a couple of problems I see with this problem is, firstly, the inquiry, as all inquiries are designed to get the answer you want before you start. But when we  say small amounts of drugs, these, these amounts that have been identified in this enquiry aren't all that small. And we're not sending people to jail for small amounts of drugs anyway. I mean, it's almost, if we were locking people up for small amounts of possession. Fair enough, but we're not actually doing that in Australia.

SESELJA: Well, that's absolutely right. I mean, I spoke to the AFPA just yesterday on that very point. I asked them, and they were police officers. Officers have been working for 20 years. They've never put someone away just for possessing a small amount of drugs. That just doesn't happen. But I'm really surprised actually that Alicia on behalf of Federal Labor, is now endorsing this Labor-Greens ACT policy, to decriminalize ice and heroin. Despite the very stark warnings we heard from Reece Kershaw last week. And previously, he talked about the carnage, this would create, the chaos, the fact that it would lead to more organized crime and the ACT to narco-tourism. It impacts domestic violence, it impacts the safety of police officers, first responders. This is a seriously bad policy to make ice and heroin more available and to decriminalize them. And I'm quite surprised, actually, that Alicia on behalf of Federal Labor is now endorsing this because, you know, we know the Greens federally have a policy to do this to follow the ACT and do this at a federal level. And I guess it just goes to the dangers of a Labor-Greens alliance at the federal level where we now have Federal Labor, saying that they support the decriminalization of hard drugs, like ice and heroin. It's just extraordinary.

CENATIEMPO: So Alicia, I want to touch on the point that you say, oh, sorry, I'll let you have your say first.

PAYNE: Well, I just want to note as well that the former AFP Commissioner does very much support the decriminalization of drugs. So it's not an across the board view from police that this shouldn't go ahead.

CENATIEMPO: When you talk about getting people the help they need, if you take it out of the criminal justice system, how do you compel people to get that help? But secondly, in the ACT, we know that helps not available, it's almost like we're putting the cart before the horse.

PAYNE: Well, this is an issue that does have a federal element as well, because the government has cut the funding in what goes to what's called the flexible funds, which is something that the federal government provides funding for things like drug rehab, and that's absolutely right there are currently waiting lists. When people want to access rehab or other types of support, they have to be able to do it right away when they have that moment. If there's a six month waiting list, that moment is lost and this is something exactly, we should be investing in those sorts of supports for people to enable them to deal with these issues in the a health sense

SESELJA: Sorry, you're not going to, no, sorry, I'm not going to allow that to stand. The Federal Government, under Liberal-Nationals Government, has been investing in drug rehab right here in the ACT. Things like Karralika when we announced a $68 million funding package for a range of measures. We've doubled hospital funding here. So I'm not going to cop that. But I would just go back to the point and this is this is quite extraordinary. This goes to the Labor Party's problem federally with law and order, with border security ...

PAYNE: Come on. [laughter]

SESELJA: ... that they would now undermine, they would now undermine the AFP. You know, you cut funding AFP when you were last in government. And now despite these warnings from the AFP Commissioner, you're saying 'Yep, right policy from Labor and the Greens in the ACT, great policy from Federal Greens'. So if we got a Labor-Greens alliance at the federal level, we would have softer drug laws at a federal level to back up the absolute carnage and chaos that would come from decriminalizing ice and heroin in the ACT.

CENATIEMPO: But I want to get back to the health funding issue, Alicia, because here in the ACT, we know that the ACT government has made deliberate decisions to take money out of the local health budget. We know we've got the worst hospital emergency room waiting times in the, in the country. Access to mental health services, which is probably more important than anything else when we're talking drugs, is sorely lacking in the ACT. You can't blame the federal government for all of that.

PAYNE: Well, I'm not sure that's correct, Stephen, that they would have taken money out of these things.

CENATIEMPO: They did, they built a tram. They took money out of the hospital budget and built a tram.

PAYNE: Well, also last year, we saw all of the states and territories, Liberal and Labor, ask the federal government to increase the federal component of health funding and they flat out refused in the middle of a pandemic.

SESELJA: We've doubled it. I'm not sure I mean ...
PAYNE: That is not true Zed. That's not true.

SESELJA: Well, can I use the figures? I'll give you I'll give you the figures. I mean, do you want the figures? Because it was $200 million a year when you left office Labor left office federally for Canberra. We're giving around $500 million a year now, So more than doubled. And you only have to go to Jon Stanhope, the former Labor Chief Minister to say it has been the ACT Government that is underfunded the hospital system at a time when the federal government has doubled spending in Canberra on hospitals. Now I can I can send you the figures. But I'm not sure which of those you could use.

PAYNE: I just think that it's one of those things where if you say something increased over many years, of course it does, because of things like inflation. You can't actually call that doubling something when it's not actually a policy decision.

SESELJA: But it went up 10% year-on-year. 10%. Inflation hasn't doubled, the prices haven't doubled since 2013 when we came in. And this is again, the Labor Party. So Jon Stanhope,

PAYNE: It's not just inflation. There is also the population growth, there a range of things that factor into funding like that.

SESELJA: … and the ACT Government has increased it by about 4%

PAYNE: To say the Liberal Government, actually doubling health funding, that is just a misrepresentation of what's going on there.

CENATIEMPO: I want to move on to aged care, where both parties have been ... 

SESELJA: Yeah, just ignore the numbers.

CENATIEMPO: ... well, but aged care is in crisis. There's no two ways about that. We heard last week that a home in Bombala is going to be forced to shut its doors due to a lack of staff and various other problems in the sectors. Now, I point the finger at both major parties here because neither party has done anything when they've been in government to actually improve the aged care facility. Back under the Howard Government years, Bronwyn Bishop put together a plan to improve aged care that never got implemented. I know it's all well and good to play politics on this. But when are we going to fix aged care. Zed, I'll start with you, you're in government, you've been in government since 2013.

SESELJA: Yeah, look, there are significant challenges in aged care. One of the first things that Prime Minister Scott Morrison did when he came to office was to initiate the Royal Commission. And we are implementing the recommendations of that Royal Commission. I'm not pretending there are serious challenges in aged care. Of course there are. But what we have done in response to that if you look at funding levels, they've gone from around $13 billion to $26 billion. We've focused a lot on in home care. So when we came into office, there are about 60,000 In Home Care Packages, now around 270,000 and growing very fast. The wait times for that in home care, particularly for those in urgent, is around about a month or so. So fairly quick turnaround that we're seeing. So we are seeing a lot of improvements. There are no doubt that during the COVID crisis, we've seen serious workforce challenges. And there's a number of ways we're responding to that, including in, obviously, the ADF have been involved. But we know we've we're bringing in Pacific workers to assist, we're giving more flexibility for student nurses and the like. So yeah, there are serious challenges. We're putting a lot of resources into it. There are no easy answers in the immediate term, but those are some of the things we're doing, much more support to people in their home. Much more funding for aged care. But yeah, the job is not done yet. I acknowledge that, Stephen, there's a lot of work continuing to be done.

CENATIEMPO: Alicia, this is one of those things that should be above politics. And as I say, the Labor Party has no leg to stand on here either. Both parties have been equally, as I guess, reluctant to actually do something. But funding is all great. We need proper structural change in our aged care system.

PAYNE: Yeah. Stephen, I'm going to disagree with you and then agree with you. I completely reject that Labor had done nothing. When the last Labor Government was in, we instituted what was called the Living Longer Living Better reforms, and they were not implemented by this government, who has cut aged care. They have cut aged care funding in the nine years that they had been in government. So in nine ... 

SESELJA: That's not true.

PAYNE: Nine years they've been in government and they've let aged care get into a crisis. So I don't think you can say to a party that have been in opposition for nine years that it's their fault. 


SESELJA: It's double the funding.

PAYNE: Can I actually just answer the question? Can I just speak please? 


PAYNE: So and then Stephen, you said yes, it's not just about funding and that's correct. It does need more funding. But the funding needs to be tied to the things that the Aged Care Royal Commission and the 22 other reports that we've had, have said are wrong with aged care. And now a key thing with that is wages. Because this is not just about the fact that these incredible workers, who have fronted up every day have this pandemic to look after older Australians, is professional and incredibly dedicated, selfless work that they do is not valued properly. And it should be. But it is also been pointed to as a fact that they cannot retain people in the sector. And they cannot get people who have the experience to stay there. And this is a key point that's been raised in the Royal Commission that this Liberal Government have said nothing about. Another issue is the staff ratios. And I think many people would still be shocked to find out that while we have ratios in schools, in childcare, hospitals, etc, we do not have them in aged care. So there is no rule about how many staff you need for the number of residents. And then you've got nutrition, which was another huge issue raised in the Royal Commission. The government's plan does nothing about that. And so all these issues were well before COVID. And they left that sector exposed to COVID. And that is why we are seeing the absolute crisis. Now it was in crisis before. And now the government are calling for volunteers to come in. I mean, that is where we're at. They said that the ADF were coming in a couple of weeks ago, and it never should have come to that. But we welcomed to that. But then only 199 of the promised 1700 ADF people are in there helping aged care. So I'll be interested if Zed could explain what's going on there. But now we're calling for volunteers. Volunteers! And I just think older Australians deserve so much better than this, so much better.

SESELJA: I'll respond to all of that, Stephen. The first thing is, Alicia, again, just makes it up. She says we've cut funding to aged care when it's doubled. So those are the facts. She now criticizes the volunteer program. This is a volunteer program that's been there since the early 90s, under a former Labor Government. It's actually very valued and brings people in and provides companionship.

PAYNE: The Prime Minister called for it yesterday Zed.

SESELJA: No, no, you had a hell of a long go and you made a lot of false assertions, and I'm correcting them. So this is the volunteer program. It's been there since the early 90s. If you are critical of it, well, fair enough, be critical of it, but it actually provides a lot of companionship. So we've doubled the funding. And I'll give you this stat as well about Labor Party's commitment to aged care. Not only did they underfunded when they are in office, but at the last election much more recently, they promised $370 odd billion of extra taxes. Do you know how much they promised extra for aged care? Not $1. So they were tax Australians in every way shape and form through the retiree tax and the housing tax and others. But they did not commit one extra dollar. So that's a contrast, we're getting on with the job. It is very difficult. There are great challenges. I've acknowledged that we're putting a lot of extra resources and we're going to continue to do it. But these are pretty cheap political points, not based in fact.

CENATIEMPO: Well, I think the problem here is Alicia and I, as I say, I don't, you know, I'm not picking one side over the other here. But it hasn't just become it hasn't just become a crisis under this government. It's been in crisis for decades. No. Subsequent governments have all failed here. And I don't know that the Royal Commission has actually told us anything we didn't already know.

PAYNE: Well, it has set out recommendations that can't be ignored. That's the point. And I think that that there's truth in that anyone who has a loved one in aged care or works in aged care knows that a lot of those shocking and unacceptable things that came out in the Royal Commission are actually not that shocking because they're common. And that is tragic. And that is something that we should be addressing as a nation. And Zed is in government right now. And the Prime Minister called for volunteers yesterday, so I don't know why Zed  trying to make out that this isn't a thing. Maybe he's ashamed that that's where the government's at.

SESELJA: It's part of an existing volunteer program. It's part of an existing program that's been there for decades. Because, like, I mean, do you not support that program? I don't quite understand.

PAYNE: Of course we value the work of volunteers. But we have active COVID outbreaks in over a third of our aged care facilities. And that is why the Prime Minister has yesterday called for people to help so that the people who are paid, the staff, can actually shower people and feed people and take people to the toilet. So these volunteers are coming into ensure that staff can actually do their jobs because there aren't enough staff.

CENATIEMPO: I've got to cut you short. This is why I love having you two on because I can just have a break for 10 minutes. Alicia Payne, Zed Seselja. Thanks for your time this morning.