26 October 2021


SUBJECTS: Braddon Centrelink closure; Federal ICAC; Proposed ACT drug decriminalisation bill.

STEPHEN CENATIEMPO, HOST: Joining us as they do on a Tuesday our political panel. We are joined by the Labor member for Canberra, Alicia Payne. Alicia, Good morning.




CENATIEMPO: And Liberal Senator for the ACT and Minister for International Development in the Pacific, Zed Seselja, Zed Good morning. Hello Zed? Okay, I know he's there. I can hear the banging in the background. I'll put him back to you for a sec, Rania. We'll see if we can get Zed sorted out.


Alicia, I'll start with you for a moment. We've been talking quite a bit over the last month or so about the closure of the Braddon Centrelink office. And now there's not going to be any replacement, we've discussed that, I thought it was a bit of a long bow for Bill Shorten to get involved and suggest that it was a downward spiral into Robodebt 2.0, I think is what he said. But the thing that struck me about this, and we spoke to Hank Jongen from Centrelink about this, or Human Services, or whatever it's called these days, it changes its name every five minutes. He suggests that this wasn't a ministerial decision, he made the decision because he's caught the light rail to Gungahlin. And it's easy to get there.


PAYNE: Well, I think the point that Bill was making, and I was really pleased, obviously, that he cares about this issue and came out to the Centrelink.


CENATIEMPO: Oh, hang on a second. Sorry, Alicia, I just cut you off there for a second.


PAYNE: All good. Anyway, I think the point that Bill was making is this is part of a broader attack on our social security system that we've seen from this government. And it does tie in with Robodebt, just the attacks on Social Security and the people that receive it. And we are seeing them closing Centrelink’s all around the country, and my colleague, Sharon Claydon, the member of Newcastle, and I moved a motion in the house yesterday around that, because it's not only in Canberra, we are seeing many of these closed around the country.


CENATIEMPO: Zed, I'll let you respond. Zed have we got you now. Yeah. Okay. All right. Have your say?


ACT LIBERAL SENATOR ZED SESELJA: Yeah, look, obviously these, these are very challenging things. There's no doubt when these kinds of decisions are made. And, you know, the agency, Services Australia obviously did their assessments and looked at the traffic numbers that have been there in Braddon over time. And obviously, it's disappointing for those who would access it, they did look at things like the public transport access out to Gungahlin on light rail and Woden. The fact that many people who live in the area weren't using the Braddon service centre, and were either online or using some of the others. So I absolutely understand that it's disappointing for some of those individuals. I've been getting some of those emails from them. But obviously, the agencies make those assessments based on a range of factors, including both that public transport link and access to other centres. And of course, the online options are increasingly being taken up.


CENATIEMPO: But I think the point is, Alicia, and this is one of the things you've been pointing out, is there's no doubt that the traffic numbers are moving and the demographics, particularly in the inner north are changing. And I look at your electorate, and those on the south of the lake are probably better off going somewhere else other than Braddon. But there's still going to be those few that are going to be disadvantaged by this. How do we manage that, but still be economically viable at the same time?


PAYNE: Well, that's exactly right, Stephen. Not everyone can use the online service, not everyone can make it out to Gungahlin or Woden - it's the other close one. And the point that the government seems to be missing here is that some of Centrelink’s own requirements are for you to come into a face-to-face shop front. So for example, Lorenzo is a student who's got in touch with me about this. And he was sick last year during the lockdown and everything. And he needed to go into Centrelink to be back paid. And he ended up being back paid over $1,000, and he really desperately needed that money. He had to go in there, there were no forms online or anything he had to go in to do that. Another constituent is Rebecca, who is a carer for her mother who lives with dementia, and she works in Civic. And the only time she can get to Centrelink, is on her lunch hour in her work time, and she certainly can't get out to Gungahlin on her lunch break and back. And are people who are homeless who don't have a computer or a smartphone, let alone an address. You've got people escaping domestic violence, who need to just go and speak to someone who might not want to be at home on a computer looking into these things. So everybody needs to be able to easily access a face-to-face service. It can't be replaced entirely by online services.


CENATIEMPO: Zed, the problem, the flip side of that is you can't obviously have a Centrelink office on every corner. Do we need to maybe look at having Australia Post Offices have access to some of these services? I mean, there's other things you can do at Australia Post, do we need to have another outlet for Human Services type, face-to-face activity?


SESELJA: Yeah, look, I mean, it's a really interesting point. And I think it's one that, you know, obviously, the agency should consider all options as to how it delivers these services. One of the really good things for people living in the outer suburbs was that the Gungahlin Centre was opened fairly recently, and it's a substantial centre, and there'll be more staff there now as well. So there are obviously, you know, there are obviously, when we see services in the outer suburbs, in the newer areas. We see the benefits for those areas. But of course, we see some downside in this case. So, yeah, I think we should absolutely be looking at all options, I think Services Australia has shown during the pandemic, just how responsive they've been. I know, there's always some frustrations, but just how quickly some of those payments, were able to get out whether it was most recently with the lockdown or whether it was going back last year. I think they have done some good things. But obviously, they're always making difficult judgments. So this is one of those.


CENATIEMPO: Alicia, the Labor Party is continuing its calls for federal integrity commission or a federal ICAC. After watching the hearings in New South Wales and the hearings in Victoria, I'm even more convinced now that the last thing we need is a federal replication of these things.


PAYNE: Well, I'd have to say that I'm more convinced than ever after last week, seeing every member of the Liberal-National Government, vote against Christian Porter's anonymous $1 million donation being referred to the Privileges Committee.


CENATIEMPO: So they should.


PAYNE: Well, that was a once since Federation precedent that they've set and it essentially means that they're saying that politicians shouldn't have to say where any money that they receive comes from. We've got a register of interest where we register anything like that. And they're basically saying that's meaningless now. Anyone can just take money from whoever and say, "I don't know who I got it from". It's just extraordinary. And I think it shows everything that this Prime Minister and this government believe about integrity and why it's taken over 1000 days, that they still haven't legislated their Integrity Commission, which they've got the legislation for. But not that it will have the powers it needs to actually uphold integrity in the parliament. A Labor government would implement a federal integrity commission with teeth, with the powers of a standing royal commission that can do that work properly.


CENATIEMPO: Zed I'm critical of the government for actually having the legislation in the first place. Not that they haven't implemented it. Why do we need an added level of bureaucracy when we have this thing called the Australian Federal Police that actually has professional investigative ability that could investigate these things? Because if we set up anything that looks like in New South Wales ICAC, it's an opportunity for whoever is in opposition at the time to claim all bad policy is corruption.


SESELJA: Well, look, there's a couple of things there, Stephen. One is, look, I agree with you, you wouldn't want to replicate ICAC. I think ICAC's been largely good at bringing down non corrupt premiers in New South Wales, and even where they did find corruption in the Labor years, it came many years after they were in government. But there's no doubt that, you know, we took to the election a plan going forward. And we've already started to implement it. Not only is there legislation on the table, there's also additional funds, we've given additional powers to the commission for law enforcement integrity, to have more jurisdiction over other agencies. So what we're looking for is a sensible way forward without the sort of show trial aspect, I suppose, making sure there is that community confidence but not having, I think, some of the serious drawbacks that we've seen in other jurisdictions.


CENATIEMPO: Alicia, I want to talk for a moment here in the ACT the government wants to decriminalise hard drugs. We're not talking about marijuana, we're talking about the really bad stuff. They don't seem to want to consult with anybody, AFP Commissioner Reese Kershaw, has warned about the dangers of doing this. But this local government here, and I know you guys are federal, but there just doesn't seem to be any willingness to talk to anybody at the coalface. This is all about ideology.


PAYNE: Well, obviously, the police provide an important perspective and that bill is actually going through an inquiry at the moment where lots of people, across the board and experts are being consulted. So I don't agree with that. I think it's important to point out that this bill, it doesn't change the law around drug dealing or drug supply or drug trafficking. It's around small amounts of personal possession. And what it's ...


CENATIEMPO: Hang on, I'll you up there because we're talking about two grams of heroin. Do you know how many hits that is?


PAYNE: I don't personally but I know that those amounts are based on the current law around what is personal possession.


CENATIEMPO: This is my point, I actually had to look this up. It's 20 shots of heroin. And they basically said the two grams of heroin is the same as two grams of ice, two grams of methamphetamine, two grams of cocaine. There's these two grams, which means nothing Zed.


SESELJA: Well, these are these are, as you say, substantial amounts. But Reece Kershaw, our top cop in the AFP is absolutely belled the cat on what is shocking policy. It's absolutely shocking policy. And he speaks with some experience having seen what some of the decriminalisation-legalisation regimes look like in Europe. And he warned very, very directly yesterday about narco-tourism and narco-tourism in places like, I think, the Netherlands where people come from all over Europe in order to get their illicit drugs and it draws organised crime. Does anyone think that wouldn't happen in Canberra when you are at the centre of New South Wales? So we would become a base for southern New South Wales for organised crime. We've already seen bikers coming here and Reece Kershaw also talked about the serious implications for community safety. Whether it's the police that we're dealing with, whether it's frontline workers in the hospitals, the ambos, and the like, or whether it's in domestic violence that, he didn't talk about that yesterday, but he referred to the carnage. And so this is a serious warning that should be taken seriously. This legislation is an absolute dud, and it should be rejected. I can't believe it's even being considered.


CENATIEMPO: Well, we used to be known for was it porn and fireworks tourism rather than narco-tourism, so maybe something to replace that. Zed and Alicia, I've got to move on. Thank you for your time this morning.