WEDNESDAY, 31 JULY 2019
SUBJECTS: Newstart; Centrelink Robo-debt; Metadata Laws; National Integrity Commission.
KIERAN GILBERT: Shadow Minister for Housing and Homelessness Jason Clare thanks so much for your time. The government has put out some data that shows unemployed are losing benefits that they could be receiving more on Newstart if they were doing more to find a job. What's your response?
JASON CLARE: People have to comply with the law, but what the government would want you to think is that everyone on Newstart is a dole bludger that you know they are blokes up the coast surfing. The truth is very different. The biggest group of people that are on Newstart are people that have got more gray hair than you or me. People 55 to 65, people that have lost their job mid-career, been thrown on the economic scrapheap, the industry they've been working in has collapsed; they've lost their job they can't get back into the workforce. My old man in the 90s lost his job and he got another job after a couple of months and didn't need to go onto Newstart, but a lot of his mates never got a job again. If we want to have a real debate, an honest debate, about this then it's important to understand that the biggest group of people that are struggling to pay the bills and make ends meet on Newstart aren't hippies in Nimbin smoking pot, they're older people, in their 50s, in their 60s. They're not old enough yet to get the pension but they're finding it really hard to get back into the workforce.
GILBERT: Before we get to that issue specifically on this data that's been released I guess the government's reminding people that if those on Newstart are looking for a job actively they can effectively double their welfare payment.
CLARE: I'm not criticising the fact that people need to comply with the rules but the government would like us to forget about the fact that there's a big stuff up on robo-debt. We found out yesterday, for example, that they've been sending debts to tens of thousands of people who owe no money to the government. We had an example yesterday of a disabled pensioner who died and six months later got a bill for thousands of dollars from the government. So you know, if the government wants to talk about how well they're doing at making people comply with the law they could do a better job themselves.
GILBERT: I guess, are the rules too onerous is the point on this issue on Newstart?
CLARE: It depends, person to person, particularly in the area of homelessness that I've got responsibility for. If you've got people with complex needs they need to be case managed to help them to get their life back together. You've got individuals there who don't have a roof over their head. It's very hard for them to get to job interviews, if they're in crisis accommodation because their husband just tried to kill them and they had to get the kids to flee, or if people have got dependency issues with alcohol and drugs and all of that sort of stuff. That's not to say that people don't have obligations but also we as a community have obligations to try and provide the services to help people get back on their feet.
GILBERT: Now on those older people that you say are on that cohort that aren't young and dole bludgers but older and have been laid off and can't find a job. Should this be incorporated within the retirement review that the Government's undertaking.
CLARE: Not a bad idea. You know you're talking about people who may never have a full time job again. I've spoken to some people who say ‘look I've got to spend all my time going to job interviews when in fact I'd like to be volunteering at the local homeless shelter or I'd like to be volunteering at the local P.C.Y.C., but I can't do that because I’m applying for jobs and no one wants to employ me’. I think there is a legitimate question for us to ask here about people in their 50s in their 60s who've lost their job and for all of the best efforts in the world they can't get back into the workforce and that's the biggest group on Newstart that we should be looking at what we can do for them.
GILBERT: So if they're volunteering that should account for a certain amount of hours because that's how it works for childcare.
CLARE: They’re making a contribution to our community. Baby boomers here, a big group of people moving into retirement in the years ahead, and we'll be a better community if more people as they leave the fulltime workforce are continuing to contribute albeit in a voluntary capacity in our community.
GILBERT: Now on to some other issue that you've previously looked at closely as a member of the Joint Standing Committee on Intelligence and Security. The metadata laws, the Australian today runs on the front page a story that shows that groups ranging from councils to fisheries agencies are seeking warrantless access to metadata. Are you worried about that?
CLARE: Yes it is a concern. I remember the inquiry that we had four years ago. The intention in that legislation and the intention on the Committee's behalf was that we should quarantine these powers to law enforcement agencies and that they should only be able to access them if there's a serious crime that's been committed. Not if someone's put an illegal poster on a telegraph pole. It seems like the intention of the committee and the intention of the legislation has been subverted here. There is I understand a statutory review of that legislation that's happening now and I'd hope that the government would fix that.
GILBERT: Well yeah that shouldn't be applicable to minor legal breaches by councils surely.
CLARE: Remember this is this is warrantless access to this data. If other organisations want to get data to see where you parked your car for example in relation to a parking fine then they should have to get a warrant before the court. But this is intended to be warrantless access for law enforcement agencies for serious crimes, if someone thinks that you've committed a murder or another serious offence. It's not intended to be used by vets or local councils or other organisations like we see in the paper.
GILBERT: This is a worry that it's already being misused in a way like this. Just a few years into this particular law being in place.
CLARE: I saw evidence of this before the regime came into place. We got lots of examples as a committee of local governments using this for parking fines, and the intention behind the committee, behind the committee's recommendations, was to fix this and stop this from happening. It seems that's not happening.
GILBERT: Finally we've had reports that former Liberal staffers have made complaints and called for reform of the Liberal Party after claims of assault. Essentially both at the state, New South Wales and federal level. What's your reaction to this?
CLARE: When I first read the report I thought a criminal offence has happened and so I ask myself why haven't the police been asked to get involved in this. Every woman should feel safe at work. When you read that people don't feel safe at work or that allegedly sexual assaults have occurred it's very very worrying. Political parties need to make sure they've got systems in place to properly deal with that and where serious alleged criminal offences have occurred, it's not just the parties that should be involved but the police should be involved as well.
GILBERT: But does it go to a cultural issue in terms of needing more women in the parliament as in Kathryn Greiner is now calling for a quota for the Liberals as Labor has.
CLARE: Well you know it's the 21st century it should be 50 per cent women, 50 per cent men. That is a no brainer. But the fact that this is happening or this is alleged to have been happening in this building and in other parliaments shows us that political parties have got to treat this extremely seriously and it's not just about what political parties do it's what our law enforcement agencies do. If a crime has occurred in this building or in other parliaments then the police should be involved as well.
GILBERT: Finally the crossbench calling for along with some retired judges a national integrity commission with teeth I guess it modelled on the ICAC in New South Wales. What do you think of this proposal? Does it have merit?
CLARE: Well we've been strong supporters of establishing a national ICAC as a Labor Party for a long time. We called for it before the last election we had to drag the government kicking and screaming to say that they would establish it. We haven't seen the details of it yet but I'm hoping that they bring legislation forward sooner rather than later. When I was home affairs minister I was responsible for expanding the remit of ACLEI to include organisations like the then customs, now the Department of Home Affairs.
GILBERT: The government is using that group, that organisation to look into the crown accusations.
CLARE: That is right and they do good work. But the argument put by the crossbench, by Labor, by others is that we should have an integrity commission that looks at all government agencies and look at the behaviour of politicians as well.
GILBERT:But saying we should have one with teeth. Are you comfortable with a model like New South Wales or can that be improved that ICAC model?
CLARE: No one I think, and I haven't heard what the crossbenchers are saying today, would say that the New South Wales model is the perfect model. We can learn from the experiences of different regimes in different states and overseas and make sure that we get a national body which will make sure that we get to the bottom of corruption wherever it occurs.
GILBERT: Mr Clare I appreciate your time. Thanks.
CLARE: Thanks Kieran.