Interview with Josh Szeps and Fauzia Ibrahim – ABC News Weekend Breakfast – Saturday, 13 July 2019


SUBJECTS: Luke Howarth’s comments about putting a ‘positive spin’ on homelessness, Referendum on First Nation’s Constitutional recognition and a voice to Parliament.

FAUZIAH IBRAHIM: Jason Clare is the Shadow Minister for Housing and Homelessness, and joins us now in the studio. Thank you so much for taking time to speak with us. This is an amazing problem. I don’t understand how this can actually happen in a developed country like Australia. I think I was reading that the ABS found homelessness in Australia had spiked by about 14 per cent of a five year period. How would you go about addressing this?

CLARE: It’s getting worse not better. We’ve got more people that are homeless in Australia today than ever before. That’s why what the Minister said this week was a pretty silly, stupid thing to say.

IBRAHIM: Did he misspeak? Is that the case?

CLARE: I think that the key thing here is he talked about spin. When homelessness is getting worse in Australia. People don’t want politicians cynically talking about spin. They want real action. People become homeless for lots of different reasons. It might be mums and children fleeing domestic violence and they need crisis accommodation. Might be you lose your job and you can’t afford to pay the rent. It can be more long term, deeper problems – addiction to alcohol and drugs. You need wraparound services to help people to get back into housing and get a roof over their head. But just simply saying that we need to spin this better – I think that’s why people get very cynical of pollies.

IBRAHIM: You’re suggesting this is a many pronged approach. But if you had to address one particular issue and make it a priority, what would it be?

CLARE: Well it’s not just one. I think it’s important that we say it’s not just about crisis accommodation or more affordable accommodation. I was talking to a fella in Campbelltown. Campbelltown in Western Sydney seen homelessness go up by about 40 per cent in the last few years. He said ‘look it’s about housing but it’s also about services’. You need to make sure that you’ve got the right services to get people back on track. There’s always going to be people that are homeless, but people don’t need to be homeless forever. If you’ve got the right services and you reach out and help people, you can help them to put their lives back together.

JOSH SZEPS: Jason, since your counterpart in the Government, Luke Howarth isn’t here to defend and defend himself, I will. His point his point was that over 15 years if you actually look at the longer term rather than just the past five years, that the rate of homelessness is not growing any faster than the rate of population growth. So isn’t there a case to be made that if you’re talking about something – a figure that is essentially less than one half, of one per cent of the population that is homeless. Of course you want to get that down but you can’t look at absolute numbers if the whole population of Australia is growing.

CLARE: I think people get confused when you’re talking about numbers. The bottom line here is that there are people today who have woken up sleeping in a park, or sleeping in a car, or sleeping on a mate’s couch and it’s not good enough for us to just say ‘look, you know this is all pretty good as ninety nine and a half percent of Australians don’t find themselves in that situation’.

SZEPS: It doesn’t sound good. It doesn’t sound good politically, but it might still be statistically correct.

CLARE: Well forget the politics. Luke Howarth was saying people don’t like seeing people sleeping in the street. It’s not about what people see, it’s about what we as a generous, developed, wealthy country can do to make sure that we look after our fellow Australians. This is not a political point. Both political parties have tried and had limited success in this area. If the numbers are going up it tells us that what we’re doing is not working. We haven’t done enough good work in this area and we need to do more.

SZEPS: In some respects, when he says that we should be looking at the 15 year trend rather than the 5 year trend you could conceivably take that as a compliment. Because from six years ago up until 13 years ago it was you guys who were in government. So if they if the picture actually looks rosier over the over 15 years than it does for five years isn’t that a feather in Labor’s cap?

CLARE: It went down and then it’s gone up. But forget the politics. Think about the people that are involved here. You can turn people’s lives around. I met a fellow named Kevin the other day who was addicted to ice. Lost his kids. His kids were being looked after by his parents. He was sleeping in a car with his wife. He met a person called Paul who runs an organisation in Campbelltown to help homeless people. He was able to give him food, access to services. That fellow Kevin now has a job. He’s got his kids back. He’s a volunteer at the same organisation that helped him, and he’s now been appointed to the board of that organisation. You know I’m really not interested in talking about what numbers are better than others, or whether Labor’s better than liberal. I’m interested in helping people like Kevin, and there’s good work that’s being done. But there’s a hell of a lot more work that can, and should be done if we focus not on the spin, but on real action.

IBRAHIM: There’s a lot of talk about this, and I think homelessness is an issue that will forever be debated. One issue that will be debated at least for the next three years or so is the question about the referendum on Indigenous recognition. That was a major issue this week that we were talking about.

CLARE: It was a great thing that it’s been raised.

IBRAHIM: Well some people are sort of saying why is there a need to include recognition of first nations in the Constitution? You know you have the conservative politicians, conservative groups who are basically saying won’t that just divide the country by focusing on race?

CLARE: This is our founding document. I think it’s long overdue that our founding document recognizes the people that have lived in this country for long before Captain Cook first arrived. For more than 60,000 years. I think Noel Pearson has said this is our birth certificate and it’s only right that it recognizes both parents. There’s one set of parents that aren’t mentioned in the Constitution at the moment. So a preamble that makes it clear that Indigenous Australians have been here for more than 60,000 years is just a common sense, sensible thing. There’s clauses in the Constitution, like clause 25, that say that the States can make laws so that certain races don’t get to vote in elections. In in 2019 it strikes me that that’s the sort of clause that we should get rid of. It’s not easy to change the Constitution. But let’s remember when we last changed the constitution to ensure that Indigenous Australians were counted in the census – back in 1967 – more than 90 per cent of Australians voted yes. There’s a lot of goodwill here and it requires both political parties to work together. But it also is going to be very important that it’s not led by politicians that it’s led by the people.

SZEPS: When you say that it requires both political parties to work together it seems that even that one political party isn’t able to work with itself terribly well this week, in the sense that I was getting sort of conflicting signals from the Prime Minister and from his Indigenous Australians Minister about whether or not it would be ruled out in advance of the referendum, the question of whether or not there should be a specific body to provide an Indigenous voice to Parliament.

CLARE: This is where it gets most difficult. This is where the Liberal Party is very divided over setting up and enshrining in the Constitution…

IBRAHIM: Labor was very much in support of for setting up this advisory body, ahead of the election. 

CLARE: We were, and we are. But you know there’ll be people, and I saw it on television this week, who say this is a form of apartheid, and there’ll be others will say it’s a third chamber of the Parliament. Both of those arguments are rubbish. What we proposed at the last election is you can enshrine this in legislation today and get it operating and that will help potentially to assuage people’s concerns about what this body could or would do, or what it would look like. The argument that it’s somehow going to be a deliberative body that votes on legislation like the Parliament does is wrong. But once you’ve got something implemented often people will see it for what it is and be less concerned.

IBRAHIM: There is a concern that if you put recognition of First Nations as well as this advisory body in the same referendum, people will get confused and they may want one, recognition of First Nations, but they’re unsure about this advisory unelected advisory body in the Parliament should these two be uncoupled for the referendum.

CLARE: You’re right you’ve got to make it as simple as possible. The question that you put to the Australian people has to be one that overwhelmingly Australians say ‘yes we want to support this’. The more complex it is, and if the question is developed or designed in a way where you have a lot of people out there campaigning against voting for change, then it increases the risk that the referendum wouldn’t be successful. That it would be the worst of all possible worlds. I can’t imagine what Australia would be like, how divided we would be, if we were to put a question to the Australian people to change the Constitution to recognise Indigenous Australians in the Constitution, and it didn’t succeed. That would be awful.

IBRAHIM: Three years though seems to be a very short time to try to get this done given the centuries of years, of all the hurt and all the unjust deeds that had happened. To try to buckle it all down into three years to get to get some sort of agreement into a referendum. Do you do you think it’s achievable in three years?

CLARE: I think it is, if there is enough political will and embraces the challenge of getting the community to support this. You know what it’s like Fauziah, you’ve got to set a deadline and work back from that. We’ve been talking about this since the apology 10-11 years ago, and before. I think that if we say we are going to do this, and we work as hard as we possibly can to come up with a question that all Australians support, that the major political parties support, then we can get there and it’s long past time that we did.

SZEPS: Jason Clare Shadow Minister for Housing and Homelessness, thanks so much for being here.

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