House debates

Monday, 22 February 2021

Private Members' Business

Youth Allowance

12:24 pm

Photo of Andrew LamingAndrew Laming (Bowman, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That this House:

(1) extends its condolences to the Field and Leadbetter families for their tragic loss in Alexandra Hills on 26 January 2021;

(2) supports the trial of earlier detection, drug-testing and intervention in crystal methamphetamine addiction for new recipients of Youth Allowance and Jobseeker who are not meeting their activity requirements by identifying those with substance abuse issues and supporting them to gain employment;

(3) places on record its support for Income Management for Youth Allowance (Other) recipients who fail to adhere to activity requirements or face court for drug and related offences, and supports ear-marked and fully funded rehabilitation for anyone who fails a drug test;

(4) further supports deferral of payments where drug tests are refused, to ensure service providers are engaged; and

(5) explores enhanced information sharing between Services Australia, employment services providers and authorised officers in respective police, corrections, social services and child protection agencies, in dealing with these high addiction-risk cohorts who evade mandatory activity requirements.

This morning's important debate about youth crime transcends levels of government and goes from the east to the west and the north to the south of Australia. Each state struggles with it, but, particularly, my state of Queensland, where theft per 100,000 and vehicle theft per 100,000 is not only the highest in the nation but two and three times higher than the mainland state average. So, in Queensland we regard ourselves as being somewhat in the eye of this storm, and it's a storm where we have failed to create the parenting conditions that can control crime in the second decade of life. Data can be cut in different ways to show that it's increasing or decreasing, and we don't want to enter into that debate. Nor is this a Trojan Horse to advance the interests of one particular side of politics or an attempt to scapegoat individual demographics. This is fundamentally about how early we can identify the pathway to crime and how early we can intervene in a positive way that fundamentally saves taxpayer money because we do it where and when it is most effective.

Before we start, I want to recognise the Queensland government and the Labor Premier of my state, who last week made six very important law reform interventions, all of which I wholeheartedly support. They are reversing the presumption of bail in serious indictable offenses, the calls for a wider inquiry, the trialling of GPS bracelets and tracking, the use of metal detectors, more responsibility for parents, and the owner onus reversal so that if offences are carried out in a vehicle it is up to the registered owner to at least sign a stat dec and say who operated that vehicle if they didn't. There is no disagreement there.

Today is our opportunity to admit that we are a stakeholder in this debate as well. The federal government is the payer. The federal government so often is the ATM for about 10,000 Australians between the ages of 16 and about 21 or 22 who aren't engaged in the workforce and, we know, are four times as likely to be addicted and way more likely to not be benefiting from the gains that are accrued by being engaged in the workforce—and we all know what they are. It is up to every society to make sure every household can engage. We know that Australia, along with Ireland and the UK, has the highest proportion of all households under whose roof no-one has any form of connection to the workforce—completely unemployed, cyclically poverty-affected households.

We need to break that nexus. The Commonwealth has that one entry, at the age of 16, where welfare begins to flow and that one opportunity to say, 'If you do the right thing and recognise and respect the privilege of income replacement, we will potentially give you that amount of money but, if you don't, you could have it quarantined back onto a card.' This is not about expanding, by stealth, the use of CDC like a sheep dip. Rather, it's about identifying those who are most at risk, most likely to be addicted, because, sadly, the state system doesn't even see drug addiction when an offender walks into a court. They may well drug test someone who was found in possession, dealing, distributing or operating a motor vehicle. But, apart from that, you can't mention it.

That has to change. We live in the ice age, but our youth justice reforms were mostly written before ice even existed. For that reason, we need to be more assiduous in identifying those children—because that's what they are—at their first interaction with ice. What we know about ice is that 40 per cent of users use it less than twice a month. They're not addicted and getting two hits a day. That's when you've lost the battle. I'm talking about finding the 40 per cent of ice users who are doing it twice a month or less and identifying by hair or urine test the fact that they are addicted. They're appearing at court addicted. We're not even wrapping around the supports when we have that opportunity. And you wonder why your law system is a torn parachute and they just keep going through the revolving door.

We're asking the wrong questions. The federal government has an opportunity here to step in and identify addiction, particularly where individuals are not turning up to their mandatory activity requirements and particularly when they're ending up in court. That data sharing should enable the Commonwealth to be an active player in that space. This motion is asking the question, is there a policy role for the more expansive use of CDC when one first enters the welfare system? You can do it how you want to. You can make it after one, two, three or five failures to adhere. But ultimately it's about recognising that welfare is a privilege. It's a privilege that has some mutual obligation. Part of that is staying away from the courts and turning up to suitable jobs and giving it a crack.

In closing, I want to thank my LDAT. I want to thank Linda Grieve and the Cage Youth Foundation, who, in the shadow of tragedy of Australia Day in my city, came together and produced a white paper. It is still in draft form, still being developed, but by this Friday it is to be circulated to all three levels of government. And I thank my colleagues here today for engaging in this discussion, because what we do at the age of 16 or 17 can make a huge difference to the future.

Photo of Rob MitchellRob Mitchell (McEwen, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Is the motion seconded?

Photo of Rowan RamseyRowan Ramsey (Grey, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I second the motion and reserve my right to speak.

12:29 pm

Photo of Peta MurphyPeta Murphy (Dunkley, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I want to thank the member for Bowman for moving this motion and start by saying that I accept that he has a genuine concern for young people, not just in his electorate but around the country, and for youth crime. This is absolutely an issue that we should be discussing and debating at the federal level. As I have said before. far too often for too many families, the end of a child's schooling career is the start of their career in the criminal justice system, and we have to break that link. But I don't agree with the proposals that are in the motion that take a punitive approach.

Whilst I understand why the member for Bowman has proposed what he has, evidence from around the world, let alone from Australia, is absolutely clear that the way to stop that cycle of offending and the way to help young people and communities to have positive lives is to invest early in the community and the young people—not to take a punitive approach. If a young person who is 16 or 17 is already in receipt of youth allowance and is already in the child protection or the social security system, they are already in a really difficult position in their lives, and punitive approaches aren't the way to help them get out of it.

I would urge the member for Bowman and other members in this House to look at programs such as the Justice Reinvestment program in Bourke, which has been supported by the New South Wales Liberal government. It is a bottom-up community driven program which has not only had significant success in keeping young people, particularly First Nations young people, out of criminal activity, but also brought economic dividends and social dividends to the town. The reason that programs such as Justice Reinvestment work is that they are community driven. They're bottom-up. They have sitting around the table people who are living the problem coming up with the solutions, rather than governments and bureaucrats imposing solutions from on high.

I urge the member for Bowman and other members of the parliament from my side and the other side of the chamber to reflect on why it is that the current federal government is funding the Local Drug Action Team Program that is being delivered in collaboration with the Alcohol and Drug Foundation. It's because of exactly what I have just said: the understanding that the evidence shows the benefits of community led programs where sporting clubs, community groups, schools and experts in rehabilitation, counselling and support come together to design programs and activities that work for their particular community.

We know that the protective factors for alcohol, drug and crime are social connection, education, safe and secure housing, and a sense of belonging to community. They're the things that successful programs to reduce youth offending address, because the risk factors, not surprisingly, are high availability of drugs, low levels of social cohesion, unstable housing and socioeconomic disadvantage that exist at the community level. As the Alcohol and Drug Foundation, which is running the LDAT program on behalf of the member for Bowman's government, says, these risk factors are mostly found at the community level. So the target for change to help not just individuals but also communities must be at the community level.

In my electorate of Dunkley, the Frankston & District Basketball Association has made a supreme effort, particularly over COVID, to engage with headspace and other professionals to help the young people in their association who have been disengaged from their sport to get through this time and be safe and not go down a path that is dangerous. We have local drug action teams, which include the netball association, local footy clubs, headspace, and the THRIVE program from the Elisabeth Murdoch College and local Langwarrin schools. That's what needs to be supported to help young people not to get further into trouble—not to take a solely punitive approach.

12:34 pm

Photo of Rowan RamseyRowan Ramsey (Grey, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Firstly, let me thank the member for Bowman for bringing this motion forward. I think it's very important and quite proper that we discuss this issue in this place. I thank the member for Dunkley for her comments as well, but I must take issue with her view that the proposals here are punitive. Ceduna is on my patch. It's where the cashless debit card was first trialled, and it is simply not punitive. It doesn't take away $1 from the recipients; it provides some parameters about how that money can be spent to try and limit the amount of money that is spent on alcohol, drugs and gambling. I stand by the card most passionately.

The other half of the suggestion of this motion is that not only would people go on the cashless debit card as a form of income management but also they would undertake counselling and treatment for their problem. The issue is that, at the moment, there is a whole group of people out there who we don't know are on drugs. The system doesn't know they're on drugs. Their families might, but, by and large, the system is not responding or measuring the impact that this is having on their lives.

The first part of this motion extends its condolences to the Field and Leadbetter families, sadly mowed down by a 17-year-old who has been charged by a string of offences, including driving while being affected by intoxicating substances. The other charges would suggest that it's not the first time.

Repeatedly employers tell me they do job interviews with people, not only young people, but then they don't roll up for their first day of work because they know they won't pass the drug test. Others tell me that they put people through training, and then they can't pass or refuse the drug test. If you've got people in that situation and they're on drugs already, it's really important that government agencies know that we can adapt policy, that we can start to deliver services to try to break this nexus that sits in their life.

It's so sad and confronting to me as a member of parliament that young people, in particular, are limiting their horizons in life. I say to people that it's like taking a job—if you leave school and you've got five years on your CV where you have not been gainfully employed, there's a fair chance that every prospective employer in your future will pick up that piece and paper and say, 'What were you doing for five years?' You've missed the opportunity, and that's why it's so important we get to the stage of early intervention.

I'm reminded of a meeting I went to in Whyalla with a group of parents and young people who were dealing with ice. A woman turned to me said: 'My daughter's trying to get off ice, but every one of the people in her peer group uses drugs. She hasn't got a role model in the group of people she hangs out with that do not use drugs.' How difficult is it for that person to break out of that system? If the system actually recognises why that kid failed a drug test then we could actually get some services in place. It is just so important. Identification by job-service providers like Centrelink of people who can't pass a drug test, people who refuse a drug test and people who are a no-show at work after accepting a job or are a no-show for JobSeeker interviews is so important. This should be an average day's work for governments to make sure that we identify the people that are struggling in this area and do something about it to help them, the sooner the better.

The legislation to enable this move was passed through the House of Representatives not quite 18 months ago, on 17 October. It's not been debated in the Senate yet. I understand it's been pushed back because of COVID and other things, but it was probably largely pushed back because we don't feel as though we've got the support throughout the Senate to get the legislation through. I hope that changes. Anyone who would deny this reform is denying kids an opportunity, denying them a chance to access the tools that they need to face modern society, and we should be out there helping them in every way we possibly can.

12:39 pm

Photo of George ChristensenGeorge Christensen (Dawson, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It's with some sadness, actually, that I rise to support this motion, because I know that the tragedy that occurred in the member for Bowman's electorate was something that was felt very much by him and by those across his community and across the rest of the nation. Firstly, through you, Deputy Speaker, to the member for Bowman and to his community, I want to express my condolences to the family—and I do say 'family', because there was an unborn child that was killed in these tragic, tragic circumstances.

But the member for Bowman has hit the root cause of this problem, and the problem is juvenile crime but the problem is also the system that's actually enabling it. I've got to tell you that we have an immense problem in North Queensland as well in this regard. As the member for Kennedy would know too well, day after day, night after night, in Townsville, we hear of problems that are occurring in the field of juvenile crime. It is now out of control. The system is completely and utterly broken. I know the member for Herbert has been pushing very, very strongly for measures that would rectify this at the state level. And it certainly needs it. The system is broken. I believe, at the state level, what needs to happen is the reintroduction of boot camps, which were never ever fully tested and tried, as a way to instil some discipline and have behavioural change, because that is the only thing that is going to actually lessen crime and juvenile crime. We have this growing problem in Mackay as well. Many, many constituents have reported to me that their homes have been burgled or their cars stolen. It is also something that is getting quite out of control in Mackay.

But the member for Bowman, in the motion that he has put before us, has talked about how the federal government, sadly, through the welfare system, is partly enabling this process. You see, we have young people who are not earning and not learning; they're not at school, at university or at TAFE; they're not in a job.

Mr Laming interjecting

And they're completely lost in the system, as the member for Bowman interjects. But what is happening is: they are getting paid welfare, through youth allowance, that basically enables them just to drift on in life, without aim. There's not too much in the way of mutual obligation for those people. There certainly is no drug testing regime. And there certainly is no accountability as to how that money is spent.

I know that Mackay has an immense problem with ice—with crystal methamphetamine. It is destroying young people. We now have young people in their teens who are homeless; they are homeless because places don't want to take them in because they are high, a lot of the time, on crystal methamphetamine, and they get violent—they get really violent. It takes several adults to control a young person who's doped up and high on ice. Mackay has such a problem that, anecdotally, I hear that, in the legal fraternity, it's called 'the North Pole'. That is very, very sad.

One way that we can stamp this out—along with tackling the dealers, which I know our police do a great job in; our Australian Federal Police do a great job in trying to destroy the supply lines—is to destroy the demand by putting these young people, who are not earning or learning and unfortunately are just drifting, on income management. We can put income management on the welfare that the Australian taxpayer provides to them. Income management will ensure that that money is not going on illegal substances and not being spent on drugs that destroy their lives and lead to out-of-control juvenile crime. That is what we need. I've been a big supporter of drug testing for the dole and I will be a big supporter of drug testing for these young people and of ensuring that, if they are found to have been taking drugs, something is done with them.

But that comes back to the state government. We've got a system where these young people can just go and do whatever they like—they're known to be drug takers; they're known to be violent—but nothing happens. Well, there needs to be a point where intervention occurs and these young people are grabbed and forcibly put in some sort of regime that actually means they're going to change and going to be rehabilitated. Until governments get the willpower to do this, this problem is never ever going to be fixed, and it should be. So I commend the member for Bowman for this motion. Well done.

12:45 pm

Photo of Terry YoungTerry Young (Longman, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you to the member for Bowman for bringing up this important matter and putting it forward. I too would like to extend my deepest condolences to the friends and the families of Matt Field and Kate Leadbetter, a young couple who had their lives suddenly and tragically cut short. When I first heard about the shocking incident that led to their deaths and the death of their unborn child, I was disgusted but also heartbroken. Here were two young people, fellow Queenslanders, innocently going about their day in Alexandra Hills when they were knocked down and killed. I wish to acknowledge the efforts of those who tried to help the couple at the scene as well as the first responders who attended. The driver of the allegedly stolen vehicle that was involved in the crash is facing a string of charges, including the dangerous operation of a motor vehicle while adversely affected by intoxicating substances. That's just a fancy way of saying 'driving recklessly while high on drugs'. As the court process takes place, I agree with the member for Bowman that the Australian government has a responsibility to examine how we can play our part to ensure something like this doesn't happen again.

Substance abuse is an incredibly complex issue, and I won't stand here and pretend I have all the answers. I also won't stand here and say that drug use is an excuse for any type of criminal behaviour. It is not. This motion today puts forward some important criteria for anyone who wants to or is receiving a government payment like youth allowance or JobSeeker. I support the proposal to quarantine welfare payments for those who fail a drug test. Most importantly—at least in my opinion—this motion's purpose is to identify substance abuse issues in new recipients of youth allowance or JobSeeker and support them to gain employment. This is not about punishment; it's about supporting these people to seek treatment and kick their addiction. I've always been of the belief that we should be doing everything in our power to support young people who are at risk of heading down that spiral of drug use and criminal behaviour and setting them down a pathway to employment.

I grew up in the battler suburb of Kallangur, Moreton Bay, just north of Brisbane. My electorate of Longman contains some of the lowest socioeconomic suburbs in Queensland. I know that some people in these areas are doing it tough. But I also know that getting off government payments and starting a new job can change your life for the better. There is a sense of pride and satisfaction that comes with having a job. Reaching into your pockets and pulling out money that your hard work has earned is a great feeling. You also come to realise that you actually hold your destiny in your own hands. Yes, sometimes it may feel like the whole world is against you and that you have no choices and no opportunities in life. Let me tell you that once you're on the path to employment a whole new world of opportunities can open up. Who would have thought that a kid from Kallangur would be walking the corridors of Parliament House in Canberra, standing here today and speaking to you from the Federation Chamber? Sometimes all it takes is guidance from someone who believes in you and believes you can go on and achieve success in your life. I was fortunate enough to have people in my life like that growing up, and I hope to be one of those people for the youth in my community today. If these kids don't have that support from members of their own family, which is quite often the case, then we need to ensure that they get it from government services, social services, employment services or other agencies and individuals. And, yes, I understand that it's easier said than done.

There are many social agencies in my electorate of Longman who do a fantastic job in supporting young people to achieve their goals. Lewis at Lutheran Services intersect hub in Caboolture can link young people to a range of programs like Reconnect, Asha, Transitions, YJET and more. Headspace in Caboolture recently received federal funding to implement the Individual Placement and Support Program. This important program helps young people struggling with mental health issues to find work or finish their schooling. These are just the tip of the iceberg. Meanwhile, the federal government is still working hard to create new job opportunities and reduce the unemployment rate across Australia.

Local businesses like My Berries run by the McGruddy family are always on the lookout for young workers from all backgrounds to join their team and pick some fruit. There are also literally hundreds of jobs in Longman for fruit pickers just waiting to be filled. It is my belief that all levels of government should be doing everything possible to get these young people off government support and into the workforce, because the data tells us that when employment rates rise drug use and crime rates drop. By doing so, we can reduce the likelihood of future tragedies like the deaths of Matt Field and Kate Leadbetter in Alexandra Hills.

Photo of Julie OwensJulie Owens (Parramatta, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

There being no further speakers the debate is adjourned, and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.