Standing up for Canberra

Mornings with Adam Shirley on ABC Canberra

Norfolk Island, NDIS/NDIA, Victorian Labor Conference, National Policy Committee, One Nation, NBN

ADAM SHIRLEY:  Throughout this year on Mornings, we’re talking with a variety of MPs, senators who represent this capital region. A variety has already come on to talk about matters relevant to who voted for them and also their portfolios. Today it is the turn for Member for Canberra, Gai Brodtmann, holds some shadow portfolios and also has a couple of different areas she needs to cover – not just within the ACT’s physical boundaries. Gai Brodtmann, thanks for making time again at the end of a pretty busy political week.

MEMBER FOR CANBERRA, GAI BRODTMANN: Thanks very much, Adam. It’s lovely to be here, and on the first day of winter.

SHIRLEY:  And aren’t we all feeling it with that southerly as well. Now, I allude to that further travel you actually have to make to meet people you represent. You recently returned from Norfolk Island, an area which is actually in your electorate. What information are you trying to gather from locals there?

BRODTMANN: I go up to Norfolk twice a year for one week of consultations each time. We, as in the government, and supported by Labor, have introduced a significant round of reforms to integrate Norfolk into the Australian system. Until recently, they weren’t actually part of the Australian system. They didn’t pay tax, but they had no access to Medicare, they had no access to PBS, they had no access to Centrelink services, so we are integrating them into the Australian system. There was a bit of resistance in some corners of the island, but my trips up there now are to go and speak to the Islanders and talk to them about how the transition to the reform is going in terms of integration, what problems they are having, and then come back and attempt to resolve them.

SHIRLEY: That’s fascinating. I’ve been to Norfolk Island - they do have a quite proud, independent self-awareness if you will. What are they telling you about that effect of transition into being part of Australian Government, not their own self-jurisdiction?

BRODTMANN: They have a very proud culture and a very interesting history, and they are very, very proud of that. My belief is that we needed to integrate Norfolk Island into the system, and a number of colleagues who have been involved in Norfolk for a long time, to ensure that the culture survives. To ensure that there is prosperity on the Island, that the Island continued to thrive and they had the systems in place to continue to do that. So that was one of the main reasons why I supported the reform agenda. I also wanted to ensure that the Islanders, like mainland Australians, actually had every human right that Australian's had here. And so that's why I was very keen to ensure they had access to a universal health system, that they had access to an aged pension, that they had access to PBS and other services that mainlanders just take for granted.

SHIRLEY: So what has been their response to some of these benefits, if you will, but also what has changed in how they would usually live their life up until now?

BRODTMANN: It's been embraced by some in the community and there is still resistance amongst others in the community and I think that is going to continue. Large portions of the community now want to make this work, so we are working through the tangly bits of this transition. And there are lots of tangly bits. The PBS, the Medicare, the aged pension - that seems to all be working pretty smoothly. The challenge we've got now is the legislative framework: who is responsible for what in terms of federal, in terms of state, in terms of the ACT. One of the big issues I'm facing at the moment is trying to get the families on the island access to the childcare rebate. The childcare centres need to be accredited and they need regulation in place to do that, so we are just going through that, which is quite entangled.

SHIRLEY: I bet it is.

BRODTMANN: And I want that yesterday, so I have been actively pursuing that.

SHIRLEY: I note too, prominent lawyer, Geoffrey Robertson, is representing some locals who want to continue self-government and don't want to be part of the Australian Government. What stage is that at and what might be the end result there to your knowledge?

BRODTMANN: I understand that it's gone to the UN, but I haven't heard an update on that and it wasn't discussed when I was on the Island. I haven't really heard where it's at but we're just continuing to roll out these changes and to make the transition, the integration, as smooth as possible. As I said, we have run into a few hurdles, particularly on vocational education and getting islanders trained up to mainland standard. It's a real challenge as there is no RTO actually on the island, so trying to work out how we make that possible without beggaring people who are trying to get up to standard and also just trying to get vocational education.

SHIRLEY: Are many of them looking to then find a job on the mainland or are they actually trying to find education and work opportunities within Norfolk Island?

BRODTMANN: Ideally, they want to go back to their community. They want to ensure they are part of building their community and ensuring its prosperity. Family is very, very prominent for the Islanders, as is education. They are very, very committed to education – they have an excellent school there. Yes, ideally, it’s like here in Canberra. We want to home-grow our own talent. We want to keep people here and to be part of making sure our community is thriving.

SHIRLEY: It is quite a unique situation which is continuing to unfold. Do you and the government have a rough time as to when this will be resolved? Or is that still, because of the complications you mentioned, still hard to predict?

BRODTMANN: Well as I said, the Medicare, the PBS, the aged pension - that's rolled out already, as has the tax system which has been introduced on a gradual basis, as is superannuation. In terms of these other issues, I want it as soon as possible because I am particularly concerned about those families not having access to childcare rebates and also, those young Norfolk Islanders not having access to vocational education.

SHIRLEY: The National Disability Insurance Scheme, Ms Brodtmann, has not worked for many people in Canberra. You've been speaking with a lot of them. In what ways is it letting some people down? 

BRODTMANN: Well it is a disappointment. Everyone had so much hope for it and there was so much optimism around it and people have been bitterly disappointed. At Christmas, we had a huge wave of Canberrans getting in touch with us about the fact their plans have been changed with no consultation. They couldn't get through to the NDIA to actually organise a plan. There was lack of communication from the NDIA. They were passed on from case manager to case manager. There was no coordination in the whole planning process, and just yesterday, I received two others. It seems there is a new wave emerging now of people who have had their plans reviewed, and there is one woman, we're going to be taking up her case immediately, she has a seven-year-old son, severely disabled, and she’s had her funding cut in half without any notification, without a heads-up phone call - nothing.

SHIRLEY: Is this happening because of funding, pure and simple - or are there other issues about how to define people’s needs and whether that fits into a plan?

BRODTMANN: I think there is an issue about resourcing, and that is something we need to be having a conversation about. It's a case of actually taking these people seriously, listening to their concerns and giving them the dignity of getting in touch with them. These are people with disabilities, with carers, who have a tough day each and every day. They face enough challenges. So the fact there doesn't seem to be any empathy there, and understanding of their situation, is really concerning.

SHIRLEY: Do you look at the staffing of the NDIA, perhaps the level of training they are or aren't given, and see that as a key issue?

BRODTMANN: We need some sort of continuity with the case managers, ideally having a case manager. I've been told in the past each family, each individual, was assigned a case manager and that case manager continued with them. That system seems to have changed. It seems to be you ring up, you're speaking to one case manager one day and the next day you're speaking to another case manager. There is no sense of continuity there and there is no sense of understanding of the particular individual or the particular family's situation.

SHIRLEY: Without getting into partisan politics, but I wonder whether you think, both the Opposition and the Government have a role to better present a funding model that works for people - to open it up so it's not as hard to jump through the hoops to prove that you have  a disability, to prove that you need the support.

BRODTMANN: I think we both have a role in making this work. This is a significant change. It's up there with Medicare in terms of life-changing potential. It's vitally important that we, as a Parliament, make this work. It's vitally important that the potential of people with a disability is realised and carers have the support that they need, as do the people with a disability.

SHIRLEY: Do you see good will cross party lines to try and make that happen? Maybe an acknowledgment that things are not working as they should in the NDIA, and then what is happening to people.

BRODTMANN: I've been liaising extensively with the Assistant Minister, Jane Prentice, on this issue. Her office has been very cooperative on the issue to try and actually resolve some of the outstanding cases. I do think that we do need to make this work - we have got to make this work for Australians, for Canberrans with a disability, for Australians and Canberrans who are supporting someone with a disability. This has so much potential, there was so much optimism around this, there was so much hope around this scheme, and it needs to be realised.

SHIRLEY: Gai Brodtmann, Member for Canberra, is our guest on Mornings. A couple of issues through the week, Gai Brodtmann. At the start of the week, there was the Victorian Conference for Labor. It was seemingly abruptly closed down before the debate on asylum seeker policy and a few other issues could happen. Now for someone outside the political bubble, they could have been scratching their heads. Can you explain why that happened?

BRODTMANN: I am not a member of Victorian Labor, and I wasn't at the Conference. In terms of the discussion around this issue, we have plenty of opportunities for Labor Party members to discuss this. They've got their sub-branches, they've got their own state or territory conferences - we've got our territory conference coming up here in August - and also, this is a national issue. This is an issue that will be covered in the National Platform, and that will be discussed at National Conference.

As part of the development of the National Platform - I've been involved in it, I chaired the National Policy Committee in my first term, and I travelled all over the country, consulting with sub-branch members, with specific committees of the Labor Party, with the broader community, with community groups, with a range of organisations right throughout the country, a range of policy initiatives and issues - and the National Policy Forum has been doing the same thing.

There are sixty people who are on the National Policy Forum - which is a lot broader than when I was involved in it, a lot broader. I understand they've been travelling the country, talking to sub-branch members about the issues. Sub-branch members also get the chance to have a say in terms of making submissions on the Platform. They get a chance through consultation, they get a chance through their sub-branches, they get a chance at their own territory or state level, and they also have the opportunity to make submissions to the National Policy Forum on the Platform. That's happened with the existing Platform, and there is a draft out now that has been out for submissions and comment.

SHIRLEY: So there is a lot of opportunity at that grassroots level, as it's sometimes called. I guess the significance of this was this is the Opposition Leader's home state. He was there. And just when it was about to be brought up, suddenly things get closed down due to a vote. I think it was CFMEU members and other factions. Is that fair?

BRODTMANN: As I said, I wasn't there Adam -

SHIRLEY: But on a philosophical level, I guess it's worth asking that question.

BRODTMANN: I'll just go back to the point I made about the fact that sub-branch members do actually get a chance, branch members have a chance to have a say. I don't know what actually happened there, so I really don't want to comment on it.

SHIRLEY: Does it disappoint you if certain factions in Labor might combine to prevent the discussion of important issues? Say, for instance, it happens in the ACT Branch, would that be a disappointment to you?

BRODTMANN: I haven't experienced that in the ACT. Our conference is open to the media. Our conferences at the state level, at the territory level, and the national level are open to the media, it's open to diplomats and it’s open to the broader community. It is very open and transparent in terms of the way the Labor Party makes its decisions on particular policy issues. We don't hide from that, unlike the Greens. Their conferences are closed off. Ours are open so people get to see us, warts and all. This is the same with the ACT Conference.

SHIRLEY: We were talking with David Maher about the latest saga, really, in the One Nation soap opera. From your position afar, how healthy or unhealthy is what is happening for politics generally in this country?

BRODTMANN: In terms of One Nation, it's just another development of what's going on with that Party - if you can use the word. Pauline Hanson seemed pretty cheesed off last night about the latest development. All I can say is if she wants solidarity amongst her Party - using that term very loosely - then she needs to look at her recruitment strategy.

SHIRLEY: Is that an issue of how she runs it as a figurehead, of how she deals with people who might be within One Nation?

BRODTMANN: I don't know how she deals with them. I am a Labor Party member, I have been for a very, very, very long time. I handed out my first how-to-vote in 1983. I am a Labor Party member, and I'm very proud of that. In terms of how she runs her Party, I really can't comment because I don't know how it works.

SHIRLEY: Does it make you scratch your head from outside though?

BRODTMANN: Absolutely.

SHIRLEY: And the impact on us as citizens when One Nation have an influence in the Senate - what's your response to that?

BRODTMANN: I just see it as a bit of a circus. It doesn't really come up in conversations I have with Canberrans. Their concerns are about the NDIS, their concerns are about the NBN, and trying to get that up and running here in the territory. I campaigned very, very hard to get us put on the roll out map. We finally got put on the roll out map, and now we just keep getting delay after delay after delay. The feedback that I'm getting from the people who have signed up is that it hasn't been pretty and their experience has been less than ideal. So I'm fighting on the NBN on a number of fronts in terms of the delays, in terms of getting us prioritised, in terms of the fact that we've got parts of Canberra that have less than one megabit per second upload and download, particularly in south-east Tuggeranong. The fact that their educational opportunities are being impeded, they can't set up small businesses at home, they can't engage in active citizenry - that's a significant concern for Canberrans.

SHIRLEY: An ongoing discussion and one for continued months ahead I am sure, given the roll out is currently happening. Plenty of issues to discuss further, we'll have a chance to do it at some point. Gai Brodtmann, thank you for coming by today.

BRODTMANN: Great. Thanks, Adam.

SHIRLEY: The Member for Canberra, Gai Brodtmann, on ABC Radio Canberra.