Politics with Michelle Grattan
PM’s advisor Christine Morgan on tackling Australia’s rising suicide rates

PM’s advisor Christine Morgan on tackling Australia’s rising suicide rates

August 26, 2019

The number of suicides in Australia has been rising in the last decade, with more than 3,000 Australians taking their life in 2017, according to the latest available ABS figures. Some of the most vulnerable groups include Indigenous Australians, young Australians, unemployed people, and veterans.

Scott Morrison has declared this a key priority area for the government. He has appointed Christine Morgan, CEO of the National Mental Health Commission, as the national suicide prevention advisor to the prime minister.

On this episode, Christine Morgan speaks with Michelle Grattan about the issue - what we know so far, and what needs more clarity. She stresses the role of communities in tackling the rising rates, and also argues for a more holistic view - beyond narrow mental health problems - of the factors that drive people to contemplate taking their own lives.

"Yes, it may be that they’re suffering from a mental health condition. Yes, they may be suffering from a health condition. But they may also be being affected by other things which significantly impact, like what is their housing security?[…]What is their employment situation? what is their financial situation? Have they come from a background of trauma?"

Anyone seeking support and information about suicide can contact Lifeline on 131 114 or Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636.

Additional audio:

A List of Ways to Die, Lee Rosevere, from Free Music Archive.

Image:

Shutterstock

On the ‘creeping crisis’ in the public service

On the ‘creeping crisis’ in the public service

August 13, 2019

Scott Morrison has voiced his intention to shake up the federal public service - seeking to make it more efficient in implementing the government’s agenda. A review of the public service led by David Thodey is now finished.

Meanwhile, Professor Beth Noveck and Professor Rod Glover have released a timely study of the public service, titled Today’s problems, Yesterday’s toolkit. Commissioned by the Australia and New Zealand School of Government, it builds on interviews with almost 400 public servants - most of them Australians.

In this podcast episode, Noveck and Glover discuss the “creeping crisis” of effectiveness and legitimacy the Australian public service is facing.

"Blunt public sector management tools, including hiring freezes, efficiency dividends, and funding cuts that hobble innovative or experimental initiatives, are creating what interviewees for this study describe as a creeping crisis for the public sector."

To reverse this trend, they say the government must ensure public servants have a “ 21st century toolkit” to solve public problems. They point to the private sector’s “use of creative problem-solving methods, enabled by new technologies” as an example to follow.

They argue that “improving individual skills provides the linchpin for tackling public problems and restoring trust in government”.

The report is now available online and open to the public for comment.

Additional audio: 

A List of Ways to Die, Lee Rosevere, from Free Music Archive.

 

Image: 

Shutterstock

Anthony Albanese on Labor’s hard times

Anthony Albanese on Labor’s hard times

July 30, 2019

Anthony Albanese has a blunt message for critics who are accusing Labor of attacking government measures but then voting for them. They should “examine the world as it is rather than as they would like it to be,” he says.

In the post-election reality the Senate will mostly support the government. This severely limits the opposition's capacity to alter legislation.

In this podcast episode, Albanese defends Labor's backing for the government's $158 billion tax package, supports an increase in Newstart, and strongly argues the need to take the superannuation guarantee to 12%.

He remains confident in his ability to force the expulsion from the party of maverick unionist John Setka, regardless of the outcome of the court action Setka has brought. “That will happen. His values don't fit the values of the ALP. It's as simple as that,” he says. But he stays implacably opposed to the government's Ensuring Integrity legislation to enable tougher action against erring union officials, saying Labor will vote against it.

Despite its problems at the election, Albanese believes Labor can successfully appeal to both working class aspirational voters and its progressive supporters, maintaining they have common interests in an ALP government.

Additional audio:

A List of Ways to Die, Lee Rosevere, from Free Music Archive.

Image:

AAP/LUKAS COCH

Paul Oosting responds to GetUp’s critics

Paul Oosting responds to GetUp’s critics

July 23, 2019

After a bruising election outcome, GetUp is regrouping around a batch of issues - with press freedom the big ticket item. The activist group's national director Paul Oosting, who has been in Canberra for the parliamentary week, says this is "deeply, deeply important to our members right now. It's absolutely the number one issue that they care about".

"We're absolutely in this campaign for the long haul. How we protect press freedoms, as of today - [it] isn't entirely clear how we get there from a parliamentary and political point of view, but we've absolutely got to find a way because press freedom is central to our democracy."

Post-election, GetUp has faced strong critics, most recently the Liberal member for the South Australian seat of Boothby, Nicole Flint, who has accused it and unions of "creating an environment where abuse, harassment, intimidation, shouting people down and even stalking became the new normal".

Oosting says these claims "aren't true" - they are "very much self-serving from the Coalition in an attempt to to muddy our brand".

He admits GetUp made some mistakes - in a "calling script" in one electorate, and a wrong "tone" in some advertising, notably depicting a Tony Abbott figure refusing to hep a drowning person.

"In terms of our internal processes and how we think more broadly around those things...[we] absolutely will carry those lessons through to future campaigns."

But in Boothby he says, "Nicole Flint doesn't really have a high profile. So our campaign wasn't centred on her, it was centred on issues like climate change".

Additional audio:

A List of Ways to Die, Lee Rosevere, from Free Music Archive.

Image:

AAP/ Joel Carrett

Centre Alliance’s Stirling Griff on Newstart

Centre Alliance’s Stirling Griff on Newstart

July 23, 2019

The two Centre Alliance senators, Stirling Griff and Rex Patrick will often be pivotal to the fate of government legislation. The smaller non-Green Senate crossbench this term means that if the government can muster Centre Alliance support, it only needs one other crossbencher to pass bills, as was the case with the government’s tax package.

In this podcast Michelle Grattan talks with Stirling Griff about the party’s position on a range of issues - including the widespread pressure for an increase in Newstart.

Griff says Centre Alliance is willing to use its bargaining muscle to try to get the government to raise the payment. "We’ll exert as much pressure as we possibly can to, at the very least, have a minor increase from where [Newstart] is now."

Centre Alliance has struck up a consultative relationship with Tasmanian independent Jacqui Lambie. “Ahead of a sitting week, or a sitting fortnight, we share our thoughts on which way each of us intends to vote and if we can arrive at a common position we will do so.”

Meanwhile, Senate leader Mathias Cormann remains apparently well-placed to wrangle the cross-bench. “[Cormann] is held in very high regard by pretty much everyone in the chamber. Certainly, we have a very good relationship with him.”

Additional audio: 

A List of Ways to Die, Lee Rosevere, from Free Music Archive.

Image: 

AAP/Sam Mooy

Megan Davis on a First Nations Voice in the Constitution

Megan Davis on a First Nations Voice in the Constitution

July 15, 2019

Last week on this podcast we talked to Ken Wyatt about the government’s plan for a referendum – hopefully this parliamentary term – to recognise Indigenous Australians in the Constitution.

This week, we continue the conversation on Indigenous recognition with Megan Davis, a law professor and expert member of a key United Nations Indigenous rights body on the debate about an Indigenous ‘Voice’ which has followed Ken Wyatt’s announcement.

“At this point the only viable option for constitutional reform is this proposal for a Voice to parliament,” says Megan .

"The Uluru Statement from the Heart is significant because it’s the first time an Australian government has gone out to community and said to them what does recognition mean to you in the Australian Constitution? And their answer was we want a better say in the laws and policies that affect our lives…The very key point here is the symbolic elements of recognition were completely unanimously rejected. So there was a very strong view that this needed to be practical reconciliation – that Aboriginal people were over symbolism."

Megan Davis is currently in Geneva for a meeting of the UN body she sits on, where she says this issue will be raised among other issues which Australian Indigenous people face.

Australia’s reputation on the international stage has had a number of issues such as “incarceration[…]the conditions of young people in youth detention[…][and] the numbers of child removals”.

Additional audio:

A List of Ways to Die, Lee Rosevere, from Free Music Archive.

Image:

RICHARD WAINWRIGHT/AAP

Minister Ken Wyatt on constitutional recognition for Indigenous Australians

Minister Ken Wyatt on constitutional recognition for Indigenous Australians

July 10, 2019

The first Indigenous minister for Indigenous Australians, Ken Wyatt, says on the government’s proposal to constitutionally recognise Indigenous Australians: “I’m optimistic about achieving the outcome because if the words are simple, but meaningful, then Australians will generally accept an opportunity to include Aboriginal people in the Constitution.”

But he concedes Indigenous leaders would not take the same minimalist approach he is advocating for, but says it is “pragmatic”.

"What I want to see us make some gains. Later on as we mature as a nation, then we can have another debate of what the next phase is."

He admits getting support for the constitutional referendum in his home state of Western Australia would be difficult but he would be looking to the big mining companies – which have been supportive of the Uluru Statement of the Heart – to help make the case there.

As for issues affecting Indigenous communities, such as high youth suicide rates, he says there is “a sense of futility for some young people. The issue of broken relationships. The way in which young people have expressed the need for their culture to be valued”.

On the way forward, he is looking into “support structures that need to go into place on the ground” and thinks “there is a way that we can have some of this with existing resources”.

Additional Music:

A List of Ways to Die, Lee Rosevere, from Free Music Archive.

Image:

Rohan Thomson/AAP

 

Frank Brennan on Israel Folau and religious freedom

Frank Brennan on Israel Folau and religious freedom

July 3, 2019

Frank Brennan, Jesuit priest and member of the expert panel on Religious Freedom set up by Malcolm Turnbull says the Israel Folau matter is a "simple freedom of contract case regardless of Mr. Folau's religious views".

"I think the question is, did he voluntarily, and for a very large sum of money, agree with his employer to follow a work code which included an undertaking not to make statements on social media about various things which may or may not have a religious component?"

Responding to Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells' renewed call this week for a Religious Freedom Act - as distinct from narrower legislation favoured by the Morrison government - Brennan told The Conversation: "I continue to have my reservations about that, mainly on the basis that I don't think religious freedom is an enormous problem in Australia".

He sees the way forward as a Religious Discrimination Act, recommended by the review, in line with other existing anti-discrimination laws on race and gender.

As for issues to do with religious schools, "Penny Wong's bill was correct" - referring to the Senator's Amendment to the Sex Discrimination Act late last year which sought to remove the capacity of religious schools to directly discriminate against students on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status. The only addition needed to this, he says, would be a clear commitment that "religious schools are free to teach their doctrine".

Additional audio

A List of Ways to Die, Lee Rosevere, from Free Music Archive.

Image:

AAP/ Alan Porritt

ACTU president Michele O’Neil on John Setka and the government’s anti-union legislation

ACTU president Michele O’Neil on John Setka and the government’s anti-union legislation

July 1, 2019

The ACTU leadership has pushed controversial construction boss John Setka to quit his union job but its president Michele O'Neil says the final decision on his leadership rests on the union membership.

She told The Conversation “members of unions elect their leadership and that’s an important principle”.

In this podcast episode O'Neil denounces the government’s plan to bring back to parliament the Ensuring Integrity Bill - which would give the government greater power to crack down on union lawbreaking - saying it is a “very extreme and dangerous bit of law”.

“It is not about integrity, it’s a political attack,” she says, citing the ability of banks and politicians to adopt voluntary codes of practice.

O'Neil is highly suspicious of Scott Morrison putting industrial relations back on the policy agenda, with a review now in train, to which the unions, unlike business, haven’t yet been invited to contribute. But she flags they will strongly argue their case over coming months, saying “we’ve written to Christian Porter asking why he hasn’t asked to meet with us…[this] won’t stop us advocating and putting forward what we think because it’s important for workers”.

Additional audio:

A List of Ways to Die, Lee Rosevere, from Free Music Archive.

Image: 

AAP/PETER RAE

 

Corrected version: Richard Eccleston on the electoral mood in Tasmania

Corrected version: Richard Eccleston on the electoral mood in Tasmania

May 8, 2019

University of Tasmania political science professor, Richard Eccleston, says a lack of a coherent energy policy could count against the Coalition in the island state.

“The party which seems to offer the more compelling commitment to climate change and renewable production will probably be well placed to capitalize on that [Tasmania’s environmental interests].”

Eccleston told The Conversation the volatile seats of Braddon and Bass could won by the Liberals.

However he says Lyons should be a “safe Labor hold” after to the controversy over the Liberals’ now-dumped candidate Jessica Whelan.

On the Senate, Eccleston says there will be an impact from the minor parties, with fisherman Craig Garland - who attracted a big vote at the Braddon byelection - “a name to watch”. But he doesn’t think Jacqui Lambie will be successful. Lambie, who resigned from the Senate in the citizenship crisis, is trying to make a comeback.

“She’s clearly got a profile but I think she’ll be struggling to get a seat at a half-Senate election.”