HON MICHAEL MISCHIN (North Metropolitan — Deputy Leader of the Opposition) [1.03 pm]: I move —
That this house expresses its concern at the McGowan government’s failure to fulfil its election commitments.
Speeches and comments from various members
HON ALISON XAMON (North Metropolitan) [2.01 pm]: I rise because I want to make a few comments about this motion, which, fortunately, is fairly broad reaching, because I suspect that some of the election commitments that have not been realised by this government that the opposition would want realised are not the ones that the Greens want realised. I am thinking particularly about the battle around the tough on crime and law and order vote, which always arks up during the lead-up to elections, in which we see a competition as to who can be the toughest on crime. If the Attorney General decides not to enact some of the more punitive measures, that is fine with me.
The “2017 WA Labor Platform” is very interesting reading because it illustrates a range of promises that were made, particularly to constituents who matter to me, that have not been realised and, in fact, I suspect will not be realised in this term of government. I understand the desire to try to appeal to the masses. The Greens are far more comfortable in recognising who its core constituents are and we are very much speaking to them. I want to pull out a grab bag of a few areas that have not been handled particularly well, areas in which there has been no reform, and I will not hold my breath waiting for some.
I note as a starting point that there was, of course, the promise to ensure that schools develop behaviour management policies. Instead of doing that, there was a rollout of punitive automatic suspension and expulsion policies, which runs contrary to the sorts of priorities identified, particularly for Aboriginal children. It is important to note that to date, we still have not seen anything tangible to assist Aboriginal students to better engage along these lines. I hope we will see something from this government to address that.
The “2017 WA Labor Platform” also refers to the need to address the three-strikes policy in the eviction of tenants from public housing and the need to ensure that there is appropriate support for tenants at an early stage so that their tenancy can be sustained rather than result in the purely punitive measure of eviction. I point out that Aboriginal families are still being evicted into homelessness; that is still happening. Further, I have raised in this chamber particular concerns—I will have much more to say about this later on this week—about the eviction of people with mental illness into homelessness. That is happening even in the grip of the pandemic crisis that we face right now. I have not seen anything that has given me any comfort, particularly from the Minister for Housing, to address my serious concerns, particularly about people with serious mental health issues being evicted into homelessness. The Labor Party had a lot to say about that, certainly from a human rights perspective, but when it comes to the rubber hitting the road, in practice it has been sorely lacking. I note that a number of tenancy organisations that assist people who face eviction have expressed deep concern about the lack of genuine progress in this area and, in fact, have said that in many respects the situation has started to go backwards.
I note that the platform refers to —
The development of a culturally appropriate diagnostic tool for Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, in partnership with Aboriginal health organisations;
I have raised the issue of FASD on a number of occasions and, indeed, it has been raised in various coroner reports arising from the suicide of Aboriginal children in particular. It is a very serious matter. We know from the Telethon Kids Institute research into children at Banksia Hill Detention Centre that a large number of the children there, apart from coming from a background of extreme disadvantage, are also cognitively impaired and many are deemed to potentially have FASD. In response to the numerous questions that I have asked over the course of the last three years about what is happening with FASD, I have been told that it is an all-of-government response and that that is the approach, but we have not seen anything tangible. Apart from being told that it is on the agenda of a number of ministers—which, by the way, makes it really difficult to pin down exactly where the buck should stop and who should ultimately take responsibility for the failure to enact the important recommendations—we have seen chronic inaction. This is an area of huge need. There is no doubt that it is a complex area, but I remain eternally disappointed about the lack of tangible outcomes.
The platform also states that Labor will ensure —
... legislatively, that incarceration is treated as a last resort, and that diversionary tactics, restorative justice and rehabilitation are the priority for young offenders.
This is when I talk about the long overdue promised reform of the Young Offenders Act 1994, which has effectively stalled; it has not happened even though it was promised. We know there is a need to prioritise this as a body of work. The Attorney General has introduced a whole suite of legislative reforms but this one is very important and was an election promise. We have seen no progress whatsoever. I have asked multiple questions about it, but it seems that dealing with some really vulnerable and troubled children as a priority is not that important after all.
Likewise, the platform refers to people living with disabilities who have allegedly committed crimes and ensuring that they have the right to be dealt with justly, especially when their disability has contributed to their offending behaviour. I am pleased to note that a new Criminal Law (Mentally Impaired Accused) Amendment Bill will finally come to this place. I desperately hope that it is introduced into this place and is passed in this term of government. We have already had a problem with a full legislative agenda that has no capacity to be passed and now, of course, we are facing the unprecedented potential shutdown of Parliament for reasons beyond this government’s and everybody’s control. I get that. But I am disappointed that it is three years into the term and we are only now, hopefully, seeing that legislation, but we have not seen it yet. I know this is something that the families that I am dealing with are desperate to see reformed. I know that the mental health sector and the disability sector are desperate to see reform. If that bill is passed and carried, that is truly something that this government should be proud of. We still have an ongoing problem in the way that services are being delivered in this space, particularly when it comes to the attitude of Corrective Services. When Corrective Services deals with people who are mentally impaired accused, it is completely wrong-footed. It has no idea how to meet the needs of people who are cognitively impaired or have an intellectual disability or serious ongoing mental health issues and need to have strident medication regimes. I know of far too many people who are being kept in our prisons at the moment, bearing in mind that these people are not prisoners because they have not been found guilty, who are not receiving the care that they need and who are at serious, ongoing risk of getting bashed and being stood over, and that is happening every day. In terms of trying to get tangible reform around this, we have not seen that progress. We saw it under the previous government, which set up the Bennett Brook Disability Justice Centre. But the disability justice centre, and the use of it under this government, has, if anything, shrunk its capacity to fulfil the very important role that it needs to undertake as a declared place. I think a lot of that is to do with some of the management practices occurring there, and, to a large degree, the Mentally Impaired Accused Review Board has had its hands tied on this.
The platform also refers to making sure that the organisations that support the needs of people living with disability should be funded at appropriate levels. Unfortunately, those of us who are keeping an eye on what is happening with the rollout of the National Disability Insurance Scheme know that the transition has been anything but good, and we are talking about particular services that provide a niche role and may not even fit within an ordinary NDIS plan; for example, I am thinking of organisations like SECCA, which is needed on a crisis basis, has been highly reliant on block funding and, come July this year, looks like it is going to potentially go under because it does not fit within that framework but it has had all of its block funding pulled. In addition, we know that more and more organisations have pulled out of delivering services within the NDIS in Western Australia—it is a particular problem in the regions—because they cannot afford to keep running the services on the amount of money that is being offered to them within the individual packages. Therefore, the state government is going to have to seriously step up to ensure that basic services continue and that those markets do not become so thin that entire frameworks of support for people with disability end up collapsing. The very real risk is that an important reform, which is the NDIS, is going to end up becoming a worse system than what we had before, and that would obviously be a terrible outcome for everybody.
I note that there was lots of talk about supporting early intervention programs and initiatives that delivered stable accommodation. As I have said, I am concerned about the ongoing lack of appropriate referral pathways and access to a range of supports, particularly for people with mental health issues. I have heard that people want to access certain services but are constantly being blocked because of waiting lists or they are not being given appropriate referral pathways to do that. A big platform that this government has really tried to push has been around addressing homelessness, but, clearly, the left hand is not talking to the right hand because at the same time we are seeing very vulnerable people who are having various supports for early intervention and prevention pulled away from them.
I will, of course, have to make a comment that this government, while in opposition, referred to making sure that there was going to be bipartisan support for the 10-year mental health and alcohol and other services plan, and that it was committed to looking at reform and making sure that the necessary investment in the sectors would be upheld. Certainly, we have seen a rollout of things like the step-up, step-down services, and they are very welcome; they invite lots of ribbon-cutting, and I understand that they can be very attractive in a bricks-and-mortar establishment that one can look at and say, “This is what we’ve created.” But what has been lacking, and what is now starting to roll out at crisis levels, has been the wind-back investment in which we needed to look at the serious escalation of investment in community-managed mental health, alcohol and other sectors, which are now screaming out for support. Some of those sectors have been hurt by the NDIS as well, because they deliver services in psychosocial disability, and have found that they are also being hurt by the loss of block funding around certain areas. But more than anything, we are just not keeping up with demand.
I am very concerned about the lack of investment here. It means that, as usual, we are making the decision to throw the money at the crisis end rather than helping people to get well within the community in a way that enables people to continue to function effectively. I remain eternally concerned that all the promises that were made around mental health simply have not been delivered to the community to advantage the mental health sector in the way that the government wanted.
I thought I would also make some comments on the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer platform and the elements within that. The “2017 WA Labor Platform” stated that it opposed gay conversion therapy, which is described —
.. as a cruel and misinformed practice. WA Labor will work toward ending this practice.
I agree with that. It is not a therapy. It might be a belief system, but it is not a therapeutic intervention. We have not seen any progress, other than good words, from the minister on that. I understand that at the moment, everybody needs to very much focus on trying to address the implications of the pandemic, but there have also been three years during which a lot of the stuff could have been progressed. One of the other things I am concerned about that has not been progressed are the recommendations arising from Project 108, which seeks to put a range of reforms around what happens for trans people. I know this because I am contacted by members of the trans community and organisations like TransFolk and others, and they are very upset because they feel as though they have been utterly neglected. The platform that was circulated before the election refers extensively to trans people and the sorts of legislative reform that WA Labor would look at, as well as the delivery of services, yet there is nothing; it has not happened. Therefore, I will point out that that has been raised with me and that is concerning.
However, I will say that there are many other areas that I could point to. I went through with my highlighter and picked out some of the key things that I am working on at the moment and about which I could say, “Yeah, nothing’s happening here”, so I thought I would do that.
I will make some final comments before I sit down. One comment is about all the nice words and empty promises about climate change. WA Labor referred to supporting the need for WA to develop strong mitigation and adaptation plans to deal with the consequences of climate change. It referred to establishing and working towards renewable energy targets for WA but did not necessarily explain how that would be done. WA Labor outlined in-principle support for the Paris climate change agreement. As the Greens have said ad infinitum, and will continue to say for a very long time, we believe that those promises around climate change have effectively been smashed and that there is no authenticity that can be attributed to these promises. I recognise that some people in this chamber do not support the Greens’ position around climate change, but they also have not gone out to the public and said, “Vote for me, because our number one thing is climate change, and these are all the things that we are going to be doing.” I think that WA Labor is going to find that people are going to be —
Hon Stephen Dawson: Are you suggesting that we said we went to the election and said it was our number one issue?
Hon ALISON XAMON: No, I am not saying that; I am saying that it was one of the many issues, but for a lot of people it is the number one issue, and this was certainly a platform that WA Labor made a point of trying to make a whole bunch of claims on that have not been able to be enacted.
Hon Stephen Dawson interjected.
Hon ALISON XAMON: I have my time. I am very concerned, Madam Acting President —
The ACTING PRESIDENT (Hon Adele Farina): Order, members!
Hon ALISON XAMON: — that many have not been prioritised. I recognise that there is a whole bunch of other promises, particularly around things such as local jobs programs, that Labor is going to be trumpeting when it comes to the election, but there is a bunch of stuff in this platform that matters, sometimes to people who do not have a lot of sway in their votes—I am thinking of the trans community, for example, and people with mental illness who are being evicted—but these people matter. If these promises had been enacted, that would have been a really amazing blueprint. Instead, I have seen that some things have actually gone backwards, and there has been a disconnect. I am looking forward to being proven wrong in the next six months, at least with the issues that I have raised specifically, with Labor saying that we are going to have very positive progress on this. Otherwise, Labor needs to expect that, of course, it is going to be taken to task for this, because it went to the election with a very large platform. It has made a big deal about being a party that meets its election promises, but it is going to be undone, because there is a whole bunch of commitments that have not been enacted.
Speeches and comments from various members
Question put and passed.