Subjects; Peter Dutton comments; road safety.
CHRIS KENNY: Anthony Albanese has had a bit of a spray at Peter Dutton for what he said on this program yesterday about African youth crime gangs in Melbourne. He joins me on the line now. Happy New Year to you Albo.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: And to you Chris, all the best.
KENNY: Yes, all the best to you too. I’d be interested to get your thoughts on all of this. Let’s start at the pointy end though and say, what do you think it is that Peter Dutton has said yesterday that was over the top?
ALBANESE: The idea that Melbourne is Mogadishu with better coffee is quite frankly over the top.
KENNY: I don’t think he called it Mogadishu.
ALBANESE: The idea that Victorians are not going out to restaurants, as the Shadow Tourism Minister, that’s a very damaging thing to say about Melbourne. I was in Melbourne last night and this morning and I got asked and I made the point that people were going about their business pretty freely and that the restaurants at a time like January are busy and it’s an important time for the tourism sector and for jobs. Peter Dutton, I think has just gone a bit over the top.
KENNY: I don’t think anyone would be suggesting that the CBD restaurants would be empty and that no one is going out at all in Melbourne, but isn’t it the case that in some of the affected areas…
ALBANESE: He did say that.
KENNY: He said Victorians are worried about going out to dinner, not going out to dinner because of that. Is that not the case in some of the affected suburbs that people are worried about going out and about because the gangs have been rampant?
ALBANESE: I think you need to identify problems as they are and as you know Chris, I’m not someone who shies away from straight talking about issues where there are problems. My concern is that Peter Dutton’s comments will be a distraction from actually what’s needed to deal with what is a very real issue. Crime is an issue. The fact is that people from different African communities are overrepresented when it comes to offences from young people. But at the same time, it needs to be acknowledged that overall crime rates have actually fallen in the last year in Melbourne for the first time in a long while. Youth crime rates have fallen year on year for a number of years now.
So we need to identify what the issues are and deal with them as they are. There’s a range of measures obviously required; law enforcement is one of them. But the sort of work that someone like Chris Riley has done with Youth Off the Streets in my community in the Inner West, in Western Sydney, in Logan, which has a high African youth population in the outskirts of Brisbane there and in Melbourne where Lindsay Fox has actually pitched in, as he tends to do, as a great Australian citizen, and has bought a truck for Chris Riley’s operation. Now they’re dealing directly, in particular, with the Sudanese community. I’ve seen the work first hand that Chris Riley has done engaging them, trying to assist them with getting into jobs and feeling a part of the community. We need to work with the leaders of those communities. They are very keen obviously.
KENNY: Yes, we don’t need to reinvent the wheel here, Anthony Albanese. As you say we’ve had youth gang problems in various parts of the country at various times and we know that you need to intervene to try to fix them. So you do concede though that there is an African young gang crime problem in Melbourne at the moment?
ALBANESE: Of course there’s an issue. There’s no question that there’s an issue.
KENNY: And does it frighten some people? Have you spoken to Victorians who are frightened about the public safety here?
ALBANESE: I have no doubt that there are real issues. I read the paper and there was a gentleman who was in a community in the western suburbs of Melbourne where there was a party that got out of control and people were engaged in anti-social behaviour and the police had to come in. Obviously they are circumstances that should not happen. They need to be dealt with.
But they need to be dealt with in a proper and frank way, in a way that isn’t seeking, in this quiet period of the political news cycle, try and run in what is a state election year in Victoria. It would appear that there’s a coordinated response from the Federal Coalition with the State Coalition. Ironically the State Liberal Leader doesn’t mind going out to dinner in Melbourne. Indeed, he’s been pinged for going out with one of the leaders of the Italian crime…
KENNY: That’s your gang, the Italian gang.
ALBANESE: He didn’t mind going out and having a lobster with a mobster down there. But he’s out there arguing the case here pretty stridently.
KENNY: There’s no doubt it’s a big political issue, but I mean that is obviously feeding off public concern as well. I wonder whether you’re concerned, Anthony Albanese, about the judiciary, about the message we’re getting from the courts, particularly in Victoria with this revelation today that a 17 year old youth who is facing allegations or charges that he kicked a police officer in the head. And this is a young man, a 17 year old who has already been on probation, who has already had a history of serious offences.
And the Police Minister in Victoria has criticised the fact that this 17 year old is out on bail even though facing a charge of kicking a police officer in the head. The Police Minister Lisa Neville calls this court decision, the Children’s Court decision as incomprehensible. I think most people in this country would agree with her.
ALBANESE: That’s right. I mean, our police put their bodies on the line and they do it for all of us, so that we can feel more comfortable and secure and any threat to a police officer, let alone actual physical violence should receive a strong response from the judicial system. There’s no question about that. I’m not talking specifically about the case because I don’t know all of the details. But as a general principle, we need to send a very clear message to the community that it’s hands off our police officers who do such a fantastic job.
I mean, the police in this area, there was a crime problem in Marrickville, something I am very conscious about. But when I was first elected at the end of the 1990s, what happened when the drug trade got shut down in Cabramatta, some of it moved here to Marrickville. We had to deal with syringes at the back of the office and a whole lot of issues that come with drug related crime, you know, break and enters increased, all of that.
The police did an amazing job of really connecting up with community leaders as well as connecting up with the various communities. You know, there were a few bad eggs but fundamentally most people I think in society are good people.
KENNY: We sometimes forget that, that most people are on the good side of any particular issue, any particular debate. I don’t want to hold you up too long, Anthony Albanese, but while I’ve got you on the line, given your background…
ALBANESE: We can chat for a long time. Most my colleagues are on leave across the Parliament, I think.
KENNY: Fair enough. We will expand upon your agenda for the nation. Look, I want to go back, you’ve had a longstanding expertise and experience in transport both as a minister and in opposition. We’ve been talking a lot about road safety over the past couple of days and one of the things we’ve been focusing on is the increased number of heavy vehicle crashes and speaking to truckies and people involved in the trucking industry about the hours that truck drivers have to spend behind the wheel in order to meet the demands of customers and employers and in order to make ends meet. They are legally able to as you would know, with fatigue management training, to drive for 14 hours a day, days on end. Now, this surely is not the best thing for safety on our roads. We have to find a way to limit the hours that truck drivers drive to something more sensible, such as eight hours a day.
ALBANESE: That’s exactly right, Chris. What we need is safe rates and this has been an issue which produced a bipartisan report called Burning the Midnight Oil a few years ago and that led to the support for the creation of the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal which occurred when I was the Transport Minister. Now, it made a decision as a Tribunal that was a problem, I acknowledge that, in 2016, but the government responded by removing the whole thing and hasn’t put anything in its place.
I’m very sympathetic with truck drivers, a lot of whom of course are owner operators. They’re struggling. Their wives will often do the bookwork for them. If they get on okay they might have a couple of trucks and have someone working for them, but these are hard working Australians who are put under enormous pressure when told ‘here you go, this is basically a 10 hour trip common sense tells you with proper stops, but we’ll pay you for eight’ and that’s the sort of thing that goes on.
We need to have the full chain of responsibility to make sure that people can’t put undue pressure on truck drivers. There was a case recently out there very publicly about Tip-Top and the pressures that the drivers of the bread trucks who we rely upon to get bread in the morning were being put under. And I think you know, this really does need a response. It should be a bipartisan issue and it should be something that we as a community back in.
KENNY: It’s got to involve the trucking companies and the big customers as well as government.
ALBANESE: And by and large you, know the big companies, the Lindsay Foxes, the Tolls, they’re people who tend to do the right thing. But there are a lot of people out there who don’t do the right thing and that places pressure on the truck drivers, but of course that places an issue on all of us who are on the roads. All of us have had the experience of having a truck up the back of us a bit too close.
The pressure that they’re under means that in the last few years there of course has been an increase after decades of decline in the number of fatalities on our roads, but in the last few in particular, since the abolition the Tribunal we have seen a trend back towards more accidents involving heavy vehicles and that’s why I’ve said that Barnaby Joyce as the new Minister should convene a meeting of the Ministerial Council, the Transport and Infrastructure Ministerial Council, all the State and Territory ministers who by and large control the road rules etc.
But we should also make sure that we involve the motoring organisations, police and law enforcement, and make sure that we can sit down and try and get to the nub of why it is after decades of decline it’s going in reverse direction.
ALBANESE: At this time of the year, for those people who have family, friends or members of their community who have suffered tragedy over the Christmas period, it’s a tragedy that will return to them every year.
KENNY: Exactly. It requires a renewed effort nationwide, there’s no doubt about that. Thanks so much for joining us Anthony.
ALBANESE: Good on you Chris, always good to talk to you.
THURSDAY, 4 JANUARY 2018