Protest an essential part of a democracy - Transcript, Sky News

SUBJECTS: US protests and the importance of protests in democracies; Indigenous incarceration; Australian economy; charities.
PETER STEFANOVIC, HOST: Joining me now to discuss this is the Shadow Assistant Minister for Treasury and Charities, Andrew Leigh. Andrew, good morning to you. Thanks for joining us. Before we get to the situation in Australia, you've spent so much time in the US, done a lot of work there. Just want to get your view on what you've seen over the past eight days now as we're continuing to watch live pictures of an eighth straight day of protests in the United States.

ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR TREASURY AND CHARITIES: They’re shocking scenes and they really do remind you of 1968 and the riots that tore through the country then. The spark seems to have ignited a huge level of anger and frustration among so many Americans, not just at the treatment of African-Americans but at the huge level of inequality in America. And I worry too that it undermines America's ability to encourage other countries in the world to pursue a peaceful path to democracy, to ensure that they create opportunities for protesters to speak their mind – because protest is after all an essential part of a democracy.

STEFANOVIC: What do you think- the way that the officials and the police have responded to the protesters in the past couple of days, how does this affect America's overall standing with the world? You've got Hong Kong that has been watching this very closely. They've been critical of the US over the past few days as well, so what does this mean whenever the US President Donald Trump now is critical of how regimes or governments are acting towards their own protesters? 

LEIGH: There's clearly been some heavy handed overreaction and it surprised me that Scott Morrison didn't raise the treatment of the Channel Seven News crew when he spoke directly to Donald Trump. I also think that the opportunity for united leadership from the top has been missed. You think going back to 1968 of those powerful words spoken by Bobby Kennedy after the assassination of Martin Luther King, and the importance of those words to unite in ensuring that people see themselves as being part of a common peoples rather than the division and conflict which really is a hallmark of populist leadership. 

STEFANOVIC: What can Arthur Sinodinos really do here though? I mean, this attack against the Channel Seven crew yesterday, as horrific as it was. Can anything happen here or is this just going to get lost in the wash? 

LEIGH: I think it's important that there's a proper investigation and Arthur Sinodinos ought to be standing up to the treatment of all Australians overseas, particularly those operating in the news media who are doing the job of bringing bring us the pictures that you're seeing on your screens right now. 

STEFANOVIC: Let's have a look closer to home, Andrew. A couple of things. First of all, this incident from Monday night. I'm not sure if you've actually seen the picture of a young Indigenous kid who is quite aggressively taken to the ground by a police officer. We'll try to show that to you again in a second. What’s your - I mean, we don't know the context leading up to this, what happened before, but the timing is really bad isn't it?

LEIGH: It's certainly troubling, and I was pleased to see the police commissioner there saying that they'll be an appropriate investigation that he like me is troubled by the footage. It comes on the back of centuries of mistreatment of indigenous Australians, going back to killings in the 19th century and massive overrepresentation in our criminal justice system today. An extraordinary Western Australian study looked at the share of Indigenous men who'd been arrested, charged or summons by their 30th birthday and found that nine out of 10 Western Australian men born in the 1970s had been arrested, charged or summoned by their 30th birthday. A quarter of Indigenous men spent time behind bars. Even now as we're speaking two and a half per cent of Indigenous Australian adults are incarcerated - a higher share behind bars than African-Americans in the United States.

STEFANOVIC: Just extraordinary that that is the case here, that per capita that that level of incarceration is higher here in the United States. You moved a private members bill to try to adopt better targets, Andrew, but how can that be achieved? 

LEIGH: We ought to have Indigenous targets as part of the Closing the Gap targets. We ought to recognize that Indigenous over-incarceration isn't in the long term interests of anyone. In Western Australia, it's 4.3 per cent of Indigenous adults that are behind bars. So incarceration is increasingly becoming a normal life event for Indigenous Australians, with all of the repercussions that that has on people's ability to then get a good job and to be a part of the formal economy. We also know that incarceration has impacts on children. The typical prisoner has almost two kids, and so when you lock someone up that's two kids that go to bed that night with a parent behind bars. And the massively rising rate of incarceration of Indigenous women is particularly affecting that as well. So we do need to see this as a core priority for Australia, to bring down the Indigenous incarceration rate through better early intervention, better prison programs and through ensuring that we've got smarter policies that get us less crime and less punishment.

STEFANOVIC: Andrew, just a couple of quick ones before you go. Are you expecting negative growth this quarter when the figures come out later on today?

LEIGH: Look, I think all of the signs are pointing in that direction. The IMF is forecasting a substantial contraction in the Australian economy this year and it's suggesting that our unemployment rate will still be high right through to the end of next year. So it really does beg the question as to whether Scott Morrison's vaunted snapback will occur and whether it's wise to be cutting off JobSeeker and JobKeeper assistance in September. That could potentially bring the economy to a shuddering halt. I think economists and business leaders, union leaders alike are calling on the government to take a more sensible carefully calibrated approach to the way in which those measures are phased down.

STEFANOVIC: And just when it comes to charities, they're struggling at the moment too. Do you think that more financial assistance needs to be extended to Australian charities to avoid further job losses?

LEIGH: They've been hit by a double whammy. About two-thirds of Australian volunteers have scaled back their volunteer efforts, at the same time as more Australians have wanted the services of charities because of job losses and because of poverty. So we're seeing our charities placed in a double bind, and this Social Ventures Australia report today suggests that as many as one in six charities could go to the wall if something isn't done. A tenth of Australians work in the charity and not for profit sector, so this is a vital part of the economy. It's really important that the government sees charities as needing their assistance. They've been forgotten in large part the government's assistance packages – at the very time in which the Government is expecting charities to step up and assist with mental health, with family violence, with emergency relief. There's so much we need charities to do right now. It's only fair to be supporting those institutions themselves. It would be a travesty of charities were to go to the wall at the very time in which we need them most.

STEFANOVIC: All right, Andrew Leigh, a few issues to pick through there. Appreciate your time this morning. Thanks for joining us.  

LEIGH: Thanks very much.


Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.

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Cnr Gungahlin Pl and Efkarpidis Street, Gungahlin ACT 2912 | 02 6247 4396 | [email protected] | Authorised by A. Leigh MP, Australian Labor Party (ACT Branch), Canberra.