ABC Forum

A special panel discussion
on youth homelessness in
Australia was held after
the ABC1 screening of
The Oasis on 10 April.

Transcript of ABC Panel Discussion on Youth Homelessness

Tony: Hello and welcome to this special presentation of The Oasis, I’m Tony Jones.
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd placed homelessness at the top of his agenda, a few days after the election, when he asked his government MP’s to visit shelters in their electorates, and report back to him as a matter of urgency, we don’t know how their brief glimpses compare to what you’re about to see; the Oasis was filmed over two years in and around one extraordinary homeless shelter in Sydney’s Surry Hills; it’s a raw, confronting and disturbing film and it raises so many questions that we decided to try and answer some of them in a live discussion straight afterwards; we’ll be joined in the studio by the Federal Housing Minister, Tanya Plibersek and an expert panel and by some of the people you’ll meet over the next 75 minutes; we’ll be here watching the film along with you so please, stay with us if you’re moved to find out more; let’s go now to The Oasis.

Tony: I think all of you at home would agree, we’ve just spent time in a very different Australia, a place alien to many of us pop, populated by young people who desperately need the chance to gain stability and regain their lives; it’s a truly remarkable film; it takes you inside another world that exist alongside the comfortable one most of us live in and raises a multitude of questions well, watching it with us tonight to help us go through some of those questions are the Housing Minister, Tanya Plibersek, Human Rights Advocate, Rhonda Galberly, David Eldridge, the Chair of the National Youth Commission Inquiry, which reported this week and also with us is Captain Paul Moulds, the Director of the Salvation Army’s, Oasis Youth Support Network who opened up his own life to the cameras.
We’re also joined by an audience which includes some of the other faces you’re now familiar with from The Oasis and Paul; let’s start with you ah, for this discussion because we’ve just seen two years condensed into 75 minutes and I’m wondering, does that actually make things worse than they really are, or, or is it a fair depiction of, of day to day life at The Oasis?

Paul: Oh, I think the filmmakers have been conservative in um, in some of their approach to some of their approach to some of the issues and I think they’ve been very sensitive to the, the needs of the kids, the privacy of the kids and that’s ah, that’s a, that’s a great, that’s a pretty accurate depiction, with some extras to be thrown in.

Tony: Conservative in what way?

Paul: Ah, some issues that really couldn’t be shown; some of the aggression, some of um, um, the agonising issues around children losing par, um, parents losing children, some of those type of issues couldn’t be shown.

Tony: Now, I was really struck by this image that you have of grabbing the, these kids before they go off the cliff and I’ve, I’ve got to ask you a personal question; do you ever feel like you might go over with them?

Paul: No, no, no, I, I, I, my feet are well grounded so, so you know, you get in, you get in a bit of a storm sometimes, it certainly ah, edgy up there but no, I, I feel pretty secure in my, where I am myself, personally.

Tony: Your wife Robbin’s up in the audience; I’d just like to ask you Robbin, do you feel the same way? I mean, I, it’s to us, for us to imagine ah, two people devoting their lives in this way, to helping these kids, and I’ve got to ask you; the strain seemed to show sometimes during the filming, you’d have to admit, how hard is it?

Robbin: Um, I think sometimes it’s very hard, it is and I think that’s the cost of where we believe we’re called to serve and to ah, reach out to these broken young people and ah, it is costly at times um, but in the midst of that it’s ah, that we, we really do believe and we feel sustained in that by our faith and by friends and by support that we continue to keep doing that, and we surround ourselves with amazing people who volunteer and, and give of their time that just makes it, that we’re just not doing it alone, that we’re doing it with people as well.

Tony: Ok, well we’re lucky enough ah, to have a number of the people who are in the film in the audience with us and in the front row we’ve got Both Owen and Darren and Owen ah, you’ve just head what Paul said, I know you’ve heard it in the film, it’s like catching kids before they go off a cliff; do you ever feel like you were pretty close to the edge [Owen: Oh] yourself?

Owen: Yeah, I feel like I almost fell off but Paul caught me

Paul: That’s good.

Tony: How did he do that Owen?

Owen: Oh, he, he just ah, sent me in the right, on the right track, gave me a few tips and I chose to follow em

Tony: Can I ask you, er, how did it feel to see yourself in that film and see your life as other people will be seeing it?

Owen: Oh, weird! [Chuckles]

Tony: Darren let me ah, let me go to you and I really want to ask you the same question; how did it feel to see yourself there? I mean, there’s some very uncomfortable moments for you to look at there I mean, particularly the, the ah, ice frenzy scene where you actually get carted away I mean is it, is it awful for you to look back at that or do you just sort of see that as another part of your life you have to deal with?

Darren: Oh, I see it as a learning experience more than another part of my life that I had to deal with, it’s just like, everything that we’ve probably gone through’s been an experience, and a learning experience like I’ve made heaps of mistakes and still making mistakes.

Tony: What do you reckon you’ve learnt from that just out of interest?

Darren: Oh, honestly, it stopped me from using the drugs like, just to see meself ’cause you never actually see yourself like, when you’re in that state, like it, just how you’re carrying on and how you’re acting and that, like it, it comes like, people try to calm you down and you get worse from people trying to calm you down and that.

Tony: There’s a, there’s a brilliant moment at the end of the film where you’re on the balcony of your new apartment, and I know you’re still there [Darren OOV: Yeah] and you say and you’re breathing quite hard, and you say; so, this is home, tell us what, tell us what that felt like ’cause that’s what it’s all about, finding a home.

Darren: It was overwhelming like it was overwhelming like, from not being in a home of me own for so long like, and like, also, living on the streets for so long and moving into a house, it feels like more confined it like, like, you feel like, like confined, ’cause you’re used to the open.

Tony: Did you think it would ever happen, I mean, you’ve been through such a lot, clearly from what you’ve told us in the film, you’ve, you know, life’s been extremely tough, ah, did you think you would ever make it into a home?

Darren: No never, nup

Tony: But you did.

Darren: Yeah,

Tony: Let me try ah, Beau now, because we saw you Beau and a lot of people maybe aren’t going to recognise you as that young kid who snuck into Paul’s office

Beau: Not one of my better moments!

Tony: You were in a dreadful state then obviously [Beau: Yeah] and ah, I mean, now, you’re looking very healthy I’d, I’d have to say; how do you feel looking at yourself on the screen?

Beau: Um, it was obvious it’s, it was very hard, like, you know, like no-one wants to be shown in that light um, I didn’t remember a lot of what was going on at that time so I mean, seeing it now it’s, it’s, yeah, it’s a shock, yeah.

Tony: Do you have a, a clear picture of how you got into that state? I mean obviously you were a pretty heavy marijuana user [Beau: Yeah] at that time, I mean, do you, do you sort of associate the two things or is it [Beau: Yeah] is it, you felt like it was a trigger or something?

Beau: Yeah, smoking pot was definitely a catalyst um, but there other issues; I was under a lot of stress and it’s, in certain areas of my life and I was also on a certain medication and combining all three it just, it sent me on a spiral, yeah.

Tony: But you pulled out of it [Beau: Yeah] and now you’re back in your ah, once again, home.

Beau: Yeah.

Tony: It feels pretty good I guess?

Beau: Yeah, yeah, I mean, if I didn’t have um, that stable accommodation, I don’t think that I’d be able to focus on all the other areas of my life that wasn’t you know, the best that it could have been so yeah, I mean, that, that stability’s definitely helped me along the way, yeah.

Tony: Paul, tell us, tell us how it feels to, I mean in a, in a way, these guys sort of graduating into life and you’re sort of helping them to do that, I mean, I’d. I’d like to know how that, how that feels watching that because there are people, are we saw cases in the film that did over the cliff and they’re not coming back…

Paul: Yeah, look, it, it’s what I want Australia to see, that, that, you see these kids sometimes on the streets, behaving in ways and you do consider they’re almost irredeemable, ah, you might have a sense that; yeah, they’ve had bad lives but you know, now they’re making their choices and it’s never as simple as that and if we would only come with a different approach, there can be lots more stories like Beau and Owen and Darren, that’s what I really believe that we, we, we need to commit to that type of attitude, as well as the resources obviously to make it happen.

Tony: We’re going to talk a little bit about the ah, a different approach ah, later but I just want to bring in Tanya Plibersek right now, you’re electoral office is very close to The Oasis, I guess what I’m wondering first of all; did this documentary tell anything about the lives of these kids that you didn’t know already?

Tanya: Um, well you’re right Tony, my office is actually across the road from Oasis and um, I’ve you know, been there quite a few times over, over the years I, I don’t know that it, it, I don’t know that it told factually anything that I couldn’t, that I didn’t know, what I found really extraordinary about it I suppose is looking at picture of Chris when he went home to his mum’s place as a little Boy and sort of hearing about, hearing Owen talk about his childhood and Darren talk about his childhood, I think um, getting the opportunity to look into someone’s past and ask questions about how that past makes them the person they are today, that’s something that I hadn’t, I hadn’t done before, I’d sat down with a lot of these kids, I think, I was saying to Paul before that Haley was at Oasis the first time I went there, there were lots of people in that documentary that I know but knowing, you know, knowing someone to talk to day to day is quite different to thinking about, you know, hearing stories about what it, what it was like for some of these young people when they were just little kids.

Tony: Ok, a quite question ah, before we move on; how is that going to be translated and how quickly is that feeling that you have; that Kevin Rudd clearly must have because he’s made this a priority issue, how long before it’s actually converted into some policy difference that matters?

Tanya: Well, we’ve already committed to an extra 150 million dollars for emergency accommodation in the second half of this year, we’re currently working on our Green Paper on Homelessness that will look at youth homelessness but also at homelessness caused by domestic violence um, older people who are homeless, the effect of drug and alcohol use and mental illness on homelessness it, it is a complex issue so we’ve made a down-payment already on extra emergency accommodation but our long term approach will be set out in our White Paper later this year, we’ll be releasing that around about September, after a great deal

Tony: There’s a problem though; that’s after the Budget isn’t it? That means, whatever initiatives, whatever funding opportunities there may be, they’re not going to happen in this coming budget [Tanya: Well I’ve] we’ve got to wait again.

Tanya: I’m not sure about that Tony, I, I’m pretty confident that with the Prime Minister having the commitment he has to this issue um, that, that there won’t be the sort of delays that you fear, but I have to also say; there aren’t overnight solutions so if you, if you talk to Paul and if you talk David and you talk to the National Youth Commissioners, they will be the first ones to say; we’re not going to fix this in six months, or a year, or, or maybe even five years. We can do things straight away that have to be done that will make change over time but it would be irresponsible for me to pretend to you that things are going change because we’ve put out a White Paper; things will change with a sustained effort from us, from the Federal government, from the states, from local government, from the not-for-profit and community sector, from business, from the whole of the Australian community working together to put this at the centre of our national effort.

Tony: Ok, let’s look a little bit at why things didn’t change over a very long time because this is not the first time a documentary like this has helped raise a new public debate. In 1989 another generation of Australians was shocked in their living rooms when the ABC’s Nobody’s Children went to air. That film graphically demonstrated how thousands of children had slipped through society’s safety nets and it exposed the sub-culture of homeless youth cut adrift from an affluent society that leads us to ask what’s changed in 20 years so let’s take a brief look at what Nobody’s Children had to say about homeless youth in the 1980’s.

Tony: David Eldridge, we could be looking at the same film in a way, I mean, 20 years ago virtually and we had the Burdekin Inquiry ah, giving all sorts of advice to governments as to what should happen next but you claim, and your inquiry report claims, things have actually gotten worse, in fact considerably worse, why is that?

David: I think we’re looking at the same story but double the numbers of young people, and I think that ah, we know the drivers, we know the causes of youth homelessness, it is around family breakdown, it is around, well, not only housing affordability, the transition of young people from being at home to being in the community independently but it’s also about issues like state care that doesn’t work, and I think that one of the, the issues Brian raised in a previous inquiry was we have to get the state care system right because many of the young people in the film and, and, who are homeless on the streets, and homeless in rooming houses and horrific circumstances, have been wards of the state; they’re abused and neglected in home, they’re abused and transient in terms of multiple placements in the system, and they’re abused and transient on the streets.

Tony: Rhonda Galbally I’ve got to ask you, I mean how, with that report, pointing precisely to the problems, how did 20 years of different governments manage not to fix this problem?

Rhonda: Well there was a lot of activity you know, after Burdekin and it just petered out and I think the thing that didn’t happen, that we’ve perhaps got more of a sense of today, is that we just didn’t pull everybody together, so commonwealth departments, it’s very hard to pull them together as um, Tanya would know, it’s hard with the commonwealth and the states, and at the local community level, there’s been no mechanism really to get everybody together, resourced to work, you know, you have to have education, jobs, housing, um, supported housing, um, mental health, um, alcohol and drugs, reproductive health, it all has to come together.

Tony: So are you talking about the need for some sort of central Body ah, to oversee this? Or, the head of a Task Force?

Rhonda: Well I’m certainly not talking about an in, an inter-departmental committee because they’re not what I would call the most um,positive solutions but definitely a Task Force of some kind, you know, perhaps the social inclusion unit, there’s a mechanism now, but I think we have far more of an understanding that we absolutely have to have that happen, and at the local level, it has to be replicated um, it’s no good having it at the commonwealth level, unless at the local level, the school’s are meeting with the agency’s, are meeting with employers, are meeting with alcohol and drugs, like they have to be together, and that does mean, you know, a new infrastructure, a new community partnership, I think you call it community of service um, in the report but some infrastructure in local communities is really important with, where local government’s at the table too but where it’s maybe much broader than local government.

Tony: David Eldridge, what do you think about this idea of a Task Force or, or at least some central, committed Body which is pulling together all these departments, there are 8 or more departments involved in these areas?

David: I’ve been on a few Task Forces um, and some did some good things but they didn’t pull it all together, I think Rhonda’s right, it starts in local communities about some understanding of how local communities work together. The worst move for some young people is to leave their community of origin, it’s that move from, where maybe home isn’t great but they’ve got friends at school, they’ve got mates down the road, they might have some extended family so it needs to be local and then it does need to bring together departments so that all of our systems focus on the needs of a young person, not on the needs to departments.

Tanya: Tony, can I just jump in for a minute, um, I, I think that we have examples of services around the country that have done really well at connecting in locally with their schools, with their employment providers um, with ah, mental health services and other health services, but I think they’ve done it really without um, the support of government, they’ve done it because they have, they’ve been innovative in their service model and they’ve managed to cobble together bits of funding from all over the place to provide the ground service,

Tony: But that’s how, but that’s how the system works isn’t it? I mean, you’re the Minister for Housing, there’s Minister for Health, Welfare, Education, Social Inclusion Minister, there are any number of relevant Ministries, how do you pull it all together as a government, to make sure they all act and go in the same direction?

Tanya: Well what I’m saying is that there are examples where services have done that and I think that what we need to sort out is um, not what the service is doing but what the, the funding streams behind it’s doing ah, is doing, so that you put the person at the centre um, of you know, all the pockets of money and you work out what that person needs and you dip in here and you dip in here, to meet that person’s need, it is a complex thing for government to work out how to do that, it’s not easy

Tony: But should there be a coordinating Task Force, head of a, some Body, someone

Tanya: I don’t know, you know, another Body, we need to get that

Tony: Who, who helps coordinate; I mean we do it with Homeland Security, it’s important enough to bring together all these groups in order to combat terrorism but not homelessness.

Tanya: I think you need to know how all those elements will work together um, I don’t know that another bureaucracy to do that is necessarily the answer you know, I’m open to having that discussion but I’m sceptical that another group of people, another bureaucracy is the answer to getting all of those services to work together.

Tony: Briefly, are we not talking here about someone to overcome the surfeit of bureaucracy in 8 or more different departments?

Tanya: Someone?

Tony: Some Body.

Tanya: Somebody? Um, actually I think that that’s kind of my job Tony and I’m hoping that that’s what the White Paper will lead us to later this year, that we are able to put people at the centre of all of these services and work out how to wrap those, those services around that person, rather than have that person going here for this thing they need and here for the next thing and here for the next thing.

Tony: That’s encouraging and I’m going to interrupt the discussion again to focus on what’s at stake here and that is the lives of some of our most vulnerable young people; I’m sure no-one who watched the Oasis will be able to get out of their minds the wraith like figure of Haley, disappearing into the depths of her 600 dollar a day heroin habit, her spiral down from the optimistic 15 year old homeless kid who wants to study nursing, and I think it’s absolutely heartbreaking, let’s have another look at some of Haley’s life. Ah, Robbin Moulds up there in the audience again, I’ve got to come to you again because those scenes of you basically tracking down Haley ah, through the city and desperately trying to find her, effectively to save her life um, were among the most, I think moving in the film so I just want to ask how it feels to know that she is slipping through your fingers?

Robbin: I think that ah, that’s where we, that’s our work and sometimes it’s very difficult and you know, I, I, I was quite disturbed in the film because I hadn’t seen her for a little while and she had deteriorated very quickly and ah, that’s the difficulty of our work but you can never give up and you continue to seek her out and you continue because she can come back, I believe that and that ah, I’m not going to give up on that.

Tony: Don’t you feel powerless though to actually make anything happen? I mean, you’ve got to do it by persuasion, you’ve got to sort of just talk her into it,but could there be a different way?

Robbin: I think that ah, she has to be ready to make that decision; the thing is, is that if she doesn’t have some positive person or something speaking into her life, giving her that hope, giving her another way out because all she is, is in a place where they’re not speaking life into her, they’re speaking death into her in every way, so I, it pushes me and propels me to find every avenue to speak life into her, to give her another way out, to give her hope, to say; I’m going to keep coming back and I’m not going give up and I’m not going to stop it until one day, something may happen, something, I believe, something will happen that will change that can get her out of that.

Tony: I noticed a couple of you younger guys nodding there when, when Robbin said; she’s got to make that decision on her own, does someone want to tell us why you said that?

Owen: Because if you don’t want to quit something then you’re not going to, it’s got to be all up to yourself, you can’t, people can’t tell you what to do.

Tony: Anyone else like to have something to say on that? Paul, let me come to you because, here’s my question; shouldn’t there be some method of saving Haley from herself, shouldn’t there be some way of intervening for her compulsorily into rehabilitation, something that she doesn’t have a choice in?

Paul: You mean in the way that we might act for a person who has a very severe mental health issue?

Tony: I mean exactly that because we did see that happen, we did see that happen with Beau and yet you can’t seem to be able to do that with Haley.

Paul: No, no, no, it’s a, it’s not an easy thing to do that and ah, it requires a, a very big step and it’s a hard thing for you to do as a person doing life with these kids to um, you know, know that they’re going to be removed by Police and um, taken, often against their will, to a place and you’ve got to believe that that’s the right thing to do um, I think it’s a little bit different when it comes to a mental health issue because of the persons inability to sometimes make those decisions for themselves because of the, the battles in their heads you know the, the fact that they are living in a delusional world, it’s certainly different when a person’s um, continually making a choice; I don’t think that is an option to be honest, I think what Robbin said’s right; I think what we’ve got to do is surround these kids, as much as we can, with people who are speaking positively, we’ve got to have Outreach Workers on the street, that’s got to be part of our continuum on care, that we have people out in the dark places of our city, out n the Hyde Park’s, in those bushes, just visiting them and offering them and, you know, I, I, we’re hopeful that if you keep offering, a window of opportunity opens you know.

Tony: But you wouldn’t like the power to pluck Haley off the streets and put her somewhere she could compulsorily?

Paul: I’d love the power but I don’t think it would work — how long are you going to lock them up for, because they day they get out… see it goes back to what I said in the documentary; unless you deal with the stuff underneath um, the drugs are going to be constantly part of your life, you’ve got to get below those things to, to those, and that’s got to take two people’s willingness you know, they’ve got to willingly work with you to do that, towards that and I mean, some of these guys are doing that, I mean, I look out there and see kids that are doing that and that’s a process too, that’s a process.

Tony: Tanya Plibersek let me you ask you the same question, I mean as a, as a Minster, do you want to have the power to save Haley’s life, compulsorily?

Tanya: Tony, it’s a, it’s an incredibly difficult question; of course I would love to feel that we could save lives um, I’m not sure that what you’re suggesting is the answer.

Tony: But why not? Just explain why you couldn’t do the same thing that you did when you see someone with a serious mental illness? Because there are aspects to drug addiction which take away your will power.

Tanya: The only people I know who’ve been addicted to drugs and given up, have given up after a number of attempts usually and they’ve given up because they’ve been, they’ve hit rock Bottom and they’ve been committed to giving up, ah, I don’t know that I’ve ever seen anyone talked into giving up drugs or forced into giving up drugs.

Tony: I would like actually to throw that question to Teagan, where are you Teagan? There you are, what do you think about this?

Teagan: Um, I think that it is your own choice um, a lot of people did try to um, not make me but say it’d be better for me and I just practically blew them off but it, yeah, as I said; it is your own choice and as Tanya said; you, like, I didn’t give up straight away, um, I’ve been trying to get myself clean since I was 18 and it, I’ve been to that many rehabs, that many drug and alcohol councillors that it’s not funny and only in the last 12 months that I really seriously thought about giving up drugs because I know I deserve better and I know I can do better and if it wasn’t for Paul and everyone at Oasis, I probably be still on drugs today, um, I’m only a couple of months clean again um, and yeah, like it’s your own choice and you like force someone to go into rehab and stuff like that and with mental health issues as well, um, like I got diagnosed with Borderline personality and bipolar from a teenage age and only a couple of weeks ago I find out I didn’t have them, I’ve just got a really bad form of ADHD um, which yeah, you know, and people say they’ve got this, they’ve got that but reality is, it because, it might be just the drugs are covering up something else um, and there’s a lot of misdiagnosis in the community on people who’s, do have drug addiction and mental health issues and it should be really look at.

Tony: We should, we should point out here, there’s an optimistic side to your story isn’t there? Because I know that you’ve gone back to school.

Teagan: Yeah I have.

Tony: And I think it’s fair to say you’re, you’re dream is now to become a child worker.

Teagan: Um, a child care, I either want to become a child care worker or a youth worker um, I’m doing school at Oasis and I’m nearly, I’m practically half way through and I do um, a volunteer job with a youth service called Point Zero and I’ve been doing that for a couple of months and I go out in an outreach van once a month.

Tony: Beau, let me ah, let me go back to you because you, you did get effectively plucked off the streets against your will I mean, your, your will was obviously clouded anyway, um, but tell us what you think about ah, what we’ve just been talking about, I mean, is it possible do you think, the same thing could, could work for ah, people who are drug addicted as who are mentally ill?

Beau: Um, I don’t think so to be quite honest um, like you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink um, and as I say, if a person was to change, they’ve got to want to change, they’ve got to put the hard work and the effort in to change, there are, there are resources there for people who do want to change, you know, but going back on what Teagan was saying before about um, just being a couple of months clean, I’ve been clean for a couple of years and even now I still get urges to want to smoke pot, you know so it’s, it’s, it’s still there like, you know.

Tanya: Tony, I think one of the other things um, is it, it’s about your environment as well, a lot of those signals come from your environment so if people have been smokers and they’ve given up smoking and they sit in the pub and all their mates are smoking, that’s the time you want to pick up, if you’re homeless and you’re living on the streets and you’re with the same people that you were around when you were using, it’s almost impossible I, I imagine.

Beau: Yeah, I had to um, totally shut myself away from pretty much everyone, um, apart from my family, like my family’s really come back on Board now, and, which is quite a miracle really considering I put ’em through a stuff um, so for like 2 years I’ve just been by myself, you know, I make sure I pay all my bills and all that sort of stuff, but um, like if you go to mental health for a second, like it can come up and get you like that, like it’s really insidious at, at your weakest point, that’s when you’re in the most danger, it’s not when you’re strong, it’s when you’re weak.

Tony: Let, let me just change direction a little bit now, I’ll go to Rhonda Galbally and there, there’s a sort different philosophical approaches to this question, we saw, under the previous government, continuing under this government, a different kind of model ah, being used in the Northern Territory for remote indigenous communities where drug abuse and alcohol abuse are part of the equation, a different kind of welfare model; would it work in these situations?

Rhonda: Well I think we saw in the documentary, like in some ways, Paul struggling with that, you, you mean in terms of, you don’t get money um,

Tony: Well that’s part of what I mean, yes,

Rhonda: Yeah, I mean I, I think Paul trod on the Boundary you know, to, to lay down a rule um, you probably wouldn’t agree with that I imagine Paul, but on the other hand, you know, every day that’s what workers are dealing with, you know, will they give out the money? Will they hold a bit back? Um, if they don’t give out the money, sometimes it can be disastrous in terms of um, owing you know, for drugs and whatever, so that you know, to bring this in to this field, I think would be highly problematic myself.

Tony: Let me put it quickly to ah, David Eldridge ’cause some people are going to look at that film and they’re going to say; there are kids who are using their welfare payments to buy drugs, to buy Booze, to ah, to, to spend on the pokies ah, why shouldn’t the money that they’re using be controlled?

David: It would be a very brief spend on some welfare payments Tony, I, I mean I think the issue is that um, I, I worked in a sector before we had ah, the Youth Homeless Allowance, before young people could have access to it, and the young people survived by stealing, and I was in court all the time

Tanya: Or by prostitution

David: Or by prostitution but, but I was in nice Melbourne, we didn’t do as much of that! But, but, but I think that, that um, you know, when, when the Youth Homeless Allowance came in, ah, the whole nature of what I went to court for changed, it was reduced, young people don’t necessarily want to do these thing but if you’ve got nothing to eat or you’ve got nowhere to stay, you’re going to steal so I think that, that in fact, it’s been ah, less expensive for the community to invest in some income support for young people so that they can live some level of ah, survival in the community, look when the Howard government first came in, they were actually exploring the notion of um, welfare agencies making written recommendations on young people’s eligibility for income support and we were very strongly against that because, here we are trying to do reconciliation on the one hand ah, with parents and young people and make a decision on income support, you couldn’t do that; you would either alienate the young person or the parent so you couldn’t do reconciliation so it’s complex and I think that um, it’s much better to give people a, a level of support where that evens out their lifestyle.

Tony: Tanya Plibersek, just a quick answer on this; but ah, you know Jenny Macklin has talked about the intervention model moving beyond the Northern Territory, ah, and I’m just wondering whether there’s any thought being given in this government to using that kind of welfare model in these kind of circumstances?

Tanya: Well Tony, I think she’s talked about in terms of some QLD communities that have asked for this sort of approach and I think that that does make a big difference to people’s ability to, to abide by the rules, if there’s been an agreement, I think, when Paul for example is managing someone’s money, he’s managed the money because

Paul: It’s because they’ve asked for it.

Tanya: they’ve asked for him to manage the money. Centerlink already has the ability; they’ve got this thing called Centrepay, you can say; I want my rent out, my electricity, my water bills, all of the regular bills, take that out, so I’ve only got um, to spend, my discretionary income, there are things that we can do to make it much easier for people to manage their money and not to spend it ah, in the wrong way on drugs and alcohol and so on but what you’re saying is that it, you know, the, the, the end result of what your positing is that people like Paul would have to make decisions, or would you let the government make decisions? We don’t even know the name of every drug user in Australia! I mean, how would we find out who was a drug user? How would we know who was an alcoholic, if you’re a, if you’re a heart surgeon and you’re an alcoholic but you drink expensive wine, would we be managing your salary as well? It’s a, it’s a very fraught thing, what you’re proposing.

Tony: It’s a very fraught thing you’re doing in the Northern Territory. We’ll move on — as we’ve said, the Oasis documentary was shot over 2 years and many of the characters and stories recorded in that time couldn’t be squeezed into the documentary you saw. Tonight, some of those stories can be seen at the ABC website; and one in particular that illustrates a chaotic family life of ah, often lies at the, that often lies at the root of homelessness is the story of Michael. It’s a very fraught thing you’re doing in the Northern Territory. We’ll move on — as we’ve said, the Oasis documentary was shot over 2 years and many of the characters and stories recorded in that time couldn’t be squeezed into the documentary you saw. Tonight, some of those stories can be seen at the ABC website; and one in particular that illustrates a chaotic family life of ah, often lies at the, that often lies at the root of homelessness is the story of Michael.

Michael: Yeah, first year, look for someone to blame, look for someone to grab by the throat and say; it’s your fault, um, but it didn’t really get me anywhere, just ended up in a flurry of anger and ended up blinding my judgement, I made a lot of bad decisions um, so eventually I had to ah, focus on what I was doing wrong which was drinking too much, ending up with no money and ah, feeling a bit, bit ah, second hand most of the time um, so I just had to had to focus on, on my drug and alcohol issues at first before I could do anything else, ah, I didn’t spend that much time on the street, um, but I did spend a lot of time around people that were so um, I knew that I didn’t want to end up there so I done, I, I had shock therapy so to speak so um, yeah, so I needed, it really helped me to um, go the right way yeah.

Tony: Let me move to ah, back to Rhonda Galbally and as we’ve seen in the film and as we started talking about earlier, family breakdown ah, is such a critical issue here; just give us a sense of whether there is a role for, for government to, to get involved at that deep level in people’s lives?

Rhonda: Well the government is involved in fact with the relationships and family support um, but there’s an enormously bigger role to play in prevention and I think this brings me to one of my favourite hatreds and that’s pilot programs, you know, where we’ve got pilots galore in this space, and some of them have worked very well, in fact one of them’s sighted in the report um, as working very well, and so why not roll it out around Australia? Like, we know that getting in there with families really early is prevention, we know that reconnect, you know, you know, getting kids with schools and jobs and um, supported accommodation that that really works, so when we know things work um, why not roll them out and not just keep them scrounging and you know, little and, and I think we’re not learning our lessons from what we do.

Tony: David Eldridge, quickly, on this subject your, your report really hones in on this as well; give us a sense of what could be done.

David: We had a family ah, a father and daughter gave evidence in Melbourne um, they’d had 2 children, a son and a daughter who’d Both become homeless; the son they lost, the daughter got involved in a re, reconnect program, as did the dad, as did the mum and she’s still at home — early intervention works, we know it works, let’s roll it out.

Tony: Let me go back to our audience and ah, I know we’ve got sitting there, Alyssa ah, who’s one of the youngest people I think ah, in the Oasis, Oasis at the moment, I just want to ask you what happened with your family? Because you found yourself on the streets at the age of 13

Alyssa: Yep. Um, I just had a lot of domestic violence in the house and I had a step-dad in there that I didn’t really get along with and practically my step-dad was more important than me so I got kicked out at an early age.

Tony: And when you, when you got kicked out, what was there for you? What, what was, was there anything in place? I know you ended up sleeping in elevators.

Alyssa: Yeah um, nah there was a couple of friends but they were drug users so you know, um, I couch surfed for a fair bit and you know, there was the trolleys and the ah, elevators and stuff but that was in the rural area where you know, DOCS didn’t really help out and um, as soon as I moved to Sydney, DOCS kind of took action then, so yeah.

Tony: David Eldridge, this is a huge problem isn’t it? The rural areas are often completely forgotten or left out or people in those areas simply fall through the cracks.

David: Ab, absolutely, and the spread of services across the country ah, hasn’t been looked at for many, many years, it’s sort of historical so I think that we do need to develop new models of responding to rural homelessness and we do need to look at where we’ve put, placed our services and how we need to expand them.

Tony: Tanya Plibersek, I know you, you’re going to obviously say you’ve got the Green Paper coming up and then they’ll be policy following but this early intervention questions so critical by the look of it

Tanya: It is.

Tony: tell us, give us your sort of philosophy on it at least.

Tanya: Yeah, no, no, no, I, it, it is critical and the, the, the reconnect program and the home advice program which isn’t aimed at young people in particular but it, at families more generally to prevent them becoming homeless, they, they were both good initiatives of the previous government but on a very small scale um, we, we believe that prevention and early intervention are a critical part of the homelessness problem, we think that um, that’s one stage, crisis services, how they work, how many there are, that’s the next stage, preventing people cycling through, so giving them exit points to permanent, long term accommodation, that’s the other piece of the puzzle and we’ve got to get each of those pieces right.

Tony: Ok, we’re running out of time David Eldridge and we’ve got to keep coming back to the critical area, housing and ah, your report nailed it here, you want a billion dollars spent, new money, over the next 10 years on, particularly on housing and 100 million ah, as soon as possible, it doesn’t sound like you’re going to get it in this coming budget but maybe.

Tanya: I, I did say we’ve already spent 150 million Tony.

David: Actually we asked for 100, 100 million in the first term of the government and I think that’s still achievable I think we’ll be driving for that one

Tanya: You’ve had it already!

David: And, and a billion over, over, this is for youth homelessness, clearly,

Tanya: Yes, yes.

David: And a billion over 5, 10 or 20 years because if you suddenly spend a billion, you couldn’t roll it out

Tanya: No, you couldn’t, you wouldn’t have the people.

David: You couldn’t put the services in place; but let’s get the policy setting’s right, let’s get all the, all the pieces there and roll them out over the next 5 and 10 years so that in 20 years time we’re not back here again.

Tony: Tanya Plibersek just said; you’ve, you’ve already got it effectively,

Tanya: No

Tony: I thought you did say that.

Tanya: And the other thing is… I was mucking around with David

Tony: It’s a pretty serious topic, let’s not muck around.

Tanya: The, the, ok Tony, the other thing that David was alluding to was the staffing issues um, we actually do have a serious issue in the um, in this sector with training enough people and getting enough people um, working in area with, not just young people but with homelessness generally.

Tony: I just want to, there’s, there’s one person I’d like to go to tonight because in the studio we have ah, someone, Elmo, Elmo you don’t, you’re still homeless, you’re I think probably the only person here who actually is without any accommodation as we speak tonight, we’re all sitting in a comfortable studio

Elmo: That's right

Tony: I want to ask you how you feel about what you've been

Elmo: Um, I agree with a fair bit but I disagree with a lot, um, I got kicked out of home first on the South Coast of NSW, there was one refuge covering roughly about 75-150 klms, it was one refuge, there was no other services; I got put in a hospital for 3 weeks when I first got kicked out of home, because there was nowhere for me to go stay um, with drug use, I do have to admit, but it's pain at the end of the day, people here are all in pain, and there's nothing, and it's sad and it's sick that we're in a society here there's that many people that are so sick and in so much pain that they need to resort to those things.

Tony: Elmo, we're nearly out of time and i'm going to ask you one last question, where are you going to be sleeping tonight?

Elmo: wherever I can find somewhere warm, to be honest, and that's the unfortunate truth but that's how it is.

Tony: I’m afraid that is, and maybe a good time for us to leave the discussion actually because it’s ah, a point we should all sort of leave thinking about, and I’m sorry to say we are out of time ah, this isn’t the end of the discussion by any means, next month, the federal government’s Nicholson Inquiry will deliver its Green Paper, as we’ve been hearing about on homelessness and the federal government has committed itself to addressing this issue, as a priority. I want to thank all of those who’ve taken part in our discussion tonight, the members of our panel; Captain Paul Moulds, David Eldridge, Rhonda Galbally and the Housing Minister who very politely put up with my rudeness, Tanya Plibersek and most especially our thanks to the young people who’ve experienced the problems of homelessness first hand and have come here to tell us their stories tonight, Both here I should say, and in the documentary, thanks for joining us and if you’re in a similar situation and need help or information or you know someone who does, please call one of the numbers on your screen now.

Lifeline's 24 hour counselling 13 11 14

Salvo Careline 1300 36 36 22

And Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800

And if you'd like to continue the discussion, go to our website and join an online discussion with Paul Moulds and the film makers Sascha Ettinger Epstein and Ian Darling and that's all from us in the studio, goodnight.