TOM TILLEY: Alan Tudge, thanks for joining us.
ALAN TUDGE: Thanks very much Tom, great to be with you.
TOM TILLEY: Alan, we’ve been hearing about record numbers of Indigenous Australians in
jail. Will your budget cuts pour fuel on the fire?
ALAN TUDGE: No, I don’t think they will, Tom. Our overall strategy is to try to improve the overall health of indigenous communities. That means we have a sharp focus around three areas; the first, getting kids to school and learning. Second, getting the adults into work. Third, insuring there are safe communities in place. We think if we can do those three things, then a lot of other things tend to take care of themselves.
TOM TILLEY: Interesting to hear you mention the safe communities, because you’re spending an extra $54 million on a permanent police presence in remote indigenous communities over four years…
ALAN TUDGE: Yes, that’s right.
TOM TILLEY: But you’re also cutting from legal services. Less legal support, more police. How can you say we won’t see more indigenous people in jail?
ALAN TUDGE: As you pointed out, one of the main budget measures that we have is to support a greater police presence in remote communities, and often this is specifically requested from indigenous leaders in those communities. That’s a big part of the budget. We’ve also put significantly more funds into the Clontarf Football Academy. That’s not
about football, but it’s actually about trying to keep kids engaged in school by using AFL or Rugby League as a tool to keep people involved in the school. It’s tremendously successful and we’re going to provide an extra 3,000 opportunities for kids to do that.
TOM TILLEY: That sounds like a very interesting program, but in a sense you ignored the crux of my question which is less lawyers, more police, more indigenous people in jail. How can that not be the case?
ALAN TUDGE: I don’t agree with the premise of that question there, in terms of that equation. The best research available, which is done by Don Weatherburn from New South Wales Crime Statistics, suggests that the key things which can avoid crime are people having work, less alcohol consumption, children being in school and active and completing year 12. If people are at school, they’re learning, they’re contributing, if the adults are working hard, they are contributing, you tend to have less crime.
TOM TILLEY: What’s your response to the welfare cuts and the way they’ll impact indigenous Australians who might be looking for work but without welfare support, won’t even be able to meet the basic needs so they can look for work?
ALAN TUDGE: We want every young person to either be working or be training towards a job. That is our core policy. In part, because we know as soon as someone goes onto the welfare queue for any length of time, it becomes so much harder to get off the welfare queue. We see that most acutely in indigenous communities. In some of the remote areas, for example, fewer than one in five young people are in full time work or study. What that means is over a period of time those people can become debilitated as a result of that. If somebody has already been in work, and this is important, and they lose their job, then they will not have to wait six months which is what’s been reported in the media. Rather, if you’ve say been working for five years prior, you’ll only have to wait for one month before accessing the dole. Further, as soon as you engage in any training opportunity, any further education opportunity, then you can access youth allowance. Indeed, we are expanding the opportunities there by including sub-degrees in the HECS system, in the income contingent loans system, such as diplomas, associate degrees and the like, and we think that will create about 80,000 more opportunities.
TOM TILLEY: What if people living in remote communities can’t access those training programs. Will they just be completely cut off from the dole?
ALAN TUDGE: We’re working through the application of it for remote communities because, at the moment, they’ve got different arrangements to the arrangements elsewhere in Australia. One of the exemptions for the application of the ‘earn or learn’ policy is if you’re what’s deemed a ‘stream 3 or 4’ person according to the job network classification. Most remote people will be in that classification, which means that policy would not apply to them.
TOM TILLEY: You are listening to Alan Tudge, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister on Triple J’s Hack program. Alan, a few people have called for reducing indigenous incarceration to be added to the Closing the Gap targets – Jesuit Social Services Chief Sally Parnell, even Nigel Scullion from your own party – do you think the government will ever do this?
ALAN TUDGE: There’s six closing the gap targets presently, and the Prime Minister announced at the start of this year that we’ll add a seventh, being school attendance. That’s what we’ve decided upon at this stage. Who knows down the track, but at the moment those seven closing the gap targets will be the ones that the Prime Minister reports on a yearly basis.
TOM TILLEY: Alan, thanks so much for taking the time to speak to us.
ALAN TUDGE: Thanks so much, Tom.