Release Date: 
6 May 2014

Topics: Welfare, Indigenous Jobs and Training Review, Racial Discrimination Act, budget


MALARNDIRRI MCCARTHY: With less than a week to go, the pre-budget speculation continues with reports today the government could strip teenagers of welfare, if they are not in school or work. Alan Tudge is the man Prime Minister Tony Abbott has chosen to help roll out his Indigenous Affairs agenda, and he says welfare dependency is a poison. Our political reporter Myles Morgan spoke with the Parliamentary Secretary a short time ago. He asked if he was in favour of withholding welfare for those who aren’t earning or learning.

ALAN TUDGE: We’re certainly strongly of the view that we want young people to be either at school, in training, or in work and not going anywhere near the welfare queue, because we know as soon as a young person is on welfare for any length of time, the road back to employment is very steep.

MYLES MORGAN: You’ve called welfare dependency a poison, so is this hard-line approach the cure?

ALAN TUDGE: I do believe that long-term welfare dependency is a poison and there are many Indigenous leaders and other community leaders who agree with that position. Let’s do whatever we can to provide the opportunities, the support and the incentives for young people, particularly school aged people, to stay in school or go directly into training or into a job when they leave school. That is going to be the best option for them, and that is going to be the best option for the community.

MYLES MORGAN: Mr Tudge, do you accept that there is less opportunity in some remote Indigenous communities to learn or earn, and some Indigenous people may not want to leave country to get a job?

ALAN TUDGE: There certainly are fewer job opportunities in remote communities, and that’s also where the highest welfare dependency is. In fact, in remote areas only 18 per cent of 18-24 year olds are in full time work or study. Only 18 per cent, which is an extraordinary number. We need to provide the opportunities for those people to have work or to get involved in some constructive community activity where they are. We also want to look at providing mobility packages and structured support for those people to take opportunities in other locations should they choose to do so.

MYLES MORGAN: When do you expect to receive the federal government commissioned review by Andrew Forrest on Indigenous employment and training?

ALAN TUDGE: We’re likely to receive it in the weeks ahead. We haven’t got an exact date at this stage.

MYLES MORGAN: If I can take you to another subject now, were you surprised by the backlash against the proposed changes to the Racial Discrimination Act?

ALAN TUDGE: We’ve had an enormous amount of submissions into the draft proposals. Some supportive, some against, some with very constructive suggestions as to how it could be improved. They are certainly going to be taken into account. The key thing that we’re trying to achieve is…all forms of racist remarks, racist comments, bigotry, is completely unacceptable in our society. But the question is, what is the type of language which is so offensive, so filled with hatred, that it should rightly be unlawful to utter those words, versus what type of language is unacceptable but the appropriate response is to call it for what it is as being unacceptable. (inaudible) you don’t have to get the courts involved, and that’s the difficult balance to try and strike and that’s what this exercise is about.

MYLES MORGAN: Your colleague, Warren Mundine, head of the Prime Minister’s Indigenous Advisory Council, he says there is scope to cut back on Indigenous services because there is too much duplication of process. Do you agree that there should be an overhaul?

ALAN TUDGE: We’re doing a couple of things. Firstly, we’re putting all of the programs underneath the one department, the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, rather than being in multiple different agencies. The second thing we’re doing, is consolidating some of those programs into a fewer, smaller number of programs with the overall objective being, at least from the Commonwealth’s perspective, where we can as close as possible get to having one interface with a community and consequently get a much more structured approach, much more aligned policies, and hopefully better outcomes.

MYLES MORGAN: Mr Tudge, it’s only a week until budget time. What is your message to Indigenous people? Should they be worried?

ALAN TUDGE: We didn’t create the mess, but we’re willing to accept the responsibility for fixing up that financial mess. It will mean some belt tightening. We all have to contribute to that.