ABC Melbourne Interview with Jon Faine

Release Date: 
11 March 2015

JON FAINE: Alan Tudge is the Prime Minister’s Parliamentary Secretary. He’s the Member for- I think it’s Aston off the top of my head, is that right Alan Tudge according to you?

ALAN TUDGE: That is right Jon in the outer eastern suburbs of Melbourne.

JON FAINE: In the outer eastern suburbs of Melbourne and he’s here to do what may well be a mopping up exercise I wonder, good morning to you Alan.

ALAN TUDGE: Good morning Jon.

JON FAINE: Are you here to try and explain away the Prime Minister’s statement? Is that what it needs?

ALAN TUDGE: Jon, no, but I’d like to correct first of all how you did your introduction to what the Prime Minister actually said. He didn’t refer to all remote communities. He was referring primarily to some very small communities which the Western Australian Government has made decisions upon and they’ve decided to invest less going forward in those very small communities- not all remote communities. That’s a very important distinction.

JON FAINE: Context here is that the Commonwealth has said we’re going to give money for remote communities back to the states and the territories, you can look after them yourselves. The context is particularly in relation to municipal service provision which as you know in the suburbs of Melbourne…

JON FAINE: Rubbish and rates.

ALAN TUDGE: Rubbish and rates, it’s done by our local councils. For some strange reason in the past the Commonwealth has run those from Canberra. I don’t know why, but we’ve decided that it makes much more sense for governments closer to the ground to do that. So we entered into an arrangement with the Western Australian Government to transfer over that responsibility.

JON FAINE: Sure, all governments across the country.

ALAN TUDGE: Each government we are negotiating with and there’s a financial arrangement with Western Australia. We brokered this last year, we gave them from memory, $90 million to say you look after it from now on.

JON FAINE: And Mr Barnett has said well I’m going to look after it but the way I’m going to look after it is withdrawing from some of the smallest most remote communities.

ALAN TUDGE: That is correct. That is their decision.

JON FAINE: Does that apply to white communities that are remote and small or just to aboriginal communities that are remote and small?

ALAN TUDGE: That’s a good question. I presume…

JON FAINE: It’s a fairly vital question.

ALAN TUDGE: I presume it applies to both, but I don’t know Jon. The money typically for the municipal services which the Commonwealth provides has been for remote indigenous communities, typically on communal land, whereas the white communities typically tend to be mainstream settlements on normal freehold land.

JON FAINE: So what is behind the Prime Minister- I understand his statement and in fact I have some sympathy to the difficulty of delivering services to what sometimes is one family living hours away from anywhere else and it’s extremely difficult, but you’ve got to be careful with the language you use and I don’t think the Prime Minister was.

ALAN TUDGE: Well at the end of the day it’s the policy decisions that are the most important thing. Everybody has the right to live wherever they like. That’s part of the citizenship contract if you like, but there are also decisions that governments have to make as to where to invest resources and where to provide services. The Western Australian Government’s decision was that in some places it’s simply impossible to provide a good education. For example if you’ve only got one or two families it almost doesn’t matter how many resources you’ve got, it’s very difficult to provide a good education.

And if a kid hasn’t got a good education, then their choices are going to be very, very limited. They’re almost certainly going to be on welfare for the rest of their life and their chances of going to prison skyrocket.

JON FAINE: So you’ve got to decide how much bang do we get for our buck. If we can’t fix the problems in say Fitzroy Crossing why are we spending money on two families living an hour away out in the bush?

ALAN TUDGE: I think it’s a combination of financial considerations, which of course always come into it, but also considerations to do with what gives individuals the best chance of living the life of their choice as well.

If a person is in a very, very remote place and if they can’t get a decent education and there are very few jobs, then their choices are absolutely going to be very, very narrow versus if somebody is getting an education, their choices open up. That’s the bottom line.

As you know Jon I worked for Noel Pearson for quite a considerable amount of time up in Cape York before becoming a member of parliament and I always liked his concept of what he called "orbiting". That is, a person in a remote community should be able to get a good education and have the capacity to orbit out of their community for some time if they choose and orbit back in during the weekends, on the holidays or whenever they like.

JON FAINE: Fly in, fly out?

ALAN TUDGE: Almost and it’s up to them. He coined this term which I really like which he says ‘from Cape York to New York’. That was his ambition and I think that’s a terrific ambition. We want remote aboriginal Australians, all aboriginal Australians, all Australians to have the complete opportunities which you and I might take for granted: to have a great education, to be able work in Melbourne or Sydney or in New York but still have that connection back to your homeland.

JON FAINE: Related but a separate concern that’s clearly exploded overnight, Tony Abbott said when he was elected as Prime Minister, when his party, your party was elected to govern the country and he was the leader and he therefore became the Prime Minister that he was going to be a Prime Minister for indigenous Australia and we were going to see great progress and his undoubted commitment for instance up in Cape York and elsewhere was his track record.

But this is completely enraged many people in the indigenous community and we spoke to Mick Gooda earlier this morning, the Social Justice Commissioner for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and I wonder if he’s destroying some of the goodwill with which he came to office with indigenous Australians?

ALAN TUDGE: Well I hope that we can have a mature conversation about some of these things. They are complex issues, they’re not matters, frankly, which you can discuss on Twitter…

JON FAINE: And they’ve defied the efforts of many beforehand.

ALAN TUDGE: Exactly. We’ve got an absolute commitment to doing our best and advancing indigenous people’s lives and opportunities and prospects. And Prime Minister Abbott is the most committed Prime Minister that Australia has ever had to this cause. As you know, he spent an enormous amount of time in aboriginal communities before becoming Prime Minister.

JON FAINE: But he’s also cut half a billion dollars from grass roots programmes and organisations that provide for the welfare of indigenous Australians.

ALAN TUDGE: Well that figure is not correct. We spend about $30 billion a year on indigenous people nationally, state and federal governments. The savings that we made to our indigenous specific budgets constitute about 0.2 per cent of that $30 billion. So let’s just keep that into perspective Jon. And as you know as well as anyone because you’ve spent time in these communities: if money was the answer we would have closed the gap years ago. It’s more than money, money is important…

JON FAINE: Throwing money is not the answer…

ALAN TUDGE: But at the end of the day our view is that unless people are engaged in school and adults engaged in work, unless those two things happen it’s so much more difficult to close the gap in other areas.

JON FAINE: Well it is a conversation the nation is desperately calling out for and judging by the talkback callers we’ve had already this morning there are many distressed people at the direction the conversation has gone.

I am grateful to you for dropping in on your way through the building this morning and it’s something we will undoubtedly be returning to again, and again, and again.

ALAN TUDGE: Thanks so much Jon.

JON FAINE: By the way do you think Melbourne should bid for the Olympics in 2032?

ALAN TUDGE: Why not!

JON FAINE: Alan Tudge, Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister and Member for Aston.