ALAN TUDGE: This is an election commitment of his Tracey which he is honouring. It’s important also for the Prime Minister, myself, the other ministers to be out in the remote areas so that we can learn about that area, understand some of the issues better and speak to local people.
I think that’s a good thing. Through us, of course, it puts the nation’s focus on these areas for a few days as well which I also think is a good thing.
TRACEY HOLMES: So does it actually lead to serious change? Does it change your ideas on things? Does it change the way you see things?
ALAN TUDGE: Inevitably it does because you have so many conversations with people about what is going on, what has been successful and what hasn’t been successful and therefore where we need to do more work.
Last time we were up in East Arnhem Land and they’ve got some particular problems in relation to school attendance and we’ve redoubled our efforts up there to try and improve that situation.
Up here in the Torres Strait it’s a much more stable community than some of the Aboriginal communities on the mainland and I think there’s lessons there as well in terms of why is that the case, why is school attendance so high, why are the education outcomes here better than some of the remote Aboriginal communities on the mainland.
TRACEY HOLMES: I suppose the message there is that it definitely isn’t a one situation fits all which often is the temptation in reporting these stories.
ALAN TUDGE: I think that’s right Tracey. In fact my experience is that every single remote community is different and unique. The Torres Strait Islander communities are particularly so because they’ve got a Melanesian culture here and also have had strong influences from Asian cultures and from PNG as well as Aboriginal culture from the south. It is significantly different to certainly some of the Aboriginal communities which I’ve been to in some of the remote parts of Australia.
TRACEY HOLMES: What about logistically? Aside from sitting on a really stunning beach, looking at an absolutely beautiful ocean and we can hear the wind in the background, how difficult is it to do your job and get the PM to do his job in an area such as that?
ALAN TUDGE: Tracey it is stunningly beautiful up here in the Torres Strait and you are right, I’m speaking to you probably 100 metres from the beach and I’m just about to walk into another meeting. Listen, we’ve got all the logistical support up here for the Prime Minister and the other ministers who will be up here.
In some respects it’s not unusual for the Prime Minister to be on the road and having to make decisions to govern while he’s on the road. In this instance we’re here for a few days. We’re established here at the defence barracks on Thursday Island which is in the main administrative centre of the Torres Strait.
There’s tents set up for us, there’s secure lines, there’s [inaudible] so that the ordinary course of business can still continue while we’re up here and certainly the PM still takes briefings on all sorts of different matters between the other engagements which he’s doing on the ground here.
TRACEY HOLMES: So in the scheme of things, when you look at the challenges which are put in front of you in organising a trip like this, would you describe this as one of the costs or the benefits of the job that you have?
ALAN TUDGE: I enjoy trips like this. I’ve not been up to the Torres Strait before. I’ve been to many of the communities across Australia as part of my job and before I even became a Member of Parliament. It’s pretty special, this part of the world, it’s stunningly beautiful.
It’s quite a unique culture, that real blend of the Melanesian culture mixed in with a bit of Asian culture and Aboriginal culture coming together. It’s just such hospitable people as well so I’m really enjoying it so far.
We have got a few more days where we’re talking about economic development opportunities. We’re commemorating World War II service here tomorrow which most people don’t realise the extent of the involvement of local people in the World War II efforts. There will be a ceremony here tomorrow for that and there will be other discussions about education, community safety and the like over the course of the week.
TRACEY HOLMES: Clearly when you go there, just before I let you go I know you’ve got to go to that meeting, clearly when you go there you have a set of agendas that you want to address, but what about the people of the Torres Strait, do they have different concerns that they also want added on to the discussion paper?
ALAN TUDGE: Listen we obviously have a series of things which we would like to discuss with the community leaders here, but all throughout the day you’re speaking with local people, with community leaders, and they are telling you about some of the things which they would like to see.
Some of their concerns, one of which they’ve raised already with me, is some of the cost of living concerns up here because of the isolation and because it’s expensive obviously to travel goods up to here. There are more jobs required up here so economic development issues are one of their concerns which we’ll be discussing as well in the coming days.
There’s plenty of opportunities, and that’s the benefit of being here for a few days, is you do not only have the formal meetings, but also have some of those informal conversations which you can learn so much from.
TRACEY HOLMES: Alan Tudge, good to talk to you. Enjoy the rest of your very challenging trip.
ALAN TUDGE: Thanks so much Tracey.