PATRICIA KARVELAS: Firstly if I can just ask you, as an Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull’s first question in Question Time was about Tony Abbott who was sitting on the backbench next to Joe Hockey. Here is the PM’s response:
PRIME MINISTER: “I am delighted that the Leader of the Opposition, showing his gallantry, has given me the opportunity once again to praise the member for Warringah, a Prime Minister, a leader who took us out of opposition, took on the Labor Party, brought to an end the six worst years of government in living history in this country… ”.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Was that a bit over the top and disingenuous? I mean, when we know the current and former PM’s haven’t reconciled. Tony Abbott has made that very clear.
ALAN TUDGE: At the same time Patricia, I think Malcolm Turnbull can properly acknowledge what Tony Abbott did when he was Prime Minister. He was the leader of the Liberal Party that almost won the 2010 election and convincingly won the 2013 election.
In his two years as Prime Minister he achieved an enormous amount including stopping the people smuggling business, getting rid of some of the taxes including the carbon and mining taxes, starting up the massive infrastructure project, signing three free trade agreements et cetera.
There are real accomplishments there and I don’t think it is disingenuous for Malcolm Turnbull to acknowledge those accomplishments.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: On children in detention, I mean you’ve got children yourself. Do you feel okay about children being detained on Manus Island or Nauru? Do you think that is an acceptable situation?
ALAN TUDGE: My hope Patricia is that no children are in detention and we’re rapidly moving towards that goal. Bear in mind that I think at the peak under the Labor Party there were 2,000 children in detention.
Now I think from memory there are fewer than about 150 in detention and we hope that all of those will be able to be processed very soon.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: That’s 150 children living in conditions that I imagine you’d never put your kids in.
ALAN TUDGE: No and unfortunately there is no easy solution when it comes to stopping the people smugglers business.
There is no decision which is free of moral consequence.
But I think the policies which we have put in place have absolutely broken the back of the people smugglers business and there are lives which are saved because people are no longer…
PATRICIA KARVELAS: So that justifies existing children being in horrendous conditions where their mental health is being compromised, does it?
ALAN TUDGE: As I said Patricia, the number of children in detention is now a fraction of what it was when we came to government. We are still dealing with the consequences of the disastrous policies which were put in place under the Rudd-Gillard government where tens of thousands of people came by boat, over one thousand people tragically drowned at sea.
Now, we’ve got a different policy position where we’re saying to people that we are a very generous country in relation to refugees but please do not come by boat.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: I understand your Bill for the Cashless Welfare Card has been introduced into the Senate literally minutes ago, when are you expecting it to be voted on and who is going to vote for it?
ALAN TUDGE: It will be voted upon either late tonight or tomorrow morning. I’m very hopeful that it will pass the Senate. It passed the House of Representatives without dissent.
I’ve been having very constructive conversations with the crossbenchers and with the Labor Party for several months now. I would like to hope that there is bipartisan support for this because it has been something which has had an enormous amount of work go into it.
It has been co-designed with the local community leaders in Ceduna and I think it is worthy of a trial.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: But Labor says you are trying to rush the Bill through to avoid scrutiny. Mick Gooda, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, has said you should wait and consult more. What is the big hurry?
ALAN TUDGE: This hasn’t been a hurry. We first said that we wanted to trial this cashless debit card concept back in March. The legislation has been in the public space I think for two months now. There’s been a Senate inquiry.
We’ve had an enormous amount of consultation on the ground in Ceduna which is where the initial trial site would occur. There are even community leaders from Ceduna who are here in Parliament House today calling upon members of parliament to support the trial.
So this hasn’t been a rush, it’s actually been quite a long process to get to this point in time. But the time now is to debate the legislation in the Senate, to vote upon it and let’s move on and implement that trial in the best possible way that we can.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: The trial would start in Ceduna in South Australia but the community there isn’t entirely on side. The trial was also slated to start in Halls Creek in WA but the community there rejected the scheme.
Do you actually have the community’s support for this or are you hand-picking some leaders who you say support it when there are others who are very opposed?
ALAN TUDGE: In relation to Ceduna, that’s where the most work has been done and it is the only site where we have said that we would trial it. In Ceduna we have had an enormous amount of consultation and indeed it’s more than consultation.
It has been a co-design process with the community leaders in Ceduna. Each of the five communities affected have passed resolutions at their board levels in favour of the implementation of this trial.
There has been an enormous amount of work done every step of the way. We’ve been engaging with the community leadership. As I said, we’ve got community leadership from Ceduna here today who are actually calling on the members of parliament to pass this legislation so it can be implemented in their community in Ceduna.
I reject these allegations that are made by the Greens. I just heard the back end of Richard Di Natale saying that ‘you’ve got to consult and don’t impose something on people.’ I agree that we shouldn’t be imposing something like this on the community, but it hasn’t been. It has been co-designed with them. That’s the language which the community leaders themselves use.
I’m disappointed with Richard Di Natale because he hasn’t even had the decency to meet up with the community leaders who are here in Parliament House today who wanted to meet up with the Greens Senators and they rejected those meetings.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Interesting. Well I can’t put it to him now but I will look into it further. Thank you so much for joining me.
ALAN TUDGE: Thanks so much Patricia.