DAVID PENBERTHY: It’s reasonably depressing reading, isn’t it, this report?
ALAN TUDGE: The report which will be announced today in the parliament is disappointing, but at the same time there is progress being made on a number of fronts. For example, there’s now 50 per cent more students who are graduating from university than there was a decade ago. The year 12 attainment rate amongst Aboriginal students is significantly higher today than a decade ago.
So it’s not all bad news. There is progress being made but we’re disappointed there isn’t more rapid progress.
DAVID PENBERTHY: The areas which seem to be really bad, there doesn’t seem to have been any improvement in terms of Indigenous reading, writing and numeracy and the employment gap – Indigenous Australians finding jobs – no real improvement there either.
ALAN TUDGE: Yes that’s right. The literacy and numeracy results are particularly disappointing where we’ve basically flat lined on those. Even amongst those, there’s some green shoots, if you like. The Queensland reading results, for example, have all gone up but in other states they’ve flat lined or gone a little bit backwards.
In relation to employment, I think that the single most disappointing result where over the last five or six years the gap has actually widened, not narrowed. In part that’s due to population growth because the number of Aboriginal people in jobs has actually increased but the population is increasing more rapidly.
When you actually look at the demographics of the Indigenous population, 50 per cent are under the age of
21. So over the next decade we’ll have a huge number come into the workforce and if we don’t have sufficient opportunities for those people then this gap is just going to get wider.
DAVID PENBERTHY: I see that the Australian Human Rights Commission has this morning just issued a call for the Commonwealth to maintain funding levels. Is there an issue though that funding levels have been high for so long, but perhaps a culture – and this is something that Noel Pearson, the Indigenous leader and fantastic, respected lawyer, one of the best thinkers in Australia – has talked about, that welfare is seen as a source of income rather than local jobs where communities can sort of carve out their own destiny?
ALAN TUDGE: If money was the answer to closing the gap, we would have closed it years ago because there’s been an 80 per cent increase in real funding over the last decade, all for good intentions. The fact of the matter is that our view is that unless children are going to school, unless adults are in work and off welfare as you talk about, then it’s so difficult to close the gap and address those other issues.
At the end of the day, almost every functional society in all of human history, including in ancient Indigenous society, has kids learning from adults and adults working for sustenance. That’s why our firm focus is on those two things – on school attendance and getting the adults active and engaged and off welfare because we think they are absolutely paramount to addressing all of the other issues as well.
DAVID PENBERTHY: Senator Tudge (sic), one of the people who was pushing hardest for some of the ideas that you’ve been exploring was the mining magnate Twiggy Forrest and he came up with the idea of the Healthy Welfare Card, where instead of giving people straight cash payments they could only use the money in the form of a smart card on food and clothing and books and so forth.
I understand there is a community in Ceduna here in SA that is interested in being part of a Healthy Welfare Card trial?
ALAN TUDGE: Yes, we’ve been discussing with some of the leaders in Ceduna this concept. We haven’t made any decisions yet and we’re going to progress very steadily on this front. The concept is that instead of getting your welfare in cash, you get it in a cashless debit card, or at least most of your welfare on that.
You can spend it on anything, anywhere, anytime but you simply could not purchase alcohol or gamble with it and if you’ve got limited cash you of course can’t purchase drugs with it. So, I think it has some merit. We’re actively exploring this. We’re talking with the banks about it, but we are going to be progressing steadily here. There won’t be surprises for anybody.
DAVID PENBERTHY: And Senator Tudge (sic), I know you are very passionate about the work you are doing in this area. Can I just ask you one leadership question – have you been personally frustrated with the events of the last few days and do you think things are going to calm down?
ALAN TUDGE: Listen, you never want to go through weeks like what we’ve just been through. I do think it will calm down. At the end of the day, it was one of the cleaner leadership discussions that you could possibly have. There weren’t camps trying to destroy particular candidates in the process. It was a genuine rich discussion about where we’re going as a party.
We’ve learnt from that discussion. I think the Prime Minister has absolutely heard from his backbench and heard from others as to how we need to do things differently. I am very confident that we can now settle down and focus again on the Australian people rather than focusing on ourselves.
DAVID PENBERTHY: Alan Tudge, thanks for joining us.