Topics: Leadership, Closing the Gap, Truancy, Forrest Review
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Welcome to RN Drive.
ALAN TUDGE: G’day PK, great to be on your programme.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: And you’re calling me PK, so we’ve broken down the relationship already! Now Julie Bishop has declared that she will not challenge the Prime Minister. That’s pretty extraordinary stuff isn’t it for the deputy leader of the Liberal Party, the Foreign Minister to have to put out a statement clarifying that?
ALAN TUDGE: Well I think the Foreign Minister just wanted to completely clear the air because otherwise journalists like yourself, Patricia, would be asking every single day and making the comments of ‘well Julie Bishop hasn’t ruled this out and so therefore it may be on.’ Now she has ruled it out, it’s back to business. I think Andrew Wilkie who you just quoted there before was spot on. We’ve got to stop the naval gazing and focus on what matters to the Australian people.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: But this comes after the Prime Minister pointedly refused on several occasions to confirm that he’d asked her to promise that she wouldn’t run. So even him asking her to make that declaration is pretty extraordinary stuff is it not?
ALAN TUDGE: I don’t know what the conversation was between the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister. I wasn’t privy to that conversation. I haven’t spoken to either of the two people about that conversation. All I do know is that every single time they’ve been on the public record, they’ve expressed confidence in each other, confidence in their ability to work together and now today we have the Foreign Minister saying categorically that she’s not going to be challenging the Prime Minister. Now what that means is that we’re back to work. We’re back to focusing on the task ahead, which is building the infrastructure, it’s getting the economy going strong again and trying to ease cost of living pressures for everyday Australians.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: On RN Drive you’re with Patricia Karvelas and I’m talking with Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister on Indigenous Affairs, Alan Tudge, about what’s going on in Canberra, well what’s going on in Sydney in Canberra and everywhere- It’s the national government. The Prime Minister’s problems are bigger than this though, aren’t they? Mal Brough who’s obviously now a backbencher, has previously been a Minister, a senior Minister in the Howard Government is going to be making a statement later this evening about his ambitions, or at least his moves if he’s willing to put his hand up to try and bring this on so it’s not quite finished because we’re still waiting on another person who’s been putting their hand up on all of this.
ALAN TUDGE: I don’t know what Mal Brough is going to say. I don’t know what some of my other colleagues might say. All I know is that the Ministry is united and the party now is determined to get on with the business of governing. We were elected only 16 months ago and we were elected to end the instability of the Labor Party, to end the mess of the Labor Party, to end the waste and the huge budget deficits that we have under the Labor Party and just to get on with governing sensibly. That’s what we want to do. That’s what our firm focus is now. So the Prime Minister yesterday has already announced some further initiatives around childcare, around ending the paid parental leave scheme, putting more money into childcare. He’s announced more initiatives, which we’re going to put in place for small business, company tax cuts for them. So we’ve got real initiatives that we want to outline. We want to consult more broadly with the Australian people. Our focus must be on them. We can’t be naval gazing, we can’t be talking about ourselves, we’ve got to be focused on the Australian people because that’s why they elected us.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Peter Reith, former Howard Government Minister has come out today saying that- and I’ll quote him, “once the leadership is in play, everything that happens in the party or government from then on will be assessed through the prism of leadership.’ Do you agree with that statement?
ALAN TUDGE: I have great respect for Peter Reith. He was an outstanding Minister in the Howard Government. I don’t think the leadership is in play right now. There’s been a lot of speculation but there isn’t a contender. Tony Abbott is the Prime Minister. He’s just been elected Prime Minister by the Australian people 16 months ago. Julie Bishop’s made the categorical statement about her intentions. So we’ve got to get on with the business of governing. PATRICIA KARVELAS: Are you frustrated personally? You’re the Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister on Indigenous Affairs. You’ve been trying to get Indigenous Affairs on the national agenda since you took up that role, shortly after being elected into Government. How irritated are you by all of this?
ALAN TUDGE: Obviously we’d much rather be talking about those types of issues than we would talking about ourselves, our own internal machinations.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Why do you find yourself in this position where you’re talking about yourselves? I mean you say you want to be talking about something else and I believe you, but why are you talking about yourselves? You can’t blame the media entirely for that can you?
ALAN TUDGE: In part because you’re asking me these questions!
PATRICIA KARVELAS: I don’t… to be fair I don’t know that it is.
ALAN TUDGE: You could be asking me questions on our indigenous policy or about some of our economic policies, rather than just about the leadership. Listen of course it is of interest to your listeners. They want to know…
PATRICIA KARVELAS: And to your backbench (inaudible)…
ALAN TUDGE: Of course, some of our backbenchers have made comments as well, and made them publicly so it becomes an issue and it’s reasonable to be discussing it. My ambition now is that we now put that to bed. We’ve had the couple of days of discussing the leadership. We’ve had a couple of days of discussing our internal machinations. Let’s now focus on the Australian people. Let’s now focus on the Indigenous issues, which are still so pressing. Let’s focus on domestic violence issues, which we’ve put on the agenda. Let’s focus on the economic challenges, on the jobs growth, on cost of living pressures. They’re the things that we should be talking about and that’s what I want to talk about frankly.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Well I’m happy to talk about those things too because, you’re quite right, I’m very interested in those issues. So let’s go to Indigenous Affairs. One of the criticisms from the opposition, and they’ve issued a press release today as they would, is that the Prime Minister has not been talking enough about this. He said he would be the Prime Minister for Indigenous Affairs. Clearly, because he’s got his own political problems, Indigenous Affairs sadly becomes a second order issue. That is the risk here, isn’t it?
ALAN TUDGE: We’ve never had such a focus on Indigenous issues from any government in our history because the Prime Minister himself is the Prime Minister for Indigenous Affairs.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: He can’t really focus on it at the moment can he, because he’s too busy shoring up his own leadership?
ALAN TUDGE: A Prime Minister always has a whole raft of issues that he or she must deal with at any one particular time. Indigenous Affairs is one of the top handful of issues that the Prime Minister wants to focus on. Next week there will be a big focus on Indigenous issues because we’ll have the Closing the Gap speech and that always brings the national attention to exactly where we are in terms of making progress on that front. Yes, there hasn’t been much discussion in the first few weeks of this year, but next week we’ll certainly have a very big discussion about it because there’s a big speech, there are events across the country which mark the Closing the Gap speech, something which Kevin Rudd initiated. I think there still are some very significant issues which need to be discussed thoroughly.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: We’re talking on RN Drive with Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister, Alan Tudge. You’re right, next week is the Closing the Gap statement. Can you give us any indication about whether we are actually closing the gap and if we’re not, because we have struggled on a number of those 5 measures, are you looking at increasing, looking at new policy you might be announcing next week to try address some of these issues?
ALAN TUDGE: We’ve got a number of policies which are being worked on at the moment, largely off the back of the Andrew Forrest review into Indigenous employment which as you and your listeners probably know was a very broad scale review looking at everything from early childhood all the way through to training and employment. We’ve already made some announcements in relation to that review but we’ll have a lot more to say about that in the weeks and months ahead. Some of the recommendations are pretty tough frankly and need some concerted analytical effort to ensure that we get it right. Other things we can move on more quickly.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: On the truancy measure, in tabloid talk it was called the truancy army but in reality just people in the community working to try and get kids to school, really actively get them to school, it’s had some positive results but really the results are quite mixed. They are not as good as you’d like, I’m assuming you’d agree with that. Do we have to put more of an effort or a different policy focus on trying to address this issue?
ALAN TUDGE: We do. This initiative, in essence, was employing local people in about 70 communities to help, basically, knock on doors and take kids to school. Across the Northern Territory and Queensland in what we call the ‘Stage One’ schools, it had about an eleven percentage point increase in school attendance as a result of that. In some other areas though, it hasn’t been as good. There are still catastrophic school attendance rates in many communities across Australia. In the Northern Territory as a whole, only a quarter of Indigenous kids attend school often enough to effectively learn, i.e. at about 80 per cent of the time – only a quarter. If they are not at school they are not learning and their life prospects are so much more limited. So we are absolutely determined to boost those school attendance rates up but it’s not an easy task. We’ve put some initiatives in place and we’re thinking deeply about other initiatives including ones recommended by Andrew Forrest.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Alan Tudge, thank you for joining the program and I look forward to speaking to you again about that Closing the Gap statement. That’s Alan Tudge, he’s the Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister on Indigenous Affairs joining us on RN Drive.