ROS CHILDS: The Prime Minister has called the report profoundly disappointing. Is that your reaction too?
ALAN TUDGE: It is a disappointing report that we haven’t made more progress than we should have at this stage. Now there are nevertheless some green shoots in the report. It shows for example that there’s now 50 per cent more indigenous university graduates than there were a decade ago. It shows that the Year 12 graduation rate is steadily increasing. It shows that the life expectancy gap is now only ten years when it was significantly larger a decade or two ago.
So there are some positive elements I the report to show progress but there’s still a long way to go.
ROS CHILDS: Including the targets for life expectancy gap, early childhood access, reading, numeracy, employment, in particular falling short and in some cases gone backwards- there’s a huge challenge lying ahead.
ALAN TUDGE: Yeah there still is. In fact that the most worrying gap indicator is on the employment gap. Now we’re relying on 2013 figures here but it showed that the five years prior to 2013 the gap actually increased, rather than decreased. We know that there’s also very significant young indigenous population coming through and unless we can improve that then we’re going to have an even greater gap in the future.
ROS CHILDS: What is the biggest problem? Is it getting the services to where they’re needed or is it just that people are not engaged in the whole process?
ALAN TUDGE: Look our focus is very much on the basics which underpin nearly every functional society in all of human history actually and that is kids learning from adults and adults working for their sustenance, hence why we have such sharp focus on school attendance and getting aboriginal people into work. Because when those two things occur, when people are engaged, then you tend to be able to do those other things much more readily.
ROS CHILDS: But that’s not happening right now. How can you get that to happen?
ALAN TUDGE: That’s not happening. Now we’ve already started with a fairly concerted effort of school attendance - as you may know - in the remote communities where the school attendance rate is often at catastrophic levels frankly. We’ve engaged local School Attendance Officers on the ground to literally go and knock on doors and assist with taking children to school. Now that’s had an impact already. In many cases it’s had a 15 percentage point increase in some schools. But that’s not even getting there at this stage either so we need to more on top of that.
ROS CHILDS: School attendance used to be the norm going back to the 1970s as you yourself have quoted.
ALAN TUDGE: Yeah that’s right.
ROS CHILDS: Attendance was high, how come it’s fallen off so dramatically?
ALAN TUDGE: Well I think there’s a number of factors which contribute to that. In essence there’s been a breakdown in social norms in some of these remote communities particularly and the view of leaders such as Noel Pearson and Marcia Langton is that is largely due to the advent of the welfare state, to alcoholism and to unemployment generally.
Consequently over time you lose those basic social norms of going to school which as you said used to be the case as early as the 1970s.
ROS CHILDS: The Prime Minister’s going to spend another week living in indigenous communities in a bid to kick the whole campaign forward? If he does what good on the ground is that going to do?
ALAN TUDGE: Well again it brings the national attention onto the issues most importantly. But secondly it enables, not just the Prime Minister, but all of the senior Ministers and the senior officials to have a deep engagement with aboriginal people on the ground, typically in a remote area but not always in a remote area and that I think is so important to get that real life experience to speaking to people on the ground to inform our policy responses.
ROS CHILDS: Alan Tudge, thank you.
ALAN TUDGE: Thanks so much Ros.