3AW Melbourne - Interview with Tom Elliott

Release Date: 
10 February 2016
Transcript
E&OE

Topics: Closing the Gap

TOM ELLIOTT:

I’ve drawn a fairly long bow here as you may have just heard. Firstly, the Closing the Gap report that you have been working on, what does it conclude?

ALAN TUDGE:

It was tabled today. It is the annual report which the Prime Minister of the day tables. As always, it has mixed reviews. There are some positive things in there and there are also some frustratingly poor things in there.

Overall though, I am pretty optimistic this year. The reason I say that is because when you look at the education statistics particularly, we are actually improving quite rapidly. For example, the proportion of Aboriginal people who are finishing Year 12 has jumped massively in the last six or seven years alone as is now around 60 per cent of people that are finishing Year 12 which is terrific.

The number of Aboriginal people going on to university has increased by 70 per cent in the last decade.

TOM ELLIOTT:

But there is income and unemployment and life expectancy, these sorts of key things. Are they changing?

ALAN TUDGE:

With life expectancy, Aboriginal people are getting older but non-Aboriginal people are also getting older so the gap itself has not changed. There is still about a 10 year gap.

On the employment side, we’ve got more Aboriginal people in jobs than ever before but the gap is still too large. We’re very focused on that and on education. Our view is that if you are at school, you get a good education and you get a job, then everything else tends to take care of itself.

TOM ELLIOTT:

I spoke to Warren Mundine about this a few weeks ago and he says the same thing. He says learn English, stay at school, go to university, get a job, which you might as well say applies to everyone in Australia.

ALAN TUDGE:

Absolutely. Absolutely.

TOM ELLIOTT:

Very briefly 26 years ago I worked in Aboriginal affairs. The problems back then were exactly the same. So there is nothing new in identifying them yet it seems that in 26 years not much has changed. But what is going to be different this time?

ALAN TUDGE:

A lot has changed in 26 years. I’ve just mentioned those educational statistics and that is markedly different. We’ve got 9,000 Indigenous business owners these days and that number continues to increase.

So there has been substantial change but there still is a long way to go and particularly in the remote communities, as you know Tom, where in some places you have still got catastrophic conditions where not enough kids are going to school, where there is very few jobs and where women are suffering from assaults at rates which are catastrophic. 

TOM ELLIOTT:

And every time you try and shut these places down, we get a 5,000 person protest here in Melbourne.

ALAN TUDGE:

It is not up to the federal government to make those determinations. They are inevitably up to state governments to determine the resources they put into those communities.

At the end of the day, we want to encourage people to be active and encourage people to be mobile to get work if there are no jobs in their local communities.

TOM ELLIOTT:

Can I ask you about this idea that has been floated out by The Age today but which does occur in other countries. Should we allow Aboriginal people to sort of set up their own self-governing communities. For example in America you’ve got reservations and you’ll have, in states that ban gambling, the Indian reservation will have a casino on it and that provides employment for people.

Should we do a similar thing here?

ALAN TUDGE:

In Australia we have a lot of land which is now native title land and effectively Aboriginal people can do what they like on that land. I think overall we need to move in the pathway of where Aboriginal people are much more engaged in the policy decisions which affect them and that is certainly our strong intent.

TOM ELLIOTT:

Does that mean we should have some seats in Parliament set aside for Aborigines?

ALAN TUDGE:

We have an Indigenous Advisory Council which reports to the Prime Minister on a regular basis. Of course, we have a number of members of parliament who have Indigenous heritage, Ken Wyatt and Nova Peris et cetera.

We need to be doing this across the country. Every region has its own unique circumstances and where we are trying to introduce policies in those regions, we need to ensure as much as possible that we are working in partnership with the local leaders on the ground.

If you have the local buy-in on the ground, you have a much greater chance of succeeding and seeing improvements.

TOM ELLIOTT:

So if you and I talk about this in say five years, could you assure us in advance that there will be marked improvement or will we just have yet another report that gets tabled in the Federal Parliament saying how bad things are?

ALAN TUDGE:

I am optimistic that there will be marked improvement within six years. But all of us are involved in this question. It is the state governments, it is the federal government, it is local people on the ground, and it is the general population as well.

These are not easy questions to solve but there are improvements and there is a lot of good will out there to see improvements. I’m very hopeful that within six years’ time there will be marked change, I’m not saying that all problems are going to be solved by any stretch of the imagination, but we will be able to report further improvements again.

TOM ELLIOTT:

We’ll leave it there. Alan Tudge, Assistant Minister to the PM. Thank you for your time.

ALAN TUDGE:

Thanks Tom.

[ENDS]