Sky News - Interview with Laura Jayes

Release Date: 
10 February 2016
Transcript
E&OE

Topics: Closing the Gap, Indigenous Affairs, Andrew Robb

LAURA JAYES:

Thanks very much for joining us once again on The Latest.  Let’s start with the Closing the Gap and we’ll get to broader indigenous issues as well.  This has been criticised today as something that perhaps needs to be revisited because this is the eighth Closing the Gap statement and we haven’t met a lot of our targets.

ALAN TUDGE:

We’re on track to meet a number of the targets and I actually think this report is a more optimistic report than we’ve had in previous years. When you look at the education results particularly, we’ve now got over 59 per cent of aboriginal people graduating in Year 12 where it was only 45 per cent just eight years ago.

We’ve got 70 per cent more indigenous kids in universities. And of course when you’ve got a good education, you’re so much more likely to get a job and with a job then you’re much more likely to take care of yourself.

LAURA JAYES:

So we’re really succeeding in the education space.  We’ll get to some of the glass half empty targets in a moment.  Is that where we’ve really succeeded and why?  What can you put that down to?

ALAN TUDGE:

There’s been an enormous amount of effort in the education space over the last few years by both state governments and federal governments.  I do think that provides optimism for us. 

Now it’s not all a positive picture because the Year Three reading result, for example, is still quite poor. And in remote communities particularly we’re still struggling to get enough kids to school in the first place, let alone to be advancing properly like everybody else. 

I remain optimistic from this report and I think all of us should look at the positive things out of it rather than just focus on the things that are still challenging.

LAURA JAYES:

How is the Government using this data?  After every Closing the Gap statement do you rethink about where resources are going or do you just continue on with the target?

ALAN TUDGE:

Inevitably, but we’re constantly looking at the data as well.

Some of the data gets updated annually, some of the data doesn’t get updated other than every three or four years while others come almost weekly such as school attendance data now.

Inevitably we’re tracking the data as it comes through.  We’ve been very focused on school attendance for example and for the first time now we get weekly reports from at least 70 or 80 schools in the remote areas where we’re very focused on trying to lift the school attendance rates.

LAURA JAYES:

On the statistics on education, does it show the Gonski model is working and perhaps the Government should fund the outer years?

ALAN TUDGE:

I wouldn’t make that conclusion. I’m not convinced it’s directly related to funding to be honest.  I think it’s much more about having kids at school, having them fed, ready to learn…

LAURA JAYES:

Gonski is all about having a targeted approach right?

ALAN TUDGE:

It is a targeted approach. And yes we do have a targeted approach.  I’m particularly impressed with the Direct Instruction and Explicit Instruction model which is being rolled out to about 33 schools now and I hope it’s rolled out even further as it seems to be providing very good results for those kids who have been struggling.  A very different method of instruction, but doesn’t cost that much more than ordinary instruction methods.

LAURA JAYES:

Looking forward, this is an election year and perhaps this is an opportunity to really have some bipartisan targets here.  From both the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader’s statements today, there seemed to be a lot of politics in that.  Do we need to rethink the agreement here and get both leaders together and have a cohesive way forward because it would seem like if Labor was to get in at the election, they would go in a slightly different direction in some of these policies.

ALAN TUDGE:

Inevitably we will have our differences on the margins but I think indigenous affairs is actually one of the policy areas where we do have a lot of agreement and we try to work very closely with the opposition.

I don’t think that the Prime Minister’s speech was at all partisan today. In fact, I think he was very magnanimous, I think he was trying to give a very optimistic spirit. But at the same time, we want to reach out to the Labor Party. We want to ensure as much continuity as possible going forward.

They have got some ideas in terms of other targets which we could put on the table. Inevitably we debate these. We have seven targets at the moment. Should there be eight, nine or ten? They are always up for discussion but I think we have got the right targets at the moment.

LAURA JAYES:

Indigenous recognition in the constitution is a live issue. Are we still on track? What is the big barrier here? I mean on track in terms of the timeline of next year.

ALAN TUDGE:

We are still very hopeful and optimistic that we might have a question which we could take ideally to the people…

LAURA JAYES:

Very neat phrases Alan Tudge! Hopeful and optimistic! We are all hopeful and optimistic!

ALAN TUDGE:

Hopeful and optimistic! In some respects, we do not want to lock ourselves into a timeline because we want to put up a referendum question, of course, when we know we have got the greatest chance of it being successful. The last thing we want to do is put up a referendum question which does not succeed.

We’ve now got a process over the next six to nine months and that is a referendum council which consists of some very senior Indigenous leaders and non-Indigenous leaders who will hold a series of conferences around the country.

Through those conferences we are hoping there will be some consensus emerging around the question which can unite Australia and still be very meaningful to Aboriginal people. We will then take that to the Australian public.

LAURA JAYES:

Patrick Dodson and Chris Sarra have both raised this idea of having a treaty. What do you think of that?

ALAN TUDGE:

It depends on how you define the word ‘treaty’. Everybody has a very different definition.

LAURA JAYES:

And is it a treaty with which community?

ALAN TUDGE:

And who is it with? Some people might call the recent agreement which the Western Australian Government had with the Noongar people a treaty. It was an agreement of sorts.  Other people will say that a treaty is only some very big grand bargain that the Australian government has with Aboriginal people as a whole.

I think we have to progress as we are doing. I think we have to work very closely with each region on the ground and constantly be engaging with them and doing agreements with those local people on the ground.

If that is what a treaty is – an agreement with local people on the ground – then that is what we are doing.

LAURA JAYES:

This word ‘empowerment’ is something which is reoccurring now. This is something we have heard from Noel Pearson at the Press Club, from Stan Grant, we also heard the Prime Minister say that today.

Now we can often have these days and I’ve said this to you before, like Closing the Gap, like the great beautiful words of Noel Pearson and Stan Grant. We talk about it for a day and then we move on.

Do you feel there is a new energy to this now? Has something changed in the last couple of months or am I being a little bit too optimistic?

ALAN TUDGE:

I would like to think that you a right.

LAURA JAYES:

You have been in this space for quite a long time and you worked for Noel Pearson.

ALAN TUDGE:

I have. And my sense is that there is a degree of optimism and incredible good will out in the broader community. There certainly is in the corporate community as well. Yesterday we launched a report which was called the State of Reconciliation and it had some really interesting data.

From memory, it was something like three quarters of the Australian public believe that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture is a part of Australian culture as a whole.  About 86 per cent of people, from memory, are very optimistic and positive about aboriginal people and the partnerships we have with them. They are pretty good statistics, I thought.

At the same time there was a figure which said that only 30 per cent of Australians actually have a meaningful relationship with Aboriginal people or socialise with Aboriginal people. It is hard to have true reconciliation if you are not actually just sitting down and having a cup of tea with somebody.

That is one of our challenges as well.

LAURA JAYES:

Many people that live in cities, for example, would not have any interaction on a daily basis with an Indigenous…

ALAN TUDGE:

With an Aboriginal person or they may not realise, they may have met…

LAURA JAYES:

That is a fundamental issue isn’t it?

ALAN TUDGE:

It is a fundamental issue…

LAURA JAYES:

How do you change that?

ALAN TUDGE:

I come from Melbourne, where the Indigenous population is quite small, many people have pale skin. So a lot of Melburnians would probably say they have never met or had a conversation with an Aboriginal person before.

That of course makes it very difficult for real reconciliation because ultimately, real reconciliation is just to get to know each other properly – understanding your families, understanding your history. Sitting down over a coffee or whatever.

It is a challenge by the very nature of the fact that Aboriginal people are 3 per cent of the population and they tend to be more concentrated in Western Sydney, in Queensland, in Perth and the Northern Territory of course.  

LAURA JAYES:

As a Victorian, I also want to ask you about Andrew Robb. He has confirmed that he is going to – he has announced his retirement from politics at the election. He has been quite involved with the Liberal Party for quite some time, what is his legacy?

ALAN TUDGE:

I think he will go down as Australia’s greatest ever Trade Minister.

LAURA JAYES:

Funny, the Prime Minister just said that.

ALAN TUDGE:

He has only been the Trade Minister for a very short amount of time, but the impact that he has had will be long lasting for generations to come.

In particular the three trade agreements which he negotiated – the Japanese Trade Agreement, the South Korean Trade Agreement and the Chinese Free Trade Agreement – which really set our nation up for future prosperity by linking our economy into those very rapidly growing Asian economies.

He will be a very big loss to the parliament. He has been here for a long time. He is a very wise counsel for so many of us and we will miss him.

LAURA JAYES:

It seems that he will be given special dispensation, if that is the right term, to actually stay on in his role as Minister for Trade until election so if there is any reshuffle before then, my understanding is he will stay in that role. That is a fair call for the Prime Minister to make isn’t it?

ALAN TUDGE:

I believe so. Ultimately that will be negotiated between Andrew Robb and the Prime Minister. Andrew Robb has got a series of international engagements that have been planned and I am sure he will still be attending those and making sure the delegations are there. That process won’t be interrupted. Ultimately, that will be worked out with the Prime Minister though.

LAURA JAYES:

Alan Tudge, thanks so much for joining us once again on The Latest.

ALAN TUDGE:

Thanks Laura.

[Ends]