Transcript: Radio National Drive - Patricia Karvelas

27 July 2016

The Hon Alan Tudge MP

Minister for Human Services
Topics: 
Cashless welfare card trial, Kevin Rudd’s UN bid, Royal Commission into Don Dale Youth Detention Centre, Tasmanian Senate election
E&OE

PATRICIA KARVELAS:
Ministers are arriving in Canberra tonight for their first Cabinet meeting. High on the agenda is the terms of reference for the Royal Commission into the Northern Territory's juvenile justice system. The inquiry follows this week's Four Corners program detailing systemic abuses at the Don Dale Detention Centre. Labor wants a national focus for the Royal Commission, but the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has a different view.

[Excerpt]
MALCOLM TURNBULL:
This Royal Commission will be focused on the youth detention centres and youth detention practices in the Northern Territory that were the subject of the Four Corners program. My aim is to have a directions hearing next month, to have hearings over the following month, and with a report early next year.
[End of excerpt]

PATRICIA KARVELAS:
Here with me in Melbourne to discuss this and other issues is the Federal Human Services Minister Alan Tudge. Welcome.

ALAN TUDGE:
G'day PK.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:
And in Sydney, Shadow Minister for Human Services Linda Burney. Thanks Linda.

LINDA BURNEY:
Good afternoon Alan. Good afternoon Patricia.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:
And this is your first match up, because you are the, you're each other's sparring partners now, and I've brought you together.

ALAN TUDGE:
You have, even though we're in different cities still. But …

PATRICIA KARVELAS:
I bring the people together.

ALAN TUDGE:
... next time we'll hopefully be together in person.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:
I am, I am. I'm- really, I'm bridging the gap.

ALAN TUDGE:
[Laughs] You are.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:
First to you, Alan Tudge. Why limit this Royal Commission to the Northern Territory? Why not take the opportunity - because it is an opportunity - to look at abuses in other states, given this is a huge issue?

ALAN TUDGE:
It is a huge issue, but the issues which we're aware of concern the Northern Territory youth detention system, and that's where we want the focus to be, and we want it to be a highly targeted Royal Commission so that it can be done properly, diligently, but quite quickly.

So the aim of the Royal Commission is for the terms of reference to be determined tomorrow, to be approved hopefully by the Governor-General, for the hearings to occur mainly this year, and for a report to come down early next year.

Now if State Governments believe that they've got problems in their own detention centres in other jurisdictions, then they of course can institute their own inquiries.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:
Linda Burney, the Prime Minister says if you have an all-Australia inquiry, a national inquiry, it will go on for years and you won't get the answers you need in the Northern Territory. Doesn't he have a point? Because the new Northern Territory Senator, Senator McCarthy was on our program - she's in the Labor Party, I know you're close to her - she actually said the same thing last night. Now I know Labor says something different, but she was on this program saying she thinks it should just be about the Northern Territory.

LINDA BURNEY:
Well, I preface my remarks, Patricia, by saying that I was the chairperson of the Juvenile Justice Advisory Council in New South Wales for some years, and I was also the Minister for Family and Community Services here as well, and I oversaw child removal and care in New South Wales.

The position that Labor has is (a) we would have liked that there'd been some consultation in relation to the terms of reference. The terms of reference and the focus does need to be at least initially on the Northern Territory, but Labor is open to those terms of reference and the scope of the inquiry to be broader.

At the end of the day, what's fundamental to a Royal Commission - and I've had lots of experience in this area - is not just looking at the incidence of what happened at Don Dale, what Four Corners reported, but examining why those kids are in those centres, whether there was systemic failure, and broadly looking at the whole of the Northern Territory and perhaps some other jurisdictions if that becomes necessary. Much in the way in which the Royal Commission at the moment into institutional abuse has been broadened and lengthened as it goes on.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:
But the Prime Minister, Linda Burney, says that the Royal Commission doesn't prevent other states from holding their own inquiries.

LINDA BURNEY:
Look, I've got no - absolutely no argument, and Labor was so pleased that Malcolm Turnbull acted so swiftly in calling for that inquiry.

The accountability measures, in my view, for some of the things that we've heard and seen over the last couple of days should not have to wait til the end of the inquiry, but obviously, there is a complex matter of the Territory and the Federal relationship, and where the recommendations of the Royal Commission can be implemented and who's going to pay for them.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:
Alan Tudge, there are many calls for the Territory Government to be stood down or abolished. What do you think?

ALAN TUDGE:
Well, I know that at the same time, there's many Territorians who'd like to actually be a full state, as well.

They've got some really serious challenges in the Northern Territory, particularly with a large Indigenous population and perhaps some of the most pressing social issues in the country are in the Northern Territory.

I know, for example, that only about a quarter of the Indigenous kids in the Northern Territory go to school often enough to learn effectively, which is about 80 per cent of the time.

In the remote areas, only about a fifth of the kids in the 17 to 25 year olds are in full-time work or study. They're on welfare, and largely idle in doing that. So there's some huge challenges which the Northern Territory faces.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:
And the Northern Territory Government seems completely incapable of doing anything about it.

ALAN TUDGE:
Oh, they're…

LINDA BURNEY:
For both of you, surely there is a question - and I hope that the Royal Commission looks into this - surely there is a question to be asked on why almost 100 per cent of kids locked up in the Territory are Aboriginal children, and secondly, are the sentencing laws appropriate. One strike and you're out, and the fact that most of those kids locked up are on remand and have not been charged surely is a question to be asked.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:
Alan Tudge, are those questions that should be asked?

ALAN TUDGE:
Well, the focus of the Royal Commission is, my understanding and the terms of reference will be agreed by the Cabinet tomorrow, are predominantly looking at the mistreatment of the juveniles in that system, the failings in that system, and also how it was that these failings weren't brought to light earlier. That's the main focus.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:
That's right. That is, but surely we have a bigger incarceration crisis going on.

ALAN TUDGE:
I absolutely agree with you that there is a bigger incarceration crisis going on across the country. It's a national disgrace, the proportion of Aboriginal people who are in prison. Now some of the things which Lindy sorry, Linda …

LINDA BURNEY:
Linda.

ALAN TUDGE:
… has mentioned. Sorry Linda.

LINDA BURNEY:
You'll get to know me.

ALAN TUDGE:
[Laughs].

PATRICIA KARVELAS:
Oh yeah. Well, you're getting introduced here.

LINDA BURNEY:
[Laughs].

ALAN TUDGE:
… has talked about, I think are vitally important to examine, to make sure there isn't any systemic bias, systemic racism, isn't any mistreatment of people. I think people should be looking at that one strike rule.

But at the same time, I think we also have to look at the broader societal issues as well in some of these communities, where you have - basically, you've got community breakdown, where they may be awash with alcohol, where they're largely welfare-dependent, where parents on some occasions aren't parenting their kids as well as they should be.

And when you have a breakdown in society and when kids aren’t learning and kids aren't engaged, then they're more likely to commit crime as well, and you add a lot of alcohol into that mix, and it becomes a pretty difficult situation.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:
You're listening to RN Drive. I'm Patricia Karvelas, on your radio til 7.30, and my two guests in my political panel are Alan Tudge - he's the Human Services Minister in the Turnbull Government - and his opposite number, his new sparring partner for the Labor Party, Linda Burney, who's the Shadow Human Services Minister.

Linda Burney, Adam Giles says, and I'll read from a Hansard transcript of Adam Giles. He says: ‘right, you're in the hole. I might break every United Nations convention on the rights of the prisoner, but get in the hole.’ What do you make of that report that came out today about his previous statements?

LINDA BURNEY:
I read that and I understand that Adam Giles said that whilst in Opposition, and it was the Adam Giles Government that moved legislation to introduce that chair, which is just horrifying.

The statements such as the one you've just read out are not appropriate for a political leader, and certainly not appropriate for someone that holds themselves out and has been the Chief Minister of the Northern Territory for some time.

It is inappropriate for anyone to say that they don't care if they break international rules, they don't care what the effects are. That is just irresponsible and reprehensible and unacceptable.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:
Alan Tudge, they were quite extreme comments that were reported from the Hansard today. He said it in Opposition, of course, but still. What does it say about the thinking around incarceration and young people and how can that possibly be a thing that anyone can say?

ALAN TUDGE:
To be honest, it's the first that I've heard of those comments. I've just been looking on my phone to see…

PATRICIA KARVELAS:
Should I collect you after you fall off your chair?

ALAN TUDGE:
… the press report on it, to see the context of it. So I'm reluctant to comment too much without seeing the full context of it, but it certainly doesn't sound great.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:
No, it doesn't sound great.It's an understatement of the day, but I will accept that.

Okay, just before we move on, we've heard from prison whistleblowers today who say they've been sacked for highlighting abuses in Queensland. Here's what happened to Graham Pattel from the Cleveland Youth Detention Centre in Townsville after he reported excessive violence against kids who were as young as 12.

[Excerpt]
GRAHAM PATTEL:
They shut me up. They charged me under the Public Service Act, and they went through the process and sacked me. Now, I don't think it was fair.
[End of excerpt]

PATRICIA KARVELAS:
Alan Tudge, so are protections for whistleblowers clearly failing, if abuses in juvenile detention can't be revealed? Because this is somebody who's been sacked.

ALAN TUDGE:
Well, again, I'd like to know the full circumstances around this individual in terms of if that was the case that he was purely sacked because he was blowing the whistle on some serious abuse.

So, I'm very reluctant to make judgements without knowing the full facts in relation to this case and often, as you know PK, when you hear things in the media and when you actually understand the full details it might be a slightly different story.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:
Linda Burney, is the Public Service Act being used to gag whistleblowers?

LINDA BURNEY:
Well, I would hope that that's not the case but clearly the issue of whistleblowers and protection of whistleblowers is a very important point in case.

I mean, imagine for both of you and for people listening to us, imagine if the expose of Four Corners hadn't taken place. We would not be having this discussion, there would not be a Royal Commission and those abuses would be continuing.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:
Let's just talk about how you can prevent some of this violence. I'll start with you, Alan Tudge.

Shouldn't the Federal Government - isn't this an opportunity for the Federal Government to take a more active role on these justice issues because I've watched this area for a very long time and the Federal Government consistently kind of palms it off, it says oh it's a state issue.

Now, it is perhaps a state issue but the states, well, in this case the Northern Territory, don't always do the best job. Doesn't it need to become a national priority - Indigenous incarceration - that the Federal Government takes more of an active role in?

ALAN TUDGE:
Well, certainly the Federal Government has taken a much more active role in community safety overall which, of course, includes trying to reduce the amount of violence in those communities.

And if you listen to, say, Don Weatherburn who's the chief of the Bureau of Crime Statistics in New South Wales, he says one of the main factors which leads to a high Indigenous incarceration rate is a high Indigenous crime rate, in particular violent crime.

So the question is how do we get the violent crime down? Now, again, if I refer to his research he says that one of the biggest indicators of the likelihood of committing crime is the amount of alcohol and drug abuse that is in a community or that a person consumes or is connected to.

It's one thing that I've been passionate about for a very long time. I know that in many of these communities, the alcohol particularly is the poison that runs through them and can be so destructive, not just on the individuals consuming but then on the entire community at large.

The assault rate, for example, against Indigenous women in the Northern Territory is 11 per 100 women per annum. It is a figure so far off the charts that it should make all of us stand up and be shocked by it. And two thirds of that is related to alcohol consumption, most of which, of course, is paid for by the welfare dollar.

I have a particular view in relation to this and how we might go about addressing some of the alcohol abuse. As you know, I've been leading a couple of trial sites with a cashless debit card where we're providing welfare largely through the provision of a cashless welfare card which prohibits the purchase of alcohol with the welfare dollars.

I hope that that trial will be successful and perhaps could be a model that could be rolled out elsewhere.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:
Linda Burney, what do you make of those kind of policies …

LINDA BURNEY:
Well, two …

PATRICIA KARVELAS:
… because I know you've been critical of them before.

LINDA BURNEY:
Yeah.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:
… but Labor has actually provided a lot of bipartisan support and actually …

ALAN TUDGE:
They have.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:
… even spearheaded some of this stuff.

LINDA BURNEY:
Well, two points: we can't have this discussion without talking about what works and what's needed to prevent so many young people, particularly Aboriginal people, being put into juvenile detention and often their crime is they come from a very difficult, very, very poor and challenging background and perhaps the sentencing laws or the bail laws are not appropriate.

There needs to be, the look and the implementation of the very many early intervention and the very many alternative sentencing programs that are examples around Australia. Justice Reinvest, for example, in Bourke, where the community takes responsibility for young offenders and I can tell you, I'm an Aboriginal person, if an aunty is wagging her finger at you it is going to be much more powerful than some of the other more punitive measures.

And we're not talking about a lot of children or a lot of young people and I suspect in the Northern Territory, Patricia and Alan, that you're talking about a couple of hundred kids that are causing most of the problems and I don't understand - and I've done it myself - on why you can't have almost case managed programs.

And secondly, in relation to the cashless welfare card, I was the Shadow Minister for Aboriginal Affairs here in New South Wales, Alan, when that was a proposed roll out in, I think, Moree. The Moree community said absolutely not on economic basis, on an economic basis for the whole town.

My position on cashless welfare cards is that they're punitive and if a community wants them it has to be not imposed on the community but come from the community saying this is what we want. And not just the mayor and not just the council, but the actual people that are going to be subject to this kind of regime.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:
I want to … we've had a very good thorough conversation about the juvenile justice system and Indigenous affairs. Just on a couple of other political issues before I let you go, I'll start with you Alan Tudge.

It's just been confirmed that a fellow minister before the election, Richard Colbeck, has failed to hang on to his Senate spot. He was put into the unwinnable fifth spot in the Liberal ticket, he hasn't won. He was put there by the hard right, reportedly for not backing Tony Abbott. Isn't this just grubby politics that has gone on here?

ALAN TUDGE:
Listen, I'm disappointed, obviously, that Richard Colbeck didn't win that seat, the fifth spot on the Senate ticket in Tasmania. I think the Greens Senator actually won that spot.

Listen, we're a democratic party and ultimately it is the members and the preselectors who determine the priority order and they determined that Richard Colbeck would be number five on that ticket …

PATRICIA KARVELAS:
He was punished.

ALAN TUDGE:
… it was always a vulnerable position. We …

PATRICIA KARVELAS:
But he was punished, wasn't he?

ALAN TUDGE:
Well, I don't know what the reasoning is behind every single preselector's decision. Everybody has their own reasons for it. I would've liked to have seen him elected is my view and I think it's a loss to the Parliament that he's not there.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:
And Linda Burney, Labor is hardly any better when it comes to this sort of stuff. In Tasmania, after a local union deal, Lisa Singh was dropped to the bottom of the Labor ticket but the people have spoken, they put her number one, they took action, a lot of them, and she's now likely to, I think she's up now.

LINDA BURNEY:
I think Labor has done remarkably well in Tasmania which is why …

PATRICIA KARVELAS:
But you- Labor didn't try and help her, though?

ALAN TUDGE:
They put some union hack above her. So, I mean, she does a pretty good job, actually.

LINDA BURNEY:
I do not refer- excuse me, do not refer to people as union hacks …

ALAN TUDGE:
This person was though, Linda.

LINDA BURNEY:
… the unions represent the people of this country. Lisa Singh ran a fantastic campaign and I'm very glad she's made it.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:
Yeah, well she had to run it on her own, didn't she?

Alright, just to Kevin Rudd. Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong said today that it's time for the Government to back Team Australia and to nominate Kevin Rudd as the UN Secretary General.

Alan Tudge, I know you're not in the Cabinet but what do you think? Your colleagues have all been honest; Morrison- Scott Morrison, pretty honest about it, you can be honest, come one.

ALAN TUDGE:
Yeah, this will be a decision of the Cabinet I think either tomorrow or the next Cabinet meeting as to whether or not he does get nominated by Australia. I'm not a big fan of Kevin Rudd, I …

PATRICIA KARVELAS:
You're not on Team Australia?

ALAN TUDGE:
… I like him as an individual, actually. I've met him a few times; I don't mind him as an individual but I do not think he was a great Prime Minister and there was a reason why the Labor Party took him out and when you listen to someone like Kristina Keneally, who's a respected Labor figure, and she says that her Labrador would be a better candidate than …

PATRICIA KARVELAS:
Well, that's one person's view.

ALAN TUDGE:
… than Kevin Rudd, I think we should be certainly taking heed of comments like that.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:
Sure, but we don't nominate at a Cabinet level Labradors, so let's, you know, it was kind of funny, but let's be realistic. Will Linda be?

ALAN TUDGE:
But it was a pretty full on comment, though, when a former Labor premier would actually say that, that her Labrador would do a better job as United Nations Secretary General than Kevin Rudd.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:
Sure, it was quite the quote, I agree with that. I think I retweeted that quote. Linda Burney?

LINDA BURNEY:
My position is I think Kevin Rudd is more than qualified. Put personal relationships aside, Alan, and he should be backed by the Australia Government and of course the process then …

PATRICIA KARVELAS:
Even after all your colleagues said he was dysfunctional and couldn't run anything?

LINDA BURNEY:
Well, I'm saying what I think and I think he should be nominated and, of course, the UN process will take its course after that.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:
You've been fantastic guests, you've have a bit of a taste of your future. You will be sparring many times again.

LINDA BURNEY:
Look out, Alan. I'm after you.

ALAN TUDGE:
I'm worried, Linda. [Laughter]

PATRICIA KARVELAS:
This is frightening. Alright, thank you. That is Alan Tudge and Linda Burney. They are both Human … well, one of them is the Human Services Minister - that's Alan Tudge in the Turnbull Government - and, well, she's after his job, Labor's Linda Burney there, the Shadow Human Services Minister, joining us from Sydney.

(ENDS)