Transcript: PVO Newsday interview with Peter van Onselen

21 September 2016

The Hon Alan Tudge MP

Minister for Human Services
Topics: 
Brangelina split, Welfare reforms
E&OE

PETER VAN ONSELEN:

Welcome back to the program. I am joined now by the Human Services Minister Alan Tudge, live from the nation's capital. Thanks very much for your company.  

ALAN TUDGE:

G'day Peter.

PETER VAN ONSELEN:

Pop quiz: what's your favourite Angelina Jolie film, as well as your favourite Brad Pitt film?

ALAN TUDGE:

Ooh, I'd probably have to say Tomb Raider, I reckon.

PETER VAN ONSELEN:

[Talks over] Tomb Raider?

ALAN TUDGE:

I like that film, I liked that film a lot.

PETER VAN ONSELEN:

[Talks over] And what about Brad Pitt? You're avoiding the Brad Pitt- lot of good films there to choose from.

ALAN TUDGE:

[Talks over] Brad Pitt, well … jeez, I …

PETER VAN ONSELEN:

[Talks over] Given politics of recent years, Fight Club?

ALAN TUDGE:

I'm just trying to think, yeah [laughs]. Fight Club, that was a good film, and he's been in a lot of great films over the years, actually. The two of them together were in that one film, what was that called?

PETER VAN ONSELEN:

Mr and Mrs Smith, I believe is what you're searching for.

ALAN TUDGE:

[Talks over] Mr and Mrs Smith! That was a cracker as well. I really enjoyed that one.

PETER VAN ONSELEN: [

Talks over] You reckon? I haven't seen it. It got panned on Rotten Tomatoes.

ALAN TUDGE:

[Talks over] Haven't you?

PETER VAN ONSELEN:

But I'll tell you a really freaky film he was in. It was 12 Monkeys. You wouldn't want to see that again. But I liked Se7en, as much as it was a bit on the gory side of life.

ALAN TUDGE:

[Talks over] I don't know that one. Yeah, I do recall that movie Se7en but it was a bit too gory for me. I'm more into sort of the action and the thriller type of films, and consequently Mr and Mrs Smith I'd rate.

PETER VAN ONSELEN:

[Laughs] You can blame your Media Advisor. She was making a joke to me that I could talk to you about Brad and Angelina …

ALAN TUDGE:

[Talks over] But they've split up now! They've split up now. [Laughs].

PETER VAN ONSELEN:

… I just wanted to make sure I got on topic. Let me ask you about some other things, though. Yesterday, the Social Services Minister Christian Porter gave a speech at the National Press Club, obviously the Q and A that followed, and there's been a fair bit of reporting out of that speech as well. Sounds like he's riding on your coattails a little bit, Alan Tudge. You've been in this space for a lot longer than he has. He's just come swanning in. You've been talking about the cashless welfare card. You've been talking about how to sort of better improve some of these conditions for a long time.

ALAN TUDGE:

I've been involved in this space for a long time, including before I was a Member of Parliament, actually, and- but as has Christian Porter, and he's my Senior Cabinet Minister, and he and I work very closely together on this space, and we've got a big agenda to reform the welfare space, which includes simplification of payments.

It includes the new investments approach, which Christian Porter outlined yesterday. A stronger compliance regime, and fourth is cashless welfare card. And of course, the overall objective of our reforms is to try to reduce the number of people who are dependent on welfare, because as you probably know and as many people know, if you're on welfare for any length of time, it becomes debilitating on the individual.

They tend to lose confidence. They tend to lose capability, and the longer you're on welfare, the steeper the road back to employment is.

PETER VAN ONSELEN:

So what are some of the key initiatives as a way that this can be something other than just a punitive exercise - which is what critics will always call it, I get that - but how do you ensure that that's not what it not only is perceived to be by some vested interests, but it is actually about ensuring that people are getting opportunities to get into work rather than simply being timed out on welfare?

ALAN TUDGE:

Yeah, absolutely. So on the one hand, you've got to create those opportunities. On the other, you've also got to have a reasonable compliance regime for those people who, frankly, don't want to work, and we have to insist that if you do have the capability to work, you should be working for work and taking a job if one is available.

But the first point is absolutely critical, and this goes to our whole mantra of jobs and growth, Peter. Everything that we do as a Government is trying to grow the economy to create more employment opportunities, particularly for young people.

Now, we've already had some success in that. The youth unemployment rate has come down, but clearly we have more work to do and we've got more initiatives to put in place to continue that strong economic growth which we now do have.

PETER VAN ONSELEN:

ACOSS was pretty quick to come out of the blocks and criticise the Government in the context of some of what Christian Porter talked about yesterday. What do you make of their concerns? Do you pay heed to that?

ALAN TUDGE:

Oh listen, I have respect for ACOSS in terms of the compassion which they show to people who are less privileged in our society, but it frustrates me that they don't recognise that welfare dependency can be an equal poison to income poverty, and it also frustrates me that you can't equate welfare payments with a job.

You know, in some places, we could double the size of the welfare payments, but people would still be impoverished. It's actually working and getting a reward for that work and having the dignity associated with work which what provides social uplift for people.

You know, I've done a lot of work in the Indigenous space, Peter, as you probably know, and I know that we could double the payments in some of those Indigenous communities, and frankly it's not going to make a big difference, I don't think, to the prospects of many people's lives.

We've got to ensure that people are- that the communities are stable, people have a good education, and as much as possible, take every job opportunity which is available. That's what our overall objective is in those communities, and indeed, across Australia.

PETER VAN ONSELEN:

What about this idea of tying welfare to school attendance? How would that actually be structured?

ALAN TUDGE:

So this is an idea which Christian Porter floated in his speech yesterday, and he floated it as an idea which we should explore, and I agree with that of course. As you know, in some places we have catastrophic levels of school attendance.

In the Northern Territory, particularly amongst Indigenous kids, only a quarter of kids go to school often enough to learn outside of Darwin. Now, that means if you're not going to school, you're not going to learn, you're going to be on welfare for the better part of your life.

So we trialled something actually up in Cape York which I helped to design, before I was a Member of Parliament, which did link school attendance to welfare payments. That had an impact.

I was up in the East Kimberley just a couple of weeks ago, and I was told of an anecdote by some of the elders up there where they just told people that hey, welfare's going to be linked to school attendance soon, and all of a sudden they saw a spike in school attendance. People started to send their kids to school. When they realised actually, there was no teeth to it, the attendance rate fell. So it seems that it can be a lever for boosting school attendance. Now, I …

PETER VAN ONSELEN:

[Interrupts] Just on that issue, can I just get specific to the Indigenous community? You mentioned this has been a policy space that you've been involved in for a long time, but there wasn't a focus specifically on Indigenous welfare issues in the report. Why's that?

ALAN TUDGE:

Well, these aren't Indigenous-specific issues, and even the work that I've done in the past haven't- in some respects they're not ... they're not Indigenous-specific issues, they're disadvantage issues, and obviously there are levels of disadvantage ...

PETER VAN ONSELEN:

[Talks over] But it strikes me that there aren't job opportunities specifically in Indigenous areas, so this whole raison d'etre that Christian Porter unveiled is about job opportunities being tied to welfare, but when you go Indigenous communities, you just don't have those job opportunities, do you?

ALAN TUDGE:

Well, it depends on where you are, of course. I mean, some of the leaders up in the East Kimberley would say to me that if a person wants a job they can find one, and indeed you go to some regional areas and we can't get people to pick fruit or do some of the basic jobs in abattoirs or the like, and meanwhile we supposedly have high youth unemployment in those regions.

So you know, we've ... at the same time, in some very remote locations, yes you're right Peter, that there's almost no jobs available in those places. That's where I think we need to be encouraging mobility, and it's something that Noel Pearson has been talking about for over a decade now.

His concept of orbiting, that people in those very remote locations should be orbiting out of their community for ... maybe for schooling and indeed for work, and then orbit back on the school holidays or during their vacation so they can maintain their connection to land but still be getting a good education or still be involved in the real economy with a proper job.

Sitting on welfare for anyone, be you Indigenous or non-Indigenous, is not a recipe for a healthy life; indeed it is a recipe for you to lose your capability over time, to lose your confidence and to lose your capacity, and so I think we've got a strong moral obligation here as well as an economic one to do whatever we can to provide those opportunities on the one hand and to insist that people take those opportunities where they've got the capability to do so.

PETER VAN ONSELEN:

Alan Tudge, we always appreciate you finding the time to talk to us on Newsday. Thanks once again.

ALAN TUDGE:

Thanks so much Peter.

PETER VAN ONSELEN:

Cheers.

[END]