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Transcript of interview with Chris Uhlmann: The 7.30 Report: 8 June 2011: Indonesian live export suspension; Indigenous Australians

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Transcript of interview with Chris Uhlmann, The 7.30 Report WED 08 JUNE 2011

Prime Minister

Subject(s): Indonesian live export suspension; Indigenous Australians  

HOST: Julia Gillard, welcome.

PM: Thank you very much Chris.

HOST: There are 82 Indigenous cattle stations across the north of Australia, there are 54 in the Northern Territory, there a 700 Indigenous employees, what’s going to happen to their jobs after today’s decision?

PM: Chris we understood when we took this decision that it was going to have an impact on the industry, but we needed to make the right decision here. I’m sure Australians right round the nation were very shocked to see the footage on Four Corners, I met with industry representatives in Darwin last night and they were shocked. These are the people who raise cattle and they don’t want to see their animals treated like that, so we’re going to go through this process of suspending now so we can get assurance about where Australian cattle end up and how they are ultimately treated. Yes, that does create difficulties for industry including the Indigenous cattle stations you refer to, we understood that and we’ll keep working with industry during this process.

HOST: But what does happen to their jobs, are you going to provide some sort of compensation?

PM: Well Chris different places will have different alternatives, some are entirely reliant on live exports, some are not. We will work through and we will keep consulting with industry. I understood, the Cabinet understood, Minister Ludwig understood, when we took this decision

that it was going to impact on industry but I think too, the industry that raises cattle in this country themselves were saying something needed to be done. The cattle growers I met with in Darwin last night have just been to a big meeting of people who raise cattle across the Northern Territory and the thing that come out of that was their concern about animal

welfare, the animals that they raise.

HOST: I guess the difference is that they want this industry to start again and the people who are pushing you, that’s the RSPCA, Animals Australia, and some of your own backbench

want it to stop forever.

PM: Well we’ve made a very clear decision, this is a suspension and trade will be resumed when we’ve got the supply chain assurance so we know where Australian animals are going and that they are going to be treated in a way that we would believe is appropriate.

HOST: So it will be resumed?

PM: Absolutely, this is a suspension, I mean that in the genuine use of the word suspension.

HOST: You speak a lot about the importance of education and one of your aims is to close the gap on Indigenous education and yet we see school attendance falling across parts of the Northern Territory. Does that disturb you?

PM: Yes of course it disturbs me, there’s only one place for kids to be and that’s in school. We have to have kids in school so that we can improve their reading, their writing, their educational outcomes and consequently their life chances and getting a job. We’re working hard with communities to make a difference, if I can use just one statistic Chris but I think it tells a tale, around 7,000 meals are being prepared and served in schools in the Northern Territory as a result of the intervention - better fed kids, this is a good thing, but there is more to do, more to do to work with communities, more to do to ensure that every child gets a great education.

HOST: But when we look at some other measures like Year 9 reading rates they’ve gone backwards over the course of the last 2 years.

PM: I’m very disturbed to see that Chris but let’s be really, really honest, those kids got let down in kindy, and grade one, and grade two, and that’s why we’re seeing the problems that we’re now seeing in Year 9. Now that’s not to say that we can’ t make a difference for those

children or we should give up but we’ve got to recognise that literacy and numeracy requires us to be working with schools to make a difference so that in kindy you are learning your colours and shapes, and in grade one you are reading and you’re taking that with you into the rest of your education. That’s why we’re very focused on investing more in education, on reforms like transparency so we know where problems are, on quality teaching as well as direct investments into literacy and numeracy.

HOST: One of the things that we’ve heard repeatedly in the Northern Territory is that there are no consequences for your actions if you don’t send your kids to school then welfare payments aren’t stopped and that’s something that you have threatened.

PM: Well we’ve been trialling in a limited number of schools a program where you can ultimately lose your welfare payment, have it suspended, if your child isn’t in school. Now the best way of measuring progress in that program isn’t how many people get their welfare suspended, the program isn’t about suspending welfare, it’s about engaging with families when kids aren’t going to school, holding that out as the ultimate sanction, but through the engagement getting kids back to school. So suspensions happen in a very limted number of circumstances, but more families are engaged through the process. Knowing that’s the ultimate endpoint, if they don’t do the right thing and get their kids back to school.

HOST: If you make a threat you do have to carry through don’t you?

PM: We have suspended welfare payments in a limited number of circumstances and in more cases the engagement has got kids back to school before it’s got to that stage. Now Chris I’m not going to hold that up and say that doesn’t mean anything more needs to be done, a lot more needs to be done, but when Jenny Macklin and I designed that program and decided we would pilot it, it was enormously controversial, many people said ‘how on earth can you contemplate suspending peoples’ welfare payments because their kids aren’t in school?’ and my answer to that as Education Minister then and as Prime Minister now is there’s no excuse for not having your kids in school.

HOST: Is welfare dependency killing Aboriginal Australia?

PM: Of course passive welfare is corrosive, I believe that, you hear me speak frequently Chris about the benefits and dignity of work, about making sure Australians have job opportunities, and the fact that being on passive welfare can lead to a corrosive aimlessness in life - we want Indigenous Australians to have the benefit of work. We understand that means we’ve got to do things like see the groundbreaking agreement we’ve seen here in Gove today, one of our mining giants working with Indigenous communities to create job opportunities. That we’ve got to get the education and training system right so kids read and write and go onto further training and get a job.

HOST: Yet if you travel to places like Alice Springs you see Sudanese refugees in jobs, you see backpackers in jobs and you rarely see Aboriginal Australians in those jobs, why is that?

PM: Well I couldn’t agree with you more and I was in Alice Springs yesterday, met with the Chamber of Commerce and they were keen to tell me ‘we can’t fill the jobs we’ve got, we need more skilled labour, we need more migrants, we need more people to come here’ and then of course I met with Indigenous Australians who don’t have work and need work. We can do better than this Chris, we absolutely can. So when I talk about opportunity and responsibility I’m really talking about putting those two circumstances together; there are opportunities for jobs, we need people to step up and take the opportunity and take the responsibility that goes with it. We need to be there working genuinely, with respect, providing the training, providing the support, to help people get it done.

HOST: There are more alcohol restrictions in the Northern Territory than any other part of Australia, do you think that more needs to be done?

PM: I’m open to hearing what more should be done. We have, through the intervention, done things like funded the taking out of three takeaway alcohol places in Alice Springs, so we’ve done things like funded support programs for people who drink and abuse alcohol. I’ve heard from traditional owners myself on this trip their concerns about communities awash with alcohol.

I’ve obviously spoken to the Chief Minister here in the Northern Territory who is going to roll-out the toughest alcohol laws this nation’s ever seen, but I am all ears about what more needs to be done and I’ll only be bringing one decision making prism to it: what works.

HOST: Finally on Gove you witness an historic agreement here today. Are Aboriginal Australia’s getting enough of Australia’s mineral wealth?

PM: I think what’s happened today is a great example and we need to see more of it, this is a unique time in our economic history where we can see now the sorts of partnerships we’ve seen today between a mining giant and an Indigenous community, hungry for jobs, hungry to change. We are going to be in a phase of rapid expansion in our mining industry. One of the lessons that we’ve got to learn from today in Gove is let’s make that count for Indigenous Australia the way we want it to count for Australia generally.

HOST: Prime Minister thank you.

PM: Thank you very much Chris.