Radio interview with Stewart Brash, ABC Alice Springs

August 9, 2018
Transcripts

E&OE…

STEWART BRASH:

The PM, at the invitation of the CLP candidate for Lingiari, Jacinta Price, has made it to Alice Springs and we should say a very good morning, Prime Minister.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thank you very much, it’s great to be here with Jacinta.

STEWART BRASH:

Now the reason, is this purely on the back of the Tennant Creek trip that you decided you’d come down to Alice and see what conditions are like here?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it’s a big country and it’s my job as Prime Minister to get around every part of Australia that I can. So we’ve got a very big programme today, we’re going to a preschool Jacinta, aren’t we, Braitling Preschool.

STEWART BRASH:

Sorry Ill just turn that microphone on.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, I’m just here with Jacinta Price sitting next to me and we’re going to Braitling Preschool, we’re going to see how the Connected Beginnings programme is going which is an important part of our commitment to ensure that every Australian child has a great education and gets that education from the earliest stages. So that’s important. We’re also meeting with elected officials, meeting with the Council, we’re having community roundtables on drug and alcohol issues. So, meeting with a lot of people.

STEWART BRASH:

Are you meeting with Dale Wakefield, the Member for Braitling, the local Minister in the Northern Territory Government? Are you meeting Territory Government officials, actual members?

PRIME MINISTER:

Have we got them on the list today Jacinta?

MS JACINTA PRICE, COUNTRY LIBERAL PARTY CANDIDATE FOR LINGIARI:

We’ve got, basically meetings with a lot of grassroots people.

STEWART BRASH:

With that in mind, we were…

PRIME MINISTER:

We’re meeting with the Mayor, we’re meeting with the Mayor and the Council, but I haven’t got any of the NT officials.

STEWART BRASH:

Now you met with all three levels of government when you were in Tennant Creek, is that a bit of a miss, given that of course the Territory Government has carriage of so many of the issues you’ll be dealing with or talking about today? I also wonder are you meeting with any of the actual organisations, I’m thinking of Tangentyere Council, Aboriginal Congress, the Central Land Council? Some of the key players in this part of town.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yeah we’ll be meeting with a number of those people. In fact I was talking to the general manager of the Central Land Council already in fact. One of the issues that was raised by one of the people we had dinner with last night about a pastoral lease, issues with the rent that he was being offered by the Central Land Council, he raised with me. I took a lot of notes and I was able to take it up with the general manager of the Central Land Council this morning in less that 12 hours.

STEWART BRASH:

Do you mean David Ross, the Director of the Land Council?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, I mean Nigel Graves.

STEWART BRASH:

Nigel Graves, he’s the business manager.

PRIME MINISTER:

That’s right.

STEWART BRASH:

With that in mind, I mean the Tangentyere Women’s Safety Group came to Canberra earlier this year and they hoped to meet you. They didn’t get to meet you, would it be a great idea for you to meet them today? Is there any opportunity for that?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, Jacinta if you can make them available, I’m here.

JACINTA PRICE:

I can certainly make them available. Happy to host them at the Town Council today, that’d be great if they could come along. I’ve been able to ensure there are a lot of community members that don’t necessarily have the opportunity to have a voice to be able to speak directly to the PM.

STEWART BRASH:

What sort of people are we talking about?

PRIME MINISTER:

We’ve got the Central Australian Women’s Legal Service, we met with some of them last night as well, we’re meeting them today. The Alice Springs Regional Economic Development Committee, the Right Tracks program.

STEWART BRASH:

The red tails? Yep.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yeah the red tails, we’re meeting with them and we’re getting around and meeting as many people as I can.

STEWART BRASH:

There are very big players in this town and I do refer to Tangentyere Congress and you’ve mentioned the business manager at CLC already. But would it not be, as part of such a trip, to get a sense of what is going on, to speak directly to those large organisations who have massive budgets, massive responsibilities in delivering service in this town?

PRIME MINISTER:

I tell you what, I tell you what, you’re obviously keen to find fault with my particular Alice Springs.

STEWART BRASH:

No. I’m just trying to find out whose been spoken to and who has not.

PRIME MINISTER:

Why don’t you suggest to me, you get people who call in. I tell you where we’ll be.

STEWART BRASH:

Maybe Jacinta knows.

PRIME MINISTER:

No, no, we’ve got roundtables at 12 o’clock, talking about drug and alcohol services. We’re meeting with the Child Abuse Taskforce. We’re meeting with the Safe for Kids programme. We’re meeting with officers from the Drug and Alcohol Service Australia. Now, if there are other people that would like to meet with me while I’m here, I’m very happy to do so. 

STEWART BRASH:

No, I’m not looking for fault, I’m just looking for who you are speaking to. Now one of the questions which has been raised is we’ve seen a Regional Deal for Tennant Creek, which is going to coordinate services across the three levels of government. Is there any thought for doing a similar project, to have a regional deal for Alice Springs and for Central Australia? Given, and you’ll discover through the day, we don’t, the differences between Tennant Creek aren’t that great. There are issues which both our towns face in terms of welfare dependency, in terms of crime, in terms of alcohol dependency. Is that something which is on the table?

PRIME MINISTER:

It’s certainly potentially on the table, though it’s not one that’s being worked on at the moment. This is one of the issues we’ll be talking about, I met with the Mayor and Deputy Mayor last night, we’re having a formal meeting today. Obviously, Jacinta and her colleagues on the Council will have a view on that. We are very happy, as far as I’m concerned, ideally in every region of Australia - obviously you can’t snap your fingers and do this all at once – but in every region, in every city, you would have a Regional Deal or  City Deal, where you had the federal government, the state government and the local government working together. So, that is the goal. This is an initiative of mine, this is the first times it’s happened. It wasn’t something that had been initiated by anybody else, so we’ve got it going now in Townsville and Launceston. We’ve got deals underway in Geelong and Western Sydney and we have a number of regional deals.

STEWART BRASH:

But it’s not on the table as yet, it’s only a possibility.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well you’re the first person to propose it.

STEWART BRASH:

Oh, look, I’m glad I’ve done that.

PRIME MINISTER:

Perhaps the ABC could be part of it.

STEWART BRASH:

Yes.

PRIME MINISTER:

No, I’m serious. You know, if you want to take a leading role in it, maybe you could step up and be a positive force for engagement.

STEWART BRASH:

Well the media plays its role in all these debates and obviously in reporting them, that is the role of the ABC.

PRIME MINISTER:

That’s right. It hasn’t been proposed but I could see it would be. If you look at the Northern Territory, you’ve got the Tennant Creek Barkly Shire area, you’ve got Alice Springs, central Australia, you’ve got Katherine and then you’ve got of course Darwin and Arnhem Land. All of these areas potentially could have regional deals. That is what I’d like to achieve, but you’ve got to find, you’ve got to have the time and I suppose, the human bandwidth you know, the officials that have got the time to put it all together. But it is basically a matter of getting people to work together.

STEWART BRASH:

Now when Jacinta Price became the candidate for Lingiari, Jacinta raised, one of the issues she was interested in was review of the Land Rights Act. It goes back to 1976, it was brought in by Malcolm Fraser’s government. Is it time in your opinion – I’m sure people have spoken to you about the review of the Land Rights Act, especially Jacinta could talk to this – but the idea that at the moment, a lot of royalty distributions go directly to families and individuals and you see often, large wads of money hitting people’s pay packets, hitting their accounts which leads to a cycle of dependence? I’m sure Jacinta would say more about that, but do you think it’s time to talk about reviewing and revising the Land Rights Act after so many decades?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I’ll be guided by Jacinta’s views on this, I mean a common view I hear talking to First Australians, Indigenous Australians, is that the economic benefits from getting land back – you know, what the gentleman we were talking to last night was making this very point – have not flowed. He made the point; “We got our land back in 79, but the economic benefits we’ve not been able to obtain.”

STEWART BRASH:

No because inalienable freehold land is very hard, you’re going to get 99 year leases on it but there have been difficulties in people getting economic development on that land.

PRIME MINISTER:

So the bottom line is, what are we seeking to achieve? Our goal is for economic advancement, economic empowerment. We want Aboriginal Australians and Torres Strait Islander Australians to have every economic opportunity they possibly can, right? So if there are elements in the Land Rights legislation which inhibit that and Aboriginal people want to have that changed and that can be done in a way that would give them greater opportunity for advancement, well obviously that can be looked at.

STEWART BRASH:

And channelling money away from individuals and family groups into, say, community development? Which the CLC already does, but I’m just wondering if you see in principle the fact that money should be maybe channelled into maybe greater community good, rather than individuals pockets?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well again, these are issues that can no doubt be reviewed. You’ve obviously got very strong views on that and you’d like me to agree with them.

STEWART BRASH:

No, I just wanted to see if this is an issue which has come across your table?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it is certainly. The, if you like, dissatisfaction with the Land Rights legislation is something that I have heard in many parts of Australia. It generally relates to that point I mentioned earlier, that many people feel that they’ve got the land rights, but the economic benefits from the land are not being derived.

STEWART BRASH:

Prime Minister, now we've talked, spoken a lot about the Royal Commission and youth justice in recent in recent months. Now you said you do not see the role of the Federal Government to put money into implementing the findings of the Royal Commission. I know the Territory Government is saying they’re going to spent $229 million dollars over five years. We know that the Alice Springs youth detention facility is not fit for purpose. We've had a string of escapes from it.

Is it time to think about helping the Northern Territory Government bankroll the findings from the Royal Commission?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well the Northern Territory receives an enormous amount of federal funding.

STEWART BRASH:

Eighty per cent of it’s funds come from the Federal Government.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes and child protection is a core responsibility of state and territory governments. So, this is an obligation of the Territory Government, to meet its commitments and obligations, just like it does in every other way.

STEWART BRASH:

So is the Territory Government in your mind, just not spending its money wisely?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes. Look, let me cut to the chase, let me refer to the Royal Commission. The Royal Commission made it very clear that money was not the problem. It just wasn't being spent properly. The Royal Commission made it very clear. You know this, I’m sure you've read the report many times. It made it very clear that there is plenty of money available, but it was not being spent properly, and there have been issues in terms of child protection services. Look, after the events, the tragic events in Tennant Creek, I spoke to Michael Gunner immediately after that. He made the point that there had been failures in the child protection system there and the problems were that they did not have sufficiently senior people, experienced people in the child protection area, making the decisions at the time they should. These were some of the issues we talked about at great length, with many people in Tennant Creek recently.

STEWART BRASH:

You’re being consistent with your line on the Royal Commission. But isn't it interesting…

PRIME MINISTER:

It’s not a line actually, that's what the Royal Commission said.

STEWART BRASH:

Well, it is.

PRIME MINISTER:

You agree it’s what the Royal Commission said?

STEWART BRASH:

Yes, but I’m trying to get to the point.

PRIME MINISTER:

So it’s not my line. It’s what the Royal Commission said.

STEWART BRASH:

You've said $54 million dollars plus was spent on the Royal Commission, that was shared between the Commonwealth and the Territory government. So the Commonwealth, you were happy to call the Royal Commission, but not happy to fund any of the implementation of the Royal Commission. Regardless of what you've just said, given the Territory government's problems, they seem to be having financially, massive debt which is building, would you not see as incumbent upon the Federal government to try and assist in implementing these things?

PRIME MINISTER:

This is a core responsibility of the Northern Territory Government. It receives enormous funding from Canberra and increased funding. Most recently, the remote housing agreement.

So, the money is there. The Royal Commission actually found the money was there. That was their conclusion, that the money was there and what the Northern Territory Government had to do, was make sure that they spent it prudently and efficiently and effectively.

STEWART BRASH:

So there will be no phone call to Michael Gunner saying: “Here's some money,” or for Dale Wakefield to say we're going to help fund the Alice Springs youth detention facility or a new Don Dale?  In hindsight with all this money spent on a Royal Commission, do you still, do you regret calling that Royal commission the day after the Four Corners program? Do you think it was a mistake, given we've you know we've spent all this money on lawyers, but the Federal government not paying any more money in relation to actually implementing it? Was it a mistake, the Royal Commission?

PRIME MINISTER:

No. In fact it was a decision of both the Federal Government and the Northern Territory Government to call the Royal Commission. It was a simultaneously a Federal and Territory inquiry.

STEWART BRASH:

Under the intervention, now 11 years ago, since the NT intervention - again you may not be aware of this but Jacinta will be aware of this - the Federal government, one of the great things many people say, out bush, was paid for police officers and police stations to be built out in bush communities, which had never had those police officers before. We saw a drop in alcohol related crime, in sly grogging. In the last 18 months, the Northern Territory Government has pulled those police officers back to major centres. It’s policy or the remote policing policy. Nigel Scullion said he wanted an audit of those police resources. I've as yet not seen that or heard about what has happened, but in principle what would you say to the Northern Territory Police Minister using federal funds for those police? What they should do with those funds when it comes to remote policing, if it's proven that in fact, crime and disorder is increased since they've changed their policy?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, you're asserting that crime and disorder is increased.

STEWART BRASH:

Jacinta, would you agree? That since the new remote policing policy has gone into place, that we have seen?  I mean I've heard about Willowra and many other centres

JACINTA PRICE:

I would have to say that crime has increased in more recent times yes, whether it's related directly to that I can't determine. But certainly crime has increased.

STEWART BRASH:

I know and I've asked Nigel Scullion, we've tried to get Nigel to come speak to us about that. But I just think in principle, if a policy of the Federal government, that is to fund these police stations and police officers, would not be a good idea to direct the monies you have control over and say to the Territory Government, as you've said with the Royal Commission, say: “Spend the money where it should go”?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, maintaining law and order is the absolutely core responsibility of territory and state governments. So, we're always happy to discuss that with the Chief Minister. I'll be looking forward to hearing from the community here.

I mean the object of this visit is to listen. Part of my job as Prime Minister is to get around the country and listen to people and get their views and their insights. We'll be talking about drug and alcohol issues today, so it'll be interesting to hear whether the very strong opinions you've expressed to me now.

STEWART BRASH:

No, they’re just observations about 23 years living here.

PRIME MINISTER:

No, no I’m not criticising. That’s what I’m saying. You've lived here for 23 years and you've got very strong views and you've also got a microphone. But there are a lot of people that don't and so my job is to get out into the community and listen to the people that don't have microphones and megaphones and make sure that I get as many views expressed as possible.

I go around with my iPad and my iPhone, I take lots of notes and that's how I'm able to do my job as Prime Minister. But often in the media you get people with very strong opinions who feel they really have the answers, like yourself.

STEWART BRASH:

I don’t think I have answers, I’ve got questions.

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, I'm not criticising. I just, we've got to approach this issue with a degree of humility and you know, it's really important for me to listen not just to people with microphones, but also to the people who don't have them. I listened very carefully in Tennant Creek and I'll be listening very carefully in Alice Springs.

Jacinta was with me last night, you know one person after another sat down with me and we listened carefully, I took notes, I've raised issues. That's how I operate. My job in this very big country to get around as much of it as I can and make sure that I hear every voice, not just the loudest ones.

STEWART BRASH:

With that in mind I mean obviously what you will hear is frustration by business owners about levels of youth crime in the town of Alice Springs, welfare dependency, child protection. All these issues which we have been living with for decades. I think there's a cynicism.

PRIME MINISTER:

Do you think business is doing well in Alice Springs?

STEWART BRASH:

I think business is stagnant at the moment.

PRIME MINISTER:

All the business people told me last night that it was going really well.

STEWART BRASH:

Were they tourist operators?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, they were a range of people weren’t they, Jacinta? A range of businesses, contractors.

STEWART BRASH:

We often hear often hear from people who say…

PRIME MINISTER:

I'm just I'm just telling you, I’m just saying we had a discussion with the Mayor, the Deputy Mayor, a bunch of businesspeople, they said things were going pretty well.

JACINTA PRICE:

As far as I'm aware, also in terms of the size, for the size of the community.

PRIME MINISTER:

Retail is battling a bit, they said.

JACINTA PRICE:

There’s about 5,000 registered ABN holders in Alice Springs alone.

STEWART BRASH:

But look at the retail. That's the key thing, you look at the health of the CBD of our town and there is maybe up to 30 empty spaces. We're not alone in regional Australia in having those problems, undoubtedly.

PRIME MINISTER:

Retail has a big problem everywhere, because of online shopping basically.

STEWART BRASH:

Absolutely.

PRIME MINISTER:

As someone was saying to me this morning, people are buying things in boxes rather than at the shops.

STEWART BRASH:

You look at the Australia Post parcel hatch, it’s very, very busy.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yeah but these are issues everywhere. But how many people were we with last night?

JACINTA PRICE:

Twenty five people.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yeah, probably at least, maybe a bit more. I would say that the feedback was positive, but look again, you’ve got to listen to a lot of people.

STEWART BRASH:

But the problem would be that the town is stagnant in terms of population growth.

PRIME MINISTER:

Do you do talkback here? Why don’t you open the lines?

STEWART BRASH:

Yeah but we’re not on air at the moment, we’re prerecording Prime Minister.

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh okay.

STEWART BRASH:

On that note, I go back to that issue of crime.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yep.

STEWART BRASH:

I guess the major concern you'll find from people is a concern about safety, community safety and crime in the CBD and people are not going into the CBD. Now you've made a very fine point that it is a police issue, which is a matter for the Northern Territory Government. But there are there are levers which the Commonwealth can pull and push.

Where do you see the role of the Commonwealth, of the Federal government in terms of trying to make a difference in that sort of space?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, community policing is a matter for state and territory government, right?

STEWART BRASH:

I know I’m just trying to think, what do you think might be of assistance?

PRIME MINISTER:

We provide funding for example for CCTV in different communities and parts of the country. But we have to recognise that community policing of the kind we're talking about, is absolutely the responsibility of state and territory governments.

STEWART BRASH:

So if and when business owners come up and say we'd love you to be able to do something in that space, what would you say to them?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I’ll see what they have to say. That wasn't what they were raising with me last night, but I’ll look forward to it.

STEWART BRASH:

What was the major issue which people wanted to talk about?

PRIME MINISTER:

We talked about many different things, different issues. Investment in infrastructure, tourism, the way in which the development of the airport at Uluru has reduced tourism traffic through Alice Springs. We had a lot of discussion about that.

STEWART BRASH:

The National Indigenous Art Gallery? Did anyone mention that.

PRIME MINISTER:

No, not that I recall.

STEWART BRASH:

We were hoping you would be bringing a large cheque to help pay for the Northern Territory share of the National Indigenous Art Gallery, because I don't know if you're aware, there's a big ticket item which the NT Government said, they put $50 million into it. They're looking for another $100 million to make it fly. They have said there'll be seeking Commonwealth funds. Jacinta, are you aware of if there's even been an application from the Northern Territory Government to the Commonwealth to actually get any money?

JACINTA PRICE:

I'm not sure. The NTG haven't revealed whether that's the case or not. Of course a major issue is currently the location and ensuring that the community is on board, before those steps can be taken.

STEWART BRASH:

We're still waiting for that. I know you were in Tennant Creek Prime Minister and one issue which I know was raised with you was the Tennant Creek weather radar. Now this might seem like small beer, but I think that you were made aware of the fact that in Tennant Creek, they have no access to see where rainfall and storms are? If they're working out bush, they don't know if and how they can get out bush, depending on that. The feedback from us was that you heard the information and you were you were concerned about it? I’m not sure if I’m reminding you of a conversation you had a few weeks ago? Is that something you’re looking to push forward?

PRIME MINISTER:

We took all that on board and we're discussing that with the Bureau of Meteorology and the Minister. So I heard that, what you said is not quite right, I mean there are other services available, satellite services, but obviously…

STEWART BRASH:

It's very hard to load some of that online, if you are out bush, that’s the problem I understand.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well we had a very extensive discussion about that and all of the issues associated with wanting to have the radar station reinstated. So we had a good discussion with Michael Gunner and others about it.

STEWART BRASH:

I'll let you go after this last fight. There is a vote in the Senate coming up to give the territories back the right to enact voluntary euthanasia legislation. Senator David Leyonhjelm claims that he has a promise from you that you'll allow that to go into the Lower House. Now, what's the situation there? If it does get through the Senate, will it go into the Lower House?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well that's all a matter that will be considered, but just want to be very clear. That statement of Senator Leyonhjelm was not correct, we don't.

STEWART BRASH:

No promise?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, I'll be very clear, David Leyonhjelm asked me if the Government would vote to enable a vote to be held on this question in the Senate and we did not do that. Actually, the vote to bring it on to the notice paper, as it were, was carried despite opposition from Government members. It is however a conscience vote. So we'll see what happens, whether it's passed by the Senate or not, but it is a conscience vote in the sense that members of the Government, of the Coalition, whether they’re Ministers or not, are able to vote in accordance with their conscience.

STEWART BRASH:

So there will be a conscience vote in the Lower House?

PRIME MINISTER:

Now there'll be a conscience vote in the Senate, but whether it comes on for a vote in the Lower House is a matter that we'll have to consider.

STEWART BRASH:

Your personal view?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it’s a matter the Government will consider.

STEWART BRASH:

Do you support voluntary euthanasia for the Northern Territory, to have its powers back?

PRIME MINISTER:

If the vote came on, if I was a Senator, I would be voting against it.

STEWART BRASH:

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, thank you so much.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thank you.

[ENDS]

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