Release type: Transcript


Interview — Sky News Afternoon Agenda


The Hon Brendan O'Connor MP
Minister for Skills and Training


SUBJECTS: Alice Springs, Indigenous Voice to Parliament, Fee-Free TAFE
KIERAN GILBERT, HOST: Welcome back to the Program, a short time ago I spoke to the Skills Minister Brendan O’Connor. I began by asking for his reaction to the crime and violence we’ve been witnessing in Alice Springs.
BRENDAN O’CONNOR, MINISTER FOR SKILLS AND TRAINING: Well, it's really disappointing. It must be very disturbing for the residents of Alice Springs, and of course, we need to make sure we assist the community in any way we can. I know we've got support; we're dedicating some expenditure to provide support. But it's something that is of concern to the Northern Territory Government, to the community of Alice Springs and to the Federal Government. And you know, we need to see what we can do to mitigate the problems that are happening there. And we need to engage with the community to ensure we can improve what's happening on the ground. 
GILBERT: The Prime Minister is travelling to Alice, he's been there today, and he's going to meet with the locals, so pretty much as we speak, how important is it for him to do that?
O’CONNOR: Well look, this as I understand, it was a meeting that was scheduled in December, which he had to postpone because of contracting COVID. So, he's keen to go today with I think, the Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Linda Burney. And I think that just shows the leadership of a Prime Minister who wants to ensure that the community in Alice Springs is being supported, both at a territory level and a federal level, and speak firsthand to the people about those issues, and really listen to the community about what they believe is required to see an end to this quite disturbing behaviour.
GILBERT: I know, that it’s hard for you to know the ins and outs of all of that, but the alcohol ban that was in place as part of the stronger futures legislation that lapsed last year, should that ban be reinstated?
O’CONNOR: Look, I'm not aware of the detail and I think the engagement of the committee is critical. I think we have to be careful about trying to draw a nexus between one decision and another without a full examination of what's happened. The fact is that the issues that we're confronting in Alice Springs are not new, and I think therefore the previous federal government, and indeed the Opposition Leader Peter Dutton, should be mindful that, you know, it was only seven or eight months ago when they are in office, some of the issues in Alice Springs are systemic. And I think we need to be willing to look at how do we close the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people to prevent things like this happening. I think we need preferably a bipartisan approach, rather than playing politics with the lives of people in Alice Springs.
GILBERT: I've spoken to health officials on the ground in Alice Springs. One in particular, her home was broken into last night. She was at home by herself with her dog and people ransacked her home as she was home. She has called for the ban to be put back in place, the NT Government at times have suggested this is a racist policy, the alcohol ban. But sometimes doesn't there have to be positive discrimination?
O’CONNOR: Well, I'm not sure how it was applied originally. That's certainly, I think governments always have to listen to the community. I mean, I'm very sympathetic, it must have been a very frightening experience for her to be confronted with people ransacking her home and we need to work out the best ways to prevent that from happening. We need not only a law enforcement response, we need to look at the social issues, the alienation, the sort of disenfranchising of people in communities that lead to people taking the wrong paths. And therefore, I believe that it's most likely, if it's like any other communities, suffering similar instances, that these issues are across the board, that you need to look across government to tackle this issue, not just as one specific response. I think there'll be a myriad of things that will be required.
GILBERT: Does this current crisis pose a threat to the Voice to Parliament? Because Marion Scrymgour, I know that you know well, Member for Lingiari, a Labor MP yesterday, she said, I think the Voice couldn't be further from people's view up here, because people are under siege in their own home. I know she supports the Voice. But she's saying, it's just not the top priority for people who are worried about their own safety.
O’CONNOR: In the context of how she's explained that, I understand that. Of course, as an individual if you've gone through a particular experience, that's so confronting, of course your immediate concern is about the welfare of your family, yourself and your home. But I think it's fair to say, to be frank, I think it's fair to say that the Voice is required more now than ever, because we've had decades and decades of failure when it comes to public policy in response to Indigenous matters for First Nations people. And I think that giving recognition in the constitution to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, allowing them to have a say, not a decision making capacity, but to talk to Parliament and talk to government about policies and programmes that will assist their communities, I think it's something we need to embrace, and we want to see the Opposition Leader Peter Dutton, consider this as a priority too. Because we should be doing this together. It's not like we can talk about decades of success, the gap is not closing sufficiently, whether it's infant mortality, whether it's educational attainment, whether it's life expectancy, the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, Kieran, is why...  
GILBERT: But do you accept you could lose people over this? Because I guess if the, you know, the argument being made by Peter Dutton and others, many others, is that if you can't show the real world benefit of the Voice, what's the point? 
O’CONNOR: Well, I think the benefit will be listening to Indigenous people talking directly. Firstly, recognising Indigenous people in our Constitution, which is overdue, and then allowing them a Voice to talk to Parliament about how things could help them, how best to be able to help them. Let's be very clear, there's no veto capacity by the Voice, it doesn't make the decisions. But it is surely, if nothing else, courteous and respectful to Indigenous people to provide them a mechanism. And it's beyond overdue that they have not been expressly recognised in our Constitution. And I would say this Kieran, I think finding innovative ways, new ways to empower Indigenous people to at least talk to Parliament about the issues that are so important to them, is something that we should be doing. Because everything we've tried to date has not closed the gap sufficiently.
GILBERT: You are the Minister for Skills and Training, and I did want to get you on to talk about the TAFE opportunities, on a brighter note, if we can finish on that. There is the free TAFE opportunity for those wanting to study, are those opportunities being taken up, as I believe term one is about to kick off? 
O’CONNOR: So, look, 180,000 fee-free TAFE and VET places generally, in areas of skill shortage. Now, we work with the state and territory governments that provide those opportunities. From what I understand there's been a very significant interest in those positions, particularly because they're in areas of acute shortage, which means there'll be in the skills that are in demand. And the fact that we're able to provide them without having to pay the fees will also encourage people to go into these areas. And if they want to, you know, acquire skills that are in demand, they'll find they'll have more secure employment, better career progression and for businesses across the country, they'll find the skills that they need over the medium and long term.
GILBERT: Brendan O'Connor, appreciate your time as always. Thanks. 
O’CONNOR: Thanks Kieran.