Protests, Indigenous history, racism
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Health authorities are warning that protests planned for tomorrow and over the weekend present a real risk of further coronavirus outbreaks. A man who attended the protest in Melbourne at the weekend has tested positive for the virus and Victoria's Chief Health Officer says it's likely he was infectious at the time. Prime Minister Scott Morrison says demonstrators who breach public health orders should be charged.
Alan Tudge is the Acting Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs and he joins us tonight. Alan Tudge, welcome.
ALAN TUDGE: G'day Patricia.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Do you think people who attend protests in violation of public health orders should face charges?
ALAN TUDGE: Well I think if people who are breaching restrictions elsewhere are being charged then they should equally be charged if they're breaching restrictions by attending a protest. I think it's as simple as that. We've got to be consistent here. I mean, we know that there's sometimes been police who have gone and moved people on from piers or parks or charged people for being out on a boat. I think we just need consistency. That has to be the broad principle. And I think that's what the public generally want is consistency here.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: And then there's pragmatism too. Would you support police conducting mass arrests at protests?
ALAN TUDGE: Well I just hope the protest doesn't go ahead. That's my hope. Because all of the health advice is for it not to go ahead because of the risks of infections breaking out and that's still our strong view.
You've got to back the experts here and the experts are saying don't do this because it may lead to infections breaking out. We've made such good progress to date. Everybody has had to make sacrifices to get to where we've got to. I mean particularly those people who - and the Prime Minister said this quite frequently - couldn't go to a funeral of a loved one because of the social restrictions. They've made sacrifices. Others made sacrifices for not having Anzac Day ceremonies and having to do it in a different way.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Sure, but isn't it up to the police to decide who to charge not politicians to tell them who to charge?
ALAN TUDGE: Well, of course, at the end of the day the police have to make their decisions. But I think the public is wanting consistency in the application of the rules.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: There's no evidence of community transmission in WA and the NT. Does that suggest that there's a minimal risk of protests there spreading the virus?
ALAN TUDGE: I mean we can just be guided by what the health experts are telling us. That's what's guided us all the way along during this pandemic. And it's why Australia is in such a successful position now compared to other countries. And so we want to continue to be guided by that health advice and that health advice is very clear. “Don't go to mass gatherings" - that's what it is.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: The PM said some other things though today so I suppose that this makes the story a little more complex. He said earlier today there was no slavery in Australia but there's documented examples of black birding and Indigenous forced labour. Do you consider that to be slavery?
ALAN TUDGE: I mean it depends on whether you're using technical terms or generic terms.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Well people not paid for their labour.
ALAN TUDGE: I think what the Prime Minister was saying and I'm sure that you're aware of this PK, is that he was talking about the reference to Captain Cook and the statue being pulled down. He was making the reference that Captain Cook was actually one of the more enlightened people in the world at the time because he was determined that any new colony, as they called it at the time, would be free of slavery when slavery was still widespread across the world. And Arthur Phillip had the same view, that any new settlements would be slave free. And so that was the history of Captain Cook and I think of Arthur Phillip also. That needs to be taken into account when people are talking about pulling down statues of Captain Cook.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: But you talk about technicalities. There was slavery in Australia wasn't there?
ALAN TUDGE: I think you're pulling this out of a point which the Prime Minister was making…
PATRICIA KARVELAS: [Talks over] No I'm just asking - let's park the Prime Minister's comments. Let's just establish whether it happened.
ALAN TUDGE: No but this is where it comes from PK. You know what the Prime Minister was saying and I think all journalists that were listening to the Prime Minister knew exactly what he was saying. He was making a reference to Captain Cook being an enlightened individual for the time which he was.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Okay. But the broader issue of whether we had slavery in Australia, we did didn't we?
ALAN TUDGE: Again it depends on what your definition is. I mean we…
PATRICIA KARVELAS: [Talks over] Well I said, I mean I gave you two examples with respect.
ALAN TUDGE: We didn't have…
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Blackbirding, Indigenous forced labour, we did.
ALAN TUDGE: There was certainly some atrocious things which went on in Australia. That is for sure and we acknowledge those and we do so on a very regular basis every single year. We do so formally through Sorry Day. We do so through statements on Closing the Gap.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: That's gone on the stolen generations absolutely, but this around….
ALAN TUDGE: [Talks over] I think more generally Australia now acknowledges some of the poor practices of the past. I think we do. I think we do that very well.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: We clearly need to do it more though because blackbirding and Indigenous forced labour is slavery isn't it?
ALAN TUDGE: I'm just not going to get into this, Patricia. I think we weren't a country like others in terms of having slavery like other countries had slavery. I think that's the point- I think that's what the Prime Minister was trying to say.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: [Talks over] You can say we didn't have the same slavery as the United States. I'm not like, going to his quote and - I'm actually just asking you fresh, not quoting him, just about this. Because you know that one of the issues in the Uluru Statement is about truth telling and having a really frank conversation about the stuff that's happened in our country. People want a frank conversation.
ALAN TUDGE: I think that's absolutely right.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Right. They just want a frank conversation. Just say the truth. There are facts. Blackbirding, Indigenous forced labour, you might not say it's the same as what happened in the United States, that's not the question. The question is this was what happened in Australia wasn't it?
ALAN TUDGE: There were certainly atrocious practices in Australia. There were many Aboriginal people who were treated very, very poorly, Patricia. I mean I'd know this - you know me I've worked in the Indigenous space, I gave up a corporate career to go and work with Noel Pearson in Cape York for several years before entering Parliament, working on some of the toughest, the most intractable issues of Indigenous disadvantage. I know these issues, I know the history and I think you're right, we do need to have honest conversations in relation to this.
I would like to see generally more sophisticated discussions in relation to Indigenous disadvantage today because it's not just about the commitment of politicians. If that's what it was only about we would have solved the problems because the Federal Cabinet I can tell you is 100 per cent committed to addressing Indigenous disadvantage. I'm sure that every single other state and territory cabinet is also. If money was the problem we would have solved the issues by now, Patricia.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: That's right. But part of it - it costs nothing to say, yes slavery happened in Australia. It wasn't what happened in the United States. Something else happened. It was slavery and it was wrong.
ALAN TUDGE: I'm just not going to get into these terms.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Okay. So let me ask this question. Why is the language so scary?
ALAN TUDGE: I'm just acknowledging very clearly…very clearly, very frankly, that appalling practices occurred in the past, which I think is-
PATRICIA KARVELAS: [Interrupts] So, why is the S word so scary to mouth?
ALAN TUDGE: I think you're just pressing it here, and in part because you know how the media works. And-
PATRICIA KARVELAS: [Interrupts] Well, I am the media, so I do know how it works.
ALAN TUDGE: [Talks over] Yeah, correct, but you also know how it works Patricia.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: [Talks over] I am the media - well, I'm asking questions because Indigenous historians, others, say it did happen. I'm not a historian, you know that.
ALAN TUDGE: Sure, and I'll let them make their point. You're pulling out this particular individual word because of what the Prime Minister said today, and the context of what the Prime Minister was saying was in relation to Captain Cook.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: The Coalition, Labor and the Greens teamed up in the Senate today to stop One Nation leader Pauline Hanson from bringing on her motion that said All Lives Matter. Why did you decide to do that?
ALAN TUDGE: There are motions which are put forward in the senate every single day on all sorts of topics. I personally wasn't even aware that this motion was going up in the Senate, let alone how we voted on it in the Senate. I'm a Member of the House of Representatives, as you know. And I think it was probably because we didn't want to give it further oxygen on this particular point.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Why do you think it's not worthy of further oxygen though?
ALAN TUDGE: I didn't make the call on this, Patricia. I think that we need to have mature, honest conversations about the issues in Australia. And particularly in relation to Indigenous disadvantage. I mean, you've been covering this, I know, for a decade or more, and I've been involved in this space for almost a couple of decades. We know the issues are very complex in relation to Indigenous disadvantage. I mean, we know that as Noel Pearson sort of says, that the great almost irony, if not tragedy, is that while we've got rid of, over time, over the last 30 or 40 years, got rid of formal discrimination, we've put more and more money into Indigenous affairs, but at the same time, the social conditions have deteriorated. So, it's a really complex problem. We know the alcohol issues, which ravage so many remote communities, and they're very difficult to address, those alcohol issues, that they result in one in four babies being born with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, which means they're effectively brain-damaged for life.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: And who brought the alcohol into the country? This is the legacy issue, isn't it?
ALAN TUDGE: Yep. Exactly. And what's paying for it at the moment is the welfare dollar, basically. So, they're really difficult complex issues. It's not as simple as some people would make it out to be, that it's just a lack of will. There is the will, I can absolutely assure you and your listeners there, that there is the will. But we've got to listen to some of those Indigenous leaders, we've got to work much more closely with them, which obviously Ken Wyatt himself, being our Indigenous Affairs Minister, being a Noongar elder himself, is working very closely, particularly with the peak organisations on these matters.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Minister, the Government has rejected China's warnings to Australian students not to come here because of an increase in racist attacks. But the attacks have happened - some have happened. There are calls now for you to actually fund an anti-racism campaign. Will you do it?
ALAN TUDGE: I want to say a couple of things on this. There certainly have been some quite high-profile examples of racist attacks, which are absolutely appalling. One of which was in my electorate actually, and it was disgraceful. I've called it out, the Prime Minister has called those out. But I think at the same time we also have to keep this into perspective, that these are the actions of cowardly individuals, and that the vast majority of Australians are appalled by those actions and don't tolerate it and call it out. Australia is not without its faults, that's for sure, but it is probably the most successful multicultural country in the world, where we have tremendous social inclusion as a rule.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: But if we've got some of those issues, even if they're in the minority of cases as you're arguing, shouldn't we have an anti-racism campaign to kind of tell people it's not on?
ALAN TUDGE: Yeah, in some respects we - I mean, I have been making that very clear almost every single interview that I've done, and I've done many on this topic. I think the Prime Minister's made that very clear using his voice very publicly, as has the Race Discrimination Commissioner Chin Tan. We will be putting some advertisements as well into particularly some of the ethnic media, just to say that racism is unacceptable. Call it out, report it to the police if you're concerned, or to the Human Rights Commission, because we don't tolerate it, it's not the Australian way.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: You pointed to the popularity of MasterChef judge Melissa Leong as an example of Australia not being racist, but that's quite different to these anti-Chinese attacks we're seeing, isn't it?
ALAN TUDGE: Yes, and no. I mean, some of the attacks have been on anybody of Asian appearance. And that's the feedback which I've been getting from consultations which I've been doing continuously with the multicultural communities. And so, some of the cowardly idiots who have been perpetrating these attacks haven't differentiated whether or not you were born here, whether or not you're from China, whether or not you're from Singapore or from Vietnam or wherever. Some of these cowardly idiots have been attacking anybody of Asian appearance. And so the point I was making is that that is reflective only of the tiny, tiny minority of idiots in Australia, and is not reflective of the broader mainstream Australia. An indication of that is that some of the most popular personalities on TV are indeed - have got multicultural backgrounds.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Should we have more multicultural faces on TV?
ALAN TUDGE: I'd like to see more. That's for sure. Yeah. I'd like to see-
PATRICIA KARVELAS: [Interrupts] Do you think the media has a bigger responsibility there?
ALAN TUDGE: In part. And I think the media is working on this. I mean, I know that the ABC has been working on this. We've generally done pretty well, I've got to say, across the board, because even when you look at - we're now starting to get more and more people of diverse backgrounds into our parliaments, into the senior leadership ranks of business, and now into the media. And I think over time we'll see more and more of this. And ideally, our institutions, particularly our parliaments, I think, should reflect broadly what the Australian population looks like.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Alan Tudge, thanks for joining us.
ALAN TUDGE: Thanks PK.