Australian Prime Minister Radio interview – ABC Darwin Breakfast

Prime Minister

Prime Minister of Australia Anthony Albanese is your special guest. Prime Minister, welcome back to the studio.

ANTHONY ALBANESE, PRIME MINISTER: Good morning. Always great to be at the Top End.

STEER: Now, I was asking ahead of this interview, what should be the first question. Loads of people wanted to know whether South Sydney Rabbitohs are going to win the NRL competition. Others said, don’t waste your time asking the question.

PRIME MINISTER: The answer to that’s obvious. Yes. I always think it. If you ask me that any March, I’ll say that even when we’re rubbish.

STEER: But my favourite one, we know you’re here with Federal Cabinet. What’s the geographical distance outside Parliament House that you guys start wearing Akubras?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, Canberra, of course, is Australia’s largest inland city and so you can certainly need an Akubra from time to time in summer in Canberra, it has real seasons. But certainly when you come to Darwin, you do need an Akubra or some form of hat, and indeed, the Australians of the year – a chance to remind people here – are experts, of course, in melanoma. Dr Scolyer and Dr Long, or Professor in both cases I think, they are experts at melanoma and finding solutions for cancer. And they remind people of the need to wear a hat, to wear sunscreen, and that a tan is just a sign of cells that are screaming out.

STEER: Yeah, we know that too well in the Top End of the Northern Territory, some of the highest rates in Australia. But let’s get to some of these announcements. You’ve announced two huge funding boosts to the Northern Territory, but both are under New National Partnership Agreements which are overdue. And this is a Northern Territory election year. Is your timing aimed at propping up the Northern Territory Labor Government?

PRIME MINISTER: Not at all. What the announcements are aimed at is assisting Territorians and we’re doing it in partnership with the NT Government. So, the education announcement today, this is a great day for public education in the Northern Territory. A billion dollar announcement, more than $700 million from the Commonwealth, more than $300 million from the NT Government, to bring students up to the standard that the Gonski Report, all those years ago, said was necessary. And we will prioritise funding for the most disadvantaged schools, it will make an enormous difference, bringing the standard up to the 100 per cent by the end of this agreement, which will last for four years from next year. So, this is an exciting announcement. Previously, it was the case that less than 80 per cent of the appropriate funding was coming through. That means, essentially, one in five of every children in the Northern Territory wasn’t getting the funding that they deserve and that they need.

STEER. So, you’re announcing a billion dollar boost to Territory schools – exactly how that funding is going to be distributed? Because Gonski 2.0 talks about funding children in need rather than funding on attendance, rather than funding on enrolment.

PRIME MINISTER: Correct. The most disadvantaged schools will get the money flowing to them first. It will be based on enrolment, and that will encourage schools to get out there and enrol students. It will lift the quality of education that’s offered, because we know that that’s the key to opportunity. Between that and the $4 billion we announced yesterday for housing, we know that the security of a roof over your head is essential if you’re going to get that start in life, if you’re going to have a healthy lifestyle.

STEER: But I want to stay first, Prime Minister, on the education announcement of today. We have a significant teacher crisis here in the Northern Territory. Department staff redeployed from their jobs back to the classroom. It means our kids don’t have consistent teachers at the moment, attendance is already the worst in the country. How do you hope this funding will address some of those core issues in education that we have, uniquely here in the Northern Territory?

PRIME MINISTER: Because if you lift up funding, you lift up the quality of education that’s being offered, you make going to school more attractive. You make it more attractive for teachers as well, because they’re not trying to deal with overcrowded classrooms, or trying to deal with inadequate resources. You’re able to deliver so that if a child is falling behind, you’re able to lift them up, not just put them in the corner of the classroom, because you’ve got the time and the capacity and the resources to deliver for them. And we know that in the end, that will save money. A productive Australia is a successful Australia, and a productive Australia is one in which every citizen gets the opportunity to improve their lot in life and to get an education that then enables them to get a secure job. This is so critical, it was identified all those years ago, and the truth is that they’ve been falling behind. We have now reached an agreement with Western Australia last month, Northern Territory, we’re in discussions with every State and Territory to try to get that needs-based funding model actually in place. It’s what we committed to at the election and it’s what we’ve been determined to deliver. And Jason Clare is so passionate about education being central to a successful life for individuals but also a successful nation.

STEER: But what does ‘fully funded’ mean when we’ve got this unique situation here in the Northern Territory, perhaps share it with Western Australia, where you have a large number of our students are special needs students – they’ll have hearing difficulties, we’ve then got those issues around language acquisition – what does fully funded mean for those students, particularly in remote areas?

PRIME MINISTER: What it means is that we are quite clearly giving disproportionate funding in recognition of the disadvantage which is there to the Northern Territory. So, if you look at the amount of additional funding per student, the Northern Territory will receive more than any other State or Territory because its needs are greater. And so that’s what it means, recognising that one size doesn’t fits all, doing a proper analysis of what’s required in the school system, and then providing the resources to deliver it. And that is what Jason Clare has done. This funding will be included in our Budget in May, so it’s guaranteed, and we want to make sure that every child gets the best opportunity in life here in the Territory.

STEER: You’re on ABC radio, Darwin, Adam Steer with you, your special guest, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese. Let’s move to the remote housing announcement you made yesterday. The Northern Territory has required, on its previous Agreement, in order to deliver its targets for remote housing, it required an extension. Do you have faith that the NT Government will be able to meet their targets this time around with that extra cash injection?

PRIME MINISTER: I do, because we’ve worked this through with the NT Government…

STEER: What checks and balances have you put in place to make sure?

PRIME MINISTER: They will be included in the contract. Essentially the agreement between the Commonwealth and the NT Government that will be concluded before July 1 this year – that will include measures, not just for houses being built and the number being built and the funding, but also the type of houses. I sat down with the Northern Land Council yesterday in Katherine, and one of the things that came through there was that they didn’t want just one size fits all – they wanted appropriate housing. So, that one of the issues that was raised, for example, was in some communities, they want to make sure that there are two bathrooms in each house because of cultural issues of men and women having separate bathroom facilities. Now, that’s a sensible thing to put forward. They want to make sure that there’s appropriate kitchen facilities as well, that it’s adaptable. So, the house I went to visit yesterday in Katherine had ramps available so that it was wheelchair accessible. Now, those are the sort of measures that will ensure, as well, that houses will get maintenance as well, maintenance and repairs, that’s part of the agreement, so we want to make sure as well that Indigenous people, locals, are given priorities in employment. I met a young apprentice yesterday, an Indigenous man there in Katherine, who was doing his painting apprenticeship, and he was very proud of the fact that he had done the painting on these new homes that had been built. Now, all of those things mean that you get, not just the houses built, the $4 billion, but there’s a multiplier impact on the local community. Together, these measures – if you look at our remote real jobs program that we’ve put in place to replace the CDP with real work, real wages, real skills being developed, with housing being built to provide that secure house, roof over people’s heads, plus the school’s announcement we’re making today, plus the investment in health that includes 500 Indigenous health workers being trained, of whom over 180 are already in training, the access to dialysis and other health equipment in remote communities – if you put this all together, what you have is a combination signifying my Government’s determination to make a difference and to not leave people behind in these communities.

STEER: Just a couple of minutes left, Prime Minister, before you have to run, on ABC Radio Darwin, let’s move to Middle Arm. There’s a Senate Inquiry about to take place, with the $1.5 billion to create a petrochemical hub in Darwin Harbour, will you commit to implementing all the recommendations made by that inquiry?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, no, I don’t commit to implement all recommendations in an inquiry that hasn’t begun yet. What I commit to is to consider appropriately any recommendations which come out of that inquiry. What I commit to as well, is to make sure that best practice is put in place here. There’s a lot of misinformation about Middle Arm, a lot of suggestion that it’s all just about the fossil fuel industry, whereas that is not correct. It will make an enormous difference for renewables as well, in facts, exports…

STEER: It’s about gas coming into Middle Arm.

PRIME MINISTER: It’s not just about that at all, at all. It’s about a full facility here in Darwin.

STEER: It does have gas refinery there. That’s what will be going in there.

PRIME MINISTER: There’ll be a range of export facilities going in there to assist the economy here. Now, the NT Government has just submitted its business case for the next stage – that will be considered by Infrastructure Australia. We’ll examine all of that. We’ll examine all of the environmental issues which are there, which the Minister has responsibility for, but we’ll do it objectively and in the national interest, not looking at one piece of the puzzle, if you like, and pretending that’s all that’s there.

STEER: Prime Minister, thank you so much for your time today. We’ve got a Cabinet meeting today. I think the Chief Minister is going to be speaking in front of that, so we’ll hear what comes out of that. But I appreciate your time. Enjoy your time in the Top End of Australia.

PRIME MINISTER: Thank you very much. And it’s always great to be here in Darwin, and I find that we always get a very warm welcome here. This is my ninth visit as the Prime Minister.

STEER: Come back in the dry season next. And it’s not too cold in Canberra, when it’s too cold in Canberra.

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