SUBJECTS: Labor’s funding announcement for new playgrounds for children in remote communities and for whiteboards at Gillen School; Labor’s plan to improve educational outcomes in rural and remote areas; Abolition of the NAIF if Labor wins government; Infrastructure and tourism investment; Funding for the Northern Territory.

STEWART BRASH, PRESENTER: I'm sure the warm and hot war of the election campaign will heat up. This morning, in a flying visit, the Deputy Opposition Leader, Tanya Plibersek, has made her way to Alice Springs. Good morning.


TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good morning, Stewart. Good to be with you.


BRASH: Member for Lingiari, Warren Snowdon.


WARREN SNOWDON, MEMBER FOR LINGIARI: Good morning, how are you?


BRASH: I'm not too bad. Now Tanya Plibersek, you're here and one of the things which you will be announcing this morning will be Labor committing around $600,000 to seven remote communities for playgrounds delivered by Children's Ground. Now, I'm not sure, Warren, if you want to talk to this but is this a first order issue, playgrounds?


SNOWDON: Very important.


PLIBERSEK: Yes, well playgrounds are really important. They're great outdoor learning opportunities and kids need to develop strength and confidence and gross motor skills and have a safe place to play. It's also when you've got kids coming together like that under the guidance and leadership of elders in their local community. It's a great opportunity for informal learning, too.


BRASH: Yes, Children's Ground is an interesting choice when I saw it because Children's Ground work very close with the families here and they do also work in the top end in the Kakadu region, but, they don't, to my knowledge, deliver services like this. Surely this is something for the regional council to deliver rather than for Children's Ground who see themselves - certainly have seen themselves as much more working directly in a sort of a sense, directly with families - not delivering infrastructure.


SNOWDON: That collaboration is important and it means that they're working in the community - Hidden Valley, for example, or Whitegate - they're the two town camps they're working in in Central Australia. They're working with the families in those communities and there's a deficiency, there's no play infrastructure. So, it is important and I think it's appropriate that we provide those resources, and play-based education is not unknown - it's an approach which is adopted across the world and to see young kids who require an opportunity to use adventure playgrounds, for example, is important so that they are actually getting the exercise they need, plus the opportunities to be with people who -


BRASH: Can I say the best adventure playground we have here is called the bush. You know, most kids we like to have out bush - why do we need playgrounds when there is - you know, and you talk about Whitegate, you talk about Hidden Valley, the bush is right there. Why do we need playgrounds?


SNOWDON: Because they live, they live like you and I live in a town - they live in an urban community that needs play equipment, there are playgrounds throughout Alice Springs, if you're - what you're saying is “We should just get rid of them and send the kids to the bush”.  I'm not sure -


BRASH: There's an idea Warren Snowdon.


SNOWDON: I'm not sure that most parents would say that was the smartest idea - not until, at least, the kids are a bit older.


PLIBERSEK: Stewart, can I just say a couple of other points: one of the really appealing features of Children's Ground is they work with families and communities to identify the things that would make a difference in the community, and when communities are saying “We need a safe place for our kids to play, that challenges them physically, that brings them together, that gives us the opportunities of working with whole families in a safe setting”,  then you've got to listen to that and we certainly wouldn't say in any other setting that playgrounds are unnecessary for children - of course they're necessary.


BRASH: No, no - I was just thinking in the scheme of things, I'm wondering whether the prioritising of playgrounds - and whether or not, say, and I've just -  maybe there's an answer to this question - which communities are we talking about, which town camps because Children's Ground work very closely with a very small group of people. Is it only for those people Children's Ground work with at the moment?


SNOWDON: In those two town camps - Hidden Valley and Whitegate - and that's important, and clearly, they've got a - their idea is to be expanding the opportunities in other town camps which I'm sure will happen over time. And they're working in central Arnhem Land - that's important, they're working at Sandy Bore and Burt Creek up the highway - that's important. I don't think we should be, sort of, saying “Because they're only a relatively small organisation, they're not doing important things and shouldn't be supported”. Because they are, as Tanya has pointed out, working very closely with family, community and the elders in those little communities to provide a safe environment for those kids.


BRASH:  Well the question would be "What about other communities, then, other town camps. Surely then they should be getting similar facilities. Is that in the offing?


SNOWDON: Potentially over time it is, absolutely. But I mean, what we've got here is an organisation that is working effectively in these places. They made a submission to us to provide this play equipment to enhance the opportunities for those young people. Clearly we will learn from this and we'll see what happens over time. But I think we should be encouraging these sorts of innovative proposals, not denigrating them.


PLIBERSEK: And of course you get the skills from building the playgrounds as well-


SNOWDON: Absolutely.


PLIBERSEK: There'll be local people employed to do that, that's an investment in job creation in local communities and training in local communities, and of course this doesn't replace our extra investment in education, for example. If you're talking about what's important for young children, our commitment to universal access to preschool for three year olds and four year olds-


BRASH: Let's talk about that, because the universal access to preschool for three year olds, out bush, how is that going to be rolled out, because some facilities don't even have preschools, they have mobile preschools, for instance, so how is that going to work in the bush?


PLIBERSEK: We've done it for four year olds. Of course there are implementation challenges, but we see this as an absolutely necessary commitment to giving kids the best start in life. We know that the earlier that we invest in education the bigger life-long impact it has. We face those same implementation challenges when we committed to universal access to preschool for four year olds when we were last in government. Sadly, the Liberals, the CLP, have not continued that commitment. They've only got one more year of access to preschool for four years olds. We want to make preschool access permanent for four year olds and extend it to three year olds. We also want to properly fund our schools. We know that is a huge difference between Labor and the conservatives. The Northern Territory would get $41 million extra funding in the first three years of a Labor government.


BRASH: Well let's actually look at the results story. Now, we know in the Northern Territory our NAPLAN results for Indigenous students are way below the national standards. Governments come and go, standards do not raise appreciably. What is a Labor government, if you were to be elected, going to do differently to ensure that standards are raised in the bush, especially given the drop-off in participation of kids from the ages of 12. You look at the actual participation rates in secondary school - they are woeful. What will be different?


PLIBERSEK: And in fact  attendance rates have been going backwards, and you've got to say that is related to the substantial cuts in funding we've seen. Labor, when we were last in government-


BRASH: Is it that or is it kids just don’t get to school to start off with? I mean, those kids aren't attending school?


PLIBERSEK: There's a way of making school magical, and that means working in small groups, one on one, it means teachers continuing to upgrade their skills, continuing to challenge themselves. It means principals who are fantastic school leaders, so investing in that leadership. It means using the evidence of what works in the classroom to change practice in the classroom. It means attracting the best and brightest into teaching and keeping them there by giving them a career path that keeps them in the classroom, it doesn't say you have to go into the bureaucracy if you want to -


BRASH: So raising the standards of teachers, because that's one issue you have raised several times.


PLIBERSEK: Absolutely. And-


BRASH: The fact that the standards of teachers getting in is, the bar is too low.


PLIBERSEK: We keep seeing the marks to get into a university teaching course dropping over time. You have to do all of these things, but you can't do that without extra investment in education, and the difference between a Labor government, a Bill Shorten Labor government and business as usual, is $41 million extra over the first three years of a Labor government.


BRASH: I'll ask you Warren Snowdon because you've been the Member here, on and off, for over three decades now. In terms of participation, of getting kids into school, I mean, you may be the best funded school in the world, but unless you have these kids actually wanting and there being a culture of desiring to go to school, they're not going to go to school.


SNOWDON: I think there's - that's a relevant observation - but it is important to understand that kids will come to school if they see the opportunity at the school for them. Now I'm a former teacher, worked in remote communities off and on, and what is clear is around the Northern Territory there's some very fine examples of schools who are-


BRASH: But they are so often the exception rather than the rule.


SNOWDON: But we should be learning from them, and that's the point, and if you've got the resources and the leadership in the school and the partnership with community, that's what will make a difference, and that's proven to make a difference in the past. There is clearly a desire in many communities we've been talking to around the idea that they've got to have cultural competency in the school, within the school framework, that language has got to be an important element. On the other hand, there are other places who say "We don't need language taught in the school, we can teach it at home", so there is -


BRASH: Now what about secondary education. That's another big one which we, and I mention that age of 12. You look at the statistics of kids in school or not in school and there's probably an underestimation of how many kids are not in school at a secondary level in the Northern Territory. At the ages of 12 to 13 you see a really big drop-off in participation. Is there not something happening at a cultural level where kids are saying "Well actually, I'm done with school. I don't need to go anymore".


PLIBERSEK: And one of the reasons that we're funding an expansion of terrific programs like the STARS program for girls is to deal with that exact issue there that you are describing. So we've got mentors in the schools, older girls and young women, staying with those girls at that point where they might otherwise become disengaged from school. Making sure that they keep coming to school. That their results are strong, that they've got the social and emotional support they need to be there and that they're achieving results and moving into employment pathways as well, because it's that employment pathway after school that makes school seem relevant for teenagers.


BRASH: Can I just stay with youth for a moment, but this is more to do with youth detention. Now you might have seen in the paper this morning, the Law Council has said "The Federal government has a moral duty to intervene and take control of the Northern Territory's failing youth justice system" - now that's from the Law Council. Is it time, given the failure of the current Territory government to be able to build a new detention centre, to implement all the findings of the Royal Commission? Is it time to take youth justice and make it a federal issue?


PLIBERSEK: Well, I think, there's certainly a willingness from us to be partners with the Northern Territory government -


BRASH: But not to take control?


PLIBERSEK: Well, no I don't think that's the first step. We certainly see that there's an opportunity to partner with the Northern Territory government to support them in their efforts. This is an issue that was seriously concerning around Australia when people saw the footage of abuse that occurred some time ago in Don Dale. We want to work with the Territory government to get this right for young people.


BRASH: What would that look like, that assistance? Now we know that Luke Gosling a few weeks ago said that there would be a support package but I know the Leader of the Opposition said the Northern Territory should get more investment and also should be getting a fairer share of the GST. Now what would that look like? What would this sort of support look like?


PLIBERSEK: Well, we'd make sure that we work with every State and Territory to make sure they get adequate funding through the GST dispersal. But, it's not just about GST revenue. It's about extra direct investment - I've said $41 million dollars extra for schools in the first 3 years of a Labor government. We've got almost $27 million dollars for Lingiari, for extra schools in Lingiari. We're talking about a $70 million dollar difference between Labor and the Morrison government on hospital funding. I mean, these are huge numbers for the Territory.


BRASH: Are you going to match the $25 million for the outpatient's centre in Alice Springs? Is that being matched?


SNOWDON: Yes, that's part of our proposal.




SNOWDON: And in addition, you will have seen that we're proposing $3 million dollars, so we can open the operating theatre in Tennant Creek. Now, it's really very important that when we look at the additional money being put into mental health in the Darwin Hospital, the money that we’re investing in remote community clinics right around the Northern Territory, not matched by the Commonwealth.


BRASH: But what about mental health? You talk about Darwin. Now, we're in Alice Springs where facilities for mental health are woeful, to be honest, for young people and for adults. Is there any change there? Are we going to see any?


PLIBERSEK: Yes, we've got a $30 million dollar package for Indigenous mental health, including -


BRASH: In Alice Springs though, with beds?


PLIBERSEK: That's across the nation, but we're talking about also a serious effort to reduce the incredibly high rates of youth suicide. You're talking about a youth suicide rate that's 5 times the rate of non-indigenous youth suicide.


BRASH: Can I ask a question about youth suicide? It would appear, and reading a few articles over the years, that we actually are not that much closer to knowing what works. So both the nominations, both the coalition and Labor are throwing money at it but do you really know what is really going to make a difference to people? What is proven to make a difference in people's lives to reduce this?


PLIBERSEK: There’s lots of-


SNOWDON: No no no. Stewart, you're a bit of a cynic, my friend.


BRASH: I'm a journalist but if I'm being cynic - but go back to this, people can feel warm and good about throwing money at something but is it going to make a difference and has it made a difference?


SNOWDON: What we are proposing is teams, multi-disciplinary teams, coming out of the professions, who are saying we'd like mental health workers, psychologists, paediatricians, Aboriginal health workers, mental health workers in the Aboriginal communities working together to target places where they can provide prevention. Now-


BRASH: Do we have evidence that approach makes a difference? That's the key thing.


SNOWDON: That's what we're being told will make a difference. It's not making a difference at the moment because it's not happening. We'll have, at least, sufficient resources for six of these teams across the Top End of Australia. One which will be here in Central Australia and across the desert. There'll be one in the Top End, one in the Kimberley, one in the Pilbara and two in North Queensland. Now, we think if we do this, we can make an investment in the health outcomes, the mental health outcomes and suicide prevention for Aboriginal people across the north and we think that will work. Now-


BRASH: Now I’m not a cynic, just people want to hear something [inaudible] that will make a difference to their everyday lives and so often we're told, you know, glibly, we’re going to fund youth suicide prevention and knowing full well that -


PLIBERSEK: Except Stewart, I mean, actually the exact opposite has been happening for too long.


SNOWDON: Exactly.


PLIBERSEK: We've seen too many cuts and those cuts have an impact, a real impact on people's lives.


BRASH: Well, the CLP would say they’re putting money into Aboriginal mental health as well, so.


PLIBERSEK: Well, a billion and a half dollars cut from remote housing. The huge fight with the Northern Territory Government, just to get the existing funding maintained.


BRASH: Warren and I could go back over the fight between the Feds and the Northern Territory Government, but can I talk about one thing that which was announced by Bill Shorten, which was a new Careflight helicopter in Darwin. So two helicopters in Darwin, none in Alice Springs. We have emergency doctors often saying we require a helicopter, a rotary ambulance here in Central Australia. Is this one going to be based in Alice Springs?


SNOWDEN: No, this one is a second Careflight helicopter for Darwin, which by the way, has a 900km radius, so almost to Tennant Creek. But you have a valid point. We've had no discussions, I've certainly not had any discussions with any of the providers in Central Australia who may be seeking a helicopter. No one has come to us. So I think -


BRASH: But surely given that now it looks like a massive discrepancy, two helicopters in Darwin, none in Central Australia.


SNOWDON: But understand, they're not servicing Darwin.


BRASH: Of course.


SNOWDON: They are servicing a radius of 900km outside of Darwin.


BRASH: I may be a cynic but I'm also parochial as well, so my argument remains and we know that there is actually a capacity gap between RFDS, which takes, maybe, 35 minutes to get off the ground and then has to get to the place, and then land based ambulances so would like to see a rotary ambulance, a helicopter, based in Alice Springs?


SNOWDON: In the future that may be a possibility. But I think what we need to do is have a discussion with the providers as to what their demands really are and as I say to you, I have not been approached by any of the providers in Central Australia talking about a rotary capability for, but I can see the point and I think, if I can just go back to the earlier discussion around mental health. There are intervention teams going to places after people commit suicide. What we're saying is we want a prevention capacity and what we do is have that intervention early in communities where we know there might be an issue. And that's why these multi-disciplinary teams are so important.


BRASH: But there are no adolescent mental health beds in Alice Springs?


SNOWDON: Well, there may not be at the moment. I think this is a part of another discussion that we've got to have with the Northern Territory government. I mean this is something which will be evolving, no doubt, and where we've got need, we have got to try to meet it.


BRASH: Now under a Labor government we've heard today that Bill Shorten will say the NAIF will be no more. You’ve got the NADF, the North Australia Development Fund. Now will that be a lending facility like the NAIF or will it be direct funding?




BRASH: It will be a lending facility?




BRASH: Now it’s talked about funding gas pipelines here in the Northern Territory, so is this-


PLIBERSEK: Up to a billion and a half dollars set aside for gas pipelines and we also want to see this Northern Australia Development Fund investing in other job creating infrastructure, for example, tourism infrastructure-


BRASH: What sort of, like, what sort of money might be put into tourism? How much?


PLIBERSEK: Well we’ve already made some announcements around tourism, around things like upgrading regional airports, making sure that existing tourism attractions are upgraded. We’ve talked about the-


BRASH: Will the National Aboriginal Art Gallery be funded under this?


SNOWDON: It could be if they applied, absolutely. But it’s a billion dollar bucket being put aside for tourism, a billion and a half for this pipeline infrastructure. We should just remember, this pipeline proposal’s been on the drawing board


BRASH: Well we had the Jemena pipeline which goes from Tennant Creek-


SNOWDON: Yes but there are also proposals which have been on the table for quite some time to send-


BRASH: Gas down to South Australia -


SNOWDON: Gas from Mereenie down to South Australia, or just extend the pipeline.


BRASH: Yeah.


SNOWDON: So where this will end up, it’s going to be a very interesting process. Will it be a new pipeline into Mount Isa, will it be something which comes down the spine, will it be something which goes into South Australia. These are things which we think-


BRASH: I’ll return back to, can I just return back to that in a moment.




BRASH: May I ask about the NAAG though, the National Aboriginal Art Gallery. If the Northern Territory Government wants to go and use this as a facility to borrow money, can they do that? Would it be allowed under this particular proposal?


PLIBERSEK:  Well we’d have to see the proposal. There will be competitive processes and so on.


BRASH: I’m sure Warren knows exactly what’s going on.


PLIBERSEK: No, no, exactly. You can’t pre-empt these things.


SNOWDON: Mate I’d like to tick it off.


BRASH: But do you see this as a potential, would you see it as a potential beneficiary of-


SNOWDON: It could well be, but remember these are a loan facility, not a grant. So it’s got to be commercially returnable in the sense of paying it back. But the other element of this of course is that what Bill announced today was also acknowledging the importance of Aboriginal people participating in this process and looking at what can be done to work with them to develop economic opportunity, using this new fund.


BRASH: With the push to ensure gas, you know, is it essentially the Federal Government, a Federal Labor Government, be happy to encourage the in-shore gas business, the oil and gas, fracking for instance, because of course it is such a contentious issue here, so Federal Labor Government would be happy to be building pipelines or encouraging pipelines which would be taking fracked gas to the rest of the market?


PLIBERSEK: Well our announcement today is about making it easier to borrow money to build the pipeline. This doesn’t change-


BRASH: That would take fracked gas.


PLIBERSEK: This doesn’t change any of the State or Territory approvals processes. All projects would have to go through all of the usual environmental approvals processes.


BRASH: OK. Now last week Bill Shorten said Michael Gunner was doing such a good job as Chief Minister and that the previous Adam Giles-led Country Liberal Party government had run up massive debt and deficit. Surely that’s a bit of an inaccurate picture to say it’s the CLP’s fault when in fact when the current government came to power, they had what, less than a billion dollars’ worth of debt and they’re predicting to $8.8 billion worth of debt over the next eight years. Surely, is that a good job, in your mind?


PLIBERSEK: Well I think they’re doing, the Gunner government is doing a terrific job and I think the former CLP should explain how they managed to flog off so many public assets and still run the economy into the ground.


BRASH: They paid off $1.7 billion worth of debt, so surely-


SNOWDON: You think that the economy has gone down the tube in the last two years. That’s just wrong.


BRASH: Well INPEX  has just wound down, that’s what’s happened.


SNOWDON: Well that’s right. And what did the CLP do in Government to plan for the end of INPEX? Zero.


PLIBERSEK: What comes next?




BRASH: But surely, when Labor came to power, they played ignorant. They should have known just as much as the CLP that this was coming?


SNOWDON: Everyone anticipated, well I certainly anticipated, but I know that the ALP-


BRASH: Did you ring Michael Gunner and say “Mate, you’ve got a problem”.


SNOWDON: The ALP was aware of the impending cliff. What they were attempting to do is try and manage their budget in an environment where there’s been a large movement of population out of the Northern Territory. Now that’s a very difficult thing for them to do. They’ve still got to provide the services that all Territorians demand and are entitled to with an environment where their income has dropped. Now that makes it difficult but it’s, I don’t think it’s appropriate just to say “Well this is all about the Gunner Government”. It’s not about the Gunner Government-


BRASH: No it’s about the long term dependence of the Northern Territory on GST revenues. We’re still pulling $4.21 for every dollar we generate from GST, aren’t we?


SNOWDON: This is not news, Stewart.


BRASH: No, no, I’m just telling you the facts.


SNOWDON: No, no, but let me just respond and say that historically it’s been the case and will be the case well into the future, that the Northern Territory’s budget revenue is derived principally from Commonwealth outlay.


BRASH: 75 per cent.


SNOWDON: 75 to 80 per cent, so let’s not think this is new. This is about-


BRASH: I’m not suggesting that. I’m suggesting we need to get ourselves out of a hole, which is-


SNOWDON: Well that’s right, and that’s why the Northern Territory Government has got to take these very drastic measures, but importantly also, what we’ve said is what we want to do is invest in the Territory so, for example, our $220 million investment into Kakadu will happen over four years. It’s not on the never-never. We want this stuff to happen now so that the economy is going to get a boost. And by the way, we want to work with you on developing new school infrastructure, hospitals, all of the things that the community demand and need and are entitled to. We either look after the top end of town or we provide health and education facilities for people who really want them.


BRASH: I know you’ve got to go, but Tanya Plibersek, just one question about the GST take. In regards to what was maybe suggested by the Leader of the Opposition, that there would be, the Territory should get its fair share. What wold that fair share be, given we’re already getting $4.21 for every dollar we generate in GST?


PLIBERSEK: I think it’s fair enough to acknowledge that a place with a population as small as the Northern Territory, as dispersed as the Northern Territory, will always need some help from other states and territories that have a greater ability to raise tax revenue. I just think that’s fair.


BRASH: But more than say, we’re getting at the moment?


PLIBERSEK: Well I’m not going to pick a number. It’s not how we do things.


BRASH: No I fully understand that, I’m just trying to get a sense of what the appetite would be for a Federal Labor Government to assist the Territory Government because they are, well let’s look at their root and branch plan last week. They pointed to a $200 million debt from 1978, which they want the Feds to pay. Also they want superannuation, $90 million worth of superannuation liabilities, to be passed over to the Commonwealth. I mean, what Labor Treasurer is going to say “That’s a great idea. We’re going to pay that”.


PLIBERSEK: Yeah, well I’m not going to talk about those specific suggestions-


BRASH: Will they be considered?


PLIBERSEK: What I can say is that we’ve already got huge extra investments on the table, Warren’s been talking about Kakadu, I’ve been talking about $40 million extra for schools, we’re talking about $70 million extra for hospitals-


BRASH: No, no, I take the point-


PLIBERSEK: These are significant extra investments.


BRASH: I’d ask Warren. The $200 million debt which the Territory government want to get paid back to the, or perceived debt, plus the superannuation liabilities. Would a Federal Treasurer turn around and go “Well we haven’t paid it for 40 years now, why should we pay it now?”


SNOWDON: I think you’ve got a point, but I think-


BRASH: That’s two points in one go. That’s amazing.


SNOWDON: No, no, you’ve done well. Look, I don’t know what’s happened here today Stewart.


BRASH: I know it’s like a meeting of minds.


SNOWDON: But what Bill has said is that he will work with the Northern Territory Government around the issues that confront them. Now there’s been a special package developed for Western Australia. There may well be that working with a new incoming Labor Government who are sympathetic to the Northern Territory’s needs and demands that it requires to meet the services of its community. That’s something could take place. Now just go back to this discussion about the $90 million and the $200 million, when I heard it I thought “Well, hang on, what happened here?” So when the Commonwealth, when self-government came to the Northern Territory-


BRASH: In 1978.


SNOWDON: The Commonwealth effectively said  to the Northern Territory Government “Well you will now take off our books all of the contingent liabilities for superannuation, for Commonwealth – people who had previously been paid by the Commonwealth-


BRASH: On the good old CSS scheme.


SNOWDON: -are now going to be your responsibility on your books.” Now, you know, I can see there’s a point to be made here.


BRASH: But that agreement was made back in ’78, so an agreement was made and now we’re saying “Oh, by the way, it’s darn expensive”, so I don’t think any Federal Treasurer is going to be winning anyone’s’ plaudits by-


SNOWDON: I think you’re right. The contingent issue here is these liabilities which are largely unfunded, have got to be met over time, and that’s what the problem is.


BRASH: Yeah. Love to speak more, but I’ve made two good points in a whole interview which is amazing for me.


SNOWDON: And in fact I’ll reflect on that as I leave.


BRASH: Well you can leave now.




BRASH: Warren Snowdon, thank you. Tanya Plibersek, thank you.


PLIBERSEK: It’s a pleasure, Stewart.


BRASH: And Warren if you please bring your tin snips with you there’s some work you’ve got to do. I look forward to some action on that front.  Thank you very much to the both of you. Tanya Plibersek and Warren Snowdon here talking about a range of issues and I made two good points I’m told, which is, well that’s two more than normal I would suggest here on Breakfast across the Centre and across the Barclay.