Interview with Rod Corfe, Outback Radio 2WEB
ROD CORFE: To Federal Parliament we go. Assistant Minister for Trade and Assistant Minister for Manufacturing, Tim Ayres, good morning.
TIM AYRES: G’day, Rod. Terrific to be on the show. I should say, before we get started, thanks to your team there. Last time I was in Bourke, I did an interview a couple of weeks ago with one of your announcers and I left my jacket there and it's just turned up in Sydney, I couldn't be happier.
ROD CORFE: Wonderful, that’s very good news.
TIM AYRES: It is very good news. I suddenly figured out that I didn't have my wallet, but I was in Cobar.
ROD CORFE: It’s good that we could get it back to you and it got back successfully.
TIM AYRES: Absolutely marvellous, yes.
ROD CORFE: Now, we’ve got a lot to talk through so let’s very quickly go to an issue that was in the local Bourke newspaper where the Maranguka Justice Reinvestment initiative was being questioned. I’ve sent you the document, have you had a look at it?
TIM AYRES: Yeah, thanks for sending the article over. I had a look at that yesterday and I've had a look at some of the supporting material and of course, have had some experience of travelling to Bourke and engaging with that program. So very happy to answer questions to the extent that I can, Rod.
ROD CORFE: Alright. Is Maranguka, the Justice Reinvestment program, working to what’s been reported?
TIM AYRES: Well, nothing's ever perfect, Rod. This is an endeavour that has been going since 2013, where community leaders in Bourke's Aboriginal community have stood up, have got organised, have got support, and have been working carefully across the community, but also with all of the government agencies and the police, in a really structured way. Now, there have been some very significant early gains. In the period up until 2021, very significant progress.
But progress in these areas is never linear. We're talking about people working together, to solve problems together. I've had the advantage of being able to observe the work that happens every morning in Bourke, meetings between the Maranguka Justice Reinvestment Project, the police, housing, health, all of the agencies working together every day to support people who need support, to manage issues as they arise, and to direct their work towards achieving tangible outcomes. Reducing reoffending rates, increasing school attendance, reducing suspensions; these are all things that, of course, are matters of improving the outcomes for Aboriginal people in Bourke, but they matter for everybody in Bourke. It makes it a better and safer community.
ROD CORFE: There are claims that school attendance is trending downwards while violent crime, where innocent people are being threatened with weapons, is increasing.
TIM AYRES: Well, I don't want to set myself up as a sort of commentator on all of these issues all of the time. But I would say that I know the people who are engaged in this project. I've been watching it for some time, and surely, the answer here is for people not to blame each other but to work together –
ROD CORFE: Yeah.
TIM AYRES: - to listen to each other carefully. And I understand the CEO is meeting with Bourke police this week to talk about the next phase of engagement. Alistair Ferguson is meeting with senior representatives of the police but will also be engaging across the community. I'm not close enough to the detail, Rod to know what's gone wrong. There are always things that are going to go wrong.
The answer here is for people to dust themselves off and keep working together. It is clearly that project, that model of making sure that we're giving voice to representatives of Aboriginal people in Bourke, community taking responsibility for engaging on these issues and solving problems one problem at a time. That is a model that surely is better than the old model. And it's no good doing anything else really but dusting ourselves off and working together on the issues that are in everybody's interests; reducing reoffending, improving school attendance, strong outcomes in terms of reducing suspensions, less crime, and of course, all of the other social indicators that matter for everybody in that community.
ROD CORFE: And Bourke is not by itself in this category. We could look at any council area, any state where there are issues, be it Alice Springs, Townsville, suburbs of Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, where there’s issues with young people doing things that folks aren’t particularly happy about. And you’ve highlighted the fact that Maranguka Justice Reinvestment is an idea that is similar to The Voice.
TIM AYRES: Yes, so the Government has committed $99 million to a series of those kinds of [programs]. Not in Bourke, where it's well and truly up and running, but pilot programs in Alice Springs and Halls Creek to support that kind of initiative. Now, all of them will be different. But the principle that underlines this is giving voice to local representatives to coordinate their activity to speak with one voice to the government agencies, to be listened to, but also to take responsibility together for what is a shared problem. And I do believe that that kind of approach is the only approach that's capable of generating change.
Now, change is hard. It involves everybody putting in. It involves a very significant amount of volunteer activity and community leadership. It involves people opening up and listening to each other about the extent of these problems. And it's all about keeping people safe and improving the outcomes for everybody in the community. And I reckon it's the right way ahead. But I'm not surprised to see that all of the trends don't always go upwards, that there's challenges from time to time. That's why it's so important that people keep working together.
ROD CORFE: And how do you see the debate over The Voice going?
TIM AYRES: Constitutional debates are always challenging in Australia. And I think we've seen there are people who've got a strong view about voting Yes. There are people on the conservative side of politics, of course, who are urging a Yes vote, and there are people on the conservative politics [side], urging a No vote. What a referendum requires in Australia is people coming together. It's not actually about the political parties or people's political views. This is an argument about what is in the best interests of Australia.
And I do believe that a Yes vote in the referendum, constitutional recognition for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders who've had 65,000 years of continuous history in Australia - history didn't end in 1788 and it didn't begin in 1788. We have the oldest continuous culture in the world. It is an enormous national asset and making that constitutional recognition real by a constitutionally protected Voice to Parliament on the issues that matter for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, that's going to be a good thing and encourages people to work together, it acknowledges that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians have special interests, have a special role in our history, and also that we've got an enormous amount of practical work that needs to be undertaken to close the gap in terms of life expectancy and all of the other indicators and that that will be achieved much more quickly, much more efficiently, if we give Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and communities a say in every part of the country, Rod. Sure, in communities like Western Sydney, but also in Bourke, Alice Springs and Halls Creek and Wilcannia and Broken Hill and every corner of our country needs this kind of reform.
ROD CORFE: And let’s move onto another issue. The housing bill that’s being discussed in Federal Parliament – we’re hearing from Senator Tim Ayres – how’s the housing bill going for Labor?
TIM AYRES: It is one component of our overall housing strategy. We have got reforms in a range of areas, but we took this part of our package to the election, a $10 billion effectively sovereign wealth fund, a fund that is invested. And it would spend $500 million a year of the income that it earns, and it would build 30,000 homes over the coming four or five years. And there are enormous challenges in housing for communities, particularly regional communities. And I understand why it's the subject of a lot of debate - it should be. But the idea that the Liberals and Nationals and Greens political party have got together to knock this off in the Senate - and we'll bring it back to the Senate, it's a good reform - but the idea that people are prepared to engage in partisan politics rather than actually building 30,000 homes for people who need it, I think that's a victory of partisan politics over common sense.
We've got a mandate to go and deliver this reform. It sits together with a whole lot of other reforms that we're engaged in in the housing space, building more homes, opening up supply, making Commonwealth Rent Assistance bigger so that housing's more affordable for low-income Australians. This is a whole suite of reforms. The idea that you throw the baby out with the bathwater and prefer to have a political slogan, rather than building a house I think, is obscene. The truth is Australians who are homeless can't live in a political slogan. They need a home to live in. And the Albanese Government's committed to building more homes and we're going to bring this back to the Parliament. We're going to fight for it because it's the right reform for Australia.
ROD CORFE: Excuse me if I’m wrong, but it was the Coalition government and Treasurer Peter Costello who brought in something called the Future Fund. Isn’t this just something very similar, for housing?
TIM AYRES: That's right, there's a range of these funds. The previous government, you're right, Peter Costello established the Future Fund. That is there to make sure that the government's liabilities in terms of superannuation that is owed to public servants, that that is acquitted properly. There are funds in terms of medical research, similar sovereign wealth funds. The National Reconstruction Fund that we've just established, $15 billion in that fund that is there to invest in industry capability and reindustrialising the Australian economy, [and] the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, these are models that have been adopted, not just by Labor governments but by previous Liberal and National governments as a sound way to manage Commonwealth finances but also deliver an enduring social outcome. It is $10 billion that is there in perpetuity, to be reinvested in housing stock - that is a good idea. And it really is a victory of the kind of partisanship and polarization and fighting that characterised the Morrison period.
We are a different kind of government. We want Australians to work together. We don't look for division between different groups or for red hot political slogans to try and antagonise people with. We're about solutions. And we don't say that this commitment, 30,000 new homes, is going to build a home for every Australian who needs it, but it is a very important contribution to closing that gap, to building more homes, to increasing supply and it is obscene that the Liberals and Nationals and Greens have got together to knock it off just for partisan purposes.
ROD CORFE: It’s part of the solution?
TIM AYRES: It's part of the solution. That's right. It's part of it. It's not the whole answer. And the government's got a range of other policy propositions that we are implementing that will open up supply. We're working carefully with the states and territories, not blaming the states and territories for problems that exist there but working together with them. The state and territory Ministers and Premiers will be meeting with the Prime Minister next week at the National Cabinet. They'll be talking about what are the things that the Commonwealth and states can do together to deliver consistency across the rental space, improving access to homes for people who are renting. Broadly, a third of our community live in rental accommodation, a third in homes that they own and a third are paying mortgage. We've got to attend to all of those parts of the community, we've got to bring on more housing supply, and that's only achieved not with policy slogans and announcements and press conferences, it's achieved by the quiet work of getting states and territories and the Commonwealth working together, getting unions and business and property developers and tradies and architects and the design community and local councils working together.
This is the kind of approach that we're going to bring to these sorts of issues. And it's a shame when hyper-partisan politics, the old sort of polarisation undermines those kind of reforms in the Parliament. We'll bring it back to the Parliament, the Housing Australia Future Fund, will bring that fund back to the Parliament and we'll fight for it.
ROD CORFE: Well, I’m glad you’re not going down the line of three-word slogans. Just quickly, before I let you go, the ALP National Conference.
TIM AYRES: Yeah, the Labor Party is the oldest political party in Australia and we're the biggest political party and we're the most open and democratic. The conference will be on next week in Brisbane. Its sessions will be able to be viewed by journalists, by the viewing public. We don't keep our proceedings a secret. There'll be open debates. There'll be hundreds and hundreds of delegates [from] every corner of Australia there, having their say about Labor's future policy and programs. And it'll be a real opportunity as the first National Conference of the Labor Party since the change of government, since Anthony Albanese became the Prime Minister, to have our National Conference, to have those debates, to engage with the public and to showcase what has been 15 months of careful, deliberate government that's been in the national interest, focused on the interests of ordinary Australians right across the country.
ROD CORFE: Senator, I thank you for your time today.
TIM AYRES: Always good to talk to you, Rod. Catch you later.