Transcript - radio interview - ABC Alice Springs

ALEX BARWICK [HOST]: Senator, I know you're on your way to the airport. Thank you so much for dropping in to the ABC.

ANTHONY CHISHOLM [ASSISTANT MINISTER]: Thanks, Alex. Good to be with you and your listeners.

BARWICK: How would you describe how the Barkly Regional Deal has delivered so far for people in Tennant and the Barkly?

CHISHOLM: Well, I think I should be blunt, Alex, and based on the feedback I've had in the 48 hours I've been in town, it hasn't delivered as well as it should have, and there's no doubt that communities are feeling that. But it's also what I've picked up from being there is that there are some positives and that things have improved in recent years, particularly the Independent Chair and the role that he's playing, and I suppose I try and be constructive and positive where possible. I wanted to be on the ground, learn from people and hear from people directly. They were pretty blunt, but they also talked about some things that were working.

BARWICK: Yeah, what were they telling you and what was your takeaway in terms of the biggest challenges?

CHISHOLM: I think the biggest frustration, I'd probably say, is around things not moving fast enough, and I can get that, because as you mentioned, this was first promised in tragic circumstances many years ago and this was seen as part of the solution and then things have moved too slowly. So, I fully understand that. I do think that progress is being made and I want to play my role to ensure that the Federal Government is pulling whatever lever it can to speed up as much progress on as many projects as possible.

BARWICK: I don't think we've hit the nub, though, in terms of what the problems are, though, in terms of speeding up progress.

CHISHOLM: Look, I don't think that there's one common problem across every project. So, I think that different communities have different challenges and I think COVID was a significant impact on the ability to get into some communities and build some of these projects. Then there's frustrations. Like, I went through the Youth Centre in Tennant Creek, which is magnificent, and I went inside and I saw what its potential and then they're still finalising some of those programs.

BARWICK: But it's a huge, empty building with no programs running in it, and it has been standing like that for so long.

CHISHOLM: And it stands out in town. Like, you can't help but notice it. I know locals are talking about it and we're hopeful, based on the advice from the council yesterday, that there will be some programmes for school holidays soon.

BARWICK: I think people will be wondering, you're in Canberra, this is your first trip to Tennant Creek. It's a long way to come. How can the Federal Government make sure that the money in the deal is spent properly and gets things moving?

CHISHOLM: Yeah, and I see my role. I'm going to be a regular visitor. I'm going to be on the phone consistently. I'm going to be on the phone to the Northern Territory Government. I've met Minister Uibo, I've met the Mayor now, so I feel it was good for me to be here on the ground talking to people face to face. Now I've got that direct relationship, I know I can pick up the phone and talk to people.

BARWICK: If you've come away with one priority for Tennant Creek and the Barkly, what will it be when you head back to Canberra?

CHISHOLM: For me, it is actually going to be I'm going to dedicate significant time, even when I'm not here, to being on the phone talking to people and ensuring that there's a real focus from those that are part of the decision-making team to get things moving as quickly as possible.

BARWICK: We're hearing that services to the bush had drastically reduced over the last year or so because of dysfunction within the BRC and also a mass exodus of key staff in some of those communities. You visited Ali-Curung, Ampilatwatja and Arlparra. What was your sense of how that's played out?

CHISHOLM: First thing I'd say is I was really grateful to those people in the communities that came out and talked to me and there was a common theme of frustration with council and lack of council services in that part of the world. I did observe, like I saw the NTG, I went through some of those places today and we're doing some things and I know the NIAA have a good presence in some of those communities as well. But it certainly was a real eye opener for me about the challenges in some of these communities, how remote they are. So, I drove from Tennant through those communities today, hence I'm in a bit of a hurry because it did take a bit of time, but it really did give me a real sense of how important delivering on those projects for those communities as part of the Barkly Regional Deal is, how important it is. But also, the challenge is that if things were easy to do there they would have been done already.

BARWICK: I know you visited the planned Youth Justice Facility. How will that play into what's going on in the region?

CHISHOLM: I think it's really important. I think that many people spoke about some of the challenges that we've got that have consistent across many parts of this region. I think that, again, it's one of those ones where progress has been slow, but I really get a sense that that is moving now.

BARWICK: What is it exactly?

CHISHOLM: I think there were some challenges identifying where the suitable land was for it, but I do know that it is going to be partly a modular build and that is already happening, so that means it should hopefully be able to get done quicker. I went out and inspected the land and saw where it was and I'm hopeful we'll see progress on that soon.

BARWICK: I guess I'm just trying to get my head around what's your understanding of who will use the facility?

CHISHOLM: My understanding is that will go to tender and that there will be someone who will provide the services there is my understanding of how it.

BARWICK: Is it like a youth detention centre or is it for young people who are at risk?

CHISHOLM: My understanding is it would be more the latter in how it would work based on what I've been briefed on.

BARWICK: You're also the Assistant Minister for Education. In June of last year, there was a letter signed by every single teacher in Tennant Creek High sent to the Territory Government saying they didn't feel safe to go to work due to ongoing violence, staff shortages, amongst other issues. What can you do again from Canberra to help support teachers doing it so tough and just doing extraordinary work in remote places?

CHISHOLM: I'm pleased you raised this because I met with Gavin and Katrina. So, Gavin's the Principal at the High School and Katrina is the Principal at the Primary School. So, I met with them Monday evening and ended up having an hour with them. In that hour I was actually reflecting on it. I spoke for five minutes and they spoke for about 55. So, they were really strong in conveying their concerns. They didn't raise that specifically, but I was aware of the issues there and the Federal Labor Government has a really big focus on what we are doing on education and some of the reform agreements that we're looking at. So, I think there is a great opportunity to shape education policy over the next twelve months and what we want to ensure is that the extra money that we spend is going to make a difference. Gavin and Katrina were really strong on that and gave me some really great insights. Actually, part of the thing I'm really looking forward to about coming back regularly to this region that will be driven by the Barkly Regional Deal will actually be engaging with people like Gavin and Katrina regularly.

BARWICK: Alright. Just finally, school-based counsellors being removed from government schools across the territory into a central pool thanks to ongoing resourcing issues. Does that worry you?

CHISHOLM: It does, because I've certainly picked up that post-COVID and I know that wasn't a significant issue here, but I know it's been significant in other parts of the world that they play a really important role in school communities. And I know as part of our budget we did have additional money that the Northern Territory Government would have benefited from for school wellbeing. So, certainly one I'm happy to follow up and ensure that that money that we have contributed isn't seeing a reduction in services. Our aim was for that to see a boost in services.

BARWICK: Yeah, we'll certainly follow that up. Senator, thanks so much for your time. I know you got to go to the airport.