Transcript by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Stronger Futures in the Northern Territory- Doorstop, Melbourne

E & OE – Proof only

Subject: Stronger Futures in the Northern Territory

JENNY MACKLIN: Thanks very much for joining us today. I’m very pleased to inform people that the Stronger Futures legislation – Building Stronger Futures for Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory passed the Parliament this morning. This is very important legislation aimed at making sure that we have strong alcohol controls in Aboriginal communities throughout the Northern Territory, making sure we do more to help young people and children attend school every day, making sure that we continue licensing of community stores so that people are guaranteed healthy food in their local store.

This legislation has gone through a number of processes of consultation. We had a big period of consultation this time last year, so it started in June and went through for a few months and then there was the Senate Inquiry. The legislation passed the House of Representatives in February this year and of course now went through the Senate just this morning.

The legislation has been designed to comply with the Racial Discrimination Act, a very important consideration for the Government. We did want to make sure that our human rights obligations are met in the design of this legislation and our view is that that has been met.

The reason we are here today is because we have heard loud and clear from Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory that they want to see alcohol controlled. They understand that alcohol to quote one man “is killing their families”.

Aboriginal people have also made plain to me that they want to make sure that their children are going to school and going to school every single day. They want to make sure that people have decent shops, decent stores where they can afford to buy healthy food. And these are the key measures in the legislation.

But the other part of the Stronger Futures package is the $3.4 billion that the Government has committed to make sure that over the next ten years we have police, we have nurses and doctors, teachers and we have night patrols. All the services that Aboriginal people expect to have in remote communities. And the feedback I have is that people in these communities are very pleased to know that support will be there for ten years to make sure that community safety, health, education, employment opportunities are real for local Aboriginal people.

JOURNALIST: Were there any last minute amendments to the legislation?

JENNY MACKLIN: There were some amendments that went through both the House [of Representatives] and the Senate this morning, a range of small matters, but nevertheless important.

One issue that I know is very important for Aboriginal people is that they want to know for sure that this legislation complies with the Racial Discrimination Act.

One of the things that was very hurtful to Aboriginal people with the Northern Territory Emergency Response introduced by the previous Government, is that the Racial Discrimination Act was suspended. A lot of people were very hurt by that and were very hurt by the speed with which that legislation was pushed through the Parliament. It went through in two days.

What we have done in an amendment moved last night and through the Parliament today, is to make sure that it is clear that the Racial Discrimination Act does apply in relation to this Bill, these Bills I should say.

JOURNALIST: What on the ground impact has intervention made in the Territory’s Indigenous communities?

JENNY MACKLIN: You can see a range of positive impacts. Very importantly in the area of community safety – the level of violent assaults has gone down and that of course is something that’s very important to Aboriginal people in communities. There’s been a survey done of people living in remote communities who now have police living in their home towns and people do say that they feel safer.

We also have done an evaluation of the community stores licensing, that too has been demonstrated to have worked, to have delivered better governance for those stores, which of course is very, very important for local people. So they’re just a couple of examples.

I would say though that the area that needs dramatic improvement is around the issue of school attendance. This issue is still not good enough and that is why in the legislation that went through the Parliament today ensures we do have an improved school enrolment and attendance measure. We want to work closely with the Northern Territory Government to make sure that children go to school every day. Parents understand how important this is and we want to make sure we’re working with those parents where children are not attending regularly to turn that around.

JOURNALIST: You said you were satisfied that this met human rights obligations, why not put it before the Parliamentary Human Rights Committee then?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well I’ve had correspondence from the Chair of the House of Representatives Human Rights Committee and have responded to him just this week, setting out the Government’s view about how we are meeting the policy objectives, our human rights policy objectives. If you look at the main issue – that is, are we meeting our obligations under the Convention on the elimination of Racial Discrimination Act – it’s certainly been my very strong requirement on this legislation, that the legislation comply with the Racial Discrimination Act and it does.

JOURNALIST: If you’re so sure, why not put it before the Committee?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well the Committee of course can investigate an Act of Parliament and they may decide to do that. But in the meantime, I have set out in some detail to the Chair of the Human Rights Committee of the House of Representatives our view of how we do comply with our human rights obligations.

JOURNALIST: How many parents have had their welfare payments restricted not sending their children to school?

JENNY MACKLIN: We’ve had a number of parents both in the Northern Territory and in Queensland have their welfare payments suspended. So that, I should emphasise though, is really a last resort. The whole purpose of the legislation that’s gone through the Parliament today is to do everything we possibly can to work with parents, teachers working with parents, Centrelink staff, social workers working with parents, to make sure we find out why it is that children aren’t going to school and to address those problems. But if in the end we have parents that aren’t meeting their responsibilities, we will suspend their welfare payments until they get their children to school. The evaluation of this measure so far has demonstrated that just having it in place is improving the school enrolment and attendance. We’ve seen that both in some schools in the Northern Territory and in some schools in Queensland. We want to improve the operation of the scheme and that’s what this legislation does.

JOURNALIST: Some Indigenous people call this a national day of shame, how do their objections to the legislation sit with your conscious?

JENNY MACKLIN: I think it’s very important when you’re looking at these issues to understand that you’re never going to get agreement from everybody. But having been involved myself in the wide-ranging consultations that we undertook in Aboriginal communities last year and the year before that, and the year before that, the message has come through loud and clear to me that Aboriginal people understand the devastation of alcohol abuse. They understand that it is killing individuals, family members and of course leading to terrible violence against women and children.

We talked before about human rights obligations. Women and children have the right to live in a safe place. That is a very important human right. And one of the ways of making sure that human right is able to be lived is to make sure we do have strong alcohol controls in place.

Children also have the right to a great education, they have the right to go to school every day. The Government is putting a lot of additional money into extra teachers, better buildings, better facilities, to make sure that children have that opportunity. But parents also have obligations to make sure their children go to school every day and we want to work with them to make sure that happens.

JOURNALIST: What compromises did you make on alcohol management in the Northern Territory?

JENNY MACKLIN: We’ve worked with a range of groups on these issues, so of course we understand that it’s important to see the impact of alcohol abuse on the whole community and so we were very happy to accept that amendment when it was put in the Senate.

JOURNALIST: What (inaudible) evidence do you have that welfare quarantining has led to better health outcomes for Indigenous people who have been on the basics card?

JENNY MACKLIN: If I can just take that question in two parts. One is that the whole issue of income management was not in fact part of this legislation. There were a couple of small matters in relation to income management to allow alcohol courts, for example, to refer people to Centrelink for income management, but fundamentally this legislation is not about income management, so I just want to make that clear.

But secondly, the evidence we have from different evaluations across Australia is, and also from the consultations that we’ve undertaken, I can tell you that people I speak to in the Northern Territory like income management. They know it means they can get food on the table. We’ve done an evaluation of income management in Western Australia where it’s been operating for a few years and people make it very clear through that evaluation that income management is a very helpful tool to make sure people can better manage their money, make sure there’s food on the table, children are clothed, the rent’s paid, that’s what it’s all about.

JOURNALIST: What impact have whole of township leases had in attracting private businesses to remote Indigenous communities?

JENNY MACKLIN: I should also say the legislation does not have anything to do with whole of township leasing so any suggestion that it might, if we could just dispel that. The leasing that we’re engaging, leasing discussions that we’re engaged with communities across the Northern Territory is one based on Aboriginal land owners deciding voluntarily to enter into leases. So in the case of township leases we have negotiated some township leases on the Tiwi Islands and on Groote Island. Certainly I think you’d find that people in those two areas are very pleased to have entered into township leases. They see this as an opportunity to develop their local economies, to set up bakeries, or in the case of Groote Island they have an Island resort. There’s a range of small businesses that people on the Tiwi Islands are investigating. So this is a decision that they’ve entered into. We are also wanting to enter into voluntary leases to cover our housing that we’re building. These are voluntary leases, there will not be any more compulsory five year leases.

JOURNALIST: So is there anything at all in the Stronger Futures that’ll increase the number of jobs in remote Aboriginal communities?

JENNY MACKLIN: As part of the package of $3.4 billion this does include employment initiatives. So we’ve got money for additional range of positions for example, in remote parts of the Northern Territory where we know Rangers do a great job looking after country, working on country. So there’s additional jobs there. We’ve also made available additional money to see young people who are leaving school get traineeships so that they’re ready for the jobs we are creating, and I’ve made very clear that as part of our commitment to Aboriginal people, with this $3.4 billion we want to see Aboriginal people employed, not just other people brought in to do the jobs that this money will create.

JOURNALIST: Can you just go through some of those final amendments and what sort of (inaudible) those are?

JENNY MACKLIN: We’ll get all those to you, the main one, that’s the one I mentioned.

JOURNALIST: Yep. Why was Bankstown chosen for the income management trial despite vocal opposition from community groups?

JENNY MACKLIN: Of course this is a completely separate issue from the Stronger Futures legislation so if we can just be very clear about that.

The Government in last year’s Budget decided to extend income management to five areas in Australia, some suburban areas like Bankstown, and Playford in South Australia, some regional towns like Shepparton and Rockhampton. Income management will start in these locations on 1 July. The reason we chose these places is because they are areas of very high unemployment and long term unemployment, serious disadvantage, and the evidence we have particularly from Western Australia, is that income management can be very helpful at making sure people have got the tools to better manage their money.

What it will mean is that from 1 July, child protection authorities in New South Wales will be able to refer parents to Centrelink for income management if they think that that child will benefit from the parent making sure that their welfare payments are spent on food, clothing, rent, rather than alcohol.

JOURNALIST: Sorry, just one quick one as well. In relation to Indigenous leaders like Djiniyini Gondarra and Rosalie Kunoth Monks, why do they have such problems with the consultation meetings and did you listen to their concerns?

JENNY MACKLIN: I certainly did and I’ve spoken to both of those people a number of times as part of the consultations. As I said before we’re never going to get everybody to agree. I understand that there are different points of view on what needs to be done to address Indigenous disadvantage, not just in the Northern Territory but across Australia.

And I’ve listened to many, many people over the last four years about their views as to what should be done, what should the Federal Parliament do to address Indigenous disadvantage? And the big message coming through loud and clear is that people want to see alcohol abuse addressed. They want to see their children getting to school and they want the Federal Government to step in and help. They also want to make sure that the whole range of services that people expect to see, decent community safety, policing, night patrols. Making sure that doctors and nurses are available, making sure that teachers are in the schools, teachers who are able to teach children who have English as a second language. And all of that is part of our $3.4 billion commitment to building a stronger future for Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory over the next ten years.