Transcript by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Release of the Closing the Gap in the Northern Territory Monitoring Report

Joint transcript with:

Warren Snowden MP, Minister for Indigenous Health, Member for Lingiari

E & OE – Proof only

JENNY MACKLIN: Thanks everyone for joining us this morning. I’m very pleased to be here with my Ministerial colleague, the Minister for Indigenous Health, and Warren Snowdon of course is also the Member for Lingiari. So we’re very pleased today to be releasing the latest six monthly monitoring report from our work to Close the Gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in the Northern Territory.

There’s some very good results that are shown in the latest report particularly on employment. One of the objectives that we’ve had with the work we’re doing to Close the Gap on Indigenous disadvantage in the Northern Territory is to encourage wherever possible the employment of local Aboriginal people. And this report demonstrates that we’ve got more local people employed in night patrols, in child protection teams, working in some of the social services. So we’re very pleased to see that result.

There’s also been improved activity on child protection cases both from the funding that the Commonwealth is providing and I see in the media today that the Northern Territory Government is also having improvements to their child protection system. So on both those fronts we see very positive improvements.

You’d also be aware that the Government in the Budget announced very substantial increased and continuing funding for the Northern Territory over the next ten years. Minister Snowdon and I have announced that there will be $3.4 billion allocated in the Northern Territory over the next ten years to build stronger futures for Aboriginal people.

This is particularly responding to the calls for improved and continuing funding in the areas of education. Time and time again we’ve heard from Aboriginal people, especially parents and grandparents about their desire to see their children getting a great education. And there’s a significant increase in funding for education in our Stronger Futures funding package. There’s also a significant increase in funding, and continuing funding in Indigenous health, and I’m sure Minister Snowdon will want to say a few words about that.

Community safety is a big issue. Alcohol control, we heard over and over again from Aboriginal people on the ground that want alcohol controlled in their communities. As so many of them said to me, alcohol is killing our people, and that’s why we’re both supporting services for people who have problems with alcohol through the Stronger Futures funding package. And it’s also why alcohol controls are a big part of the Stronger Futures legislation which is before the Senate right now. We do expect that the Stronger Futures legislation will go through the Senate in this fortnight and that will make sure that we can continue to see strong controls on the provision of alcohol in the Northern Territory. That we can see the continuing of community stores licensing which has certainly been demonstrated to be a success over the last four years, and we can also see much more effort by both the Commonwealth, the Northern Territory and parents to make sure that children go to school every day.

I do want to just take this opportunity to correct some of the misinformation that is circulating about the Stronger Futures legislation. First and foremost, this legislation complies with the Racial Discrimination Act. It was designed to comply with the Racial Discrimination Act. Unlike the Northern Territory Emergency Response rushed through the Parliament by the previous Government, this legislation was of course first announced by our Government last June. And since then there’s been wide ranging consultation, of course a Senate Inquiry, and it’s been very clear right from the start that the Prime Minister and Minister Snowdon and I expected the legislation to comply with the Racial Discrimination Act and it does.

We also know how important it is to respect the traditional ownership of Aboriginal land by those traditional owners and that is respected in this legislation. Any suggestion that the Stronger Futures legislation challenges the ownership of Aboriginal land in any way is false, and I want to make that point very plainly here today.

It is also false to suggest that any person will be jailed for having an individual can of beer as is being purported in some quarters. If I can make absolutely clear, there are controls on alcohol in the legislation but they would amount to controls over people having more than three slabs of beer and trying to sell them in an area where there are alcohol controls.

There will not be closures of community stores as a result of this legislation, quite the reverse. The experience of the last four years is that the licensing of community stores has in fact been strengthened, has in fact strengthened the delivery of services to Aboriginal people in their communities, better food being sold, better governance of stores as a result of the licensing.

And finally I want to emphasise the legislation’s improvements of the school enrolment and attendance measure to make sure that we do everything possible to support children getting to school every single day. That’s what the legislation does and we look forward to it going through the Senate in the next fortnight.

JOURNALIST: Minister, you said that the legislation complies with the Racial Discrimination Act, but what about Australia’s human rights obligations (inaudible)?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well of course that is our fundamental human rights obligation that the legislation complies with the Racial Discrimination Act. It was designed that way and it does comply.

JOURNALIST: Harry Jenkins today said the (inaudible) Committee on Human Rights has asked you to provide a statement of compatibility with Australia’s international human rights obligations, have you responded to that letter?

JENNY MACKLIN: I haven’t seen that letter yet but I can certainly say that the convention on the elimination of racial discrimination is something that our Government takes very seriously and that’s why this legislation was designed and does comply with the Racial Discrimination Act.

JOURNALIST: Do you promise to respond to his letter before (inaudible)?

JENNY MACKLIN: I haven’t seen it, so I’ll have a look at it.

JOURNALIST: Is there anything in the monitoring report released today that you’re particularly disappointed with?

JENNY MACKLIN: Yes the issue I’m most concerned about is the figures on school attendance. What this demonstrates is that we do still have a lot of work to do to make sure that children get to school every day. So that’s the area I’m most concerned about.

JOURNALIST: Do have any response to the Queensland Government’s decision to walk away from the SEAM trial?

JENNY MACKLIN: I’m very disappointed that the Queensland Government has decided that they’re not going to work with the Commonwealth on making sure that children get to school every day. We’ve been working with around thirty schools in Queensland, including in the Logan area in Brisbane, and up on Mornington Island in Doomadgee. You might have seen comments from the Mayor on Mornington Island just this week and I was up on Mornington Island a couple of weeks ago. They too want to do everything possible to make sure that children get to school every day and so I’m very disappointed to hear of the Queensland Government’s decision. I have this week written to the Premier of Queensland asking him to reconsider.

JOURNALIST: What would you put down to the increase in the number of jobs (inaudible)?

JENNY MACKLIN: It’s in large part due to the significant investment that the Commonwealth is making in improved services in the Northern Territory. So funding for night patrols, funding to make sure that we’re able to provide school meals for children every day, so there are a number of local Aboriginal people employed to provide those meals, they’re just two examples.

JOURNALIST: Is there more scope I guess to improve these services?

JENNY MACKLIN: Yes, there’s certainly scope to both continue those services because the Commonwealth as part of our $3.4 billion, we’ll make sure the money is there for night patrols, the money will be there for school nutrition, meals every day. And of course that will mean local people will continue to be employed. But we’ve also added to that in the announcements we made last year, there’ll be extra ranger positions, there’ll be extra money to continue the support for essential services on Homelands. So there’ll be many opportunities for Aboriginal people to get work.

JOURNALIST: How will you think those jobs are sustainable though? What happens when the funding runs out?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well that’s why we’ve made a ten year commitment. And that’s why Aboriginal leaders in the Northern Territory are so pleased that we’ve made, not a short term commitment, not a one or two year commitment, a ten year commitment to fund $3.4 billion to make sure all of these services in health, education, policing, community safety. All of these areas will be able to continue as a result of this Government’s commitment to Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory.

JOURNALIST: But isn’t that saying, oh well we’re going to guarantee that Defence is going to get ten years of funding? Of course you need Defence funding, of course you need Aboriginal funding.

JENNY MACKLIN: Well it’s never been done before. Never been done before by any Government, of any political persuasion. Nobody has ever committed $3.4 billion of additional funding to Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory and that’s why you’ve got the Aboriginal medical services in the Northern Territory very pleased to know that they have certainty about their funding, that the night patrol people know that that funding is there for the long term. Never been done before.

WARREN SNOWDON: And you need to make the point that this is in addition to the core funding they currently get. This is not old money, this is new money. This guarantees these new programs for a decade. No other Government has ever done that. This is unprecedented expenditure. I’ve been in the Northern Territory for three decades and this is unprecedented expenditure by any Government and it’s something that we should be extremely pleased about. And it’s something I know, my constituents are very happy about.

JOURNALIST: Minister, on Constitutional recognition, how are you assessing your chances of getting a vote up on Constitutional recognition either before or at the next election?

JENNY MACKLIN: As you know we have been determined to pursue Constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and what we’ve done is work with an Expert Panel, they’ve provided their report to the Government. What we’re doing now is working with Reconciliation Australia and I’ve provided funding to Reconciliation Australia to enable a community based campaign if you like to really encourage the broader Australian public to participate in a discussion about this issue. I think we all understand how hard Constitutional change is in our country and so we’re working with Reconciliation Australia to really build that understanding of how important Constitutional recognition of Australia’s First Peoples is.

JOURNALIST: Minister you share the, do you have sympathy for some Aboriginal leaders who were concerned that the toxic political climate inevitably in the lead up to the next federal election will drown out public awareness about this issue?

JENNY MACKLIN: I’ve certainly heard very clearly from Aboriginal leaders that they want to make sure that when this issue is put to the vote in a Referendum that it’s going to succeed. So I very much understand their aspirations in that regard. So, to answer your question more broadly, we of course want to make sure that when the question is put, it’s going to win.

JOURNALIST: Minister will you guarantee to respond to the Human Rights (inaudible) before the legislation passes (inaudible)?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well as I said I haven’t seen the letter yet.