Transcript by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Funding for education services in the Northern Territory as part of the Stronger Futures package; carbon price household assistance package – Doorstop, Canberra

E & OE – Proof only

Jenny Macklin: I am very pleased to be here with my Ministerial colleagues, the Minister for school education Peter Garrett, and also Warren Snowdon, the Minister for Indigenous Health and most importantly today the Member for Lingiari.

We are very pleased to be here today to announce the next stage of financial commitments by the federal government to Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory; this time to support one of the things that Aboriginal people have said to us over and over again. Aboriginal people have said to us just how important it is to them to make sure that their children get the chance to get the best education in schools in the Northern Territory. And that’s why today we are making this announcement.

I will pass over to Peter Garrett in a moment, but I do just want to make this remark, which is, we are making this commitment to people in the Northern Territory who are in need, now before the Budget, because the funding for all of these initiatives is due to end at the end of June this year. There are thousands of people employed as a result of the Commonwealth’s investment over the last four years – there are teachers, nurses, youth workers, child protection workers – and we want to make sure that those people know that they can continue to deliver very, very important services to Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory. That is why we are making these announcements now, to give those people security in the jobs that they are doing but also to say to Aboriginal people – we are there with you for the next 10 years, this Federal Labor Government is making a long term commitment to make sure that the services that Aboriginal people need in the Northern Territory will be there over the next 10 years.

I’ll pass over to Peter Garrett.

Peter Garrett: Thanks very much Jenny. The most important thing that we can do in this nation to help Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander kids achieve to their potential, get a job, support their family and make a contribution, is to ensure that they get a good education. And today’s announcement provides a tremendous commitment by this Government to continue the investment in education in the Northern Territory, one which can and will make a tangible difference to the lives of these young people.

So I’m very pleased that today the Government is announcing a continuation of support in the Northern Territory for our education initiatives. Over $500 million this Labor Government is committing to the education of young Aboriginal kids in the NT so that they can have a great future.
It includes a number of measures which I think are particularly important. A continuation of support for some 200 extra teachers in the NT, and teaching assistants, the provision of housing for teachers in communities, which has always been a critical issues, some 100 of those houses. We will continue the very important school nutrition program, making sure that around 5000 young Aboriginal people are able to eat a good meal at school and be able to learn effectively as a consequence.

As well as that, this comes on the top of significant infrastructure investment in the NT, some $12 million that we’ve invested to Trade Training Centres, $70 million than we’ve investing in improving school infrastructure in remote communities. And we do that at a time when it’s very clear to us, as it is to the families and communities of Aboriginal Australia, that ed is absolutely essential to the prospects of each and every one of these children.

We know that the level of educational achievement, the gap between our indigenous and our non-indigenous children, is still too high. And we also know that there are still not enough Aboriginal kids consistently attending at school. Finally we know that it’s important to have a teaching workforce that’s able to remain in communities, providing consistent levels of teaching. We’ve also got the consistent level of training that they need to work with things like Otitis media, English as a second language and other particular challenges that are faced, especially in the remote communities.

So I’m very very pleased at this commitment today on education in the NT because we know that the passport of poverty for young Aboriginal children is to get a good ed. And today’s announcement is about doing just that.

I just want to take the opportunity while I’m here to make one additional remark about another announcement that we’ve made today for Queensland. And that is a commitment for kids with disability in school who now have the op to get additional support in the classroom so that their disability doesn’t impede their capacity to be education satisfactorily. Today’s announcement by Senator Jacinta Collins and myself will see some 28,000 kids with disabilities in Queensland schools get more support they need an issue which we know is particularly sig and important for the community of Queensland.

Overall, we have been extremely focused on making sure that any child in the Northern Territory who needs the opportunity to get a great education to get one, and we’ve also been very focused on the kind of steps we need to take to make sure that the investments that we’re delivering today are effective. I’m confident that we’ve got the right framework in place. I’, absolutely delighted that we’re able to make this significant long term commitment over the ten years and I’m very hopeful that we’ll see positive results as a consequence. I might just hand over to my colleague Warren Snowdon.

Warren Snowdon: This is the culmination of a great deal of work by the Government, and I want to thank Jenny and Peter for their commitments. We have made significant commitments over the last week, in health, community safety and a range of other areas. This is very important because it is what we have got to do if we are ever to close the gap in life expectancy, employment opportunities, educational opportunities, life opportunities, then we have to make these investments. Extremely important investments, unprecedented investments in the history of the Northern Territory and is something in which the Government should be congratulated for.

Journalist: Mr Garrett, will putting more money into the things that you mention (inaudible) will that actually make a difference in making sure that kids go to school?

Peter Garrett: Look what we can say is that the unprecedented level of investment that we’re putting into education in the NT has a number of components. Amongst them is making sure that the facilities are there for kids, that the teachers are well-trained in the classroom, and also that the children attend school on a regular basis. And I think we’ve got a comprehensive wrap of measures which basically covers all of those things which we know can and will make a difference. I should say that the survey reports that we’ve seen indicate that a majority of Aboriginal people in the NT believe that their schools and the kids, the schools that the kids are going to, are in better shape now than they were three years ago. And we also note from the Stronger Futures consultation that parents and communities value education. They recognise that it’s absolutely critical to young people coming out with the prospect of a job, and they do want to see parents play an active role in getting their kids to school. So if have a teaching workforce that is well-prepared, if we have school leadership that’s committed to focusing on the learning needs of young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, if we have a genuine engagement between the community and the school and if we also have a clear signal sent to that small proportion of parents who may not see the seriousness of school attendance, that their kids must attend school, then we’re greatly increasing the likelihood that we’ll gave kids attend school for the longer term.

Journalist: Do these measures today in any way sit in with the (inaudible) intervention? There’s been a lot of criticism even recently from some Aboriginal leaders in the Territory about the intervention. It’s no good having teachers in schools if you can’t get parents to send their kids to them.

Peter Garrett: Look what I would say is that I know both Minister Macklin and Warren Snowdon, as well as myself, travel to these schools in the Top End to see the conditions that people face. And what I can say is this. If we are serious about closing the disadvantage gap, then education must be a priority. If education is a priority then the kids must be at school. And the community is telling us that that is an important priority for them. And in the measures that we announced, which are part of today’s announcement as well, we are providing the support for families and children to make sure that they understand the importance of going to school. If there are any barriers or obstacles in the way, those things can be identified and support can be given. If at the end of the day a parent chooses not to send their child to school, then there are consequences. What we’re seeing from this particular program, the enrolment and attendance measures, is that it’s quite often a very very small proportion of parents who’ve had non-attendance previously and we are seeing some signs of attendance coming up.

Journalist: Why is Queensland getting special treatment in regards to disabilities?

Peter Garrett: Well Queensland is not getting special treatment in regards to disability, I should say that we had a commitment at the last Budget to invest an additional $200 million in helping kids with disabilities in schools rights around Australia. We’re in the process of announcing a series of national partnerships with the states. The national partnership with NSW was announced around two weeks ago, today’s announcement is specifically to do with Queensland and there will be further announcements with the remainder of the states to come.

Journalist: Minister Garrett on the election and the polling results, do you think that the QLD state election result last weekend played a part in (inaudible.)

Peter Garrett: People are going to be asking a lot of questions today about poll figures and there will be much debate about it, as there is. But there is a long way to go before we come to a federal election, and the commitments that this Federal Government is making, whether it’s the national broadband network, whether its increases in rises in the pension which my colleague Jenny Macklin here I’m very pleased to say has been able to bring forward, or whether its today’s announcement of a really substantial program of forward investment for Aboriginal kids in the Northern Territory, these are the sorts of things that we’re focused on. These are the kinds of things that we want to tell people about. I’m not going to stand here and debate the poll results of today’s poll. There’ll be another poll to come.

Journalist: (inaudible.) You’ve got quite a way to go.

Peter Garrett: Well again I think that we are in an interesting period where we have a government that is delivering significant substantial, nation changing reform. It’s not always easy and it may not always be popular in the first instance. But as people understand the sig of the changes that we’re making, if they realise when they wake up on July 2 and see that Whyalla hasn’t been wiped off the map, as the Leader of the Opposition said, the sky will not have fallen down upon us, people will be appropriately and properly compensated for any carbon price impact, and we can continue to build a country which is both fair, one which is willing to face up to the big challenges of the future, on the back of record achievements in this house, and commitment on policy reform such as haven’t seen in this country for quite some time.

Journalist: (inaudible)

Jenny Macklin: I am not going to comment on Mr Latham’s views, what we are here today to do is to demonstrate this Labor Government’s commitment to some of the most vulnerable people in our community. I think you’ve heard the Prime Minister over and over again say that one of the things she is absolutely determined to do as a Prime Minister is deliver the best education system possible in our country; and none are more needy than Aboriginal children in the Northern Territory. Which is why we are here today so pleased to be able to give not a one year commitment, a 10 year commitment to these children. To really say we are determined to do everything we can with you, with the parents, to make sure they do the right thing by their kids, to make sure the teachers are there, to make sure the schools are good. That’s what we are on about.

Journalist: Do you think the voters will give you kudos for that?

Jenny Macklin: I think one of the important things about being in Government is to do what you think is right. I think most Australians do understand that we have a responsibility to the first Australians. Most Australians do understand that if we are to close the gap then we really have to take very firm action such as we are taking in the Northern Territory; on community safety, on education, on health, on making sure that people are getting work and keeping those jobs. So we are determined to do exactly that, and that is why these are very substantial announcements from a Government that is determined to make a difference for Aboriginal people.

Journalist: Do you think that Julia Gillard has it tougher because she is not married, is an atheist and is childless?

Jenny Macklin: I think the Prime Minister has indicated that she is determined to make a difference in a whole range of very difficult policy areas. Of course this area of Aboriginal Affairs, she is demonstrating, through her commitment, that we will do everything we possibly can to close the gap. She has recently delivered the close the gap statement in the Parliament and she knows how critical it is to make these investments in education, in health, in community safety, and that is exactly what we are doing.

Journalist: But she has told business leaders that she thinks she has it tougher because she is not married, she is childless and is an atheist. Do you agree?

Jenny Macklin: And what she has also done is demonstrate through her actions, through this announcement today, how determined she is to support the most vulnerable people in our community. And that is something that I admire.

Journalist: Do you think the Carbon Tax compensation package is generous enough to offset the need for substantial wage rises?

Jenny Macklin: You can’t have it both ways. So you can’t on the one hand say that people aren’t getting enough support or compensation with the introduction of the Carbon Price and then on the other hand say that they are getting too much. The Government has asked the Treasury to do the analysis of the impact of the Carbon Price; they have done that work, they have given the Government advice. We have developed the increases in family payments, the increases in pensions, the cuts to taxation. All of that will come into place by the 1st of July this year. That will demonstrate that we are determined to support the majority of Australians with the introduction of the Carbon Price. We understand how important the Carbon Price is for our economy, we also understand how important it is to support families and pensioners as we introduce this change to our economy.

Journalist: So do you agree with the unions that there is a case for a wage rise or not?

Jenny Macklin: Well that is a separate matter, and I will leave it to my colleagues to comment on. But what I am determined to do with the introduction of the Carbon Price is to make sure that we provide the support to families and pensioners, and to make sure that it is delivered on the basis of need.

Journalist: Where are we up to with the Aboriginal boarding colleagues in the Northern Territory that were talked about for the Northern Territory at the last election?

Peter Garrett: In relation to those colleges I can say that in Wadeye we’re very close to seeing people start to participate and be boarded in the college itself. In relation to Garrthalala and the proposal in the Warlpiri Triangle, in Garrthalala we’re in the midst of discussions and negotiations with the local authority and the Northern Territory Education Department about final site settlement, construction costs and the like, and in Warlpiri triangle with the community themselves, given that there is still not full consensus with the community about the appropriate location site of those colleges.

One thing I wanted to add is that if we look at the full range of measures and announcements that we’ve made about education in that area and in particular as we look at indigenous education I think people will recognise that not only is it a high priority but it’s something that we are delivering in a way which will benefit generations of young kids around Australia. And for Aboriginal children in particular, nothing is more important than getting this good education. It’s their passport out of poverty and that’s why today’s announcement is so important. And by the way, it comes on the back of existing commitments including the extra money, some $30 million that we put into the Focus School initiative. We now have 600 schools around Australian with a high proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander kids who are receiving additional support and focus. It comes on the back of us making sure that professional qualifications and standards for teachers in teacher training include familiarity with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture, and is also comes on top of us providing additional assistance to encourage both principals and teachers to go out and teach in those remote communities. So this is a very big, substantial long-term package, which I think shows very clearly the kind of commitment that we have to addressing disadvantage amongst our indigenous community and making sure that kids get the best opportunity that they can. Thanks everybody.