Transcript by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Stronger Futures in the Northern Territory; funding for community safety, outstations and homelands; Gone Too Soon report; mail deliveries; unemployment; SIHIP

E & OE – Proof only

JENNY MACKLIN: I am very pleased to be here today at the Substance Abuse Intelligence Operations and the Dog Operations Unit. And I want to first of all thank everybody from the Northern Territory Police for the outstanding work that they’re doing on the Dog Operations Unit, in particular, and to thank the dog handlers for their very, very skilled work. I’m very pleased to be here today with the Chief Minister, Paul Henderson. Thank you very much Paul for being with us, and my Federal Parliamentary colleagues, my Ministerial colleague Warren Snowdon, and our Senator for the Northern Territory, Trish Crossin.

Today is a very, very good day. We’re announcing $619 million to make sure that over the next ten years support for continuing Commonwealth money to go into additional police in remote areas for additional police stations, to make sure that the night patrols that are so critical in remote communities are able to continue. There’s money for the Substance Abuse Intelligence Desk, money for the Dog Operations Unit, money to make sure that the Legal Aid services here in the Northern Territory are able to continue and provide their very important advice.

The Commonwealth is determined to work with Aboriginal people to make sure that they continue to meet their aspirations to live in safe communities and safe homes. We’ve heard loud and clear from Aboriginal people in remote communities that they want to be safe. They want their night patrols to work for them. They like having the police in their communities and of course we’re very pleased that this money will mean that those police that are there now will be able to continue. So this is a very substantial commitment from the Federal Government. $619 million to make sure that we do everything we possibly can to work with the Northern Territory Government, work with the Northern Territory police, work with Aboriginal people to keep people safe.

I’d also like to make a further announcement today which is also a very important contribution by the Commonwealth Government to municipal and essential services for those people who live on outstations and homelands. The Commonwealth Government is going to provide $206 million over the next ten years to make sure that people living on outstations and homelands know for certain that we’ll be there with them across that ten year period, $206 million from the Commonwealth and money from the Northern Territory Government. All of this to make sure that there will be support for the essential municipal services and other infrastructure that people need when they’re living on homelands. This too, is another demonstration of the Commonwealth Government’s commitment to make sure we’re there for the long haul. We are there with people who live in remote parts of the Northern Territory and we’ll be there with them for the next ten years. I’ll just hand over to the Chief Minister to make some remarks.

PAUL HENDERSON: Thank you, thank you Jenny. And what happened to the dry season everybody? The rain’s back. Look, I’d like to thank Jenny, the Commonwealth Government for their ongoing support here in the Northern Territory. This announcement of additional funding committed over ten years is very, very welcome. I’m very proud to be the Police Minister here in the Northern Territory. Our police force do an amazing job day after day, keeping people safe wherever you live right across the Northern Territory. And there is probably many abhorrent crimes, but to me there’s no more abhorrent a crime than people who deliberately and systemically, run drugs into remote communities.

The devastation that drug abuse does in our remote communities, it’s hard to put a number on. The Northern Territory Parliament was handed down yesterday a very moving report about youth suicide. There are so many of our Indigenous young Territorians committing suicide and some in a large part as a result of sustained and ongoing drug abuse, the problems with psychosis, the lack of self-esteem, it is a tragedy. And for people who seek to profit from the most disadvantaged people in the Northern Territory, I put you on a warning. If you’re thinking of running drugs into remote communities, our police will get you. Our police drug dogs will get you, and you face substantial fines, substantial terms of imprisonment and the seizure of all of your assets unless you can prove where those assets have legitimately come from.

So to the Commonwealth, to Jenny Macklin, there is no more important funding for the Northern Territory in terms of remote communities, in terms of keeping people safe, than putting drug dealers on notice. That these dogs will find the drugs, and if you’re trying to run drugs into our remote communities, police will get you and you potentially lose everything that you have. We’re determined to do everything we can to stamp down on the scourge of drug dealing, particularly in remote communities. The amount of money that is lost from those remote communities into the pockets of the lowest form of life, which are people who run drugs in those communities, should and could be going to food, to education, to health, and should not be going to purchasing drugs. So it’s a very significant announcement and commitment from the Commonwealth Government today, the ongoing commitment over ten years is welcomed and I’m proud to be the Chief Minister working in partnership with the Commonwealth Government.


JOURNALIST: So over ten years, what guarantee is that that money will be there beyond the current Parliament?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well, it’s in the Federal Budget so we’re making sure that that commitment is made. When the Federal Budget comes out in May you will see it in black and white but I’m making clear to everybody today, particularly Aboriginal people who live in the Northern Territory, that the Commonwealth is here for the long haul, to support them and to support their aspirations to live safe and happy lives in their homes and in their communities. This is $619 million to make sure that the police continue to be there in remote communities, that the night patrols are going to be there, and of course that provides not only safer places but also provides additional employment opportunities for local people in their communities.

JOURNALIST: So the full amount is going to be in the next Budget?

JENNY MACKLIN: You’ll be able to see the commitment from the Federal Government in black and white in the Budget.

JOURNALIST: And it’ll be the full six hundred and ….

JENNY MACKLIN: …$619 dollars.

JOURNALIST: Million dollars.

JENNY MACKLIN: Million dollars. Don’t forget the ‘M’.

JOURNALIST: With a significant investment into our communities, Aboriginal communities in the Territory, Minister, what sort of mechanisms will be in place to monitor that there are actually improvements and change?

JENNY MACKLIN: That’s a very good question because what we do want to see is people living safer lives and we have had very good monitoring over the last four years to actually measure the level of violent crime. Talking with the people here at the Substance Abuse Intelligence Desk, of course they are able to tell us on a regular basis and we publish these figures, what the hauls of drugs are, how they are able to stop the drug pushers in communities, so all of that information is very important and will continue to be collected.

JOURNALIST: The policies associated with the Intervention in terms of these alcohol curbs have been blamed for pushing alcoholics out of communities into the town centres. Just, I think it was a week or two ago there was that report possibly moving it to the rise in Melioidosis cases. There’s been a report just as late as yesterday saying that people drinking in truck stops are getting run over and are in danger. Is these the sorts of things taken into account when the policies were announced?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well there’s no question that we need to continue to work together on alcohol abuse. If there was one message that came through loud and clear to me as I was engaged in the consultations with Aboriginal people in remote communities but also in the towns and here in Darwin, it is that we have to work together to deal with alcohol abuse. And we have to do it wherever we find it. And that applies in towns, it’s why the Northern Territory Government, I’m sure the Chief Minister might like to say a few words about this as well.

That’s why the Northern Territory Government has put in place some of the strongest reforms to deal with alcohol abuse and that of course applies in the cities and towns, as well as out in remote communities. It’s why our legislation that’s before the Federal Parliament at the moment is also so important because we want to work with Aboriginal communities, both in the towns and out in remote areas to make sure that we have alcohol management plans that work. That make sure that drug pushers and alcohol pushers are dealt with, and to make sure that children can grow up in a safe and, not have to deal with the violence that comes from alcohol abuse. So yes, it’s a very important issue, it’s very complex, we’re working very closely with the Northern Territory Government, with the Police and with Aboriginal communities to deal with it.

JOURNALIST: Minister, the report that the Chief Minister just mentioned about fewer suicides, said that there’s been almost one suicide a week for the last five years. One of the key recommendations of that report was that the Federal Government review its funding and put more money into the (inaudible) grass roots programs, what’s your position on that?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well of course we’ve only just seen the report but if I could join with the Chief Minister in acknowledging the work that’s been done to produce that report. It is a very significant piece of work. We of course, will look at it very, very closely from the Commonwealth, and of course, my colleague Warren Snowdon is the Minister for Indigenous Health. We now have a specific Minister for Mental Health. So Minister Snowdon, Minister Butler and I will look very closely at this report.

We put very substantial additional money into last year’s Federal Budget for mental health, and that is for the services that you mentioned, services like family mental health services, personal helpers and mentors, services that are provided on the ground. It’s also of course, very important to acknowledge the work that’s done by youth groups, by people on the ground working with young people to make sure that any problems of mental illness are picked up early and able to be dealt with. But we will take this report very seriously, look at the details and of course, make subsequent announcements.

JOURNALIST: The report specifically talks about the need for youth support in areas like Tennant Creek, Katherine, Arnham Land and that the Federal Government money is needed to support that desperately. Is that something that you strongly support?

JENNY MACKLIN: We certainly understand just how important those youth services are. I remember the consultation that I had in Tennant Creek and the issues around young people were front and centre in those consultations. People are certainly saying to me, just how critical those youth services are. So we will of course continue to work on the Commonwealth’s commitments in these areas and we do know that we need both specialised mental health services, community mental health services, and youth services.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible) There were some allegations that came out last week that young girls were pregnant? They were going to Alice Springs and being told to abort their babies because they’re poor, at twenty-five weeks. Now the legal limit is fourteen weeks. Is this something that your Department will investigate?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well I’ve just heard this from you, so of course it’s a serious allegation and we will investigate it.

JOURNALIST: The report about youth suicide said that over the past five years, while there’s been a decrease in the number of non-indigenous deaths by young people committing suicide, there’s been a corresponding increase in the number of Indigenous people committing suicide. That’s since the Rudd Government was first elected. If you’re getting services out to where they matter, how is that still happening?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well these are very, very serious findings, and of course, of grave concern to me personally and to the Government. And that’s why we will take this report very seriously, we will make sure that we make a considered response, and also make sure that the additional services that we put in place respond to the recommendations of the report.

JOURNALIST: At the moment there’s an issue with mail being delivered to town camps in Alice Springs, that was rolled out about six months ago. Do you know why the town camps apart from one aren’t getting their mail?

JENNY MACKLIN: I understand there has been a lot of consultation and discussion in a range of town camps about the mail deliveries. If I can just say, as I said when we announced the first mail deliveries in Morris Soak how pleased we are that Australia Post is finally getting into town camps in Alice Springs. It’s never happened before and I understand that we will see additional mail deliveries very soon in some of the other town camps. I’m very pleased it’s going to happen.

JOURNALIST: ACOSS and other social welfare groups are pushing for an increase in the dole to help people who are struggling with CPI increases. Is that something the Government is keen to do to bring people in line on welfare?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well of course unemployment benefits are indexed for the Consumer Price Index price rises, so that’s the current arrangement. But to go to the point that you’re making, one of the things that this Government is always primarily concerned about, is to make sure we do everything to help people get into work. The primary focus of our Government is to work with people to make sure that they keep their jobs, that they have decent working conditions, and also to make sure that where people are unemployed we do everything possible to help them get a job.

Last year’s Budget had a very substantial commitment to working in those parts of Australia where we do have high levels of unemployment, working with young people who are leaving school early, helping them get into training so that they can get jobs, working with young mums who might otherwise find it difficult to get work. We know how critical it is to work in a concentrated way, especially with people who’ve been unemployed for a long time. People with disability, a huge issue for me personally. We want to do everything we possibly can to help support people with disability get back into work. We’ve massively expanded the Disability Employment Service and we certainly will continue to work with all of those groups to help them get into work.

JOURNALIST: Sorry, can I just ask one more on SIHIP, I know there have been some problems with SIHIP houses, about 200 houses have been identified with problems with sealants. Are you disappointed that has happened?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well I understand there is a problem with the sealant that’s been used on a number of houses. It’s been picked up. It’s the responsibility of the contractor to make sure it’s fixed. The contractor knows that and the contractor’s paying for it to be fixed.