Transcript by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Future Fund, Stronger Futures in the Northern Territory

Program: Radio National Breakfast

FRAN KELLY: Minister, before we get to the Stronger Futures report, I just want to ask you about the Cabinet Decision to a point David Gonski, as Head of the Future Fund, did the Board want Peter Costello and was he ever considered by Cabinet for the job?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well I think you’ve heard the comments from the Finance Minister, Penny Wong this morning. She’s indicated, as she indicated privately, that she was looking for a very senior person to head the Future Fund. I think in David Gonski we’ve got an excellent appointment and I was very pleased to support his appointment.

FRAN KELLY: Was the Board’s preferred candidate, ie. Peter Costello, ever made clear to Cabinet?

JENNY MACKLIN: I’m not going to go through the Cabinet discussion but I think as Penny Wong has indicated publicly, we’re very pleased with the calibre of the person that has now been chosen by the Cabinet to head the Future Fund.

FRAN KELLY: Is it fair to say that political reasons played a part in a rejection of Peter Costello as the Chairman?

JENNY MACKLIN: I don’t think that is correct Fran. I think that Penny Wong and the Cabinet have made a very considered decision to get the best person for the job. I don’t think anyone could say that David Gonski isn’t an outstanding appointment.

FRAN KELLY: In your knowledge, to your knowledge was Peter Costello picked for the job, did he want the job?

JENNY MACKLIN: I’m not going to go into those matters Fran. I think what’s important is that we have the best person for the job. Somebody who has a very wide range of experience in finance and David Gonski certainly has that.

FRAN KELLY: Let’s go to the intervention legislation, will extend the intervention by a decade. Can it really take that long to sort out the problems in the Northern Territory? Do we really need these kind of special measures for ten more years?

JENNY MACKLIN: One of things that really came across to me in the consultations that I’ve been engaged with in the Northern Territory with people in communities, Aboriginal people in communities over the last five years, is just how entrenched the problems are. If we go to the problems around school attendance for example, we have children not attending schools two and three days a week on a regular basis. Parents, Aboriginal leaders, want to do something about this. We have to act, we have to act with parents and with teachers on the ground.

FRAN KELLY: But they’ve already been in place for four or five years, another ten years, does this suggest that the measures are not working, aren’t effective?

JENNY MACKLIN: I think it demonstrates just how entrenched the problems are. If you go to alcohol abuse which is an issue that came up time and time again in discussions with me, with an old man saying to me, “alcohol abuse is killing our families.” Many people in the Aboriginal communities right throughout the Territory have had bans on alcohol for a long time, long before the Northern Territory Emergency Response. They want to make sure that those controls continue. But what they also want is some stability in the laws over the next ten years and they also want a guarantee from our Government and from the Northern Territory Government, from service providers, for the extra teachers, the extra police, the extra health services, will be there for the long haul. They don’t want us chopping and changing, they want some stability, they want to know the laws, the protections, and the supports that we will put in place, those extra teachers that are there now, the extra police, we want them to continue and Aboriginal people certainly want them to.

FRAN KELLY: Sure, I’m sure Aboriginal people do want those extra resources and they might want stability and they won’t want chopping and changing. But they want to make sure that what is there is right and fair and there was a minority report tabled last night by the Greens, Senator Rachel Siewert, and it concludes “there is no substantive evidence to show the intervention has had a positive effect on the lives of Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory. Rather Aboriginal people in the community sector have made it clear that the top down punitive nature of the intervention is actually undermining and disempowering Aboriginal people in communities”.

JENNY MACKLIN: Well, I don’t agree with that. If you have a look at the monitoring reports that we’ve published every six months over the last four years, you can see an improvement in one of the worst measures which was the level of violent assaults, we’re now seeing that finally starting to come down. One of the measures that Aboriginal people raise with me constantly when I was out engaging in the consultations, was just how important the night patrols are and what a difference the police on the ground in their communities have made to people. For the first time ever people have got police who are now living in their communities. They’ve got night patrols working every night, making sure that at last we’re getting some improvements in basic safety that people deserve. These are the real changes that are happening. Another area that’s so critical that is the result of the Northern Territory Emergency Response is the improvements that have happened in the stores. One of the critical things in remote parts of Australia, especially in the Northern Territory, is food security, making sure that people have got the food that they need, especially for their children. And the evaluations that have been done on the measures that we’ve put in place show that we do have improved security of food, better food supplies as a result of what’s been put in place.

FRAN KELLY: Minister, when you released the Stronger Futures document, you leant heavily on the feedback you got through what you’ve described to the extensive consultation process. Now there’s a lot of complaints coming out of that consultation process, the Human Rights Commission says the process was inadequate, the Northern Territory Anti-Discrimination Commissioner, Eddie Cubillo, says there were “concerns that only a few were spoken to, the duration of the visits was too short, and some Aboriginal Territorians could not participate because of language dialect or hearing impairment”. What’s your response to those criticisms?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well I think it’s always the case that there’s more people you could speak to. I understand that, and I also understand that not everybody will agree. I think that’s true in any public policy. But I also know that over the last four years we’ve conducted three major rounds of consultations and on this latest change to public policy, there were around a hundred meetings took place. I participated in many of them myself. I certainly used interpreters. In some of the meetings the meetings were held entirely in the local Aboriginal language. I needed the interpreter to understand what was going on, they were very important to me, and very important to the Aboriginal people who were talking with me. I got the messages loud and clear from the Aboriginal people I spoke with, that they want to deal with alcohol abuse. They understand it is killing their families. I’ve had so many people raise this issue with me time and time again. They want their children to go to school. They want our support getting their children to school. They want to make sure that they’ve got jobs. They want better houses. These are the basic measures that people want implemented. They’re the measures in the legislation and I call on all Senators to support this legislation when it goes to the Senate.

FRAN KELLY: The focus on the consultations is important because ever since we had the initial report, the Little Children are Sacred Report, that kicked off this whole intervention with the Howard Government, the key was on getting Aboriginal people involved in the solutions in their communities, empowering them. Now there is, I’m sure you did speak to a hundred communities and I’m sure you did have some interpreters, but there is criticism I say again, from a number of sources, including Alastair Nicholson who we spoke to on the program last week. He’s a (inaudible), he’s a former Chief Justice of the Family Court, he’s a co-author of a report, Listening but not Hearing, that looked at the new laws in the consultation process. Let’s hear a little bit from Alastair Nicholson. “The real difficulty the Government has as I see it is that the special measures are meant to be for a very limited period, whereas the Government’s proposing for ten years. Also the special measures require the broad consensus and consent of the people concerned and that certainly can’t be claimed for any of these consultations. And so far as those aspects are concerned, I think the Government would be in trouble on an even challenge.” And in fact in that report they did an assessment against thirteen different criteria of the consultation process and a scorecard gave you seventeen out of sixty-five, not because you didn’t try, not because you hadn’t, it was an improved process, but because there were still gaps and people they said have no idea the Government was going to legislate so quickly in the way you did.

JENNY MACKLIN: Well let’s just go to one of the major measures in the legislation that people are critical of, that is the alcohol controls. I have no doubt, no doubt at all, that Aboriginal people want to deal with alcohol abuse. They know that it is alcohol abuse that is killing their people. That is the language that they used to me over and over and over again. So yes, there may be differences of view about the way in which we conducted our consultations, but there is no doubt that Aboriginal people want to deal with the violence that is constantly being rained on individuals, mothers, fathers, children, daily as a result of alcohol abuse. In the end it’s my responsibility, yes to listen, and do the consultations properly, but also to make sure that the level of alcohol abuse that has existed in these communities for a very long time is dealt with. I don’t think anyone thinks it’s going to be fixed overnight. I think everybody understands how difficult a problem it is, but let’s get on with it and let’s make sure that we put the controls in place that will make sure that people don’t have to deal with and live with the daily violence that comes from alcohol abuse.

FRAN KELLY: Jenny Macklin thank you very much for joining us on Breakfast.