Transcript by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Remote Indigenous Housing; Stronger Futures – ABC Alice Springs with Nadine Maloney

Program: ABC Alice Springs

E & OE – Proof only

MALONEY: Since the Government’s Indigenous Housing program began in January 2009, more than 1000 new houses have been built in remote locations across Australia for Indigenous people. In the Territory alone 475 new houses were built and almost 2000 refurbishments to existing houses have been completed. Minister for Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, Jenny Macklin, good morning.

MACKLIN: Good morning.

MALONEY: Three years in to this program proper and more than a thousand new houses built for Indigenous people Australia wide – how much longer will this program run for and will the Government continually provide housing to Indigenous people and communities?

MACKLIN: This is a ten year program so we are well into it now, it’s got about six years to run. I am very pleased that we have been able to see so many houses built, especially in the Northern Territory to see nearly 500 new houses completed and just as importantly nearly 2000 refurbishments and of course that means new kitchens and bathrooms, fixing up places so that they are liveable. These changes are making the sort of difference to families’ lives that people have waited a very long time for.

MALONEY: How does building houses though help to tackle Indigenous disadvantage in some of these communities?

Minister Macklin: One of the most important issues in many Indigenous communities, of course in the Territory but also other remote parts of Australia, is overcrowding. And that’s why we have wanted to build so many new houses. It’s also the case though that too many houses didn’t have a decent kitchen to cook in and we know how important it is that people have got a good place to cook good meals. We want to make sure that children are able to be bathed in a proper bathroom. So all of these changes are about making sure people have got a decent home, that the overcrowding is reduced and to see so many houses built is making a difference to a lot of people’s lives.

MALONEY: It’s not just houses though, it’s also hostels and hotels.

MACKLIN: That’s true.

MALONEY: In fact its’ absolutely pouring down here today in Alice Springs, we’ve got a major rain event at the opening of the Murra Murra hotel/hostel just outside of town. What it must have been about a year ago now maybe, you got…

MACKLIN: …In the pouring rain…

MALONEY: …You got rained on, and Chief Minister Paul Henderson went running for shelter but you stayed on in the rain.

Minister Macklin: I did. Much to everybody’s amusement.

MALONEY: It was funny, seeing Karl Hampton and Paul Henderson run for shelter but you stayed in the rain and finished your speech. So you’re not just concentrating on houses, it’s accommodation across the board as well?

MACKLIN: That’s true, especially in Alice Springs, that has been very important. So the visitors centre which has got 150 beds and I certainly hope that that’s being used over this weekend for all of you. But of course we have put in other rooms in hostels. One of the very good initiatives I think has been the development of Percy Court which is transitional accommodation. What that’s doing is not only providing a place for people to come and stay, but also a lot of work done on teaching people how to manage a tenancy, look after their homes. And I think the other big changes that have been very important in the town camps in Alice Springs has been the way in which the town, Alice Springs town councillors got in and doing the intensive dog controls. And probably not as big a deal as all the actual extra houses in the town camps, about 86 new houses, but you would be aware that we are gradually introducing a postal service and street names and doing all the things that really make the town camps much more like an ordinary suburb.

MALONEY: Well you say a decent house is essential for protecting children and improving health and education and employment, but under the SIHIP or the Strategic Indigenous Housing and Infrastructure Scheme, program, it hasn’t run as smoothly as either the Federal Government or the Northern Territory Government would have liked. In fact more than three quarters of federally funded homes recently built in Alice Springs town camps will need to be repaired. The consortium of companies in charge of building these new houses say that materials used in wall construction have started to buckle and crack and builders will need to strip back walls on some of the homes before replacing materials and repainting structures. It must be disappointing for you, but is it acceptable and is this happening anywhere else under this program or only in Alice Springs?

MACKLIN: Well it’s certainly not acceptable and it’s been picked up, I understand, through the good quality assurance inspections that we have in place and Territory Alliance, the company that’s responsible for the building of the houses, is of course making sure that anything that is going wrong is fixed and they’re not using money earmarked for any other housing work so they’re covering the cost of fixing up any of these problems that they’re identifying.

MALONEY: It is unfortunate because there were also teething problems in Ali Curung in Tennant Creek and after that, your department and the Government said well it won’t happen again, were cracking down on it. It is unfortunate that it is happening again. How can you reassure communities that it actually won’t be happening again?

MACKLIN: Well that’s why you have good quality assurance processes and proper inspections. I think everybody who has ever built or renovated their home knows that it’s important to have those sorts of inspections in place. We know that it’s critical that these houses are done to standard and that’s why Territory Alliance is expected to fix up any problems and they are.

MALONEY: Who’s going to cop that repair bill? Do you know how much it will cost to repair the damage? There’s 65 houses.

MACKLIN: As I said, Territory Alliance are responsible for fixing it, they’re responsible for paying for it and it won’t come out of any Government money.

MALONEY: What investigations has your department done into this? What reason have you been given by Territory Alliance for these problems?

MACKLIN: Territory Alliance have made us aware of a problem with the sealant that was used on the external walls so they’ve identified the problem, they’re fixing them and they’re paying for it.

MALONEY: You’ve been to Alice Springs numerous times, you’ve done many tours and walk-throughs of these houses and these camps and the accommodation facilities. What are some of the reactions and responses you’ve had personally from people moving in?

MACKLIN: I remember many of them. A lady who had never had the opportunity to have her own home who was still marvelling at the notion that she would be able to be there with her own children without many, many others. Some of the people who worked on the homes who were so proud of what they had achieved. I think too, that some of the additional things that have been done, so the people at Morris Soak who are now getting postal services, who decided what the street names would be for their own town camp are of course incredibly proud of what they’ve done. People feel that they’re able to control their homes and control their town camps in a way that they previously haven’t been able to and of course are very proud of the new homes that they have.

MALONEY: Jenny Macklin, while I have you on the line, what’s the latest with the Stronger Futures legislation and the debates surrounding it? I know there’s been protests at Parliament House during the week, have you met with any of those protestors?

MACKLIN: As you can imagine it’s been a very busy week in Canberra. It’s raining cats and dogs here I should tell you. The Senate enquiry is finishing up shortly, they’ll report reasonably soon, of course that’s a matter for them and then there will be a debate in the Senate. So those processes are still to go through.

MALONEY: So we don’t have a date yet about that enquiry?

MACKLIN: I understand it will be shortly. Of course they went to a number of different communities, as I did, over the last many months and I am pleased that that gave people another opportunity to put their point of view.

MALONEY: Jenny Macklin, I appreciate your time this morning and make sure you have an umbrella today cause you’re going to need one if it is raining anything like it is here in Alice Springs.

MACKLIN: Thank you. Same to you.