Speech by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Stronger futures in the Northern Territory Bill 2011 – Second reading speech

Location: Parliament House, Canberra

**Check against delivery**

The Stronger Futures in the Northern Territory Bill 2011, is being introduced alongside its companion, the Stronger Futures in the Northern Territory (Consequential and Transitional Provisions) Bill 2011.

The Social Security Legislation Amendment Bill 2011, which complements measures set out in these Bills, is being introduced separately.

Together, these Bills form a part of our next steps in the Northern Territory, undertaken in partnership with Aboriginal people and the NT Government.

These are steps taken with a clear eye to the future.

A stronger future which sees a substantial and significant change for Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory.

Where people live in good houses, and in safe communities.

Where parents go to work, and children go to school each day.

A stronger future, grounded in a stronger relationship between government and Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory.

A relationship built on respect for Australia’s first peoples, for their custodianship of the land, for their culture and for their ongoing contributions to our shared nation.

This is a respect that is about much more than sentiment. It is about the approach we take to our work, and the approach we take to working together.

This is the approach we took to consultations after we first came into government.

These conversations revealed the depth of hurt felt by Aboriginal people by the sudden and rushed implementation of the Northern Territory Emergency Response.

And informed our amendments, including the reinstatement of the Racial Discrimination Act in the Northern Territory.

As we have built houses, as we have built health services and preschools, we have also set about rebuilding the relationship with Aboriginal people.

Let me be very clear: we must achieve real change for Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory.

Because the situation in the Northern Territory remains critical.

Yes, important progress has been made.

The independent evaluation of the Northern Territory Emergency Response shows that there have been real and positive improvements over the last three years.

People have said that their communities are safer than they were three years ago. New police stations and night patrols have improved community safety.

The introduction of the basics card has been positive, showing that income management is a useful tool for people.

It has helped them to stabilise the family budget and make sure that money is being spent on housing, food and clothing for children.

More than 350 new houses have been built and another 275 are underway. More than 1,800 rebuilds and refurbishments of houses are also complete.

Our investment is delivering improved living conditions – better and safer houses – to more than 2,000 Aboriginal families in the NT.

And more people are working – in properly paid jobs – than three years ago.

But the fact remains that Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory continue to face significant levels of need on a daily basis.

Some children are still not receiving proper care, and that is completely unacceptable.

The child protection substantiation rate has doubled for Indigenous children in the NT since the start of the Emergency Response.

Three in four of these cases related to child neglect.

The increased rate in reporting reflects our increased investment, with the Northern Territory Government, in child protection services.

This includes additional funding from both governments delivered in response to the Bath Report last year, with additional child protection workers in remote communities, stronger alcohol controls and new intensive family support services for families referred for child protection income management.

We have enabled referrals from the child protection system for income management in the Northern Territory to ensure all the tools are available to child protection workers in ensuring that children are not neglected, that they have food and clothing and housing.

With increased visibility of the extent of child neglect in the Northern Territory must come our reaffirmed commitment to do all that we can to ensure that children are safe.

Similarly, with our increased visibility of school enrolment and attendance, we must do more to ensure that children are going to school.

The Evaluation Report shows us that there has been no overall improvement in school attendance – and while we are starting to see good signs in reading, the Northern Territory still lags behind the national standards for reading, writing and numeracy.

Aboriginal people in the NT still experience the widest gaps by a large margin across the Closing the Gap indicators.

They have a lower life expectancy than anywhere else in the country.

And a higher infant mortality rate.

We see that much more needs to be done – and we hear it too.

Across the Territory, people have told us that more needs to be done to achieve the change we all want to see for Aboriginal people there.

People in the Northern Territory want for their children what each of us, right across the country, want for our children:

That they will grow up healthy and safe and get a good education.

That they have a bright future that includes a roof over their heads, food on the table, and a good job.

That they will be strong people, proud of who they are.

It is clear that if we are to see these stronger futures take shape, we must not walk away and we must continue to work hard.

Existing legislation for the Northern Territory is due to cease in August next year.

But our efforts cannot cease, because we know – and Aboriginal people have told us – that much more work needs to be done.

Work to consolidate our progress to date.

And work to build on these achievements, to build a stronger future with the Aboriginal people of the Northern Territory.

The measures I bring forward in these Bills today reflect our determination to continue this work.

All of the measures in this Bill have been designed to comply with the Racial Discrimination Act 1975.

They reflect our understanding that our efforts cannot cease with the existing legislation.

They reflect our appreciation of just how critical the situation in the Northern Territory is.

And they reflect the many conversations we have had with Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory over the past few months, and the past few years.

Stronger Futures in the Northern Territory

In the six weeks of our Stronger Futures in the Northern Territory consultations, we held meetings in one hundred communities and town camps and public meetings in major towns.

Hundreds of smaller discussions with individuals, families and other groups took place across the Territory.

The consultations were overseen by the independent Cultural and Indigenous Research Centre Australia, who agreed that the discussions were fair, open and accountable.

The outcomes of these consultations have been recorded in the Stronger Futures in the Northern Territory Report on Consultations which was released last month and which forms an important part of this Government’s policy statement on our path forward.

I personally participated in a number of these discussions, and want to place on the record my appreciation for the openness and the frankness with which people shared their stories and their hopes for a stronger future for themselves and for their children.

What is clear from these conversations is that we are united in our desire for change; and that there is much more work to be done.

What we heard in the course of our conversations is that the path to change is laid with barriers, which we must break down if we are to create that change.

The barriers people described to us in this consultation were about the lack of services, yes.

But they were also about attitudes.

They said that we as government had to do more, but that we must also expect more – that people would find a job and keep it; that children would go to school; and that people would sober up.

Because if children don’t go to school, the best teachers and the best classrooms can’t give them a good education.

The strongest work ethic and the most driving ambitions will be wasted if there are no jobs.

If people can’t get sober, they can’t set the best example for their children – a parent who goes to work each day and brings home a pay cheque each fortnight.

The measures in the legislative package I am introducing to the Parliament today help tackle the barriers to change. They clear the path for us to walk together and to work together for the change we all want to see.

They make clear our expectations of parents – that they will send their children to school to get a good education.

They support more jobs in the Northern Territory.

And they do more to tackle alcohol abuse.

The Stronger Futures in the Northern Territory Bill

The Stronger Futures in the Northern Territory Bill 2011 contains measures aimed at breaking the back of alcohol abuse – to help individuals, their families and communities get back on their feet.

When people spoke to me of barriers, they spoke of alcohol and the havoc it wreaks on remote and urban communities alike.

They spoke of the harm caused by alcohol abuse – of loved ones lost to alcohol related disease, road accidents and the violence it causes in families and communities.

Alcohol abuse is at the heart of dysfunction, violence and abuse in many communities.

There is extensive hard evidence of the harm being caused by alcohol in Aboriginal communities, and of the huge economic and social costs of alcohol to the Territory.

Communities have called for their ‘dry’ status to remain in place.

The hard evidence and what we heard during the consultations have persuaded the Government that the alcohol restrictions must not be relaxed.

The Stronger Futures in the Northern Territory Bill provides for the current alcohol restrictions to be continued.

It makes sure there is respectful signage so that everyone is clear about the alcohol management arrangements in place, and communities will be consulted about signs.

It responds to the concerns people raised – their frustrations with grog runners undermining the restrictions. So we are introducing tough new measures to clamp down on grog runners.

We are proposing to increase the penalty for liquor offences under 1,350 millilitres, to include six months imprisonment.

Northern Territory laws will then permit the option of referral to the Substance Misuse Assessment and Referral for Treatment Court for this offence.

We have heard from people across the Territory that if we are to break the back of alcohol abuse, we must empower individuals, families and communities to take control.

This Bill strengthens the ability of communities to take control.

The Bill provides that alcohol management plans established by local communities be directed at minimising alcohol-related harm.

To ensure that alcohol management plans are able to contribute to reducing harm, the Bill includes a provision to facilitate the establishment of rules requiring that alcohol management plans meet minimum standards before they can be approved.

In future AMPs will be approved by the Commonwealth Minister for Indigenous Affairs.

Where an alcohol management plan is approved and in place, consideration will be given to lifting the restrictions under the Stronger Futures legislation. If the restrictions are lifted, the Northern Territory Liquor Act will apply.

Where communities want to retain these Stronger Futures restrictions, they will be able to.

This measure is designed to support communities get control of the drinking problem and forge their own path – to make the grog, the despair and the violence that comes with it a thing of the past.

To assist the NT Government to clamp down on alcohol traders who may be linked to substantial alcohol-related harm to Aboriginal people, the Bill provides that the Commonwealth Indigenous Affairs Minister may request the Northern Territory Government to appoint an assessor under the Northern Territory Liquor Act to examine their practices and recommend changes to assist.

The Bill also provides for a joint Commonwealth-Northern Territory review to be conducted two years after commencement of the Stronger Futures legislation.

The review will examine the effectiveness of the Stronger Futures and the Territory laws in addressing alcohol-related harm to Aboriginal people.

This will allow both Governments to continue working together to make progress.

The review report will be tabled in this Parliament.

Alcohol-related harm is not confined to the Northern Territory.

The Government is also increasing the tools available to governments across Australia to tackle alcohol-related harm.

We are proposing to amend income management legislation to allow referrals by recognised State or Territory authorities to trigger income management.

This non-discriminatory measure is intended to commence in the Northern Territory as a first step, to support referrals for income management from the Northern Territory Alcohol and Other Drugs Tribunal.

These proposals are included in the Social Security Legislation Amendment Bill 2011.

Alcohol abuse is a serious problem in the Northern Territory.

It is causing real harm to individuals, to families and to communities.

And it is a barrier to the positive changes we all want to see.

We are responding with serious measures.

The Social Security Legislation Amendment Bill will also boost our efforts to tackle the barrier created by children not going to school.

A good education is a firm foundation for a stronger future.

And yet, we know that levels of enrolment and attendance for Indigenous children in the Territory remain unacceptable.

Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory have made clear their expectation that Indigenous children need to get a good education.

Yes, governments have the responsibility to provide the best teachers and classrooms.

Aboriginal people have been equally clear about their expectations of parents.

Parents have a responsibility to send their children to school.

Parents of children everywhere.

Whether in a remote community in the Territory, a regional town in Victoria or in the middle of Brisbane – parents have a responsibility to give their children the best start in life.

They have a responsibility to send their children to school.

The School Enrolment and Attendance Measure already applies to all parents on income support in some areas in the Northern Territory and Queensland.

This amendment will extend SEAM to all Remote Service Delivery communities, to Alice Springs, Tennant Creek, and remaining schools in Katherine, Alyangula and Nhulunbuy.

Other measures in the Bill

The Stronger Futures in the Northern Territory Bill 2011 paves the way for change by supporting strong communities.

We heard in consultations that remote community stores have improved over the past four years. They now offer healthier food and are better managed.

We will continue to improve community stores licensing arrangements.

Licensing will focus more clearly on supporting food security in remote communities. In the future, a community store will be required to have a licence to operate if it is an important source of food, drink, or grocery items for Aboriginal communities.

We will also introduce more flexible penalties to encourage stores to improve their performance and crack down on unscrupulous practices.

We have long been clear that secure tenure is a foundation stone for our work to improve housing in remote Indigenous communities.

We have been determined not to replicate the mistakes of the past that saw ownership and responsibility for houses uncertain and unclear.

In the past no one made sure homes were maintained; no one made sure proper tenancy management was in place.

This is now being fixed through systemic reforms in the delivery of remote housing under the National Partnership Agreement on Remote Indigenous Housing.

Leases which run for 40 years now form the foundation for housing in 15 larger communities. Tenancy management is now the clear responsibility of the Territory Government.

And tenants now have a clear responsibility to pay their rent, just like tenants anywhere else in Australia.

The Australian and NT Governments will continue to negotiate leases with Aboriginal land owners to enable the Territory Government to manage public housing in remote communities.

This means that there is clear responsibility for the upkeep of houses – and that no longer will they fall down around peoples’ ears through years of neglect.

In this Bill, we make clear too that the Australian Government will not be extending the compulsory five year leases acquired under the original legislation, and instead will negotiate voluntary long term leases.

The Bill provides the Australian Government with the ability to make regulations removing barriers in NT legislation to leasing on town camp and Community Living Area land.

Currently, there are restrictions on how this land can be used – even where the community agrees they want to put it to different uses.

This will enable the Aboriginal land holders of town camps and Community Living Areas to make use of their land for a broader range of purposes including for economic development and private home ownership.

This Bill builds on what Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory have told us about the change they want to see, for themselves and for their children.

The measures have been designed for the long haul – to reflect our belief that over time these measures will provide better opportunities for Aboriginal people.

Over time they will break down the barriers.

Over time they will pave the way for the path ahead.

And over time, they will achieve their objective.

These measures are designed so that, when they achieve their objective, they will not continue.

Accordingly, we propose that the Stronger Futures in the Northern Territory Act sunset 10 years after its commencement.

Seven years after the commencement of this Stronger Futures legislation, the Government is proposing a legislative review commence.

The findings of this independent review will be tabled in the Parliament.

The timeframe for the review has been planned so that we could reasonably expect to see changes in the key priority areas that were outlined in the Stronger Futures in the Northern Territory discussion paper – outcomes such as education, jobs, alcohol related harm, and housing.

Across each of the closing the gap targets, the gap remains the greatest for Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory.

Progress is being made but much more remains to be done.

This Bill is part of our next steps in the Northern Territory, steps taken in partnership with Aboriginal people.