Transcript by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Stronger Futures in the Northern Territory; gambling reform – Interviewer: David Spears, Program: Sky PM Agenda

Program: Sky PM Agenda

E & OE – Proof only

DAVID SPEERS: …Four years on and after an extensive consultation process, the now Labor Government is well essentially extending the key elements of this intervention indefinitely and also tailoring them more specifically to local communities. Even though it’s not calling this now an intervention many of the key measures remain in place from alcohol restrictions to tough love measures on the welfare. There is however more community consultations, as I said than in the past. To tell us a bit more about what the Government’s decided to do and announce today, the Indigenous Affairs Minister, Jenny Macklin joins me. Minister, thanks for your time.

JENNY MACKLIN: My pleasure.

DAVID SPEERS: Tell me first of all on the alcohol front which is clearly at the root of all other problems in Indigenous communities. You’ve announced local alcohol management plans that are going to be encouraged in each community. What will that mean typically for fair to average community?

JENNY MACKLIN: Can I just say at the outset one of the things that came though so strongly in the consultations in Aboriginal communities was that for many, many Aboriginal people they know that alcohol is killing their people, which is exactly how they describe it.

DAVID SPEERS: They wanted to ban alcohol?

JENNY MACKLIN: Exactly, and have done for a long time. And so I would expect that in many communities they’ll want to stay dry. That will be the choice that they will make.

DAVID SPEERS: What sort of proportion at the moment have banned alcohol?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well, at the moment the blanket bans apply, so across the remote Indigenous communities alcohol is not allowed. But what we want to do is really recognise that for some places, they might already have alcohol available as they do on Groote Eyelandt. For example they’ve worked out their own alcohol management plan. There’s another one of a different type at Nhulunbuy. There are different arrangements in some of the towns in Katherine and Alice Springs. So we want to work with local people ….

DAVID SPEERS: These are in areas where alcohol is still available, the town camps around Alice Springs has been a big problem.

JENNY MACKLIN: It has been a big problem. Of course alcohol’s not supposed to be taken into the town camps. We know that’s very, very hard to police. So what we want to do is really work with the whole town on how to make sure that alcohol is managed and done in a way that really reduces alcohol related harm.

DAVID SPEERS: So it’s about deciding within the community what hours it might be available?

JENNY MACKLIN: They might be around hours of operation of hotels for example, in some places they might say what level of alcohol can be sold. It might be restrictions on spirits, for example. All those sorts of things.

DAVID SPEERS: But you’ve decided against a floor price on alcohol which a lot of experts say is the way to go, why not?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well what we decided to do was, and this was in discussion with the Health Minister, send that issue off to the National Preventative Health Agency. They’re the ones really who will advise us whether or not that’s a good measure to look at nationally.

DAVID SPEERS: It would make sense though I mean if you think about if large quantities of very cheap wine can be purchased why not jack up the price to discourage that?

JENNY MACKLIN: And one of the things that I’ve been very pleased to see has happened in Alice Springs is that Coles and Woollies have actually taken that lead themselves and I say to those who are selling alcohol, look at the lead that these two companies have taken.

DAVID SPEERS: Why not do it as a Government though?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well that’s why we are taking it off to this Agency that’s going to provide expert advice to us about that issue.

DAVID SPEERS: Now you’re also, one part of this is going to be possible income management for alcoholics, I suppose, so what would it take for them to have their welfare quarantined to prevent them being allowed to buy alcohol?

JENNY MACKLIN: So the alcohol court in the Northern Territory, if they thought it would be useful for a person to have their welfare payments even further income managed they could recommend that up to 70% of a person’s welfare could be income managed. That of course is all about saying we want less available for alcohol, more money available for food and clothes and rent.

DAVID SPEERS: And for school attendance I guess it’s a similar approach in terms of local and more tailored management, when you talking about school attendance plans for each kid really, how often do they have to miss school before they get one of these?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well, there is a policy of course in the Northern Territory just like everywhere else in Australia, that every child is supposed to go to school every day. And if a Principal is noticing that a child is not attending regularly, this will mean that parents will be called into the school, sat down with the teachers, maybe a Centrelink social worker if that’s thought to be useful, and an attendance plan will be worked out, find out what the problem is. Is it bullying at school, have that addressed. Is it because a child can’t get to school with a clean school uniform on, or can’t manage to find the money for their school lunch. Try and find out what the problem is. If it is because the parents aren’t doing the right thing, getting kids up, getting them ready, that has to be addressed and maybe the social worker can work through those issues with the parents.

DAVID SPEERS: Are you talking about docking their welfare if the parents aren’t doing their bit?

JENNY MACKLIN: And that’ll be the last resort of course. We want to try and work through the problems first.

DAVID SPEERS: But is there any evidence any hard evidence to show that that works?

JENNY MACKLIN: We’ve been trialling this for a little while in the Northern Territory and also in some parts of Queensland. What we’ve noticed in the Northern Territory is when the letters to out to people saying if you don’t turn up, if you don’t start getting your kids to school, just the receipt of a letter is often a way in which we get some action.

DAVID SPEERS: Is that just anecdotal or is that evidence?

JENNY MACKLIN: No, we’ve done some analysis of what’s been happening in some of the communities where we’ve been trialling this so far in the Territory. What we’ve found though is that it would be much better if we work in much more closely with the school, much more closely with the Northern Territory Government’s own systems and so we’re going to have Centrelink working with the Northern Territory Government with their schools so that we get a more integrated approach.

DAVID SPEERS: Can I turn to your other portfolio responsibility, poker machines. Is there any chance the Government…

JENNY MACKLIN: …Problem gambling.

DAVID SPEERS: … Problem gambling, but you’re tacking poker machines in particular. Is there any chance the Government, instead of going with the mandatory pre-commitment technology which the industry hates, and a lot of your colleagues are nervous about, that you’ll go with the $1 bet limit that even Andrew Wilkie thinks is a good idea?

JENNY MACKLIN: No, we’re not going to go down that path because the recommendations of the Productivity Commission were that we implement a program of full or mandatory pre-commitment. We asked them to do a major inquiry into problem gambling, they did it for us, they recommended that this is the best way to go.

DAVID SPEERS: Didn’t they recommend a trial first?

JENNY MACKLIN: They recommended that we introduce mandatory pre-commitment and a trial and we are in fact negotiating the terms of the trial to look at how we implement mandatory pre-commitment, and we’re doing that with the ACT Government and the ACT Clubs.

DAVID SPEERS: In recent days though we’ve seen a number of experts questioning whether mandatory pre-commitment would work. One of the members of the Government’s Expert Advisory Committee, Alex Blaszczynskil, he said it’s unproven, and would still allow problem gamblers to bet as much as they want?

JENNY MACKLIN: I think when you’ve got a lot of different points of view it’s a good idea to go back to those who did a major inquiry for us. It took them eighteen months, the Productivity Commission. They’ve looked at all the evidence and they’re the ones that have recommended that we go down the path of mandatory pre-commitment.

DAVID SPEERS: So you’re not going to shift on that?

JENNY MACKLIN: No we’re not.

DAVID SPEERS: When will Caucus see the details on this?

JENNY MACKLIN: Early next year.

DAVID SPEERS: Okay, Jenny Macklin, thank you.