Transcript by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Stronger Futures in the Northern Territory; gambling reform – Joint Doorstop with Minister Garrett, Canberra

E & OE – Proof only

JENNY MACKLIN: Thanks very much everyone for joining us here this morning. I am very pleased to be here with my Ministerial colleague, Peter Garrett who will have some more to say about the school enrolment and attendance measures and the other investments that we’re making in the Northern Territory.

But I wanted to start by saying that the Government will next week be introducing new legislation into the Parliament to continue our work in the Northern Territory to build stronger futures for Aboriginal people and for their children. We have spent the last few months intensively in consultation with Aboriginal people both in communities and with leaders in various towns and communities and the message that has come through loud and clear to me personally through these consultations is that there are three major priorities for Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory.

One is education. Aboriginal people want to see their children getting to school (inaudible) the best chance to get a good education. They are saying to me loud and clear they want that education to lead to a good job that pays well and they want to make sure that the jobs that are available in their communities are able to be taken up by local Aboriginal people. The third area that’s really received a major focus is alcohol. I’ll never forget an elderly man saying to me in one community very passionately, alcohol is killing our people. And Aboriginal people expect us all to work with them to make sure that alcohol is controlled and the violence that comes from alcohol is controlled so that people can live better lives.

The Government is responding to these priorities that have been put to us so forcefully by Aboriginal people. We’ve worked very closely with local people, with their leaders, with the Northern Territory Government, to put this package of legislation in front of the Parliament. We will be making changes to the Social Security Act and I’ll ask Peter Garrett to go through the details. We will also be introducing a new jobs package and I’m very pleased to announce today an increase of $19 million to be spent on additional Ranger positions. There’ll be 50 extra Ranger positions to be available in the Northern Territory for local Aboriginal people to be able to work on country and protect their environment. This is on top of the more than 280 Ranger positions that we already have in the Territory where people are already doing a great job.

Some of that money will also be spent on a 100 extra traineeships for local people to get the jobs that are available in their communities. People are saying loud and clear that they want to work, they want to have training that is going to make sure that when jobs are available in their local communities (inaudible). The third area will be in the area of improved alcohol management. We have heard loud and clear that people want alcohol controlled. Of course it is the case that in many, many parts of remote Northern Territory communities have been dry for a very long time. Many people have said they want that to continue. We will continue the alcohol controls that are currently in existence but we will also put in place the capacity for local communities to work with us to develop locally produced alcohol management plans. We already have on Groote Eylandt for example, a very well developed local plan where people have put together an alcohol management plan that works for them, that controls the availability of alcohol and has also seen a very significant reduction in the level of alcohol induced violence.

So we want to work with communities. We know one size doesn’t always fit all. We want to make sure that harm is reduced from alcohol abuse. We will work with people to see local alcohol management plans introduced. The Commonwealth Minister for Indigenous Affairs will have the power to approve these alcohol management plans to make sure that they are focused on reducing the level of alcohol abuse.

The Bill will also give Northern Territory authorities such as the alcohol and drug courts the capacity to recommend to Centrelink that people who are before the alcohol courts that their welfare payments can be income managed in the same way that we apply it for child protection. So that too will be a new measure that will be in the legislation that we will introduce next week.

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank first of all, all the Aboriginal people who came to the many consultations that we had right across the Territory, many of which I personally participated in. I’d also like to thank the Northern Territory Government, my ministerial colleagues, Peter Garrett and Tony Burke, and of course our local representatives Warren Snowdon and Trish Crossin. Everybody has worked very hard to make sure that we are able to build a stronger future for Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory. I’ll just hand over to Minister Garrett to say a bit more about the education.

PETER GARRETT: Thanks Jenny.

This Government has provided significant, additional investment to improve education in the Northern Territory. We are supporting an additional 200 teachers in the territory; about $250 million in Building the Education Revolution infrastructure support; specific additional support for remote communities; and some effort on housing as well.

But it’s clear that attendance is the main game for us, particularly the low levels of attendance that we witness in the Northern Territory compared to what happens nationally.

We want to work closely with the Northern Territory Government in its efforts around its ‘every child, every day’ initiative and what we are announcing today is intended to be an integrated approach which works closely with the Northern Territory Government to make sure that we are getting all kids in the Territory into school.

We know that attendance is important because without kids getting into the school system and developing regular attendance habits, there is a terrible danger of them not being able to get the basic levels of literacy and numeracy that they require, to be able to both complete their education and go on to future training, to get jobs and the like. But also to engage with the wider world and the community as well.

So today’s announcement is specifically geared on providing the opportunity for parents where attendance is an issue; to attend a conference. That’s the main part of this initiative – a conference between the parents , the school community, the principal and also social workers to support the parents; to agree on an attendance plan specifying specific things that ought to happen to make sure that the kids are coming to school and then to monitor the compliance of that plan.

My expectation is that this will make a significant difference for those relatively small number of parents who aren’t getting their kids to school on a regular basis. If I look across the communities where attendance rates are lower than 60 per cent, this basically boils down to about two days a week in school that kids are missing out on. That is simply not acceptable.

The final thing to say is that whilst we are providing additional support in education, teachers, the school infrastructure, and for the delivery of services; governments can’t do everything in this space. We need parents to take some additional responsibility and as Minister Macklin has said, Aboriginal communities in particular, have identified that they see parents taking that responsibility as an important step in making sure that their kids get the education they need.

I’ve just come back from a visit to the Northern Territory, into schools. I go into a school and I see teachers ready to teach; I see all the education resources in the classroom that are necessary…but I don’t see enough students.

And if we’re going to get Aboriginal kids in particular, out and into the workforce, they need to have these basic literacy and numeracy skills in place. And the only way they can do that is by attending school. We cannot have a generation of Aboriginal kids not coming through a school system without the education they need to get a job and to make their way in the world. And so today’s announcements are specifically geared at that end. We’re providing support for parents by agreeing an attendance plan and committing parents to the strategies needed to make sure their kids attend school.

And after Minister Macklin has taken questions, I’m happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST: (Inaudible)

JENNY MACKLIN: The Minister for Health Nicola Roxon has in fact referred that matter to the National Health Preventative Agency so that’s the place where that will be further pursued.

JOURNALIST: But back in June you said you weren’t sure and you’d like to talk to Indigenous communities more about it. Your (inaudible) have been talking to Indigenous communities for months now. What was the feedback you got on the ground there and are you leaning in a particular direction now having talking to Indigenous people?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well people certainly want action on alcohol. There’s no question about that and there are a number of groups in the Northern Territory, I am sure you know of them, that have been campaigning for an alcohol floor price, that is one of the reasons why Minister Roxon has referred it off to the Preventative Health Taskforce.

JOURNALIST: (Inaudible)

JENNY MACKLIN: Generally I think you can see it will contain issues around the time that alcohol might be able to be sold at times of day or days of the week, the level of alcohol that could be sold. So it might ban spirits for example. It might say that if you’ve committed an alcohol offence by getting drunk and hurting somebody that you’re not able to buy alcohol. Penalties will apply if you engage in buying or selling with that person, that’s some of the rules that apply in Groote Island or example. So what we want to do is really work that through with individual communities. I think we’ll find that many places will say we don’t want alcohol here it hurts our people too much. But in places where they do want controlled access to alcohol, they’re some of the things that might be (inaudible)

JOURNALIST: Is it (inaudible) just Territory (inaudible)

JENNY MACKLIN: No, no it isn’t. As I indicated at the start of my remarks some of the changes will be through the Social Security Act. That’s certainly the measures that have to do with the school enrolment and attendance measures.

JOURNALIST: Minister do you think (inaudible)

JENNY MACKLIN: As you would expect Paul I won’t be speaking in any way whatsoever about (inaudible)

JOURNALIST: (Inaudible)

JENNY MACKLIN: I describe it as us wanting to build a stronger future with Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory. What I saw and what I know as a result of all the time I’ve spent in the Territory over a now long period of time, is that Aboriginal people face very serious disadvantages whether it’s in education, in health, in housing, in access to jobs. And we want to make sure that we work with Aboriginal people to turn that around. That’s really the main message we do want to build a stronger future but we do want to do it with Aboriginal people, with the Northern Territory Government and we’ll focus on the issues that Aboriginal people themselves have emphasised, education, jobs and dealing with alcohol abuse.

JOURNALIST: Minister, do you think that the Government has broken the back of poor polling with today’s Neilson polls suggested a lift in Julia Gillard’s personal approval rating?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well once again I’m sure you don’t really expect me to engage on that topic either, a bit like the Budget. But what I would say is that today demonstrates that this Government is getting on with some of the more difficult areas of policy. We know that the level of disadvantage facing Aboriginal people, especially in the Northern Territory, is very severe and that’s why we are doing what we’re doing, investing significantly in the way Minister Garrett just outlined. We’ve just released an evaluation of the Northern Territory Emergency Response. One of the biggest things that came through to me in that evaluation was just how important it’s been for local people in their local communities to have extra police. To have police on the ground, there in their communities, people do feel safer. And so this says to me that we do need to keep working with Aboriginal people to make sure that their communities are safe, to make sure that people have got the chance to get a good job and their kids are getting a good education.

JOURNALIST: Mr Garrett, can I ask you about the attendance plans? Can they involve Centrelink officers coming to a home, getting the kid out of bed and getting them on their way to school? And would that require parental permission?

PETER GARRETT: Well certainly, any component of the plan would require the parents to agree with the school community and the social workers. I think that it’s unlikely that parents will request someone will come in and do that task, as has been reported this morning.

Look, I think the key thing here is, this is about sitting down with parents and agreeing on an attendance plan. It may be something as simple as saying to the parents ‘we want you to walk your kids to school and bring them back again’, if they are primary-age. If they’re secondary aged kids, it might be something as simple as saying ‘make sure that your kids have got some quiet area where the kids can study in the evening”.

And by agreeing that plan and identifying the support that parents need to actually make the plan effective…that’s the key thing about this initiative. And the thing that gives me a great deal of confidence that it will work.

I just don’t think that we can continue to provide the high level of resources that we have, into the education system into the Northern Territory, and see great steps taken in meeting housing shortages, in providing additional resources for the classroom, and really helping the teachers do their job; unless the kids are there on a regular basis.

JOURNALIST: You spend a lot of time in these communities…how big a problem is it that parents can’t control their kids, can’t get them out of bed and get them to school. What can be done about that?

PETER GARRETT: Well there’s no doubt that attendance is a big issue in some communities. When you have attendance as low as 40 per cent or even 38 per cent…then you’ve got a significant issue. But I think, as Minister Macklin said, we’re hearing strongly, that the message from Aboriginal people that they recognise that there is a role, a role of responsibility that the parents must play, to get the kids to school.

JOURNALIST: Do you think the Government would have more success getting kids to school if classrooms were bilingual? Like, it’s easier to get butts on seats but you can’t really guarantee that the kids are actually learning something once they’re there because English isn’t necessarily their first language.

PETER GARRETT: Look, having been into a number of these schools, I’ll make this one observation. I don’t think there is any deficiency in either the way in which teachers are teaching generally, nor in the provision of resources for education, the curriculum and the like. There is a discussion around that matter, but we need to be providing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander kids- as much as any other child in the country- with the opportunity to master basic literacy and numeracy. That is a prerequisite for any further education and it is a prerequisite for jobs as well. And unless they’re at school, kids won’t get that learning.

So we need to front up to that. We need to recognise that we have done a great deal over the last three-and-a-half years in making sure that there are the resources in the education system in the NT, and that the NT Government has done a good job as well. By aligning this initiative with their ‘Every child, every day’ initiative, we’re maximising the focus on attendance and we’re providing those families who may not have a good attendance record, with an opportunity to work through with us, how to best deal with that issue.

JOURNALIST: (Inaudible)

PETER GARRETT: Well again Paul, just as Minister Macklin has indicated the appropriate response to that, I will indicate that response as well.

JOURNALIST: So you haven’t got the (inaudible)

PETER GARRETT: Well I’m very focused on our announcement today because I think that…just to repeat what I said earlier… we cannot have a situation where another generation of young, Aboriginal students don’t come through the school system with basic literacy and numeracy; the tools they need to get jobs; with the skills that they need to interact with the wider world.

JOURNALIST: Can I ask you on another matter, what do you think about more US forces being based in Australia? Is it a setback for our country?

PETER GARRETT: I note the comments that have been made by the Defence Minister and others on that matter. You see what the Government has said up to this point in time David; I don’t propose to add anything to that.

JOURNALIST: You don’t want to talk about the Budget, but have you been told how deep these cuts will be?

PETER GARRETT: Well again, what we are focusing on today is responding to the consultation that Minister Macklin went through. We want to make sure that the investments that we are providing in education are complemented by the necessary actions from parents and school communities to keep kids in schools. That’s what today’s about. If we are serious about closing the gap and we are as a Government, then we have to be serious about getting kids at school. If they’re not at school, they can’t learn. Under the former government, in the Northern Territory, you don’t even have the provision of secondary-school education outside the four main town centres. We now have that.

Under this Government, not only have we increased the investment in literacy and numeracy, in improving teacher effectiveness and teacher quality; we’re also provided specific support for remote communities and we’ve seen really substantial investment in school infrastructure. I’m going to schools that are well equipped, equipped with teaching staff in then and now they need kids in the classrooms to complete the job.

JOURNALIST: There’s a Senate inquiry at the moment into indigenous languages and that has heard a lot of evidence that kids actually need to be able to read and write in their first language. Is that something that the government is considering?

PETER GARRETT: Well we’ll have a look at those recommendations… Just one thing I would say about bilingual education issue generally, is the Northern Territory has made a decision to put its initial focus on making sure the kids are getting basic in English language education in the classroom. (Inaudible) and the reason for that is we have less English language capacity amongst young Aboriginal and Torres strait islander people than we did have 10 or 15 years ago. And that is simply not an acceptable situation for us. Many schools have in place cultural programs. Many schools enable kids to continue to learn in their language. And we also have, particularly with the provision of Early Childhood Centres, looking at what happens in the maternal health area…recognising the cultural connection between family and language are important in learning. At the end of the day, any Aboriginal young person who is going to go on to further study, any Aboriginal young person who is going to go on to work, they have to have the basic foundations of English literacy and numeracy in place; that must be our priority.

JOURNALIST: (Inaudible)

PETER GARRETT: (Inaudible) One thing I would say about the passage of the clean energy legislation (inaudible) and I think the Prime Minister has shown a resilience and determination to get the job done. There is much more for us to do, I look forward to the opportunity with my colleagues to do it.

JOURNALIST: Minister Macklin, when will the poker machine reforms legislation (inaudible)

JENNY MACKLIN: We’ll release legislation next year. We have made a commitment to get the legislation through the Parliament by May.

JOURNALIST: I’ve just got one more question on the alcohol management plans.


JOURNALIST: What will the punishment mechanism be? Will it be Northern Territory police using existing Territory laws to enforce the alcohol management plans?

JENNY MACKLIN: What we’ll do of course is work with the Northern Territory Government but the legislation that we will have in front of the Parliament will make it clear that alcohol is banned in a number of specified locations. We will of course work with the Territory police on making sure that that’s implemented and the same will apply to the rules that will be in place (inaudible).

JOURNALIST: (inaudible) about the remote Indigenous Housing program. It detailed (inaudible)?

JENNY MACKLIN: We’ve got around 2,000 families have benefited from the very significant investment that we’re making and continuing to make in the Northern Territory. We do understand just how people (inaudible) addressed the horrific backlog of housing needs that the previous Government (inaudible) and that’s why we’ve built and refurbished so many new houses (inaudible) but we have a huge amount extra to do.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible)

JENNY MACKLIN: (inaudible) well first of all alcohol is banned in some Indigenous communities so that’s the first thing. The second is that we have seen some major retailers introduce (inaudible) both Woolworths and Coles (inaudible) have taken that on in Alice Springs for example and as I said in response to your earlier question (inaudible) the Health Minister has referred that (inaudible).