Transcript by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Stronger Futures in the Northern Territory, Alice Springs doorstop

E & OE – Proof only

JENNY MACKLIN: Thanks everyone for joining us here today at Yipirinya School, and if I can first of all thank all of the staff and parents here at Yipirinya School for having us here today, and particularly to say how great it is to be here with the children. I think you can see this is a school that is doing a wonderful job of making sure that children here in Alice Springs get the best start in life.

I’m very pleased to be joined today by my parliamentary, ministerial colleague, Warren Snowdon, and the Chair of the Indigenous Advisory Council here in the Northern Territory, Bess Price. So thank you Bess and Warren very much for joining us here today.

We are very pleased to be announcing some additional funding , some of which will come here to Yipirinya School. This is money, $1.7 million, some if it will come here to the school to run families and schoolstogether. We’ll have money going to the YMCA, to our Sacred Heart Little Children’s Program, and some of the money will also go to Tangentyere Council for their aged care facilities.

This funding is yet again another demonstration of the Federal Government’s commitment to Aboriginal people who live here in Alice Springs, who live in the Alice Springs town camps. We are all about making sure that especially the children have the chance to have a decent home to live in, have the chance for a great education.

I’m also very pleased to be releasing today the consultation report of our Stronger Futures discussions that have taken place across the Northern Territory over the last few months. And once again I’d like to first of all thank all of the Aboriginal people in so many different parts of the Territory who came to so many meetings and gave us their views about their priorities for the future.

The Federal Government, with the Northern Territory Government, does want to build a stronger future for Aboriginal people here in the Territory. We want to do it with Aboriginal people which is why we’ve listened so hard to Aboriginal people’s priorities. And the priorities that have come through loud and clear to us have been first and foremost, as we see behind us with the children here today, Aboriginal parents and grandparents want to make sure that their children get the best education possible here in the Northern Territory. We’ve heard that message, and we’ve made it clear that we, with the Northern Territory Government, will do everything we possibly can to make that happen.

We’ve also heard loud and clear from Aboriginal people in the Territory, that they know that alcohol is killing their families. As one old man said to me, ‘it is destroying our families’, and we need to keep the alcohol controls and make sure we deal with alcohol in the Northern Territory.

Aboriginal people do want the chance to get a decent job, they do want decent housing, and these are all messages that the Government has heard loud and clear.
We will be legislating to continue the alcohol controls, to put in place the measures that we need to make sure that we get children attending school. We’ll put the legislation into the parliament before the end of this calendar year.

REPORTER: So is this an indication that the Northern Territory Emergency Response will have a ‘term two’?

JENNY MACKLIN: This is an indication that the Federal Government, with the Northern Territory Government, and most importantly with Aboriginal people, are all about building a stronger future. That’s what we are on about. We’ve heard loud and clear from Aboriginal people that they want us to act with them, with the Northern Territory Government, to get their kids to school, to control alcohol, to make sure that there are jobs for Aboriginal people, to make sure that housing is built. We’ve got that message and we intend to make sure that we deliver as much as we possible can.

REPORTER: You said school attendance was the number one priority for people out bush.Thisprogram that you’re announcing todayin Aliceis their a chance that that could then be expanded to across the territory to fix those lagging school attendance rates out in the bush?

JENNY MACKLIN: The Territory Government of course is already putting some money into these sorts of programs, as is the Commonwealth through our general education funding. So we have funding for low income schools, and of course many Territory schools are already benefiting from that additional funding that the Commonwealth is putting into schools. We know how important it is, and Mr Garrett of course is absolutely determined, with the Territory Government, to put those measures in place. But what we also know and what we heard loud and clear from Aboriginal parents and grandparents is that they want us to help make sure that the kids go to school every day. And that’s what we’ll do.

REPORTER: Onething they said was that they might want welfare payments to be affected by school attendance. What do you think about that?

JENNY MACKLIN: We certainly support that approach and that did come through to us very clearly in the consultations. The reason that we support this is because we know that parents understand how important it is to get a decent education. So we will legislate to make sure that if parents aren’t doing the right thing by their children and not sending them to school every day, we’ll work with the Territory Government, and in the end, if payments need to be suspended, they will be.

REPORTER: (inaudible)Sorry to clarify this,If I’m on welfare and payments are suspended, what do I then do to actually pay for things like food? (inaudible)

JENNY MACKLIN: You get your children to school.

REPORTER: And if not?

JENNY MACKLIN: Send your children to school.

REPORTER: And if you don’t?

JENNY MACKLIN: Send your children to school. Every child needs to go to school every single day.

REPORTER: Are you stillconfident that you will have parliamentary support for these measures?

JENNY MACKLIN: We already have support for the trial of school enrolment and attendance that we have been running both here in the Territory and in Queensland for the last couple of years. So we have had parliamentary support for this in the past and I would hope we would in the future.

REPORTER: Minister are you happy with the consultation process? It received a lot of criticism. Two examples of that from Tennant Creek are Dianne Stokes who called it a sham and Rosalie Kunoth Monks who compared the Intervention to ethnic cleansing.

JENNY MACKLIN: Well I personally attended the consultation meeting in Tennant Creek, it’s where we kicked it off, there were a lot of Aboriginal people there that day, elders who did certainly make it very clear to me what their priorities were. At the meeting in Tennant Creek one of the biggest issues that was raised was the number of children who are on the streets at night, people were very concerned about that, people in Tennant Creek are very concerned about housing, we of course have been working with Julalikari to put new houses, additional infrastructure in place in Tennant Creek community living areas. I attended a lot of consultations myself with Warren Snowdon, we know that Aboriginal people want the same sort of services that other Australians get. We saw yesterday what that means in practice. For the first time we see a mail delivery here in the town camps in Alice Springs. We want to make sure that Aboriginal people in communities have got decent housing, that their children go to school, that their lives are not destroyed by alcohol and that people have a chance to get a decent job. That’s the message that’s come through to us.

REPORTER: Are you anticipating a backlash from some corners of the Aboriginal community who want the Intervention and some measures like the alcohol measures scrapped?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well I think that’s why it’s so important to go back to this consultation report that we are releasing today. This consultation report is what Aboriginal people have said to us and we’re listening and I think it’s important for other people to listen to what Aboriginal people are saying. These are their priorities, we’re listening and we intend to act.

REPORTER: One of the comments made in this report was that Aboriginal people feel like they’d like to have safe drinking places, maybe set up on borders of communities, will the Government consider implementing safe drinking places?

JENNY MACKLIN: There were also many people who didn’t agree with that, many people who understand how dangerous that can be, so I think we have to look at both sides of that argument.

REPORTER: Compulsorily acquired leases, what’s the future going to hold there post-August?

JENNY MACKLIN: I’d already announced the Government’s position on the five year leases. We made it clear sometime ago that there’d be no continuation of the five year leases. We have negotiated 40 year housing leases with the land councils and we’ll continue to do that.

REPORTER: Housing was one of the big issues in all communities. Will towns that aren’t set down to be growth towns get additional funding for additional houses?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well of course it is the case that we are already putting housing money into many of the smaller communities for refurbishments. But we do understand the need for housing in those communities so we’re in discussion right now about how we intend to roll out additional housing money over the next few years and where that will go.

REPORTER: Are you still planning to roll out welfare quarantining to other places in Australia as well?

JENNY MACKLIN: We announced in the federal budget that we will be introducing a form of income management to five additional locations in different parts of Australia, so for example, the northern suburbs of Adelaide, Shepparton in Victoria, Rockhampton in Queensland, just to give you some examples.

REPORTER: And will parents there be subject to the same changes that are being made here?

JENNY MACKLIN: The changes that are proposed here are already in operation in some parts of Brisbane and as you’re aware we have been working with the Territory Government on how to integrate the School Enrolment and Attendance Measures with the Northern Territory Government’s Every Child Every Day approach. We’re very pleased to be able to work in that way with the Territory Government.

REPORTER: On school attendance, what specific evidence is there that tying school attendance to welfare payments works?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well, the message loud and clear from Aboriginal people, from parents and grandparents is that they want this. If you ask the people here who run this school, they think it’s a good idea. They think it’s a good idea because they want to see children go to school every single day and their responsibility as parents is getting to school. We spoke to many, many Aboriginal communities who want to make sure that they get their kids to school every day.

REPORTER: Do you expect these measures to be rolled out in other states? I know the SEAM trial is active in Queensland, but do you think there could be a national program?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well we certainly know that the level of school attendance is the worst here in the Northern Territory, so that’s why we are starting here and we will introduce it in those places where school attendance is very low. Unfortunately, it is still the case that we have very, very low school attendance in too many places in the Territory and so that’s why this is our priority. We’ll continue to assess it in Brisbane as well of course. But we’ll roll it out further here and then do a proper evaluation.

REPORTER: The issue of teaching in language in school and this is one school that has been outstanding in doing that and possibly that is reason why you see the school is vibrant here. Would that be a measuring stick for you to preach this gospel of language in other schools?

JENNY MACKLIN: We certainly do understand that teaching of language is very important for Aboriginal parents, that too came through and the Northern Territory Government understands that (inaudible).

REPORTER: I’ve got one from left field, the report mentions gambling being a problem. That’s something that hasn’t really come on my radar before. What have you been told recently about that and is that a new trend that’s started to emerge or is something that’s been a problem for some time?

JENNY MACKLIN: No this has been a problem for some time and of course one of the reasons that we are very strong supporters of income management is that makes sure that a certain amount of people’s welfare payments are available each week, each fortnight, for the essentials of life, food to pay the rent, to make sure that children are properly looked after. Income management will continue. The message loud and clear in this report was that people in the main are very supportive of income management, they can see that it really makes a difference to their families lives.

REPORTER: (Inaudible) changes to the APY Lands in South Australia. What’s happening there?

JENNY MACKLIN: We have as you know been putting in place additional Centrelink services in the APY Lands because of concerns that were raised about food security in the APY Lands, we’ve had additional Centrelink staff signing people up for Centrepay. That was something we could do very quickly. Of course it takes much longer to introduce voluntary or compulsory income management. What I’ve said publicly is that we will monitor the impact of that in the APY Lands. In the meantime, we are working with the APY Executive, and with many service providers in the APY Lands to develop a Regional Partnership Agreement with them, with the South Australian Government as well and we’re very pleased to be starting that work.

REPORTER: That measure that’s raised in the report about tying school attendance to welfare, is that something that would be rolled out to everyone or would it just be in (inaudible)

JENNY MACKLIN: I already answered that question.

REPORTER: In terms of urban drift that’s something that people in Alice Springs have talked about anecdotally as a real issue, you’ve indicated that alcohol restrictions will remain in the next term, so what sort of measure are going to be put in place and what sort of resources are going to be in place to urban areas like Alice Springs that have this influx of people coming into town?

JENNY MACKLIN: As you know, we’ve put a lot of measures in place already here in Alice Springs, we do understand how important that is. Through the Alice Springs Transformation Plan we have opened a 150 bed Visitor Park, so that people have a safe place to stay. We have been working with the Alice Springs Town Council on additional lighting for hotspots, providing additional support to police, providing additional support to youth services, so we’re doing a lot of work through the Alice Springs Transformation Plan with the Town Council, with the town camps, with the police, we understand how important that is and we will continue to do that work.

REPORTER: This report mentions that it’s only the latest in a series of consultations. Is there anything in particular that surprised you think time, or is it basically the messages that you’ve heard time and time again?

JENNY MACKLIN: There was a real difference this time and you would expect that. But the consultations last time in 2009 really focussed around the desire of Aboriginal people to see the suspension of the Racial Discrimination Act abolished. We did that. We now have the Racial Discrimination Act in place here in the Northern Territory and the Prime Minister when she released the Stronger Futures discussion paper made it clear that anything we do in the future will correspond to Racial Discrimination Act. So this time the consultations were much more the needs that people have in their communities, the need for education, housing, jobs and so on.

REPORTER: The report mentions that Aboriginal people feel like they’ve been a little bit disempowered and some of their say has been taken away and one of the reasons I know because I went to some of the consultations, they said that the Shires, and the introduction of the Super Shires, this is the Northern Territory, had strongly contributed to this. Will you be lobbying the Northern Territory Government to scrap that legislation?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well they really are matters for the Territory Government, there are a lot of issues for the Commonwealth in this report and we will be responding to them. We will be responding to them with Aboriginal people and of course with the Northern Territory Government so you really should direct those questions to the Territory. Thank you.