Transcript by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Interview with Tatjana Clancy, ABC Alice Springs

Program: ABC Alice Springs

E & OE – Proof only

Subject: Stronger Futures in the Northern Territory

TATJANA CLANCY: Well Federal Minister Jenny Macklin, Federal Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Jenny Macklin was in town yesterday to meet with various groups. In (inaudible) the highlight of the introduction that the mail delivery service tomorrow at Morris Soak town camp as well as replacing intervention signs today sees the release of the Stronger Futures Discussion results, the combination of consultations held around the Territory to see what policy and funding will look like upon the expiry of the Northern Territory Emergency Response as we know it in 2012. Minister Macklin joins me in the studio now. Good morning.

JENNY MACKLIN: Very good to be here.

TATJANA CLANCY: Now, and I notice you were having a giggle at (inaudible) singing along to Tom Jones, that’s always fun.

JENNY MACKLIN: I’ll restrain myself. (laughter)

TATJANA CLANCY: We all try, we all try Minister. Now I’m not sure if you saw Q&A last night and ….


TATJANA CLANCY: …And I tuned into the later version. But a tweet that caught my attention was someone saying how much they realised they didn’t know about the Northern Territory. Do you think that’s reflective of the majority of our interstate friends?

JENNY MACKLIN: I think there is a widespread lack of understanding because unfortunately not as many people as we’d like get the chance to come up here and enjoy the most spectacular place that is the Northern Territory. I spend a lot of time here as you know and get the opportunity to travel very widely. And as you’ve just said we’re releasing the Consultation Report from our Stronger Futures consultations and that really did give me the opportunity to get out and talk with a lot of Aboriginal people about what’s important to them.

TATJANA CLANCY: Before we delve a little deeper into the consultation results, perhaps people interstate aren’t aware of the conditions that some Territorians are living in. Amnesty International Salil Shetty this week highlighted the lack of basic services for instance in the town of Utopia.

JENNY MACKLIN: And that’s why I was so pleased to be here yesterday to celebrate the work that we’ve been doing here in the Alice Springs Town Camps. As you would know the situation we faced when we came into Government was nothing short of a complete disgrace in the Alice Springs town camps. People living outside on mattresses, just with bits of tin to protect them from the weather. Now to go to Morris Soak town camp yesterday to see the new house that was almost finished yesterday, to go in and see what a great place that’s going to be for a family. To see all the places that have been rebuilt, so just under 200 houses have either been rebuilt or refurbished. And of course to top it off yesterday to see something which most Australians take for granted, getting the post delivered every day. I think this really symbolises how much has changed in the Alice Springs town camps, to see the post delivered. The postie came along on his motorbike and delivered the mail for the first time. People have got street names in the town camps now and that’s been progressively rolled out. So do we have more to do? Of course we do. We have an enormous amount more to do. That’s why we’ve got a ten year building program of housing across remote Northern Territory communities. But yesterday in the town camps here in Alice Springs just reinforced if you’re really determined and you get on with doing the job that needs to be done you can really see the results.

TATJANA CLANCY: Those measures were part of the Alice Springs Transformation Plan. What is happening in outlying communities? People are concerned about whether the growth towns are developing as was first suggested, and what happens to the outstations when funding runs out next year?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well as you know we are putting a lot of housing into many different communities. So some of those, some of the bigger places like Wadeye and Maningrida, where you’ve got two and three thousand people living, we’ve got whole new sub-divisions. So you might have seen in the news recently, the sub-division in Maningrida was re-opened after the flooding earlier this year. So there’s a lot of new housing in Maningrida, the same in Wadeye. We’re also of course making sure that we fix houses up to make sure that people have got a decent bathroom and decent kitchen. We do have a very, very big backlog of housing needs but ……

TATJANA CLANCY: …that was certainly in the Executive Summary of your Report that you are releasing today, it does suggest that a lot of the commentaries, you know respondents, felt the impact of the growing population on the already overcrowded houses, living in rundown houses not secure from the elements or break-ins. So can people be assured that they will be able to stay on their homelands and still access the basic services that, as you say, the rest of us take for granted?

JENNY MACKLIN: People can be assured that we’ve got $1.7 billion to spend on housing here in the Northern Territory and we’re doing that with the Territory Government. We’re introducing with the Territory Government, tenancy management and tenancy protections for the first time. We’ve never seen this level of investment in housing here in the Northern Territory before and it is fantastic to see people get the opportunity to have a decent home, a safe place to bring up their children, and to see it here in the Alice Springs town camps, to see it in Maningrida, to see it in some of the smaller communities. But do we have a lot more to do? Yes we do. Fortunately, we still have money in the Budget to spend to continue to both upgrade and build new houses.

TATJANA CLANCY: There appears to be a lot of distress in communities regarding the Howard Government intervention, with many residents saying, ‘you can’t keep asking what we think, and then not listen to what we say’. The hurt there is reflected in what I’ve managed to read of this paper and I received it this morning. But could you perhaps give us some of the key features of what you’re releasing today?

JENNY MACKLIN: We are releasing the consultation paper today and this really does reflect so many different meetings that were held over the last few months. And of course the strong messages that have to come through to me personally, and to the Government more generally, is first and foremost, education is our priority. It’s the priority of Aboriginal people. Aboriginal parents and grandparents are really saying to us, we want the chance for our kids to get a great education. We know we have to get our children to school every day and we want you, the Federal Government, to do everything you can to work with us Aboriginal people to make sure that that happens. I’ll never forget one old man in one community saying to me that ‘alcohol is killing our families’. And there was a plea right across the communities that I visited for us to keep the alcohol controls in place. A very strong message that Aboriginal people want the chance to get work, to get properly paid jobs, and they certainly did emphasise the very big housing needs. So we’ve got the message loud and clear. I have announced that we will be bringing legislation into the Parliament by the end of this year to really respond to the messages that we’ve heard from Aboriginal people…

TATJANA CLANCY: …to continue the alcohol reforms as we know them?

JENNY MACKLIN: To continue the alcohol reforms….

TATJANA CLANCY: …will there be any amendments to that such as the floor price?

JENNY MACKLIN: We’ve made clear today that the floor price issue will be dealt with nationally. Nicola Roxon has referred that matter to the new Preventative Health Agency, so they’re considering their advice to the Government about the floor price. But we have got the message loud and clear from Aboriginal people that they had alcohol controls in many of their communities before the Northern Territory Emergency Response, and as part of building a stronger future here in the Northern Territory they want those alcohol controls to continue.

TATJANA CLANCY: I appreciate that there’s a balance to strike in regards to too much consultation and action being facilitated, but there have been suggestions that the consultative meetings that informed what you’re releasing today were attended mostly by service providers and public servants and how do you feel about that?

JENNY MACKLIN: Oh that’s just not true. Having been to a lot of these meetings myself, if I think of the meeting that I had out at Inga Walla for example, a very small community but there would have been 50 to 70 people turn up. Every single one of them was an Aboriginal person who wanted to come, men and women who wanted to come and tell me what they thought. Out at Docker River it was exactly the same. The vast majority of people, 95% of people there were local Aboriginal people who wanted to tell me what their big issues were. Certainly out there the biggest issue was housing. In Inga Walla I’d say the issues were more mixed, issues around jobs and health, and the women’s centre, so quite a range of different matters were raised. But that’s just not the case.

TATJANA CLANCY: As well as extending the alcohol reforms as we currently know them, another factor will be that truants will, parents of truants will lose their welfare payments, how will that be rolled out?

JENNY MACKLIN: We’re working together with the Northern Territory Government. The Territory Government has put in place an Every Child Every Day policy to really get the message across to parents that children are expected to be at school every single day. Children can’t get a good education if they don’t come to school, and the message I got loud and clear from so many Aboriginal people, particularly older people, grandmas and grandpas, as I went around communities was, make sure you do everything in your power to help these parents get their kids to school every day. And one of the messages was, we don’t want to see people sitting around gambling during the day and not taking responsibility for getting their kids to school. We want you, the Minister, to help us get our kids to school.

TATJANA CLANCY: Will this be rolled out nationally so as not to be, in relation to the Racial Discrimination Act?

JENNY MACKLIN: It won’t be discriminatory. We’ll make sure it applies in those parts of the Northern Territory where we’ve got serious problems with children not going to school. The situation here in the Northern Territory is worse than in other parts of Australia. If you look at the education results, the number of children not going to school. Things need to change here. The Northern Territory Government understands that, and we understand that, and we intend to do something about it because Aboriginal people have really said to us loud and clear, we want to get our kids a good education.

TATJANA CLANCY: They do seem to be fundamental issues that they have, as you say, you know spoken to you about, wanting to strengthen measures to boost school attendance, create employment opportunities, reduce alcohol related violence, and improve housing, as reported in The Australian today. Are these not fundamentals that Indigenous people wanted back in 2007 and how will the Intervention look when funding runs out next year?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well we of course see this as a new way of doing things, of working with Aboriginal people, working with the Territory Government, to build a stronger future. And we of course now have the task of going through our Budget process to look at all the areas where we have been investing heavily over the last four years, whether it’s in policing, in night patrols, health services, schooling. All of these areas the Commonwealth has been investing heavily and of course we’ll make our considerations through our Budget process over the next few months.

TATJANA CLANCY: We’re asking the question on Facebook today, ‘what would you ask Federal Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Jenny Macklin?’ Serena Shark says, ‘why were you not on Q&A last night, you would have been great’. There you go.

JENNY MACKLIN: That’s very nice of her. I was here in Alice Springs.

TATJANA CLANCY: Maybe it’s because Jenny Macklin wouldn’t have perhaps worn the thongs that Tony Jones said he would under the table. Mya Glutz says ‘where did the letters come from yesterday for the mail delivery? Were they genuine letters?’

JENNY MACKLIN: They were real letters that I signed.

TATJANA CLANCY: There you go. And I also noticed yesterday that you were met with some protest, people suggesting that the Intervention should be scrapped. What sort of reaction do you anticipate following today’s announcement?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well I think today’s announcements reflect what Aboriginal people have said to us and I think that’s the really important message that we have spent the last four years since we’ve been in Government talking with local people, talking with Aboriginal people about what’s important to them. And the message that has come through so plainly to me has been, please help us to do everything we can to give our kids the chance to get a great education. Do everything you can to build as many houses as possible. To make sure that alcohol is controlled so that we can stop the violence and death that comes from alcohol abuse. Make sure you do everything you can to help us get the jobs that we want. We’ve heard that message loud and clear and we want to work with Aboriginal people to deliver a stronger future.

TATJANA CLANCY: So just finally Minister Macklin as the clock ticks towards 2012 when a lot of the funding and a lot of the programs as we know them will finish up. Can people be assured that, you know, this commitment to service delivery will still happen, especially for people in outstations?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well we certainly know how important it is for Aboriginal people across the Northern Territory, I think we know that there are needs in many, many communities on homelands, yes that’s true. But also in many of the towns and many of the communities where we have thousands and thousands of Aboriginal people living, and of course we have a responsibility with the Northern Territory Government and with Aboriginal people themselves to do what needs to be done.

TATJANA CLANCY: Okay Minister Macklin thank you for your time today.