Transcript by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

APY Lands, income management, crime gangs and problem gambling

E & OE – Proof only

JENNY MACKLIN: Thanks very much everyone for being here today. I’m very pleased to be here in Adelaide with my Ministerial colleague the South Australian Minister for Aboriginal Affairs. We of course are both very keen to be working together on the issues facing Aboriginal people particularly families and children in the APY Lands. We’re very pleased to have already started a number of new ways of doing things on the APY Lands. You would be aware that a couple of weeks ago we announced that Centrelink would go on to the Lands and make sure that people who wanted to get access to weekly payments or improve their access to Centapay, the stores for example, that they would be able to do so.

I’m very pleased to be able to say to you that more than thirty families have signed up with Centrelink for weekly payments, for their Centrelink payments, and that of course is very positive for them to help them better manage their money. The South Australian Minister will of course go through some of the particular actions that are happening in the South Australian area of responsibility.

We’ve been working very closely together on how to roll out the new Family and Wellbeing Centres and I’m very pleased to announce today that we have agreed that by the end of 2012 a new centre will be built in Mimili. There will be upgrades to existing facilities in Amata by the middle of 2012 and ongoing discussions will take place about the facility in Pukatja. So I am very pleased that we have been able to agree to these new Family and Wellbeing Centres and where they’ll be and when they’ll be completed. This is a very important development. Very important that we are able to see these new services that will now be delivered on the Lands because one of the critical issues on the Lands is that we have the stores functioning properly and Minister Portolesi will have some more to say about those issues.

As I mentioned we have been working with Centrelink on the Lands over the last few weeks to make sure that people are able to get access to Centapay or to weekly payments. We also understand there is interest in whether or not we’re going to take that further and introduce income management. What I’d like to say is that we will of course monitor the impact of the current activities that we’re doing on the Lands with Centrelink with the strengthening of Centapay and the introduction of weekly payments. We’ll monitor the effectiveness of those measures with the South Australian Government.

Of course we’re also keen to see that the foundations for any future application of income management are put in place. We know how important that there are family support services.

As you’d be aware income management is in operation in different ways in different parts of Australia. The Government, the Federal Government, is evaluation these different approaches.

What we want to do is continue to roll out the Centrelink assistance that we’re putting in place on the Lands right now. We’ll monitor its effectiveness. We’ll also work with the South Australian Government to make sure that the child protection and family support services are there so that families get the protection and support that they need.

We are very pleased that we’re able to do these things together. And of course many of these activities do build on the work that we have been doing as the Governments together on the Lands over the last few years. Many of these activities arise from the recommendations of the Mulligan Inquiry. Both Governments, the Federal Government and the South Australian Government, have seen the introduction of new police stations, the Commonwealth funded the construction of the police stations, the state has funded the ongoing recurrent funding of Police on the Lands.

The Commonwealth’s also built houses for child protection workers and the state is funding the delivery of ongoing child protection staff. We of course are building a lot of houses on the Lands. The Commonwealth has put the money in for the construction of the houses and more than sixty new houses have been constructed on the Lands. And of course if children are going to be safe you need a decent home for them to live in for them to grow up in. That’s our objective. To make sure that children are growing up safe and healthy, that’s why the two Governments are working so closely together to that agreed objective.

We’ve also agreed that we will work with the APY Executive on a new Regional Partnership Agreement. I am very pleased that the two Governments as well as the APY Executive, and a range of other service providers will work together on what could be a very, very important new development on the APY Lands. Thank you.

GRACE PORTOLESI: Thank you Jenny. First of all can I welcome Minister Macklin here to South Australia. It’s great to have her here and to take this opportunity of her visit to recap and focus our activities and our discussions on much needed work that’s going on in the APY Lands. The first thing I learnt as Minister for Aboriginal Affairs is that if any of use want to get anywhere in relation to Closing the Gap of Aboriginal disadvantage, then the Commonwealth Government, the State Government have to work very closely with communities. We must work collaboratively and that is what we are doing.

Minister Macklin has outlined a number of initiatives which I absolutely, I welcome. Again these are the fruits of collaborative effort and we are committed to doing this for the long haul, and it is a long haul. Let there be no mistake about this. Minister Macklin talked about the Family Wellbeing Centres. I’m very excited. In addition to that about the prospect of a Regional Partnership Agreement. In my discussions a couple of weeks with representatives of the APY Executive they flagged with me this idea as a real way for the APY communities to make progress in relation to their future and their communities. So that’s great to hear. We’re very excited about the prospect of a Regional Partnership Agreement.

In relation to Mintabie we will be doing some further work. In relation to Mintabie to crack down on unscrupulous practices and we will be working with the police in relation to that. So it’s great to have Minister Macklin in town. The road ahead is a difficult one. There is no question about that but there is also no question about the fact that on any account, on any measure, this Government, the South Australian Government, with the Federal Government, can be very proud of its achievements. We know of course, that the task is a difficult one and the road ahead is long, but we now have Police Officers stationed on the Lands. We now have social workers, child protection workers. We have record investment in infrastructure on the Lands. So I think you know we should be very proud of the record that we have.

JOURNALIST: Minister Macklin you announced a new Family Centre. What about the five or so others that are on the Lands and by your admission in a sub-standard condition? This is outlined in the Mulligan Inquiry years ago. How has this been allowed to continue for so long and what’s going to happen to those other centres?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well the important thing is that we do take this opportunity to make sure that in these places we build new centres or upgrade existing places, that’s what the money’s for. We can look backwards or we can look forwards. My objective is to get this work done and I’m very pleased that we are now in agreement about where the work will be done and the timeline on which it will be done.

JOURNALIST: But Minister, at the same time you have a $4 million substance misuse facility at Amata which has been sitting virtually unused for three years. It was Federally funded. Are you disappointed that that hasn’t been put to better use by the State Government?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well that’s why we are now working together to make sure that it is put to better use and to make lure that it is going to be able to be used for a range of purposes.

GRACE PORTOLESI: So Minister Hill gave a report to Parliament yesterday about matters in relation to that and it is progressing very well. As you know Minister Hill was on the Lands last week and he provided a report to Parliament.

JOURNALIST: Okay but it has been sitting empty, well virtually empty, for three years. Why hasn’t the State Government put it to better use?

GRACE PORTOLESI: Well the State Government has been working very closely with the community and with the Commonwealth Government on those better uses and the fact is, the remote nature of those communities means that the things that we take for granted down here are always going to be a lot more difficult to deliver quickly. The fact is, we have the money, we have the commitment, and Minister Hill outlined the progress that he’ll be making, that he’s made thus far, and I’m confident that we’ll be delivering on that.

JOURNALIST: How can you (inaudible) confidence when the Government sat on $5 million of Federal funding for three years and couldn’t get a project that was critical off the ground?

GRACE PORTOLESI: I, if I can deal with that. I expressed at the time that I became Minister a year and a half ago, my disappointment also. My disappointment absolutely in the fact that that matter had been allowed to get to that point.

JOURNALIST: Was that Jay Weatherill’s fault (inaudible)?

GRACE PORTOLESI: No, I’ve said that the main thing in relation to that particular initiative is that that money is staying on the Lands. That money is staying on the Lands and we are very grateful for that.

JOURNALIST: You said you expressed your displeasure, who are you expressing your displeasure to?

GRACE PORTOLESI: What I’ve been very clear about is that there was an original (inaudible) in that particular initiative. There was an original scope that had been agreed to. At a point in time the partners of that project then changed their mind. They then changed their mind about how they wanted to be involved in that project. So we then had to go back to the drawing board and that took some time. Now the fact is the money is staying on the Land and that is my priority and it’s being put into Family Wellbeing Centres. And I think that’s the most important fact here and the communities on the Lands you know, have been assured that that money is staying on the Lands.

JOURNALIST: Minister it’s been said that you’re a big supporter of income management and the State Minister has also said that she’ll help progress that. So where are you at with that, is that a serious genuine commitment to progress?

JENNY MACKLIN: Sure. What we’ve announced today is more information about what we’re doing so far. We do understand it’s important to get in and support families now, immediately, and so that is why we’ve had the Centrelink team on the Lands making sure that people know they can sign up for Centapay. We’re working with the stores to make sure that they have Centapay accounts set up for families to make sure they can manage their money better, that they can also sign up for weekly payments. These are changes that the Commonwealth has only introduced in the last year or so in different parts of Australia so we are pleased that we’re able to extend this to families on the Lands. And of course this is not really a dissimilar approach to voluntary income management. It really is families volunteering to sign up to put their money into particular accounts, store accounts, maybe to pay their rent, to help manage their money. As to whether or not we proceed to compulsory income management, as you’re very well aware we have very different approaches to compulsory income management in different parts of Australia.

JOURNALIST: So the Cape York style model has been called for with a Family Responsibilities Commission. Is there a guarantee, a promise from the Government, that you will progress that?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well we’re actually right in the middle of an evaluation of the Cape York Family Responsibilities Commission. Certainly the amount of the evaluation that has been published so far has been very positive. But that took years in the making. We don’t want to take years to address the issues for families on the Lands that’s why we’ve got Centrelink staff in there now. As to whether or not we proceed with the family responsibility type approach, or whether we proceed with the approach that we have in Western Australia which was really a child protection trigger, or whether we would go down the Northern Territory approach. They’re three very, very different approaches. We’re evaluating all of them. We will obviously talk with the South Australian Government and with people on the APY Lands about what would be the most effective.

JOURNALIST: And is there a timeframe as to when you would like to see compulsory income management rolled out across the APY Lands?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well, we’ll obviously monitor the initiatives that we’re putting in place now. The increased availability of weekly payments, encouraging people on Centapay to see whether or not this and increased access to money management courses, making sure people are better able to manage their money. We’ll monitor the effectiveness of that and make an assessment of how that’s proceeding. We’ll make an assessment of that early in the New Year.

JOURNALIST: There have been four such money management programs rolled out over the past five years. How is this one any different and isn’t this just tinkering around the edges because the Government is not prepared to introduce an income management scheme on the Lands?

JENNY MACKLIN: Oh no, I don’t agree with that at all. Money management is quite different to what we’re talking about with Centapay and weekly payments that’s quite a different approach. Centapay is really very similar to voluntary income management. It’s where people themselves decide to put their money into accounts that then make sure money is available for their rent or paying a store account, whatever it might be. So we’re in the process of encouraging more people to establish those Centapay accounts to help them manage their money, to go on weekly payments if that helps them better manage their money. But the Commonwealth has only recently introduced the capacity for Centrelink to introduce those weekly payments that’s only a year or so old. So we’re introducing these new changes to help very disadvantaged families in different parts to Australia, not just in the APY Lands.

JOURNALIST: Minister just to be clear, you said that you would evaluate, that we should see the evaluation over the next few months and make a decision early next year about the level of Federal intervention on the Lands?

JENNY MACKLIN: No, I didn’t say that at all. They’re your words and you shouldn’t put those words into my mouth.

JOURNALIST: Whether you should use, what model of income management?

JENNY MACKLIN: We’ll look at the effectiveness of these measures and see whether or not they are effective at helping families manage their money.

JOURNALIST: And then you’ll make a decision about whether to roll it out in the Lands?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well, and then we’ll see what needs to be done after that, but you shouldn’t put words into my mouth.

JOURNALIST: Well I’m just trying to be clear …

JENNY MACKLIN: I am very clear what I’m going to do.

JOURNALIST: You’re going to evaluate it and then what sit on it for years or?

JENNY MACKLIN: No, that is not what I’ve done anywhere as I think you would acknowledge.

JOURNALIST: Okay, so you will make a decision about whether or not to roll it out, with income management…?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well we’ll evaluate it and see what needs to be done.

JOURNALIST: If Aboriginal leaders aren’t opposed to income management, then why is the Federal Government sitting on it?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well, we’re actually acting right now to help families and I think that’s the critical thing to recognise. That these measures that Centrelink is putting in place on the Lands right now are aimed to help families better manage their money. And that’s what income management is all about. It is a tool to help families manage their money. That’s why we’re introducing the approaches that we have available to us through Centrelink it’s something that we can do quickly. I’m very pleased that Centrelink have been able to get up there quickly and sign people up, encourage them onto to Centapay, that’s what we’re doing.

GRACE PORTOLESI: And can I answer that Kim, that I don’t accept the premise of what you said, people have different, in terms of Aboriginal leaders’ position on income management. There is very much a mixed view on the APY Lands about what kind of income management, and what does income management mean. So for some it means compulsory income management. For the NPY Women’s Council or for Nganampa Health for instance might mean something else, for the APY Executive it might mean something else. So in, the best thing that we need to do in these circumstances is exactly what we are doing and that is assist people to make the correct decisions, the right decisions for their families and for themselves, about how to manage their money. There is no, as far as I’m aware, the APY Executive haven’t declared a position one way or the other and we need to work with them because we will not make progress unless we work with communities. But in the meantime we are not sitting on our hands, we are acting, we are taking action and we are supporting families.

JOURNALIST: Minister, why won’t you include NPY Women’s Council and Mai Wiru on the (inaudible) taskforce which is what’s supposedly looking at this (inaudible) through key stakeholders and then on the Lands?

GRACE PORTOLESI: Well, they’re two service providers on the Lands. The most appropriate body in my view is that the APY Executive as the democratically elected governing body is the appropriate body to be represented. Now, does that mean that we are not working with Mai Wiru or the NPY Women’s Council, absolutely not. My officers, I, meet on a regular basis with Mai Wiru. I spoke only a couple of weeks ago to Andrea Mason from the NPY Women’s Council We will work with them or continue this work, but at this point in time we cannot undermine the very important role that the APY Executive has on the Lands and that is as the democratically elected level of government on the Lands.

JENNY MACKLIN: Can I just add to that point. One of the very positive initiatives that we’re announcing today is the establishment and work on a new Regional Partnership Agreement and it certainly will be the case that those organisations will be involved.

GRACE PORTOLESI: And I had discussions when I talked to Chris Martin about this matter, he had ideas about how that governance structure might be involved. And certainly his view is that service providers should be involved. But I want to be absolutely clear that we do work with those service providers. A number of people on the Lands, a number of service organisations perform different functions.

JOURNALIST: So the Regional Partnership Agreement, what will that actually involve, it just sound like another committee?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well can I just reassure you that that is not the case. I’ve been involved in a number of very detailed Regional Partnership Agreements in different parts of Australia that are very different depending on the needs and expectations of the local areas. So if I can highlight one on Groote Island up in the Northern Territory it encompassed the building of more than eighty new homes, it encompassed the building of a new health centre, the establishment of a major road being sealed between two communities so Police would have better access, the list goes on. So it’s very practical, very detailed about the things the community expects to be delivered by both levels of Government, the Commonwealth, and in that case the Northern Territory Government, the role of the Land Council in the, on Groote Island. And so in my experience it’s very detailed, very specific with measurable outcomes.

GRACE PORTOLESI: And can I add, it’s what the APY Executive raised with me. When I met with them a couple of weeks ago, this is what they want. This is what they want. They see this vehicle as being a very important way to deliver on what all of us want and that is closing the gap of Aboriginal disadvantage.

JOURNALIST: So why wasn’t this done eighteen months ago? This seems to be yet again (inaudible) on the Lands, because there has been publicity. Why didn’t you set up this Regional Partnership Agreement eighteen months ago when you became Minister?

GRACE PORTOLESI: Disagree. Disagree. The APY Executive have been very free to raise this matter with me. They raised this in the time since I became Minister. They raised this matter with me a couple of weeks ago and I’m taking it very, very seriously.

JENNY MACKLIN: And I think that question ignores what’s been done as well. As I outlined at the start of my remarks, we’ve built more than sixty new homes, we’ve got three police stations that had never been built before. Police are now permanently stationed on the Lands. These changes are real and never been delivered before.

JOURNALIST: There are of course though there’s been a child protection (inaudible) and these been (inaudible). In terms of what is happening at the moment…

JENNY MACKLIN: I’m not trying to suggest that there isn’t more to be done. This suggestion that nothing’s been done is inaccurate.

JOURNALIST: In terms of, it’s always humiliating for the states when Federal Government comes in and asserts some control…

JENNY MACKLIN: Well I don’t think so.

GRACE PORTOLESI: I don’t feel humiliated.

JENNY MACKLIN: I don’t think that, can I just say once again, I don’t think that you should put those words in either of our mouths. We don’t accept that representation at all. We are standing here together, working together to address serious disadvantage on the APY Lands. It does take long term concentrated cooperative action and that’s what we’re doing.

JOURNALIST: The Premier many years ago stood up and said, like he does with many things, says that the APY Lands is different to the rest of the country (inaudible) we can manage this where intervention was rolled out in other areas across the country. Now has he pulled the wool over the Federal Government’s eyes, over the nation’s eyes, because it is a difficult area to access because there isn’t a lot of scrutiny been shone on it, and is he now being exposed to you (inaudible) for telling it’s (inaudible)?

JENNY MACKLIN: Once again I don’t accept your whole premise of your question but if I can answer …

JOURNALIST: He did say we didn’t need an intervention.

JENNY MACKLIN: Well what I can say to you because I work right across remote Australia as you’re very well aware, that Aboriginal people in remote Australia face very serious disadvantage where ever they are, whether it’s in the APY Lands, the Northern Territory, up in Queensland, up in the Torres Strait, in Western Australia. We have very, very serious backlog of need that the Commonwealth is working together with the States and the Northern Territory Government to address. Can we do it immediately? Of course not. Are we acting and building, delivering improved services? Yes we are. And that’s exactly what we’re doing here in South Australia.

GRACE PORTOLESI: And can I just add to that, the Premier is absolutely right when he says the APY Lands is different. Every community is different and what that means is that our services, our programs, need to reflect those particular communities and that is absolutely what we will doing.

JOURNALIST: Minister Portolesi, are you uncomfortable with compulsory income management on the APY Lands?

GRACE PORTOLESI: What I have always maintained is that if the communities, as this is clearly a Federal Government initiative as Minister Macklin has gone to great lengths to explain. I’m very happy to work with the Federal Government and the communities when either one of those parties decide that they want to go down that path. What is important in my view is that families and communities are supported so that they can make a decision that better equip them to manage their money. And we are doing that. I would be worried if we weren’t doing that. We are doing that. We are committed, this is a long road. We know that. But we are standing here together and quite frankly I absolutely welcome Minister Macklin here with a particular focus that we have on the APY Lands because this is an issue that is bigger than all of us.

JOURNALIST: Minister Macklin, just finally, one of the key recommendations of the Mulligan Inquiry was a safe house, safe house accommodation for women fleeing domestic violence. That still hasn’t happened. In 2008 you mentioned it in a press release, there’s been no progress. When will women have the safe house accommodation they need on the Lands?

JENNY MACKLIN: As you may be aware we’ve certainly have got safe house accommodation in Alice Springs. There’s safe house accommodation which women from the APY Lands use and I’ve met women from the Lands in those safe houses in Alice Springs. Of course, Minister Portolesi can talk about the safe houses that are also available in South Australia where women do go. We do recognise how critical this is but we have taken advice from those who are very close to these issues. They advise that it would be better not to have a safe house on the Lands, that it would be better to make sure that facilities are available in other towns, so we’re working with them to do that.

GRACE PORTOLESI: Can I just add to that? That yes, my advice was that a safe house on the Lands would not be used and that it would be best placed in Alice Springs. Minister Macklin’s officials, mine, are working together with the Northern Territory on progressing that. In the meantime, there are a number of services available to women on the APY Lands, to their families and communities. We have augmented services in that area, so we are certainly again doing our very best. But our advice was very clear, if you build a safe house on the Lands it’s not going to get used.

JOURNALIST: Minister Macklin, what’s your response to a report that three quarters of the 600 Vietnamese drug offenders that the ABC’s reported this morning playing pokies and gambling (inaudible)?

JENNY MACKLIN: I was very concerned to see those reports today. I think we are all aware that problem gambling is a major issue in Australia. This is just further evidence of the serious nature of the problem. We do have thousands and thousands of Australians whose lives and their families’ lives have been ruined by problem gambling and that’s why the Federal Government is determined to act to make sure we provide a tool that helps those problem gamblers address their problems.

JOURNALIST: Are you concerned though that those in Labor ranks are concerned about a campaign by pubs and clubs to unseat Labor MPs, including Robert McClelland?

JENNY MACKLIN: We certainly understand how important clubs are. Lots of Australians love to go to their local club, have a meal, have a bit of a go on the pokies. Nobody wants to stop that. We understand that it’s a place where families come together. But we also know that there are many, many families whose lives have been ruined by problem gambling and that’s why we’re acting.