Transcript by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

APY Lands; poker machine reforms

E & OE – Proof only

FRAN KELLY: Well the viability of some remote, very remote Aboriginal communities is being questioned after reports that the Red Cross has been distributing food parcels in some parts of South Australia. The Emergency Food Relief, normally of course only seen in drought stricken third world countries has been rushed to the APY Lands in the north west of the state to help feed Indigenous families who’ve been going without food for days at a time. Prominent Indigenous leaders are calling on the Federal Government to launch a humanitarian intervention into this area, including income management, to try and ensure a steady supply of fresh food. Jenny Macklin is the Federal Minister for Indigenous Affairs. Minister, good morning, welcome to Breakfast.

JENNY MACKLIN: Good morning Fran.

FRAN KELLY: Red Cross food drops to some remote Indigenous communities in South Australia, why is this happening in a country as wealthy as Australia?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well you’re dead right. We do have to respond to these concerns when they get raised, and respond to them quickly. And that is why this week we’ve had a Centrelink team in the APY Lands doing what is possible to be done quickly. And that is signing people up to weekly payments of their Centrelink benefits so that they can better manage their money, and also signing the stores up to Centrepay so that people can have regular amounts taken from their Centrelink benefits put into store accounts so that they can make sure they get regular access to food. Just this week we’ve had thirty people in the APY Lands sign up to weekly payments, and five stores have signed up to Centrepay so we’ve been able to do that this week.

FRAN KELLY: Okay, and I’ll come back to that in a moment. But I think we need to clarify this question, how many children are not receiving adequate food in some of these Indigenous communities in the APY Lands?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well in fact there’s been a study done by Nunabar Health. You may be aware of this Aboriginal medical service that operates in the APY Lands and they’ve certainly been looking at these issues over a long period of time. Of course, it is the case I’m sorry to say, that we find families who aren’t able to manage on their Centrelink benefits in many parts of Australia and that’s why we do provide emergency relief right across the country, including in the APY Lands. But what we’ve seen most recently is these latest claims in the APY Lands and that’s why we have put people straight away into the communities to make sure that they can have their money more regularly, and make sure that they’re able to get food from the stores when they need it.

FRAN KELLY: But Minister I guess the point is, how is it that the Red Cross knows that kids are starving out in some of these very remote areas and are sending in food parcels? Did you know it? And if you did know it, you know, how widespread is this problem and why hasn’t something been done to address it before now?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well of course Red Cross and other non-Government organisations are doing this every day of the week right across Australia in some of our most disadvantaged areas, and as I’ve said….

FRAN KELLY: Really? Food parcels?

JENNY MACKLIN: Yes they certainly do. They do it in my own Electorate. I have a food service for very disadvantaged people in the northern suburbs of Melbourne. So unfortunately we do have families who can’t manage on their Centrelink benefits on a regular basis, and that’s why we do put in place methods like signing up stores to Centapay making sure that very vulnerable families can get their Centrelink payments weekly so that they can better manage their money.

FRAN KELLY: In a sense what you’re talking about there is income management, is some degree of perhaps even income quarantining which is what Noel Pearson, Mick Gooda and others have been calling for, a Federal intervention with that kind of element into this region in South Australia. Do you support that? And will the Government move to put full on income quarantining?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well as you would be aware we have as a Government introduced income management into quite significant parts of Western Australia right across the Northern Territory.

FRAN KELLY: Do the APY Lands need it?

JENNY MACKLIN: And in some parts of Cape York we are now rolling that income management out to five other very disadvantaged parts of Australia. What we wanted to do in the APY Lands was respond quickly to these concerns that were raised by non-Government organisations and that’s why we’ve acted and got people on to the Lands this week. We couldn’t have done that by introducing income management.

FRAN KELLY: But would you support looking at income management for this area? Will you do that now as a priority?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well obviously I support income management. I’m the one that’s introduced it to so many parts of Australia. My concern right now in the APY Lands is to make sure that people’s immediate concerns are addressed…

FRAN KELLY: Of course…

JENNY MACKLIN: That’s why we’ve asked the South Australian Police to investigate the allegations of unscrupulous consumer and credit practices in the stores, to make sure that people aren’t having undue pressure put on them through practices like Book Up. So there are a number of different steps that we’ve taken and I think it’s important to acknowledge that a lot needs to be done in these Indigenous communities. There is not one magic solution. We’ve just put in place three new Police Stations, housing for child protection workers that never existed before. Sixty-one new homes have been built in these APY communities to make sure children have got a safe home to be living in. So these are all the actions that are taking place and we’ve just put in place an additional set of actions to make sure these latest concerns are addressed.

FRAN KELLY: And there is some urgency and you’re moving with that urgency now, but the question is I suppose, is what, why wasn’t this degree of activity in place before? Because we’ve been reading in the last week or two the South Australian Government, for instance, had a Federal grant given to it three years ago of $5 million to build family wellbeing centres. That money has not been spent. Has the South Australian Government dropped the ball when it comes to the APY?

JENNY MACKLIN: We have agreed as a result of recent discussions to make sure that this money is spent on family and wellbeing centres and I have instructed…

FRAN KELLY: But shouldn’t it have been spent before?

JENNY MACKLIN: It should. And I have instructed our officials to make sure that that is done as a matter of urgency, but it wouldn’t be right to say that nothing has been done. As I said before, for the first time we’ve seen a very significant number of new homes both built and refurbished. And we’ve seen these new Police Stations which I was pleased to open myself in the APY Lands a little while ago. Now we finally have Police located in the APY Lands, they’re not flying in and out, and of course that means a much safer environment for women and children in particular.

FRAN KELLY: Just finally, Minister, you are also the Minister responsible for getting Andrew Wilkie’s pre-commitment pokie reforms through the Parliament. In the Sydney Morning Herald today it’s reported that twenty-five Labor MPs, primarly in New South Wales and Queensland, will oppose your reforms in Caucus because they’re convinced that their marginal seats are basically lost to them if this goes ahead. Do you accept that that’s true?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well I don’t accept your construction of that whole issue. If you look at the latest information, for example, that we have from Queensland today, we’re seeing that Queensland’s most profitable poker machines can be found in the state’s most disadvantaged suburbs and this is evidence of why we do need to introduce a system of mandatory pre-commitment. The figures from Queensland show that $4,000 a minute is being lost in Queensland by problem gamblers. We are also seeing this happening in very disadvantaged areas of Brisbane, like Logan, that has the highest unemployment rate. That’s why we need to act because we have very vulnerable families, families losing on average $21,000 a year from problem gambling, and that is an enormous amount of money that is putting terrible pressure on those families. That’s why we’re introducing a system of mandatory pre-commitment to make sure that problem gamblers have a tool to deal with their addiction.

FRAN KELLY: Jenny Macklin, thank you very much for joining us.