Transcript by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Alice Springs

Joint Press Conference with

  • Prime Minister Julia Gillard,
  • Karl Hamption MLA, Northern Territory Minister for Central Australia,
  • Warren Snowdon MP, Minister for Indigenous Health, Member for Lingiari, and
  • Paul Henderson MLA, NT Chief Minister

*** E & OE – Proof only ***

PM: I’m here today with Minister Jenny Macklin, our Minister for Indigenous Affairs, with my Ministerial colleague and the local Federal Member for this area Warren Snowdon, by this rather tall man here Paul Henderson, the Chief Minister of the Northern Territory and Karl Hampton the local Territory Member here in this community.

I’ve come to Alice Springs today to see for myself and to talk to the local community about what is happening here through the Alice Springs Transformation Plan. This is a $150 million where we are aiming to make a difference. We’re aiming to make a difference on the social pressures that these communities face; grog, violence, getting kids in school, getting kids off the street at night. We’re aiming to make a difference on housing and here we are in Hidden Valley, one of the town camps, where we are seeing some of the new housing that is becoming available; new houses being built and houses being refurbished.

And third we’re aiming to make a difference on homelessness, on creating new places for people to go when they come to Alice Springs and it was my great honour to open one of those facilities a little bit earlier today which will be helping meet that need and particularly helping people transition from a life without secure accommodation into public housing with the skills they need to make that a sustainable solution for them.

All of this is about chaging peoples’ life chances but what is also very, very clear to me and the all important fourth point is for us to keep building on what is happening here. We have to keep engaging with the local community.

I’m seeing this with my own eyes but I’m trying to see it through the eyes of the people who live here. I’ve had the opportunity to speak to Nigel who is the president of the association for this town camp, and in his own words he’s been describing to me what it was like and the difference that the new housing is making, the sense of community excitement about that new housing, and how he wants to see this place where we are look like a suburb of Alice Springs, have the things that people view as normal in communities: roads, guttering, garbage collection, street lighting and then of course the sense of participation, kids going to school, people in jobs. That’s the vision that he’s got for this community and that’s the vision that we share for the future.

So a lot is being done but there is a lot more to do. Of course what’s happening here in Alice Springs is one part of what we’re seeking to achieve throughout the Northern Territory as we continue to work through the intervention with the Northern Territory and with local communities.

I’m also here to listen as we move to the next phase, I’ll be meeting later today with elders and I’ll be all ears to see what they want me as Prime Minister to know as we move to the next phase of the intervention, as we move beyond the current days to what needs to follow so we keep building on the foundations that are here.

Wherever I’ve gone today and whoever I’ve spoken to have basically given me a sense that there’s good progress being made but there’s a lot more to do and we intend to get on and keep making that good progress, keep delivering change in partnership with local communities.

I’m very happy to take questions. Paul did you want to say anything at this point?

CHIEF MINISTER HENDERSON: Thank you Prime Minister and it’s great to have our Prime Minister in Alice Springs today because what we are seeing here firsthand for the Prime Minister is a transformation of Alice Springs. These town camps just 12 to 18 months ago were really a scar on this nation in terms of the deprivation and the squalor that people were having to endure right across Alice Springs. The commitment from the Australian Government in terms of $150 million to transform these town camps into suburbs of Alice Springs is unprecedented on a national scale and I’d really like to thank the Prime Minister and all of your team and Warren and Jenny for the support for this, but it is so much more. Right across the Northern Territory we’re seeing massive investments in housing through the SIHIP program; $670 million is the first down payment of that to build 750 new homes right across the Territory.

As Karl and I and Warren and Jenny get out right across the Territory we’re seeing new suburbs being built in remote communities, we’re seeing investments in education and health like we have never seen before and as I said this morning for me as the Chief Minister finding the dollars in the budget is always really hard but it’s actually about the people and it’s about young Thomas this morning that we met who’s doing his third year apprenticeship as a boilermaker. Seeing the work that he’s done and the opportunity that he’s getting as a young Indigenous man to get a trade and then to get a job. It’s about the kids in Clontarf where we’re going to see 24 kids graduate with a year 12 qualification this year, 4 or 5 years ago there were no Indigenous boys in Alice Springs getting to Year 12. So we are seeing real transformation here, that transformation is in partnership with the Australian Government and Prime Minister I really thank you, and importantly the people of Alice Springs.


PM: We’re happy to take your questions.

JOURNALIST: The local Member Warren Snowdon has previously said he’s happy to see a floor price for alcohol introduced (inaudible) grog use. Are there any changes you want to see to the way alcohol’s drunk in Alice?

PM: Of course alcohol’s a huge problem, it’s been a focus of some of the work we’ve been doing through this Transformation Plan, but a lot more needs to be done. I am very supportive of the measures that Paul is putting forward that the Northern Territory Government is putting forward. We need to be working with individuals to change behaviour but we also need to be doing what we can to be turning the tap down, to be making a difference to the actual supply of alcohol that is flowing through these communities. So one of the things that I am absolutely sure we will be talking about later today when I meet with elders is what can be done to turn that tap, turn it down, turn it off, so that we don’t see alcohol continuing to cause the tremendous social problems and pressures that we’ve seen in this community and around the Northern Territory.

JOURNALIST: Is there anything the Federal Government can do in terms of legislation on alcohol?

PM: Well the legislation, I’ll turn to Paul in a second, but the legislation that needs to land next is the legislation that is in the Northern Territory Parliament and I know Paul and his colleagues are fighting hard for it, but it really is about making a difference for individuals who have clearly got problems with alcohol and alcohol abuse. So I’ll turn to Paul for a description of that.

HENDERSON: Look thank you Prime Minister and we’ve got the national media here. We’ve introduced and passed in the last Territory Parliament the toughest alcohol reforms that this nation has ever seen. As of the 1st of July to purchase takeaway alcohol anywhere in the Northern Territory you’ll have to show ID to be able to purchase takeaway alcohol.

In terms of targeting people who’ve got real problems with alcohol people who commit crime, people who commit acts of domestic violence, people who neglect to send their children to school because of alcohol abuse and for people who are taken into protective custody three times in three months, people who are picked up off the streets, can’t get home, taken into protective custody, those people will lose their rights to access alcohol. There will be tribunals put in place that will provide for people a right to be able to get their access to alcohol back, after they’ve proven that they’ve undertaken relevant rehabilitation and they’ve got their lives together. But we are really going to be targeting individuals who abuse alcohol, who abuse their partners as a result of alcohol, who get taken off the streets night after night after night and as I’ve said if it was somebody in my family who was being picked up out of the street night after night into protective custody I would want somebody to do something about it. So these reforms we’re putting in are courageous, they’re certainly very tough, they are aimed at dealing with people who have problems with alcohol and that regime comes into force on the 1st of July this year. So nowhere in the Northern Territory will you be able to purchase takeaway alcohol without showing identification, there will be a banned drinkers register that will provide for the courts to be able to impose bans, police to be able to impose bans, and family members who have problems with somebody in their family abusing alcohol to apply to a tribunal to have their family also face a ban from accessing takeaway alcohol. So we’re stepping up to the plate, this nation has never seen anything like it, and certainly we will continue to clamp down on people who abuse alcohol because at the end of the day not only are individuals suffering, their families are suffering, the community’s suffering in general and certainly we’re determined to do something about it.

JOURNALIST: What’s your specific attitude (inaudible) establishing a floor price and having no takeaway on days of Centrelink payments?

HENDERSON: Well look I want to see the reforms that we’re putting in place how they go first up. I’m not convinced about a floor price, what we have to do is tackle people who have real problems with alcohol, who abuse their partners, who don’t send their kids to school, who get taken into protective custody and deal with people who’ve actually got problems with alcohol. So that’s what we’re doing. In terms of a day free from alcohol, again we’re tackling the people who’ve got real problems with alcohol in the first instance. I’m not saying we’re not considering further measures down the track but these reforms are tough, they’re bold, they’re certainly nothing like this has happened in our nation’s history before and we’re going to give these measures an opportunity to see how they’re working in terms of really dealing with people who’ve got extreme problems with alcohol as opposed to the broader community.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister it’s taken a long time to get to this point, 4 years, is there going to be an intervention mark II to continue the job?

PM: Well one of the reasons I’m here today is we will be discussing with people what lies beyond the period of the intervention. We want to work that through with local community members, I particularly want to have a discussion later today with indigenous elders on that precise topic. We need to hear the community voice to make sure that what builds on what has been achieved to date is the right thing to continue to make differences for the future and make sustainable differences. So there will be a process where we do some listening before we do some talking.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister there was a lot of talk in Alice Springs earlier this year about the intervention, and particularly alcohol in relation to the fact that people out bush felt that alcohol was driving, they weren’t allowed to have alcohol out bush so it was driving them to town, people in Alice Springs felt that that was really not addressing the problems, just dispersing it into town, what are your feelings on this?

PM: I think we’ve got to make a comprehensive difference to the amount of alcohol that is used and abused right throughout the Northern Territory and I don’t mean by saying that that there isn’t alcohol abuse in other parts of the nation but clearly today, standing here with Paul, with Jenny, with Warren and with Karl, we’re focused on this place, what’s happening in Alice Springs, what’s happening in the Northern Territory. So we need to make a difference to the use and abuse of alcohol throughout the Northern Territory. Now in the course of the current changes that are being delivered, steps have been taken to work with people who have got problems with alcohol, and steps have been taken to take out some of the supply too. A specific part of the Alice Springs Transformation Plan has been to knock out some of the supply agency, some of the places of supply, takeaway supply. Paul, has in his Parliament, very tough new measures which he’s just described. Now I am certainly open to hearing from the Northern Territory and from the communities within the Northern Territory what else needs to be done to dial down the amount of alcohol that is washing through communities.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible)

PM: We do need to listen, we do need to see these new measures come on stream, I think it’s very important that this legislation gets through the Parliament and is delivered and we need to consult with communities about what next. The approach that I want to take here and to build into the next phase of what lies beyond the intervention is an approach of engagement, I’m not going to come and say this is definitely my plan as Prime Minister before I’ve had the opportunity to talk people locally and that’s exactly what we’re going to be doing today.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible) ensure that this beautiful town doesn’t (inaudible)

PM: I’ve got an itinerary today that’s taken me through many different parts of Alice Springs and given me the opportunity to talk to a whole range of people, that’s what I wanted to do today. Of course I could come to Alice Springs and spend three weeks going to places and talking to people, that would be very easy to do, but today what I wanted to do was maximise my ability to see some things for myself and to have conversations with people who’ve got real views about the future, and I’m particularly looking forward to the conversation with indigenous elders later today.

I’m well aware of the circumstances that town camps have been in, I’m well aware of the changes that Jenny Macklin working with the NT, working with the local council, working with local communities has been bringing into place. Today I’ve had the opportunity standing here today to see some of that through the eyes of the people who live right here in Hidden Valley, through Nigel, through Laurel who’s just (inaudible), I know that there is more to do but it’s important to do to get the best view, see some yourself, talk to people and learn from the locals who see it every day.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible) houses in this town camp but there’s others (inaudible) to get running water sometimes (inaudible) explain why it is no work’s going on in those town camps?

PM: Well I’ll let Jenny talk about the specifics at each town camp but I think you would be aware that the $150 million Transformation Plan for Alice Springs and much more broadly the many billions of dollars that have been committed through the intervention and the large new investments in housing are about making a difference against decades of undersupply, underinvestment, overcrowding, squalor and neglect. No we are seeing that difference around us but with more to do. I’ll turn to Jenny for the specifics.

MINISTER MACKLIN: Thanks Prime Minister as you’d be aware when we started the work on all of the town camps here in Alice Springs we did face the sort of horrific living conditions that the Prime Minister has just described. So what we’re doing is working through each of the town camps to build new houses, to upgrade other houses, get the roads and lighting and all of these critical pieces of infrastructure built. We are working with the communities that you’ve described – Whitegate and so on – we do understand that they too face very serious needs but that’s exactly what we faced when we decided to take on this task across the town camps of Alice Springs. So we’re working systematically through it and we know that they’re issues we’ll need to address as well.

JOURNALIST: Do you have a timeframe Minister?

MACKLIN: Well we’ve got a timeframe for the Transformation Plan, we’ve got $150 million for this part of the project. As both the Prime Minister and the Chief Minister have indicated this is the first phase of the housing money that we’re putting into the Northern Territory but in total, over a ten year period, we’ve got $1.7 billion to put into housing. So we’ll work through those issues with the authorities here in Alice Springs.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible) where does education rank and are there specific proposals on truancy that are on the table?

MACKLIN: Well just to go to that issue specifically you would be aware that our Prime Minister, our Government is absolutely commitment to the difference that education can make to children’s lives and if you don’t go to school every day it’s impossible to get a decent education. So we want to do everything we possibly can to work with parents, work with teachers, community leaders to get more children to school here in the Northern Territory. The Territory Government have been doing just that with measures that they’re putting in place, we too are using our welfare reforms to say to parents in six communities in the Northern Territory if you don’t get your children to school after a period of working through the issues with parents we will suspend your welfare payments. So we’ve just extended that measure for another year but I can assure you this is a very, very important priority for our Government and for the Territory Government I don’t think Paul would mind me saying, it’s a very big issue for us and one that I’m sure will be talked about this afternoon.

JOURNALIST: On the issue of antisocial behaviour in town there’s been a lot of national media and local media recently talking about problems within Alice Springs, I know the Federal Government committed a lot of money to lighting around town, is there anything else in the pipeline to address that?

PM: Well I’ll go to Jenny for the further measures coming from the Transformation Plan but yes you have seen investment and the Northern Territory too has been working on policing, which is important, I did have the opportunity to speak to one of your police officers a little bit earlier today. But I did want to follow up the question about education and what Jenny’s just said. People would see that the key theme of the recent Budget was opportunity and responsibility. The nation is going to extend the hand of opportunity to people, but we need to see people step up with the responsibility. So the balance there, you’ve seen it in the Budget and you’ve seen it in our approach to the intervention and beyond, is we want to give people a hand up but we’re also requiring them to step up. And the foundation stone of that sense of personal responsibility is making sure you get kids to school. It was controversial when Jenny and I first proposed it, to say that if you didn’t get your kids to school that could cause a suspension of your welfare payments but that was done because of the value that we put on getting kids to school.

So the theme here is a very clear one: opportunity comes with responsibility and there is a clear responsibility to make sure kids are in school.

I’ll just go to Jenny on further words.

MACKLIN: As you are aware we are putting some of the Alice Springs Transformation Plan money into lighting areas that were identified by local people, the local council, to make places safer. We’ve also funded and health’s been very important in this regard as well, a safe and sober group, so it’s a group of people working through congress who are helping people who want to deal with their alcohol addiction, want to address the problems that that’s creating in their families. But once again if people have specific proposals that they’d like the Transformation Plan to address then we’ll certainly examine them.

JOURNALIST: In regards to that have you had any questions asked by the Action for Alice group which is now Territory wide, have you had any approach by them, I know they’ve got a huge issue with anti-social behaviour?

HENDERSON: Look in regards to the anti-social behaviour issues around Alice Springs I am the Police Minister of the Northern Territory and police advise me that 80 per cent of all of their works in Alice Springs is alcohol related. So that is why we’re introducing these measures. We are cracking down on the people who abuse alcohol, the people who abuse alcohol will not be able to access alcohol. We are taking the toughest measures we possibly can. So these are multi faceted, the issues that police have to deal with on a day to day basis here in Alice Springs. The issue of kids not going to school, the neglect of children, the horrific domestic violence figures that we see; the root of all of these problems is alcohol and the abuse of alcohol so when we’re talking about problems in Alice Springs and the Action for Alice group one of the clear measures that we’re absolutely targeting is the people who abuse alcohol, people who abuse other people as a result of their over indulgence in alcohol, they will lose the right and the Prime Minister talked about opportunities and responsibilities, if people can use alcohol responsibly, they will be denied it.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible)

HENDERSON: This is a long standing understanding, that 80 per cent of policing in Alice Springs is alcohol related.

JOURNLAIST (inaudible) what were some of the issues they raised with you?

PM: Bess very specifically raised the issue of education, about how important that is to the future and to changing future life chances, so we’re right on the same page about that, there’s nothing more important to changing future life changes that a quality education. She also talked about the possibilities of developing better economic engagement, put more simply she wants to see people have the opportunity for a job, the opportunity to work. Today as I’ve moved round I’ve obviously met some people who have had opportunities to work and opportunities to gain skills through working on the construction that we see around us and working on the facility that I opened earlier today. So we need every step of the way, to be thinking about how we can maximise people getting that all important job. And once again, going back to Nigel and trying to see this place through his eyes as someone who’s been here a long time and is the president of the association here, his vision for the future of this place, obviously he want to see the roads go in and they will, he wants to see the guttering go in a it will, he wants to see the street lighting go in and it will, he wants this more and more to look like a suburb of Alice Springs but he also wants the people in this place to leave their homes in the morning and go to jobs and that is absolutely key to making a long term difference to disadvantage and you would have seen it was central to the recent budget.

JOURNALIST: Alice Springs is a service centre for some of the most remote parts of Australia (inaudible) how does someone exercise that sense of personal responsibility when they live in a remote place where there is just no work?

PM: Well firstly talking to representatives of the Chamber of Commerce today, right here where we are now, they were talking to me about labour shortages so we’re actually in a place with the problem that employers say I can’t get people to fill the jobs that I need filled and at the same time we know so many people don’t have a job and don’t have the opportunity in life that that job could give them. When we delivered the recent Budget we spoke about that problem right around the nation in our patchwork economy. I meet a lot of employers who say I need to import more skilled labour and I say to them well I’m really worried about that kid in that kid in this place who needs an apprenticeship, I’m really worried about that young man in Kwinana in Perth who hasn’t got a job, I’m really worried about that young woman in Sydney’s west who’s on her way to a life of disadvantage. We’ve got to be able to put these things together.

The opportunities and jobs that the mining boom is bringing us in so many parts of the country with the real need for a life opportunity by so many Australians, so we want to facilitate putting the two together, that would change life changes here, we’ll change life changes in other parts of the nation as well. Yes, for some remote areas the creation of a real economy where people have jobs presents further challenges, but we know there are things we can do to make a difference having met Thomas this morning, third year of his apprenticeship, he’s on his way to a life of work, that’s a difference.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister what do you think of the major retailers that profit from very cheap alcohol in Alice Springs?

PM: Look I think this is a shared agenda for all of us, it’s about responsible service by people whose businesses are to provide alcohol, so publicans who sell alcohol, it’s about responsible conduct by the business community, it’s about us getting the legislation right and having the services there and as you would see from everything we’ve said just during the course of this discussion today as well as everything that Jenny Macklin and Paul Henderson have said before this, we are working on each part of this, there’s always more to be thought about, more to be considered and more to talk through and that is part of the reason that I’m here today.

Now I’m just conscious you didn’t get a question so we’ll make that last one.

JOURNALIST: Just wonder if you’re concerned that the township of Alice Springs might be divided and fractured along some race lines, particularly in relation to the Action for Alice campaign that the Chief Minister spoke about earlier?

PM: I’ve been speaking as we’ve gone around to Warren as he’s pointed out various people and places as we’ve moved through and I think the sense I’ve got from Warren is that there’s a lot of community spirit for change, yes there are challenges and yes there are deep anxieties and we’ve got to work with that as change continues to be delivered but I would hope that people can see changes are happening and they’ve got the capacity to make a difference even as we consult and work through what else needs to be done and I’ve seen evidence of some of those changes with my own eyes today.

Thank you very much.