Transcript by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Closing the Gap, Northern Territory Emergency Response – Doorstop

E & OE – Proof only

JENNY MACKLIN: Thanks very much everyone. I am very pleased to be here with my Ministerial colleague, Warren Snowdon, the Minister for Indigenous Health, and also the Member for Lingiari.

Today we’re releasing the latest six monthly monitoring report on Closing the Gap in the Northern Territory that provides evidence of the progress that we’re making on Closing the Gap, particularly as a result of the investments we’ve made through the Northern Territory Emergency Response.

As you’d be aware, one of the key reasons for the Emergency Response was to deal with violence and to make sure that we saw additional police placed in communities that had never before had a permanent police presence. Those police have now been in communities for a number of years. It was the case that when the police were first put in communities we saw an increase in the level of crime reported, and many took the view that this was the result of increased efforts by the police to in fact report on crime that had existed for a long time but had not been addressed.

For the first time in this report we see those crimes statistics going down, but I would say that we recognise that we still have a considerable way to go in addressing what we know are serious levels of violence, alcohol abuse and other matters that of course many, many families particularly women and children suffer.

The report also contains evidence on the number of children who are receiving meals at school. There are around 7,000 children, 7,000 meals I should say, 7,000 meals a day being produced for children in many schools across remote communities in the Northern Territory. That’s been very important for them. The evidence is that the licensing of the community stores has been very positive, has improved the quality of the food that’s available for people in these communities. My colleague might like to add some remarks on the benefits of particularly the follow-up health services that were provided especially for children. That was especially in the areas of ear, nose and throat procedures, dental procedures that have certainly seen children’s health improved.

One of the areas that I am particularly concerned about from this report and for the future, is the level of school attendance. As I’ve said a number of times, we recognise that there is a big job to be done to get children to school. This report emphasises that and once again we really highlight the importance of doing more to make sure that parents, teachers, community leaders, do everything possible to get children to school, especially in remote parts of the Territory.

WARREN SNOWDON: Just very briefly. We’re very pleased with the improvements in primary healthcare outcomes, the follow-up health checks, the additional 273 health workers are now working across the Northern Territory. The rolling out of our regionalisation of primary health care services is proceeding and we’re very confident as time progresses we are providing already improved services that’ll improve even further as we invest more resources.

JOURNALIST: Minister, what, is there anything in the report that would change the way you’re approaching certain issues related to the disadvantage or that would prompt you to do, take additional action?

JENNY MACKLIN: As I’ve indicated in my remarks, the area that I’m most concerned about from this report is the level of school attendance. It wasn’t part of the original Emergency Response and I think this report demonstrates yet again the need for us to act further, particularly on the issues of early childhood development and making sure that children get to school. We know if you’re not going to school it really is not going to be possible for you to get a decent education. So that is one area that I would particularly highlight.

JOURNALIST: Any ideas on how to do that?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well, one of the other very important messages that we have from people on the ground in the Northern Territory is that they want us to work with them on a range of issues to improve people’s life chances, to Close the Gap, and we certainly intend to do that. We want to really work out the best ways we can work with parents, work with teachers and communities to get children to school.

The other area that I’ve highlighted and will highlight again today is the need to continue to work to reduce alcohol abuse. We know the links between alcohol abuse and violent assault are real and so we want to continue to work with individuals and communities in the Northern Territory about further ways in which we can address alcohol abuse.

JOURNALIST: Minister are you talking about introducing any sort of penalties on parents who don’t force their children to attend school at an early age?

JENNY MACKLIN: We already have a measure that’s operating in some communities in the Northern Territory and in suburbs of Brisbane and in a couple of other places in Queensland, that’s called the school enrolment and attendance measure. And the way it works in those communities is that if parents don’t get their children to school, they get an opportunity to make sure they do the right thing, they get warnings, but if after those warnings they’re still not getting their children to school, they can have their income support payments suspended. So that measure is in place. We have continued it in this year’s Budget and will obviously evaluate its effectiveness.

JOURNALIST: So is it not working?

JENNY MACKLIN: As I said we’ll evaluate its effectiveness, we have extended it for another year to make sure we’ve got sufficient data to evaluate it.

JOURNALIST: Could you expand it across further communities, is that what you’re considering?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well what we’re doing at the moment is continuing it in these communities and in the suburbs in Brisbane where it’s operating for another year and then we’ll look at its effectiveness.

JOURNALIST: In general, is the report suggesting that the Intervention has been successful?

JENNY MACKLIN: I think the report indicates that there are some positive improvements. If you look at a piece of work that was done last year, it certainly indicates that people in remote communities who previously didn’t have police permanently based in their towns, they are very pleased to have police. They understand just like we all do that it’s a good thing to have police not too far away and I think that has been a very, very positive measure. I think the measures to license the stores have been very positive. The system of income management which was introduced by the previous Government, continued by us, we have of course made it non-discriminatory. It not only now applies right across the Northern Territory but we are now as a result of announcements made in this Budget, extending income management to other parts of Australia because in our view it works, it helps make sure that parents’ welfare payments are spent in the interests of their children.

JOURNALIST: Do you think the report adds weight to calls from the Coalition that the Intervention should be expanded into towns such as Alice with increased police numbers?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well I think that sort of comment demonstrates that unfortunately some commentary hasn’t recognised what has been done in Alice Springs. We’re making the largest ever investment in a town the size of Alice Springs. We’re putting in $150 million extra to build houses, to rebuild houses, to make sure that we have proper tenancy management. We’re putting in place new services for playgroups, early childhood development, a range of services that are critical especially for children. We understand how critical it is to support those people who want to get alcohol under control in Alice Springs. We’re doing that and in fact I’ve been working closely with Members of the Opposition to make sure that we do that work effectively in Alice Springs.

JOURNALIST: Given that there are sort of about 400 instances or over 400 instances of child protection issues in the last six months of the report, is there a case for even greater police numbers in some of these towns?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well, I think you’d be aware that the Northern Territory Government conducted a major inquiry into child protection which was published at the end of last year, the Bath Inquiry, and they are now implementing with our support, some very significant improvements to the child protection system in the Northern Territory. We too, have put additional funding into mobile child protection teams. We understand how critical it is to get extra people on the ground, extra police yes, but also extra child protection staff. One of the other things that’s been very important has been to extend income management into the towns in the Northern Territory which this Government has done.