Transcript by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Communities for Children Plus Service, income management

Program: ABC Mid North Coast

*** E & OE – Proof only ***

FIONA POOLE: Minister, welcome.

JENNY MACKLIN: Thank you. Very pleased to be here.

FIONA POOLE: This program works on the principle of area-based intervention, how many communities has it rolled-out to and what ages does it target?

JENNY MACKLIN: We’ve increased the age to twelve so when it started a few years ago it was for little children, but the feedback we got from the different organisations who have been running Communities for Children was that they really wanted to expand the age range to twelve years of age so we have done that. That’s really only been going for a couple of years and this Communities for Children Plus site that we’re setting up in Kempsey will go up to twelve years of age.

We’ve only got a few of these Communities for Children Plus sites, we’ve started those only in the last year and they really are aimed at doing exactly what you’ve just outlined which is focusing both on building communities and providing support for parents and children. But in the case of the Communities for Children Plus sites really having a particular focus on Child abuse and neglect and doing what we can to prevent it.

FIONA POOLE: Why Kempsey?

JENNY MACKLIN: We did look around Australia at the areas that really need the most assistance and this is an area that had two things going for it. One, very strong leadership so I do want to give credit to the local people who have really put their hand up and said they want to bring about change for themselves and I think that’s incredibly important. If you are going to succeed in this difficult area it’s to build on strong local leadership but it is also because there is a significant need, so we looked at different areas in Australia that really had high need.

FIONA POOLE: How much of the program will focus on the local Indigenous population in Kempsey

JENNY MACKLIN: That, of course, will be up to the local people. It will be entirely those people who need the assistance the most, and they will be really building strong relationships with existing service providers in the area. They do have a strong focus on getting out and building trust. Building trusting relationships with people is very, very important in this area because, of course, if you’re going to have people come forward and ask for help when they’re struggling to look after their children, you’ve really got to be able to have that trusting relationship

FIONA POOLE: I’ve seen some press releases for school holiday activities?

JENNY MACKLIN: Yes, that’s some very good news that we’re announcing today, so out of the money that we have allocated to the Benevolent Society whose going to be the main provider in Kempsey, they’ve decided to put some of that money into school holiday programs. Around $100,000 in grants will go to local organisations so that kids can have fun – emphasis on fun first, and of course safe activities for them to do during the holidays.

FIONA POOLE: How do you break the cycle? I know it’s the six-million dollar question

JENNY MACKLIN: Well it’s very much, as you said in your introduction, there is no magic bullet. It’s a matter of trying a range of different things. Of course, there’s the very acute end where it is the case that children do have to be removed and unfortunately a very significant number of children are in out-of-home care around Australia.

One of the things we’re doing with the states and territories and with non-government organisations is developing national out-of-home-care standards so that when children do have to be removed we get the highest possible standard of care in foster care or other forms of out-of-home care. But if you go to the other end of the spectrum, of course, it’s extremely important that we’ve got children being well fed, that they’re going to school on a regular basis, that their parents might get assistance with parenting programs, learning how to parent better. So you can imagine the full spectrum of interventions that you need to be thinking of.

FIONA POOLE: I was reading, and this I thought was wonderful, I am not quite sure which town in was in but, a lady setting up a mobile play centre and she would just set up a tent and she’d start bringing out the toys and playing with them. Suddenly a few kids would pop in and mum and dad across the road, who for the first couple of weeks were like ‘ no I’m not going over there’ then they would come out and start this positive role-modelling of good parenting and how to play and interact with your children.

JENNY MACKLIN: In fact I was in Wilcannia just recently and that was exactly what was happening. We’d just funded a mobile playgroup and they were trying to figure out where they would go in Wilcannia. The day I was there they just happened to be in the local park, and exactly as you described, they had their van – the toys were in the back of the van. The woman who was running the playgroup said that she had decided to go and set up outside this granny’s house because she knew that the granny was one of the main people who looked after children in the town. And the way they thought they would be able to engage most with the little children in that town was to set up outside granny’s house. So I thought that was very innovative.

FIONA POOLE: Do you think we’ll see that sort of thing in Kempsey?

JENNY MACKLIN: I don’t know about that. I think what’s great is that we’ll see the Benevolent Society really connect with what will work in Kempsey and it won’t be me or anyone else in Canberra telling them what to do. It will be very much driven by what works in Kempsey.

FIONA POOLE: Home budgeting courses, child nutrition education, that sort of stuff – one of the criticisms of government policy, especially when we look at what’s going on in the Northern Territory and Cape York when it comes to closing the gap, is the holds that the government now has on the income of local Indigenous people. Do you think that we’ll see that sort of thing translate into the eastern states?

JENNY MACKLIN: Sure. Just so people understand what we’re doing in some parts of Western Australia now, that’s in Perth and in the Kimberley, in the Northern Territory and in a few communities in Cape York. What we’re doing is with the child protection authorities is if they recommend to Centrelink that it would be in the interests of the family, and particularly the children, for some of the parents’ welfare payments to be income managed, and that means that the money can only be spent on the essentials of life like food and rent and clothes, not on alcohol, then that can be done. We’ve just received an evaluation of the Western Australian experience and it’s been very positive. A lot of people in fact are volunteering for income management so that they can use it to help manage their finances, but we do see this as a useful tool to make sure that welfare payments are spent in the interests of children

FIONA POOLE: So there are plans to roll it out nationally?

JENNY MACKLIN: We’ve got the legislation through the Parliament to enable us to do that but what we have decided to do is roll it out in the Northern Territory , do a proper evaluation, see what the effect is and then we’ll consider where else we’ll put it in place.

FIONA POOLE: Anglicare have been quite critical of income management in their annual State of the Family report saying that quarantining policies do little to address entrenched poverty. They say social security systems is not the appropriate system to try and force people to try and change their behaviour. Have you collected evidence that says otherwise?

JENNY MACKLIN: Yes we have and as I just mentioned we’ve just received an evaluation from Western Australia that certainly shows how useful it’s been and there are different views in the welfare agencies. The Brotherhood of St Lawrence has a different view, Mission Australia has a different view, they see income quarantining as a useful tool.

We recognise that you need to do a range of things. I think you can hear that from what I’m saying. What we’re implementing in Kempsey demonstrates that you need to do many things and the same applies in the Northern Territory. You do need school meals provided in some places, you do need to make sure that housing is properly provided so that you do not have such terrible overcrowding, that we’ve got the capacity for financial counselling – people learning how to manage their money, making sure that people are in work.

One of the very exciting developments here in this area is the way in which Aboriginal people are really stepping up to the plate and saying we want to work and we want to be economically independent, and I reckon if anything is going to turn this around it’s people saying we want to work.

FIONA POOLE: Jenny Macklin, thank you for your time this morning. Appreciate it