Transcript by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Inquiry into the Northern Territory child protection system, Salvation Army report

E & OE – Proof only

JENNY MACKLIN: As you’ll be aware the Northern Territory Government has today both received and released a report from the Board of Inquiry into the Northern Territory Child Protection System. That Board of Inquiry has found that the Child Protection System in the Northern Territory has been consistently failing children.

While of course it is the case that state and territory governments are responsible for statutory child protect, the Australian Government will continue to work right across the country to do everything we can to support vulnerable children And that’s particularly in the areas of our responsibility in the areas of income support, welfare reform and early intervention. In the case of the Northern Territory of course we have been very engaged in delivering significant change through the Northern Territory Emergency Response over the last three years.

Today I am announcing an additional $34 million to boost measures to protect children from neglect and abuse in the Northern Territory. As part of the changes to income management, which we announced at the end of June, we’re implementing a new child protection income management system in the Northern Territory. This works by the Northern Territory Child Protection Authorities recommending to Centrelink that a families welfare payments can be income managed if that’s in the interest of the child.

Up to seventy per cent of a parents’ welfare payments can be income managed and then their welfare payments can only be spent on things that will benefit children – food, clothing and housing rents for example. What we’re announcing today is that we’ll provide an extra $25 million to improve children and family support for those families who are recommended for child protection income management in the Northern Territory. This will mean that we will see around 100 additional community-based family support workers in a range of different services across the Northern Territory and this will build on services where we’re already providing funding for early intervention and prevention, playgroups and the like. We are also in the process of establishing five Children and Family Centres in a number of communities in the Northern Territory and they will be established by 2012.

In addition to these measures, we will provide, and we’re announcing this today, an extra $7.6 million over two years to fund a new mobile child protection team and additional remote Aboriginal family and community workers. We have had some experience that has certainly delivered improved services to children through a mobile child protection team and so this additional team will provide fifteen Child Protection workers and additional remote family workers to make sure that children and families get the support that they need.

The third area where we will provide additional support to address issues that certainly drive the level of child abuse and neglect is in the area of alcohol abuse. We will provide $1.5 million to help the Northern Territory Government expand their ID card technology to help make sure that alcohol restrictions can be enforced across the Northern Territory.

These are three practical ways in which we intend to provide additional support to children in the Northern Territory to make sure that we do see improvements in their safety arising from the shocking situation that does continue to exist in the Northern Territory.

Just to turn to the monitoring Report that we’re also releasing today, you would be aware that we regularly release updates on progress with the Northern Territory Emergency Response.

This is the latest six-monthly report and does demonstrate the progress that has been made with the delivery on the ground of improved services to children and families, particularly in remote parts of the Northern Territory. Over the last couple of years, we have committed an additional $1.2 billion to the Northern Territory Emergency Response and during that time we’ve delivered an extra 62 Police, 80 night patrols in remote communities, for children who are at school every day there are around 7000 meals delivered to them each school day, there are now 22 safe houses in communities, child health checks have been conducted and just as importantly there have been 19,000 follow-up specialist services for children after they’ve had their initial health checks.

There are new police stations, both temporary and permanent, and I think the thing to remember about all of these changes is none of these services existed three years ago.

This has been a very significant commitment, it continues to be a significant commitment to children and their families in the Northern Territory.

JOURNALIST: Minister the Bath Inquiry, I mean, you’ve said that the results are appalling. Considering the Little Children are Sacred Report and the emergency intervention, what’s your feeling about why things are so bad still?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well I think it does demonstrate the enormous backlog of need in the Northern Territory, over a very long period of time. If you look at what has been delivered over the last three years – the extra police, the extra child protection workers, the extra meals and child health checks, the income management, at the end of June there were around 17,000 people in the Northern Territory on compulsory income management. All of this has been delivered in the last three years. But what this report today demonstrates is that there is a lot more that needs to be done. That as we put more child protection workers and police into communities of course we are seeing increased reporting of assaults, we’re seeing increased reporting of child abuse and neglect. At one level it’s very important to make sure we are getting those reports made. But it has put enormous pressure on the child protection system and this report that has been received and released today demonstrates what needs to be done to address the backlog and the pressure that exists on the child protection system.

JOURNALIST: Minister, aren’t you a little bit frustrated that despite spending $1.6 billion in over three years there doesn’t seem to be much progress on particularly child protection issues?

JENNY MACKLIN: As I say I think this really does demonstrate the depth of the problem that we face. It’s both the level of abuse and neglect, the breakdown of social norms that I think all of us understand takes not only an enormous amount of investment in improved service but determination to keep going.

If you think about the fact that three years ago there were no police stationed in these 18 communities. If you think about the pressure on the child protection staff that is being reported in this Inquiry that’s been released today. All of these issues are going to require not only a very significant investment, but a determination by both levels of Government to stay the course.

JOURNALIST: Now the Northern Territory is not the only state which has fallen down in its child protection delivery. It’s been very bad in NSW as well, why is NSW not getting extra money to help boost their child protection?

JENNY MACKLIN: I think it is understood that the situation in the Northern Territory is extremely serious, that the pressures on the Northern Territory Government are significant. As you’d be aware we have introduced a new system of child protection income management with the Western Australian Government and we have also introduced legislation through the Parliament at the end of June that will enable us to roll out income management in other disadvantaged parts of Australia once we’ve put it in place in the Northern Territory and evaluated its impact.

We are now seeing other parts of Australia recognising the value of income management and we really think that this is an important responsibility for the Commonwealth.

JOURNALIST: I’m not talking about income management, you’re actually funding child protection workers in the Northern Territory . The NSW Government has the same problem with its bureaucracy in DOCS, it doesn’t have enough workers to do the work that needs to be done. Would you consider giving the other states similar resources to boost their DOCS bureaucracies?

JENNY MACKLIN: What we are doing in the Northern Territory is particular to the Northern Territory because of the very significant needs that they have. If you look at the rates of substantiated child abuse in the Northern Territory, you will see that the figures are much worse in the Territory, the demands on the system are more significant and both through the NTER and these latest initiatives we have taken the view that we do need to put particular effort in the Northern Territory.

JOURNALIST: Minister Macklin, one of the recommendations of the Bath Inquiry was more Aboriginal involvement in solving this sort of crisis. You’ve responded to this report by mentioning the many planks of the NTER, are you confident you have the support of Aboriginal people on the ground, Aboriginal community organisations in actually rolling this out?

JENNY MACKLIN: I agree with your point and that’s why one of the initiatives we’ve put in place is Indigenous Engagement Officers in many of the communities in remote parts of the NT. That certainly was a finding of the first evaluation that we did of the NTER, that we needed to improve the way in which we communicated with Aboriginal people on the ground in remote communities. That’s why these new workers have been put in place. But the mobile child protection teams, the remote workers, many of them are Aboriginal people and we certainly will be looking forward to making sure that opportunities for local employment are there to the extent that we can.

JOURNALIST: What about income management? I mean you’ve mentioned child protection income management, many Aboriginal people are still very opposed to income management, how do you respond to that?

JENNY MACKLIN: And many Aboriginal people are very much in favour of income management. I was just in Alice Springs the week before last and I met with a number of people who indicated just how important income management had been to them.

In fact, I went to Woolworths and spoke with a number of Aboriginal people who were shopping there that day using their BasicsCard and they indicated to me just how useful income management had been to them, to help them get their finances under control, to help them make sure that they could put food on the table for their children. So the evidence is there as far as I’m concerned.

Income management has been very helpful, not just to Aboriginal people but if you go to the Western Australian experience, people in Perth where we’ve had this child protection income management system in place for the last 18 months or so, it’s a non-discriminatory system it doesn’t just apply to Aboriginal people and the vast majority of people who have participated have found it very useful.

JOURNALIST: Could you explain how this alcohol ID card works and given that judges in Sydney were recently complaining about the link between alcohol and crime – whether we need to expand that to outside the NT, to the rest of the population?

JENNY MACKLIN: As you’d be aware its just being rolled out in the Northern Territory now so I think the important thing to do will be to evaluate its effectiveness and to see whether or not by identifying people as problem drinkers – them then having to be identified before they can purchase alcohol – I think we need to see whether it works. It is a new approach and I think we are all very well aware of the significant role that alcohol abuse is having in not just the Northern Territory, its true other parts of Australia as well, on the level of child abuse but let’s see how it works in the Territory first.

JOURNALIST: Minister, the Salvation Army has released a report that has found 12 per cent of Australian children are living in poverty, were you shocked by this finding?

JENNY MACKLIN: We are aware of the significant numbers of families in need in Australia and that’s why during the election campaign we made a commitment to improve the Family Tax Benefit, particularly for 16 to 18 year olds. We are going to increase the level of family payment to families which will mean for low income families in particular anything up to $150 a fortnight extra.

We are also building around 19,000 extra social housing homes across Australia, recognising the pressure that families are under with housing costs.

JOURNALIST: The Salvation Army are calling for a strategy though to help reduce children living in poverty. Do you accept this that you need to do that?

JENNY MACKLIN: We certainly want to work with the Salvation Army, with Anglicare who also released a report today, with the other non-government agencies to address poverty in Australia.

It is why we’ve so dramatically expanded the amount we are spending to build more social housing, it’s why we’re going to increase the Family Tax Benefit for 16 to 18 years and make sure that to get that young people have to be at school or in training. We do understand how important it is to work with the non-government sector to deliver for people who are in poverty.

Thank you.