Transcript by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Child protection income management measure, Alice Springs Transformation Plan, Alice Springs town camps, SIHIP

*** E & OE – Proof only ***

JENNY MACKLIN: I’m very pleased to be here in Alice Springs today with my Ministerial colleague from the Northern Territory Government, Karl Hampton.

Earlier today we went and handed over the keys for the Mount Gillen Hostel that will provide 65 beds to people who need transitional housing, very much needed here in Alice Springs.

It’s a very good example of the Northern Territory Government working together with the Commonwealth to provide much-needed services. Aboriginal Hostels will operate the new hostel and we look forward to this making a real difference to the lives of people here in Alice Springs.

We’ve also just been to one of the local playgroups and met with mums and carers and children. This is being funded in-part from the Alice Springs Transformation Plan, another example of the Territory Government and the Commonwealth working together to improve the availability of various social services here in Alice Springs.

Yesterday we went together to visit the new Safe and Sober program, a very important program being delivered partly by Congress but a range of different organisations involved to help people deal with their alcohol addictions, to try and prevent people getting addicted to alcohol and dealing with problems that alcohol abuse creates.

This morning I was also very pleased to go and visit Trucking Yards to see the progress with the new houses, the upgrades of houses, the refurbishments. And of course Trucking Yards is one example of one of the town camps where there’s going to be extensive infrastructure works, so new road works, guttering, making sure that when you get this sort of rain there’s going to be decent drainage in that town camp.

I was very pleased to see the progress; new houses already constructed, new houses underway and we also had a good look inside at some of the houses being refurbished. That too was very positive, seeing the new tiling, kitchens, the bathrooms being fixed up, locks on the doors, all of the things that are very important to make sure that children have got a safe place to grow up.

The other major announcement that we have to make today is that we have just started the roll out of the child protection income management measure here in the Northern Territory.

This child protection income management measure has been operating in Western Australia now for the last 18 months. Just yesterday we released a major evaluation of how that program is working in Western Australia. What it’s demonstrating is, first and foremost, it’s improving the use of welfare for children. And that’s what this initiative is all about.

We know that here in the Northern Territory we’ve got very high levels of child neglect, and with the Northern Territory Government we are now rolling out income management using the children protection authorities’ advice to Centrelink about which families would benefit from the introduction of child protection.

One issue which has been raised is the importance of using this measure to deal with the problems of gambling, too much gambling, too much alcohol abuse leading to not enough food being put on the table for children. We want to turn that around, with the child protection authorities, working with them, to make sure that welfare payments are spent in the interests of children.

JOURNALIST: I understand this has already been in place for a short period of time now, so far have any parents in the Northern Territory had their income quarantined over child neglect. How many?

JENNY MACKLIN: A very small number so far because it’s only just started and we do expect, and I certainly strongly encourage the child protection authorities to look at the experience in Western Australia, and to recognise how valuable this measure can be. But it’s only just started here in the Territory, we’ll provide all the numbers once it’s been fully rolled out by the end of this calendar year.

JOURNALIST: Can you say exactly how many and whether that’s in Alice Springs or elsewhere?


JOURNALIST: At this stage we’re hearing concerns this morning about the issue of financial counselling. The WA study found that a lot of, hardly anyone picked up the financial counselling aspect. How are you going to make it different in the Territory so that is picked up?

JENNY MACKLIN: We are providing additional funding for financial counselling because I agree that financial counselling is a critical part of everything we’re trying to do. We’re trying to make sure we give people the tools to be able to manage their money to make sure that in the first instance their welfare payments are used in the interests of their children. Many, many people in the Western Australian trial have indicated that they find now that they’re better able to save, they’re better able to pay their bills, pay their rent, better able to get food on the table for themselves and their children.

We do want them to use Financial Counselling, we’ve provided additional resources to make that available and we’re doing that here too.

JOURNALIST: Once a parent is put onto this child neglect income management how can they appeal that decision, do they have any rights to get off it?

JENNY MACKLIN: That’s something that does have to be introduced. What we have seen in WA is a proper system set up for that and that will have to be pursued here in the Northern Territory as well.

JOURNALIST: If it’s already been rolled out though why hasn’t that already been taken into account?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well that’s a matter for the Territory to do as part of their child protection system, but it does need to be pursued. We have proper appeal processes in Centrelink, and of course they apply, but there will need to be proper processes here for that as well.

JOURNALIST: In relation for some other issues in Central Australia at the moment, in Yuendumu there’s been a lot of coverage recently of a decision by a number of residents to leave, about 100 people, and to go elsewhere. Does this set a precedent for feuding families in remote communities to go and seek refuge interstate?

JENNY MACKLIN: I think we have to recognise how important it is that people participate in the mediation process that the Northern Territory Government is facilitating. I would really want to say to everybody involved how important it is to make use of these mediation processes. We do know that people move around from community to community, that is a reality, but it’s also very important that people make use of the mediation process that’s being established.

JOURNALIST: In relation to this I brought up a bigger issue about the Intervention and customary law no longer being applied in any way in the Western justice system. Is there any wriggle room or movement for the Federal Government to consider customary law and tribal punishment sanctioned within the Western justice system in Australia?

JENNY MACKLIN: No. I don’t think there’s any basis for doing anything outside of proper approach to law and order and I think that’s critical that we recognise we have the laws of the land that each and everyone of us should abide by.

JOURNALIST: The families though in this case and in other cases that we’ve reported on say that without this process that they see as a law that they have in place in these communities the feuds just go on and the families continue fighting and there’s no resolution. Are you willing to engage with communities to maybe look at a better way that the Western justice system can integrate with the way the law operates in communities?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well we’ve just been talking about the importance of mediation. That is a process that the Northern Territory Government has put in place and one that I would encourage families to make use of.

JOURNALIST: Can you outline what it is that you’re looking for in terms of how child protection workers will be ascertaining the people that aren’t looking after their children or that may be applicable to this measure?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well they’re really questions for the child protection authorities. The judgement that they will make is whether or not the child protection income management measure will be in the interests of that family and those children. There are very significant numbers who are victims of abuse and neglect, both here in the Northern Territory and in Western Australia. We’ve put this measure in place to make sure that this is an additional tool, it’s not the only tool, but an additional tool that child protection workers can use when they see significant examples of neglect. When we see children not being fed properly because people are using their money to gamble, using their money on grog, we want to make sure that money, that welfare payment, is spent in the interests of their children, that’s the purpose of the child protection income management measure.

KARL HAMPTON: It’s great to spend some time with a Federal Minister here in Alice Springs, both yesterday and today. I accompanied Minister Macklin to Congress yesterday, we had a briefing with staff and people at Congress about the Safe and Sober program. We’ve visited today the official handover of Mount Gillen, the facility that’s going to provide 65 beds to people who are looking at transitional accommodation and those that most need it in terms of homelessness.

So we’re going to be seeing over the next few months, particularly around 200 beds through the Accommodation Park, through Mount Gillen being provided to those people who are living rough in Alice Springs and those that do need transitional accommodation.

All of this is part of the bigger plan with the transformation plan that we’re working very well with the Commonwealth on in Alice Springs. It’s making a big difference to a lot of people’s lives, particularly those on town camps. I visited Morris Soak town camp on Wednesday and it was great to see Minister Macklin visit Trucking Yards today. So there’s great progress being made and it’s making a big difference to a lot of families living on town camps.

JOURNALIST: Will we see people moving out of the creek beds around town currently camping close to town camps?

KARL HAMPTON: Well that’s a very good question and that’s what we spoke to people at Congress who are looking after the Safe and Sober program. What we need to do is join those dots together. We need to connect people who are living rough, either in the creeks or in the hills or are coming to Alice Springs for various reasons, to these accommodation venues.

There’s going to be a lot of beds available over the next few months and what we need to do is make sure that those people are connected to accommodation because that is a significant issue for people who are living it rough.

JOURNALIST: In relation to the town camps we heard this morning from the Central Desert Shire that they have concerns about dangerous renovations in kitchen areas, that the cupboards haven’t been put on, doors in certain areas, and they’re worried that in Ti Tree particularly things are dangerous. What’s the Territory Government doing to address concerns like this about the refurbishments.

KARL HAMPTON: Ti Tree’s actually in my electorate. As the local member I’ve been up to Ti Tree and I’ve had a look at those homes and I can say, as well as the homes at Morris Soak and many of the town camps that I’ve visited over the past few months, if you look at those homes what they were like before the refurbishments took place and what they look like now there’s a vast difference.

There’s been a huge improvement to these homes, particularly to kitchens where there’s been benches put in, some storage areas and new stoves. And don’t underestimate the value that people that are moving into these refurbished homes certainly place on the difference.

As Minister Macklin has stated, these homes have gone through quality assurance. We want to make sure that refurbishments do make these homes safe and improve the lives of those people that live in them. So certainly they’ve gone through quality assurance hurdles and when they’re handed over the Territory Housing, what tenants can do is work with Territory Housing, the housing tenancy officer and if there’s other improvements that need to be made, then they can work through that as every other tenant does.

JOURNALIST: One day out from a by-election in the seat of Araluen, is it a coincidence that the Federal Minister’s here today talking about improvements and things that are happening in that electorate?

KARL HAMPTON: Oh look not at all. But I think our candidate Adam Finlay’s done a fantastic job, in terms of his work. He’s worked the electorate hard, he’s done a lot of doorknocking and I think he’s a great candidate and of course the voting tomorrow, we’re hoping that Adam gets up.

But in terms of Minister Macklin’s visit, Minister Macklin’s been coming here for a long time looking at the progress of the Transformation Plan and I think, like Minister Macklin, we’re both impressed with the progress. You know since December last year there’s been significant progress made and you just have to go out to talk to town campers and people who are benefiting from these new homes and the refurbished homes to see for yourself how important it is to them.

JOURNALIST: While the caretaker Government mode was in place and then there was the issues federally about who was going to take government, I understand there was a bit of a hold up in the funding for SIHIP. Are you aware of whether there’s going to be delays in rolling out the program because of that?

KARL HAMPTON: Oh look not at all I’m not aware of those issues and maybe Minister Macklin can answer those in more detail but I’m certainly not aware of those delays. The Transformation Plan is moving ahead, SIHIP’s moving ahead in leaps and bounds and we can’t underestimate the value of the project. We know with Adam Giles he wants to stop SIHIP, he wants to stop the Transformation Plan and I think that would be disastrous.

What we have before us unfolding is a significant progress in the living conditions for town campers and for many of those people in remote communities. So as far as I’m concerned it’s full steam ahead it’s making great progress and I look forward to Minister Macklin coming back very soon.

JOURNALIST: So the information that we were provided was that while the Government was in caretaker mode and during the period that there wasn’t an elected government in place that the SIHIP funding was stopped during that period. Is there some delay to projects and did that happen.

JENNY MACKLIN: No, that is completely false so whoever has told you that is leading you up the garden path. Completely false.