Transcript by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Community Development Employment Projects (CDEP), income management, Paid Parental Leave and Resource Super Profits Tax, ABC Radio National

Program: ABC Radio National

E & OE – Proof only

FRAN KELLY: Well, to respond, we’re joined now by Jenny Macklin, the Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs. Minister, good morning.

JENNY MACKLIN: Good morning, Fran.

FRAN KELLY: Staying home, and staying drunk, that’s what Rene Adams says is a legacy of your changes to the Indigenous Work for the Dole Scheme, or CDEP, what’s your response?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well, we certainly know that there is no dignity in a lifetime on welfare, but we also know that CDEP, the Community Development Employment Program, had become a destination for many, many Aboriginal people, both in remote parts of Australia, and also in urban and regional Australia.

We did need to make a change, especially for school-leavers, we want to say to all school-leavers, Aboriginal young people, there is an opportunity for you to get employment, for you to get the training you need to hold down a good job, not to have as your aspiration, a lifetime on CDEP, that’s why we’ve made the changes, I’ve been in many, many communities where there are jobs, where people haven’t taken the jobs that are available, because they’ve got into the routine of working just a few days a week, a few hours a week on CDEP, rather than learning the discipline of what a full-time job means, and a full-time job of course is what we hope most Aboriginal people would be able to aspire to.

FRAN KELLY: Well, you heard Rene Adams there, she said people aren’t going into full-time jobs, they’re staying at home, as I said, they’re getting drunk, we’ve heard reports, not just from her, but from other communities too of increased violence, suicide rights – rates, going up, gambling on the rise, are you aware of communities experiencing social problems as a consequence of this scrapping of CDEP?

JENNY MACKLIN: I’m certainly aware of many, many difficulties in Aboriginal communities right around Australia, and…

FRAN KELLY: Because of this change of policy?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well, I think it’s very hard to say that it’s the direct result of this change, given the problems with alcoholism, the problems of violence that we know have been very serious in many communities, over a long period of time, we know we have…

FRAN KELLY: I’m sorry to interrupt, minister, but that is true, and we all know that, and that’s well documented. What we were hearing there particularly from Rene Adams, and from others, was that it was this change in policy which exacerbated some of those problems. She invited you to go and look at the situation at Toomellah, will you go?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well, of course I’m travelling all the time to different Aboriginal communities, and I hope one day I can get there as well, so I am aware of the difficulties in Aboriginal communities, and I am aware that this change has been hard, but also I’m aware, and unfortunately these examples weren’t in your package, of other places where people have really taken this as a real opportunity for change.

So just to use a couple of examples, up in the Kimberley, the CDEP have converted what used to be a CDEP program for stockman skills into a business, they’re now training people, all the people that they train get work, we have another example in the Pilbara, a bio-diesel plant, that’s now running as a business, it trains people, it gets people into employment, so there are positive examples.

We also have had thousands of Local Governments, State Governments and the Federal Government, who took advantage of Aboriginal people, didn’t pay them proper wages, this is going back over the last 30 years, what we’ve done is said to all governments, ourselves included, proper wages must be paid for public sector jobs, so if you’re a childcare worker, a teacher aid, a ranger, a municipal worker, you should be paid proper wages, not CDEP wages, and we’ve…

FRAN KELLY: And all of that’s true, but…

JENNY MACKLIN: Well, just one important point, because around 3000 Aboriginal people, this is across Australia, are now in proper work, that’s Federal Government work, as a result of the changes that we’ve made, and there are similar numbers now employed by the state, and by Local Governments, and one of…

FRAN KELLY: But as we heard there, in that package from Cathy van Extel, is that for every five CDEP positions that have gone, maybe one, or at best two jobs, are created, so I think – there’s no doubt that it’s good to move people on to real employment and to try and, you know, develop a labour market, but it seems to be the fact that in some areas there just are not real jobs, and it’s all very well to offer people, you know, the aspiration for a real job, that’s great, but in some areas, it just doesn’t work that way.

JENNY MACKLIN: Well that’s true, and that’s why we introduced different arrangements in remote parts of Australia, compared to urban and regional Australia, but it was the case, when we came into Government, that there were CDEPs in some of our very, very big regional towns, where there is a very active labour market. Now we want to encourage Aboriginal people, especially the kids leaving school, to go for the jobs that are there, to really have an aspiration to hold down a proper job.

We also want to say to the Local Councils in those places, you’re not going to get away with paying Aboriginal people CDEP wages, they should be paid proper wages, if they’re going to be municipal workers, for example.

FRAN KELLY: The point is, there seem to be some people – we’ll move off this in a second, because there’s plenty to talk about on other issues too, but there seem to be people falling through the gap, there seem to be some communities that are – feel like they’re left high and dry, and basic services aren’t being tended to now. Will you do something to at least look at that issue?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well, we’re doing a lot in each of the communities that you’ve raised, so we have put additional resources into Toomulla, the same in Yarrabah, we’ve actually provided the funding for a bus service from Yarrabah into Cairns every day, we do understand that the employment situation in Cairns, because of the global financial crisis, is very serious, but we also know that unless we provide the services to help people in Yarrabah to get the jobs that are available in construction, in tourism, in the wide ranging labour market that does exist in Cairns, then they’re not going to have the opportunities that most people hope for their families, so that’s why we’ve provided a bus service, we’ve provided additional services in other communities where we know there are difficulties.


JENNY MACKLIN: This change, we think, is important, and that’s why we are providing additional social services, practical services like a bus service, we’re doing different things in different places, depending on the problems.

FRAN KELLY: Okay. It’s nine minutes to eight on RN Breakfast, our guest this morning is Indigenous Affairs Minister, Jenny Macklin. Jenny Macklin, one of the key elements of the Northern Territory intervention which your Government is continuing and extending, is income managing – management or quarantining, it’s up for debate in the Senate in this sitting, the Greens call it the biggest change to our Social Security system since the Second World War, because you’re going to expand it from just within indigenous communities, to right across the Northern Territory, and ultimately across the country. Has there been enough debate about this? I’m sure most people, most of us don’t have any idea it’s about to come in.

JENNY MACKLIN: Well, there’s certainly been a lot of consultation and debate about it, there’s been a Senate Inquiry, what we…

FRAN KELLY: Do you think most welfare recipients know that they’re about to get – be subjected to income management?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well, the way it’s going to work is in the first instance in the Northern Territory, so over the next two years, it will apply in the Northern Territory, there’ll be a proper evaluation that will start at the end of 2011, before we decide to take it to any part of Australia.

But we’ve certainly got evidence in the Northern Territory, that income management has been very helpful to Aboriginal people, we do not think it should be a discriminatory system, we think income management is a very useful tool, and should be made available to people who need that sort of financial structure in their lives.

We’ve had plenty of Aboriginal women say that they feel that they’ve got much better control over their money now, they’re not being harassed or humbugged for money in the same way that they were before, more money is being spent on food, more money is being spent on clothing for children, less on alcohol, I would have thought that’s exactly what we should be doing, making sure that the welfare money that’s made available for people, is spent in the interests of children.

FRAN KELLY: Minister, just briefly, we’re almost out of time, your Paid Parental Scheme goes before the Senate this week, in fact today, I believe the Opposition is going to support it, when will working families see this scheme underway?

JENNY MACKLIN: From the 1st of January next year, so if the legislation goes through as we hope it will, today or tomorrow, for the first time, Australia will catch up with the rest of the developed world, and have a national Paid Parental Leave Scheme, families have been waiting a very long time for this, it is a very significant change, and it’ll start on the 1st of January next year.

FRAN KELLY: Now you’ll count this as a victory, but the Opposition will go to an election whenever that is, offering a more generous scheme, they’re promising to introduce their non-means-tested payments, within the first year of government, if they are elected.

JENNY MACKLIN: Well they’re also saying that they’re going to pay for this by an increase in company tax, so we’re proposing to cut company tax by two per cent, the Opposition is proposing to increase company tax by 1.7 per cent, so that’s a huge difference in the company tax rate.

What their change will be, will mean for families, is an increase in the cost of everything that people buy at the supermarket, an increase in the cost of living for families to pay for their Paid Parental Leave Scheme.

By contrast, the Government has a more modest scheme, one that’s been carefully worked through, paid for in the budget, and ready to start on the 1st of January.

FRAN KELLY: Just finally minister, this story, this is big news, for Australia to have a Paid Parental Scheme, but it’s been drowned out by all the negative news facing the Government at the moment, particularly the mining tax, are you urging the Prime Minister to try and resolve that mining tax dispute quickly, say before August?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well the Prime Minister and the Treasurer have made it clear that they are in serious negotiations with the mining and resources sector, I’m sure they’ll get it resolved as quickly as possible.

FRAN KELLY: Jenny Macklin, thank you very much for joining us.