Menzies School of Health Research report on income management in the Northern Territory, Julia Gillard and Newspoll
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MICHAEL ROWLAND: A new report says the Federal Government’s quarantine on welfare payments in remote Indigenous communities has not delivered a significant health benefit.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: According to the Menzies School of Health Research, there was very little change in the amount spent on healthy foods, after the introduction of quarantining.
For more, we’re joined in the studio now by Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin. Minister, good morning. Thanks for joining us.
JENNY MACKLIN: Very pleased to be here.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: The research that was done by the Menzies School of Health Research does raise some serious doubts about the effectiveness of quarantining, particularly when it comes to the kind of purchases that I know that you and others wanted to see Indigenous people make.
JENNY MACKLIN: It’s very important to look at all of the information that’s available to us. Last year we published a study that had been done on 66 stores – not the 10 stores of this study, but 66 stores across the Northern Territory, and it was found that more than two-thirds of the store owners did see an increase in the amount of fresh fruit and veggies being purchased, dairy products, meat products. So this is another important piece of work, but I do think we have to look at all of the information that’s available to us.
We also conducted a very, very extensive consultation with thousands of people in the Northern Territory last year. We conducted around 500 different meetings and not everybody agrees that income management is helpful, but certainly more than half the people we consulted were of the view that income management had been very helpful for their families.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: But it’s a sad fact of life that those sugar rich foods are going to be far cheaper than fruit and veggies, particularly in the most remote of the Indigenous communities.
JENNY MACKLIN: That’s one of the very important findings in this study and, as a result, I am asking both my department and the Health Department for further advice as to how we address that exact problem. I was up in a remote store just last Thursday and watching people come through and the products they bought the most of were sugar drinks, Coke and other soft drinks. There are some stores – there’s one I can think of in the north of South Australia – where the Aboriginal people themselves decided that they would, in fact, stop the sale of sugar drinks. All of the Aboriginal people running that store had diabetes. They wanted to do something about it. They banned the sale of sugar drinks and they’ve seen a very significant drop in the amount of sugar related consumption. So we’ll get some further advice about how to address that particular problem. It is serious in many, many Aboriginal communities.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Why persist with income quarantining, because the evidence is far from conclusive that it really actually is delivering the kind of results that you want it to. Are you considering a change of policy on that one?
JENNY MACKLIN: No, we’re not, because when you look at all of the evidence right across the board, from the very significant consultations that we’ve done where a lot of people have said as a result of income management there’s much less harassment for money. They find that there is less money being spent on alcohol and gambling. That there is more money available for food for their children. That people are being able to manage their money over the fortnight; not have to go back to Centrelink each week for increases in their money. I think if you look at all of the evidence, it is a helpful tool to people. The majority of Aboriginal people want it to continue, but they don’t want it to be a discriminatory system. So the legislation we’re introducing will not be a discriminatory system of income management. It will apply, no matter which – it’s not based on race.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: So it will apply to all Australians?
JENNY MACKLIN: Yes. Well Australians who…
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Who are in a…
JENNY MACKLIN: … are in particular groups.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Yep.
JENNY MACKLIN: That’s right.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: One argument to put up is to perhaps increase the payments for quarantine, for food purchases to deal with these rising costs. Is that something the Government will look at?
JENNY MACKLIN: Well, as you know we, in fact, increased the pension last year very significantly. The single aged pension, disability support pension has gone up by just over $100 since September last year. We do understand that a lot of people are under significant financial pressure. But we also get from people themselves, that income management is a very helpful budgeting tool. They’ve said it to me many, many times. We’ve got a situation in Western Australia where we have a system of voluntary income management, a lot of people putting their hands up because they can see it’s helpful to them.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: And what about the evidence that money is still being spent on booze?
JENNY MACKLIN: Well in these communities where this study was done, as I understand it, they are dry communities.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: But more generally I mean.
JENNY MACKLIN: More generally, of course, half of people’s welfare money is not income managed, so the amount of money that is spent on alcohol is still of great concern. We know that alcohol induced violence is one of the most serious problems that we have to address in Indigenous communities. Income management is one way to help us address that, but it’s certainly not the only tool. We’ve introduced alcohol restrictions. In some communities they’ve got their own alcohol management plans, which have proved to be quite effective on Groote Eylandt for example. We’ve seen a very substantial decrease in the level of alcohol induced violence. So that certainly requires many different approaches.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: Stopping short of – picking up a point earlier, you made earlier, stopping short of banning soft drink sales altogether in these remote communities – and if the shop owners still want to sell them, how do you? How do you physically reduce the number of soft drinks made available in these shops?
JENNY MACKLIN: One of the ways that the community themselves decided to do it, was to ban it. That was their decision, not a decision imposed on them by government. Another is really, of course, very, very substantial improvements in education, so people understand the relationship between these sugar based drinks and diabetes and renal failure. So there’s a lot of work to be done on the ground.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Sure, but if a community like that one that you mentioned doesn’t decide to ban it themselves, is the Government considering putting some sort of program in place that forces those shops to sell only a certain kind of thing and not some others?
JENNY MACKLIN: Well I’m not going to be in that game. But I’m certainly interested in…
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Well that’s what it sort of comes down to, doesn’t it, when you see people buying 40 gallon – you know, 10 gallon drums of sugar of, you know, refined castor sugar. I’ve never seen a drum like that anywhere else, other than up in the Top End.
JENNY MACKLIN: Well, it was a bit of a shock the other day to see all the things going out of the store in the half hour I was there, were large bottles of Coke and other sugar based drinks.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Well then, until your education gets in place, then you actually need to deal with it at the shop end don’t you?
JENNY MACKLIN: Well we do, but I think in the first instance it’s important to talk with people about what will work and that’s exactly what we’ll do.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: All right. Look, we need to ask you this morning also about the fate and the state of your colleague Julia Gillard, who seems to be doing terribly well in the polls.
JENNY MACKLIN: Somehow I thought you might raise this.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Well, where do you think this is…
JENNY MACKLIN: And I heard you say earlier that you did not expect me to answer it.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Yeah, well, look, I was just being silly really. Of course I expect you to answer. Where do you think all this is coming from? I mean are there whisperings in your party?
JENNY MACKLIN: No. No, no. I think the way that Julia Gillard herself has answered it, really gives the response that you’re looking for. She’s laughed it off. I think what we’re very lucky about is we’ve got a Prime Minister and a Deputy Prime Minister who are working incredibly well together. They get on so well. They’re a great team and you should stop stirring the pot.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: But she’s very good at doing it. But surely a lot of your colleagues wouldn’t be laughing about the fact that the Prime Minister, his popularity has come off. The Budget hasn’t given the Government any sizeable boost according to these polls this morning. When does it become time that the hard heads start doing the sums, doing the calculations and possibly looking at Julia Gillard in the top job?
JENNY MACKLIN: Well I think the Budget, by contrast to your view, I think it was a very, very important message to the Australian people that we’re serious about getting the Budget back into surplus. We’re serious about making sure that we do everything we possibly can to keep Australians in jobs. To support Australians by the most important method, and that’s to have people and their families in work. That’s the main message of our Budget and the way I read it, from people I’ve been speaking to in my electorate, that’s exactly what they think our job should be.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: What about the two party preferred figure, which now has the two main parties level pegging, 50/50 according to the news poll. That is, you’ve squandered your lead, and that is not a position you surely want to be in heading in just a couple of scant months away from an election?
JENNY MACKLIN: I think we’re – those of us who have been around politics for a long time know that the closer you get to an election, the closer the polls, always get – Australian elections are always close, so I’m not at all surprised to see the polls tightening.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: Would you like to see a female Opposition leader, or a female Prime Minister?
JENNY MACKLIN: I think Julia is doing a fantastic job, but I think we are incredibly lucky to have both Kevin and Julia in the top jobs. I tell you they do get on incredibly well. I mean lots.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Better stick to it.
JENNY MACKLIN: They do and you can stop causing trouble.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: I’ll do my best. Jenny Macklin, good to see you. Thanks so much.
JENNY MACKLIN: Thank you.