Transcript by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Indigenous housing and policing in the Northern Territory – Doorstop, Tiwi Islands

*** E & OE – Proof only ***

JENNY MACKLIN: I’m here with the Chief Minister of the Northern Territory, Paul Henderson. We’ve come today to inspect both the new houses that are being built here on the Tiwi Islands and also to inspect the refurbished houses. What’s very impressive about what’s happening here on the Tiwi Islands is not only the very significant investment in new housing and upgraded housing, but the very large numbers of Indigenous people who are working. We’ve been very pleased today to meet with a number of the workers who’ve been employed by the contractors to work on both the upgraded houses, helping to build the new houses, and it’s this building and these skills that they’re gaining that will really see them turn their lives around.

We’ve also been very pleased today to meet some of the people who’ve taken out home loans and who’ve bought their own homes. They’ve bought their homes with the assistance of loans from Indigenous Business Australia and they’ve been able to buy their own homes here on the Tiwi Islands because we have negotiated a 99-year lease. So the home owners and Indigenous Business Australia who’ve provided the loan have security of tenure. We’ve met some of the home owners. They’ve certainly indicated how important it is for them to have the security of owning their own home, of knowing that it’s their home, that they can do the upgrades to their homes, fix the gardens. They were talking about having a backyard blitz in their home, in their garden, just like all the rest of us want to do. So it is very exciting times here on the Tiwi Islands.

PAUL HENDERSON: Yeah, look thank you, thank you, Jenny. And it is great to be over here and certainly as an ex-tradesman myself, it’s fabulous to see Tiwi people working real jobs and that pay good money with superannuation, and certainly the pride that these people have in actually putting on the work boots every day, getting out there, building their own community, is absolutely fantastic. It’s a demonstration of the Commonwealth Government and the Territory Government working together to deliver real action. What we’ve got here is action by Governments, significant investment, leading to real jobs and building real houses for people here on the Tiwi Islands. Fantastic as well, to speak to a couple out of the ten people who are buying their own homes. This is a first in the Northern Territory under the Aboriginal Land Rights Act and certainly as a result of the 99-year lease. We’ve actually got people buying their own homes, a sense of real pride that this is my home, this is our home for the family, not only for now, but something that we can leave our children. So I think this is the start of big things on the Tiwi Islands. It certainly is talking to the (inaudible) today. They’ve got great plans for the future and certainly those plans will be supported by both Governments.

JOURNALIST: Minister, you’ve had a look through the houses for the first time, I understand, today. Considering the time it’s taken and the money that’s already been spent, are you satisfied with the quality of the places that are being built?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well the good thing is, we’ve just had an independent review done of the program. It’s done an analysis of how we’ve progressed since the major review of SIHIP last year. It’s found that we are now back on track. It was very frustrating for both levels of Government, the time that it’s taken to get us where we are today. But I think you’ve seen here on the Tiwi Islands, the houses are being built. Houses are being refurbished, people are moving back into the refurbished homes. People are moving into the new homes and the good news is that a lot of construction is now underway.

JOURNALIST: To get back on track what needed to be done and how did you pick up the lost time?

JENNY MACKLIN: We did a lot of work together. We put some extra people on from the Commonwealth and from the Northern Territory Government to really make sure that we got this program back on track. We made sure that we really put the concentrated effort in to deliver these homes. We know that Aboriginal people here in the Northern Territory have been waiting generations for this level of investment. It’s now happening and the good news is people are starting to move into these homes.

JOURNALIST: You mention that it’s gone back on track and I guess one of the main reasons for that was heavy Commonwealth assistance. Should the Commonwealth be fully in charge of this program?

JENNY MACKLIN: No, we’ve indicated over the last six months that we want to work in a cooperative way with the Northern Territory Government. It is a very significant Commonwealth investment. We are putting a lot of money into this program because we have had generations, government after government, of both political persuasions haven’t put the money in. We’ve got a massive backlog to fix and we’re only going to fix it if we work together and that’s exactly what we’re getting on with.

JOURNALIST: Do you think I guess if the Northern Territory Government was to play a larger role again would it slip?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well, we’re working together. We know that this is a very, very big program. A very big program that we’re both determined, very determined, to get right. We know that there’ll be problems along the way in a program of this size. We’re building 750 new homes. 750 new homes over five years is a lot of work. There of course will be issues that we have to address but the good thing is if we’re determined to work together, we’ll get it right.

JOURNALIST: Just clarifying, Luke’s house. Is that the first house that is ownership on Aboriginal land? Is that what you’re saying?

PAUL HENDERSON: Well there’s ten houses here. Sorry, there’s ten people buying houses here.

JENNY MACKLIN: Ten families.

PAUL HENDERSON: Yeah, ten families and this is the first in the Northern Territory on Aboriginal land. It’s absolutely fantastic. I am aware out on Groote Island there are people over on Groote Island that are very keen to get on and purchase and I think that the stories will get out. The people here will talk about the pride that they have in their own homes and certainly other people will be knocking on IBA’s door to look at how they can get a loan to purchase their own homes. And certainly that’s a function of the lease, and I think as that story gets out around the Northern Territory, more and more Indigenous people are going to say, we want our own home too.

JENNY MACKLIN: Can I just add one point about the lease because we also went and met with some of the traditional owners and people who are involved in developing new business opportunities here. And the other benefit of the 99-year lease is that we now are seeing more private enterprise, more businesses being established because they too can take out commercial loans and set up businesses just like anywhere else. There are restrictions on the numbers of non Tiwi Islanders but from the point of view of the Indigenous Business Australia giving a loan for a business or a bank giving a loan for business, the security of tenure is now here.

JOURNALIST: Half the workforce of the Territory Alliance are Indigenous. They tell us the company says that there are fifty people on a list asking for jobs on top of those people. Does that situation exist in any other remote community that you’ve been to?

JENNY MACKLIN: I just think that is such an exciting story to hear that. To know that there are people knocking on the door, wanting a job, recognising that we have opportunities for work here as a part of this housing program. We set a target of 20% local employment. There’s more than 50% local employment here on the Tiwi Islands as a result of this housing program. I understand that once the weather dries up a bit more there’s going to be more employment here for local people, building and fixing up houses, and that’ll be a good thing. But the best news I take out of what you’ve just said, is there are plenty of people here who want to work and that’s just such a vote for the future.

JOURNALIST: What we have been told is that there’s only a certain number of transition homes, they can only work on so many homes. The fact that there are fifty people still banging on the door, should the system be re-jigged basically so that we can allow as many people who want to work as possible?

JENNY MACKLIN: It’s always a balance isn’t it? We have to balance getting the houses built. We’ve got targets to meet, we’ve got houses to build, people who need decent accommodation. We also want to make sure that people get the chance to get a job. So we’ve got to get that balance right, make sure that we provide every opportunity we can for local people to get employment and keep the building on track.

JOURNALIST: So you hope to see this situation repeated in another community?

JENNY MACKLIN: I certainly do. I think the next place where we’ll see home ownership take off is on Groote Island because we have an 80-year lease at Groote. We’ve got people who are talking with Indigenous Business Australia about home loans. They’ve already got a number of business ideas as well. We’ve got a lot of houses being built there, a lot of local employment there as well. As you know we’re putting $672 million into this first five-year phase of home building and renovating, and our task is to get that job done and to get as many people employed in the process.

JOURNALIST: The review that says SIHIP is back on track, has that review been made public because the last review …?

JENNY MACKLIN: Yes it has.


JOURNALIST: This is pretty much a model.

JENNY MACKLIN: Which particular …?

JOURNALIST: Of this program here and the employment and the whole thing …

JENNY MACKLIN: We’ve used this alliance approach for the first time here and that’s why we did have this independent group do an analysis of the whole alliancing approach. They’ve certainly been very positive about it so far. But we’ll continue to keep a very close eye on it because it is a new way of doing things.

JOURNALIST: I know of one alliance partner who’s been axed.

JENNY MACKLIN: That’s right.

JOURNALIST: Are there plans to axe new future alliance?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well, obviously these are decisions that are made properly and what we want to do is make sure that we keep this whole project on track. There’s a joint management group that deals with this, not at the political level. It’s done by both Departments, by my Department and by the Department in the Northern Territory Government. They’re the people who make sure that the houses are being built on time and on budget and they’ll deal with all of those issues.

JOURNALIST: We’re hearing concerns about new future alliances performance and also that the Northern Territory Government has stopped your steering committee from axing new future. Is that true?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well that’s the first I’ve heard of it. I haven’t heard that.

JOURNALIST: So there are no plans to axe …?

JENNY MACKLIN: I haven’t heard anything of that.

JOURNALIST: There’s a report out today into the intervention and perceptions of police officers in remote communities and a lot of the feedback from that has been exceptionally negative. A lot of people have called police officers racist, and just not having, just lacking cultural understanding. How do you think the intervention is going along those in security?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well, one of the other things in this report that’s very, very important and the Police Minister might like to say something, is how much people appreciate having police in their communities. I think the number in this report is that 75% of the people who responded to the report were very, very pleased to have police in their communities. I’m sure you’re very pleased to have police in your local community. I’m very pleased to have police in my community and I think Indigenous people living in a place like the Tiwi Islands deserve the same sort of security that police give us as everybody else. And so I think the good thing about this report is how positively people have responded.

PAUL HENDERSON: Yeah, look and can I say on matters as well, I have read that report in detail as the Police Minister in the Northern Territory and certainly I read it as a very positive report. So in many regards certainly cultural understanding, cultural sensitivity are areas where the police have to work on and I know our new Police Commissioner is taking those recommendations very seriously. But every community I go to in the Northern Territory wants police in their community and certainly individual people from time to time may not display the cultural sensitivity that’s appropriate. We obviously need to do better in terms of inducting people before they go to communities. But overall I believe it was a very positive report but in everything there are lessons to be learned and we’ll certainly work on those recommendations.

JOURNALIST: The Police Minister said it’s a tough beat, the Northern Territory, and especially the remote communities are incredibly tough places as well. I mean is there any extra training that needs to be done to I guess ensure these sort of racial comments don’t happen?

PAUL HENDERSON: Well, any comments are totally inappropriate and certainly would be dealt with on complaints within the police disciplinary process. This is as the Commissioner said a tough beat right across the Northern Territory but our police do a magnificent job. They’re highly regarded in virtually all communities where they’re present but there are always lessons to be learned, particularly the cultural sensitivities and certainly that’s a recommendation that will be picked up by the Commissioner and certainly greater work in that regard in regards to what happens out at the police college.

JOURNALIST: The authors recommend that a specialised stream be created in the police force. Do you think that’s a good idea when you look …?

PAUL HENDERSON: Well we’re certainly going to look at all of those recommendations and again I commend the Northern Territory police in terms of the Aboriginal community police officer program now has a dedicated stream to transition ACPO’s where they want to become fully sworn police officers. And we already I believe have around 27 people that have graduated from being Aboriginal community police officers to fully sworn police officers, and I don’t believe any other police force in the country has that dedicated program. Ideally I’d like to see that grow and expand and certainly I believe that the Northern Territory police lead the way in the country in terms of transitioning Indigenous community police officers to fully sworn police officers. We can always do better and certainly we’ll look at those recommendations.