Transcript by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Alice Springs town camps, remote boarding schools, nuclear waste and Alice Springs accommodation park

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JENNY MACKLIN: I’m very pleased to be here with my Parliamentary colleagues, Minister for Central Australia, Karl Hampton, and my Federal Parliamentary colleague and Ministerial colleague, Warren Snowdon. Today we have been very pleased to go to the site down at Larapinta Valley where the first house is being built as part of the transformation of the town camps here in Alice Springs. We were very pleased to meet the person who’s going to be the new tenant for this home and she is extremely pleased that she’s not going to be living in such crowded conditions as she has been and she’ll be able to live very close next door to where she is. This is a major step forward for the residents of the town camps, a very, very important start to the building of 85 new homes and upgrading of many homes. This is a major step forward for the residents in the town camps. We’re now able to move forward together, seeing new houses built, new refurbishments done and today of course we also saw the significant numbers of local Aboriginal people employed on the construction of these homes. So it really is a very positive step and we’re pleased to have been able to be part of it today.

JOURNALIST: You’ve heard the concerns about the SIHIP program under which these houses are also being built, about residents having perhaps expectations their houses will be refurbished or refitted but only getting say a kitchen bench. Will these refurbishments be adequate? And how extensive will they be? And how will you satisfy those concerns of the residents?

JENNY MACKLIN: We’re going to be doing around 2,500 refurbishments and of course they’ll be different depending on the quality of the home where the refurbishments are needed. The standard of the refurbishment will be worked out once the contractors go in and inspect the home, and we expect that there will be a range in the cost of the refurbishments, anything from around $20,000 to $100,000 depending on what’s needed. We’ve always been clear that what we want to see is functional homes, that’s our number one priority. We want functioning kitchens and functioning bathrooms. When we came into Government we faced a huge backlog both for new houses but also a backlog in the number of houses that needed to be fixed up. We’re getting on with the job now of these refurbishments. Around 90 refurbished houses have been handed back to their tenants. Around 70 refurbishments are now underway but the type of refurbishment will very much depend on what needs to be done.

JOURNALIST: Are you satisfied Minister that the money that’s been spent on refurbishments in the houses that have been completed, has actually delivered something that is worth, say $75,000 or even $20,000, yet some of the people that live in those houses seem to be saying that they can’t understand how what has been done could possibly cost that much money?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well of course it is expensive to fix up houses in remote Australia and I just want to reiterate that the amount of money that we have committed to refurbishing houses, 2,500 refurbishments will be done. The amount of money that we’ve committed is the same as we had committed at the start of this process and the important thing is we’re getting on with the job.

JOURNALIST: Minister (inaudible) the leases were announced that there would be just the most functional elements of the house refurbished, why didn’t you say that?

JENNY MACKLIN: I think if you go back and have a look at the review that was done it really did emphasise the need to focus on functionality. We’ve taken advice from the fixing houses for better health people who really emphasised the need given how huge the demand for improved housing is here in the Northern Territory. They’ve really emphasised to us the need to focus on functionality, to focus on having a working kitchen and a working bathroom. If you think about it, that’s really very important. People need a clean and proper place to bath their children and of course they need a clean and proper place to cook their meals.

JOURNALIST: The care for their houses by the residents has often been a problem for many years. How can you ensure that the maintenance and the care for those houses will be better than it has been in the past?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well there’s one major change of course that we’re putting in place with the Northern Territory Government and that is proper tenancy management. So there’ll be a responsibility on the Territory Government to now keep the houses properly maintained and there’ll also be an expectation that people will pay their rent and look after their homes. So this new tenancy management responsibility now rests with the Territory Government and we certainly expect that to be honoured.

JOURNALIST: Who decides the involvement of repairs and maintenance (inaudible)?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well that’s really a matter for the alliance partners.

JOURNALIST: I’ll just ask you about remote boarding schools which were supposed to be delivered last year, but there’s been a significant delay and we’ve seen nothing. What’s actually happening with that program?

JENNY MACKLIN: There’s a number of reasons for that. There has been a feasibility study done in Wadeye as I understand it. Then there was difficulty finding an appropriate site. The feasibility studies are being done on the other two sites. We certainly expect those feasibility studies to be completed soon.

JOURNALIST: And Maningrida won’t be getting one, why was that decision taken?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well that’s really a question for the education authorities. They’re the ones who’ve determined where they’ll go.

JOURNALIST: So how long would you expect before we see a remote boarding school?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well we certainly hope that the one in Wadeye will be underway shortly and up and running as quickly as possible. But as I say I gather there have been some problems with the site.

JOURNALIST: I was just wondering, on another issue, the proposed nuclear waste dump, there’s been some speculation among conservationists and the Greens this week that the Government had made a decision to reintroduce legislation and that Muckety Station was looking like the place that the nuclear waste dump would be built. Is that true?

JENNY MACKLIN: As I understand it this issue has yet to be finalised, so I think it best if you refer that to the Minister for Resources and he’ll let you know when the decision is looking like being finalised.

JOURNALIST: Minister, back to the care for the houses. You’ve had a good look at the housing commission or the housing authorities in the Territory and their performance in terms of management of the houses, you have had a look at them?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well we see the responsibility for tenancy management resting with the States and the Territories, that’s the way it’s been for a long time in pubic housing. The Northern Territory Government understands how important it is to meet those responsibilities. They want to make sure that we have tenants who look after their homes and pay their rent and the Northern Territory Government wants to make sure that houses are properly maintained. It’s a two way street.

JOURNALIST: You’ve announced an extra 150 bed facility for temporary accommodation in Alice Springs. Lots of people are saying that there needs to be a proper transport strategy to make sure that people who go and stay in that facility go back to communities. What’s going to change in terms of the current arrangements for that?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well just as far as transport here in Alice Springs goes we’ve certainly been discussing that issue, and my Department’s been discussing it with both the Territory Government and the Alice Springs Town Council. That matter will be further addressed by the Transformation Group and we’re meeting later today, so I’m sure that matter will be raised again.

JOURNALIST: And do you think affordability is going to be an issue if people can stay with relatives or in the river for free, are they going to pay to stay at an accommodation facility?

JENNY MACKLIN: I think you’d be aware that there are already good hostels here in Alice Springs. I’ve been to some of them and they’re of very good quality. People do pay their rent to stay in those hostels where they, certainly in one of them that I’ve been to recently, where people go, where they’ve got renal disease and they’re getting good care, people do pay. And I know that one is almost full to capacity. So I think it will be very welcomed that there’s more visitor accommodation here in Alice Springs.

JOURNALIST: How much do you think is an affordable rate to pay at this new facility?

JENNY MACKLN: Well I think that’s a matter that will be worked out by the person who is running it.

JOURNALIST: If we get a working facility, what change do you think we’ll see in town camps in the long term for people to have somewhere to go?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well listening to the residents of the town camps as I have done on many of my visits here, one of the things that does frustrate them are the large numbers of visitors that mean that they have more overcrowded homes, too much noise sometimes from their neighbours. So I think one of the positive things will be that people who are in the transitional housing will have better accommodation and people who are in the town camps will be able to be in their own homes.

JOURNALIST: On the transformation plan, $100 million, you’ve got to make roads, power, everything nationally compliant, all the new houses fixed and made safe, it’s now going to be enough is it? When you get the package next month from Territory Alliance you’re going to have to spend a lot more money. Are you prepared to do that to make these actual proper suburbs?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well this is the largest amount of money that’s been ever invested in these town camps. We’re committed to building the additional houses, fixing up houses, doing what’s needed to bring the infrastructure up to scratch. It is a very large amount of money, let’s get on and spend it.

JOURNALIST: And there are several communities in the region in Central Australia that, who’s housing investment was dependent on them signing leases, you haven’t managed to do that with any of the communities yet. Does that mean that most of the communities in this region won’t be getting any houses under SIHIP?

JENNY MACKLIN: No, we’re still having discussions with those communities.

JOURNALIST: Is there a chance (inaudible)?

JENNY MACKLIN: We’re still having discussions with the three communities that you refer to and the other communities of course are already receiving refurbishment money, so that’s going ahead.

JOURNALIST: Is there a chance of the five year leases negotiated under the intervention being extended, for some for township leases and (inaudible) places?