Transcript by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Doorstop, Perth – Constable Care, hostel in Carnarvon, Tony Abbott and homelessness, Sam Tomarchio

*** E & OE – Proof only ***

JENNY MACKLIN: I’m very very pleased to be here in Perth today with representatives from Constable Care to announce an additional $500,000 for Constable Care to enable them to deliver their fantastic puppet show and support for children and young people in remote Indigenous schools in many many parts of Western Australia. This is a wonderful program that Constable Care have been delivering to children in Western Australia for twenty-one years now. And I’d like to congratulate them for their commitment to keeping children safe and this additional money from the Federal Government will help make sure that more children understand what it is that they need to do if they don’t feel safe, who they can turn to, what sort of behaviours that they can undertake to make themselves feel safer in their homes and in their schools and communities. So very big congratulations to everybody from Constable Care.

JOURNALIST: Has Constable Care previously been in these Indigenous remote communities?

JENNY MACKLIN: They’ve been in some places but not many of the places that they’ll now be able to go to. So this really will enable them to extend their wonderful work to many many communities that they’ve previously been unable to afford to go to.

JOURNALIST: Given, you know, crime rates in some of these Indigenous communities. Is it an oversight that it’s taken this long for a program like this to be in these areas?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well I think it does demonstrate just how important it is to have Constable Care go out into these Indigenous communities to make sure that children understand that they can be safe, that it’s not something that they should accept when they’re bullied at school or when they’re treated badly somewhere in the community. So this is a way of making sure that in a very effective way, Constable Care, through their puppet shows, can really get the message through to children that they’ve got the right to be safe.

JOURNALIST: Just on issues in Carnarvon, Channel 9 was up there this weekend and there were a lot of children, Indigenous children, five and six year olds roaming the streets. There’s a proposal by the Shire President that’s now backed by the Premier, for a boarding school hostel type situation. Would the Federal Government be prepared to support something like that?

JENNY MACKLIN: I was very pleased to see those comments by the Premier of Western Australia and his commitment to make sure that children who need a home have got a place to go to. That’s of course why the Commonwealth has been so determined to do everything we possibly can to reduce homelessness. We understand that there are thousands of children every night who are homeless in many parts of Australia. We are doing an enormous amount ourselves to build more houses, to provide more services to homeless people, particularly parents and their children who may be escaping domestic violence for example. So we know how critical it is to do more to prevent homelessness. It’s really why we’re very disappointed to see Tony Abbott’s comments this morning in the media where he said that he wasn’t going to support the Government’s determination to halve homelessness. I hope Mr Abbott will think again and recognise that we can work across the political divide to do everything we possibly can to reduce homelessness.

JOURNALIST: Specifically on Carnarvon though, I guess it’s not really homelessness, it’s more that these children aren’t been cared for properly by their parents. What would you be prepared to do about that?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well sometimes it is because the children themselves are homeless. They may have in fact left their families. It may be because they’ve been subjected to violence. It may be because the parents are not taking the responsibility they should be to look after their children. So, one option is the proposal that the Premier is looking at, a hostel, to make sure that those children have support. So we’re certainly very happy to sit down with the Premier of Western Australia and look at the options that would work in Carnarvon. We’re doing that in many parts of Australia, looking at ways of improving services to people who are homeless.

JOURNALIST: The system seems to be falling down at the moment though, so how soon could there be some sort of action on this because those kids are roaming the streets and you know it could be months or years before Government actually noticed it achieved something (inaudible).

JENNY MACKLIN: Well we’re actually building houses, building hostels right now. We’ve already put additional money into new hostels that are being built in different parts of Australia. We’re in the process of building many many houses. In fact, more than 19,000 new public housing units have been constructed over these couple of years. So there’s a lot of building activity going on. We know we’ve got a lot to do to address homelessness but I’m very happy to have a discussion with Mr Barnett about what we can do specifically in Carnarvon.

JOURNALIST: Is the Federal Government at all in favour of forcing parents to send their kids to one of these hostels if there’s some sort of domestic violence situation? What measures can you put in place to make sure that children would actually go to this?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well the responsibility for child protection is of course a statutory responsibility of the State Government and Mr Barnett has obviously indicated his willingness to address those issues. We’re very happy to work in cooperation with the State Government. We know how important it is that we do what we can to deliver additional housing, additional homelessness services. We want to do that in a cooperative way with the State Government.

JOURNALIST: Is it offensive for Mr Abbott on the homelessness issue? Do you want to say anything about his claim that it’s a lifestyle for some people? Is that, what are your thoughts on that?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well, I think it’s very very disappointing that Mr Abbott has said what he said. I think we have to, all of us, understand that for many people who are homeless it can be a situation where people are escaping domestic violence. For the many thousands of children who are homeless they are in so many circumstances escaping violence with their mothers. So it’s very very important that we understand how critical it is to support those families when they are escaping violence. I just hope Mr Abbott will have another think about this and recognise just how important it is. As we are prepared to do with the State Government here in Western Australia, we’d like to see that cooperation across the political divide in Canberra as well.

JOURNALIST: Have you had any updates about how things are going in Laverton since the raid on Mr Tomarchio’s home office?

JENNY MACKLIN: Sure, we have provided additional assistance to Centacare, so we’re providing $85,000 to Centacare to enable them to provide additional service into Laverton. So that’ll be additional financial counselling services and support for people to help them manage their own money. You’d be aware that we’ve also seen some individuals decide to cancel their cards so that’s I think….

JOURNALIST: Is that pleasing for you?

JENNY MACKLIN: That’s, well it’s a matter for the individuals. I think it’s very important that if that’s the decision they take, then it’s about managing their own money and protecting their own money. What we want to do is make sure that they are able to make those decisions, able to look after their money. As you know we’ve also said that if they choose to they can receive their Centrelink payments on a weekly basis. So Centrelink can ensure that people are able to make that decision if they want to.

JOURNALIST: And has there been any take up there?

JENNY MACKLIN: A little bit, but we understand that now that the holiday season is over a lot of people have returned back to their homes. But of course this offer remains if people want to make that decision.

JOURNALIST: So can you tell me also about the fact that the Department with the ability to do something about this, Department of Commerce – were you concerned to learn that they’d actually been told all about it in July 2008?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well, they’re really questions that you need to direct to the State Minister but of course we do want to see these issues addressed quickly. We do have people who obviously have been suffering. We do want to provide the services we can from the Commonwealth. Centrelink is now making sure that people have got the opportunity to go onto weekly payments if that would help and to get Centacare out there. But we certainly need to make sure that the State Department does everything they can to address the concerns that people have raised.

JOURNALIST: And do you have any thoughts on how the circumstances that might lead to somebody like this springing up and operating the way he did?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well, human nature is what it is. But we obviously want to do everything we can when these issues are brought to our attention and we think the laws should be strong to make sure that people are protected, and we want to of course do everything like provide the financial counselling services so that people really understand how to look after their own money. We’ve dramatically expanded the financial counselling services. It’s true there’s always more that can be done in that area.