Transcript by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Indigenous leadership, closing the gap statement

*** E & OE – Proof only ***

JENNY MACKLIN: I’m so pleased to be here with this very large group of Indigenous leaders who have come to Canberra. Come to Canberra to discuss with me how it is that they’re using their leadership skills in so many communities right around Australia. They’ve come to continue their leadership training skills and to make sure that together with their leadership on the ground working with the Government, we can really bring about the changes that are necessary to close the gap. So I congratulate each and every one of them for their individual efforts and for the way that they have come together, to really put their shoulder to the wheel, to help us achieve these very difficult tasks.

JOURNALIST: What sort of work do they do?

JENNY MACKLIN: Many of them are employed of course in their own jobs, but they have wide range of different roles that they’re playing in their communities. Some are doing it as volunteers, others are employed in the regional operation centres so it really varies in the many many different communities and towns that are represented here today. But what it’s really about is that they’re prepared to stand up and show leadership. If I can just give one example, there are people here today from Halls Creek. It’s because of the leadership on the ground from Aboriginal people, women and men, who’ve come together and said, we want a different life. We want alcohol controlled in our town. And it’s because of them, because of them going to the Liquor Commission in Western Australia and getting the rules changed, that we’ve now got alcohol controls in Halls Creek. The same in Fitzroy Crossing. The same on Groote Island. People are saying we want to get out of the chaos that our lives were when alcohol controlled our lives. We want to be able to control our lives. There are different issues in different places. But in those towns they’ve decided that they wanted to do something, as a top priority, about controlling alcohol.

JOURNALIST: How long have they been in these roles?

JENNY MACKLIN: Once again that varies. So what we’ve done is really try to bring together people who are natural leaders, people who are already showing leadership skills in their community. But you’d know that last year with the States and Territories we’ve signed a remote services delivery agreement. And that’s all about concentrating our efforts in twenty-nine different places around Australia. Twenty-nine different remote places. What we know is that if we’re to achieve what we want to achieve in those remote communities, the same standard of services that exist in similarly sized country towns in other parts of Australia, then we need to work with local people, with local leaders, and that’s exactly what we’re doing. We’re putting effort into supporting these local leaders which is why they’ve come to Canberra.

JOURNALIST: Why has the Government for a second year in a row broken its promise to deliver on the first sitting day of Parliament a statement on Indigenous disadvantage?

JENNY MACKLIN: I think as you’re aware the Prime Minister has made it public that he intends to deliver the Close the Gap statement next week on 11 February. He wants to make this statement as close as possible to the anniversary of the national Apology. It is a very important statement, something that the Government is committed to. We know how critical it is that we set the targets we’ve set. That we do everything we possibly can to work with Aboriginal people to meet those targets. So that statement will be delivered next week by the Prime Minister and of course there will be other events around the anniversary of the Apology. So I hope we’ll all come together across the Parliament in a bipartisan way to really put all of our efforts together to close the gap.

JOURNALIST: But isn’t it a bad look that it wasn’t done on the first day of Parliament. That was the whole point the Prime Minister wanted it to be front of people’s mind and have that prominence. Isn’t it a bad look for the Government?

JENNY MACKLIN: I think the important thing is that we are getting on with the job of closing the gap. We started, of course, when we gave, when the Prime Minister gave the national Apology to the national Parliament, something which people had been waiting for, for a very, very long time. But as the Prime Minister said when he gave that Apology, yes we needed to do that, we needed to come together, but if it’s to mean anything, we really have to work in so many areas – health, education, housing, employment, to make sure we can close that gap. And next week the Prime Minister will deliver his report on how we’re progressing.

JOUNALIST: Do you accept the delay is a broken promise (inaudible)?

JENNY MACKLIN: What’s important is that we’re getting on with the job and that the Prime Minister will deliver the report next week. He wants to do it close to the anniversary of the national Apology. He wants to make sure that we’re doing everything we possibly can to work with Aboriginal people to close the gap.

JOURNALIST: Looking forward with these officers, what other plans does the Government have in relation to dealing with them on the ground and in terms of policy and that sort of thing?

JENNY MACKLIN: We’re working in each of these twenty-nine communities to develop local implementation plans and that means going through an audit if you like. The development of baseline data to see what services exist, what services don’t exist, what needs to be added in each of those communities to make sure that we bring the service standards, bring the infrastructure up to scratch, up to the sorts of standards that exist in similarly sized towns in other parts of Australia. But we know in the development of those local implementation plans, that we have to do it with local people and that really is why we’ve got so many people here in Canberra today, to involve them to make sure they’re trained up for the task at hand. That’s really the big job we’re finalising at the moment.

JOURNALIST: Sorry, two years on from the Apology, do you think that you can still close the gap within the timeframe that you’ve set out?

JENNY MACKLIN: As we said when we started these very difficult tasks we expect that to close the life expectancy gap would take a generation. For some of the other targets that we’ve set, we’ve set lesser timelines. And what you’ll see in the Prime Minister’s statement next week is progress against those timelines. But we know these gaps are very, very significant. We know the backlog in housing, for example, is very significant. There are tens of thousands of Aboriginal people living in overcrowded housing. We need to build new houses but we also have a big task to upgrade existing houses, so that people have a functioning toilet, a kitchen to cook in, a bathroom to have a shower in. For many, many Aboriginal people they don’t have that. But we have a massive backlog. We are getting on with it. We’ve made the biggest commitment to remote Indigenous housing than any other government has ever made. The task now is to get on with it. Thank you.