Transcript by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Coordinator-General for Remote Indigenous Services (six monthly report)

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JENNY MACKLIN: I’m very pleased to be here with Brian Gleeson, the Coordinator General of Remote Services Delivery and to be today launching the first report from the Coordinator General on the progress that is being made in delivering essential services across 29 remote communities in Australia.

We appointed Brian Gleeson as the Coordinator General in July and the objective of appointing him was to make sure that across Government, the Commonwealth, the States and the Northern Territory, that we significantly improve the way we deliver to people who live in these remote communities. The Coordinator General has the authority to make sure that we do coordinate the delivery of services to people living in these communities and by that I mean coordinating between different Commonwealth agencies, States and people on the ground. Not surprisingly, the Coordinator General has identified a number of issues, a number of gaps, a number of priorities for improvement, and I’d just like to thank him very much for his hard work and the way in which he has brought to Government, our Government and the States and the Northern Territory, not only the problems that we need to fix but also many examples of ways in which Governments are working together with communities, the way in which communities on the ground through their own efforts are delivering improvements to the people who live in these places. What we do recognise is that we have a very very big job in front of us. Improvement to deliver services in remote parts of Australia is not going to happen overnight, but what we do expect is, with the efforts of the Coordinator General, we will improve.

I do want to highlight a couple of issues in the areas of housing. As you’d all be aware, as far as the Federal Government is concerned, housing is absolutely critical if we are to close the gap. Close the life expectancy gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. We have made a very substantial commitment to improve housing in remote parts of Australia. $5.5 billion to be spent over ten years and we want to make sure that this money is spent in the best way possible to improve the living conditions of people living in remote parts of Australia. From the Government’s point of view, and I know Brian Gleeson shares this view, the emphasis must be on implementation. We must get the implementation of this significant program of housing construction, housing rebuilds, housing refurbishments right. We must get the associated reforms on land tenure and tenancy management right, if we’re to close the gap with this very substantial improvement. The Coordinator General does note in his Report that we have recognised that a number of structural changes are needed and that we also have significant areas where we need to see some improvement. If I can just say I share these concerns and of course we have already moved to address some of them but there is more to be done. I do want to assure all of the people who are living in remote parts of Australia that the Australian Government shares the Coordinator General’s concerns and shares the concerns of Aboriginal people living in remote communities that we get this housing program right, and that we get implementation right. We do want to see these houses built on time. We’ve certainly seen through the national economic stimulus plan that the States and the Territories can get houses built. We’re seeing that through increased social housing being built in many parts of urban and regional Australia. We remain concerned to see that the same level of activity takes place in remote parts of Australia. Most recently the Federal Government, my Department, has established an Office for Remote Indigenous Housing. We’ve also started the process of putting senior Commonwealth officials into each of the State capital cities or in some cases, into the State Housing Departments to make sure that we see an improvement in delivery of remote Indigenous housing. So we will continue to apply ourselves rigorously to make sure that the targets we have set, to see new houses, upgraded houses, rebuilds of houses, new tenancy management, improved land tenure, implemented as a matter of priority. Once again, I thank Brian Gleeson for his considerable efforts over the last four or five months and I’d ask him to make a few remarks.

BRIAN GLEESON: Thank you very much Minister. Just wanted to say at the beginning that in presenting the Report to you this morning, I want to highlight that this has actually been developed and prepared on the inputs of the 29 priority communities across the States and the Territory, and I had the pleasure of going up and visiting all of the 29 communities. I did that in conjunction as the Minister knows with State Coordinator Generals and also other Government officials. So this is very much a Report based on evidence and inputs from the communities. And what it tells us is that we are making some solid progress right across different building blocks under the National Partnership issued agreements. I think it also shows us that the policy, foundation and framework is very sound. It is a reflection, as the Minister said, on implementation. There are so many examples right across the jurisdictions where we have not been able to get implementation off the ground. This is about trying to improve the quality of life for Indigenous people in remote localities. In the Report it highlights a few case studies in a very frank and open way, and talks about why has it taken two years to develop a child care centre in a remote locality. Why has it taken, you know again, up to two years to get the repairs and maintenance done. The Minister’s been very strong on action, not talk, and then to be found too much again, that some of these commitments weren’t followed through.

I will also highlight two other things before finishing. In the Report we are doing a services comparison across all the communities. I think it’s a very good snapshot to show where some services are not being delivered. I mean I find it quite surprising that you know that in the 29 communities, there are eight where they have no police presence. And safety here is a crucial issue the Minister has been stressing in many situations. And it goes on. There are ten without no internet. Could you believe we have four with no ATM, something we can go outside and get access to tomorrow. So these are statistics you can go to and see again where our communities that we’re representing here, don’t have the services that people in similar size communities can get access to like you and I. The last thing I would highlight is this. My visits to all the communities also show some good news stories. And I would challenge the media to sometimes give a bit more balance in terms of some of the reports on Indigenous issues. Because when I went out to a community recently they said, you can help us with one thing. Give us some positive media because we are having difficulty attracting people to our communities because you know we’re seeing too much negativity about our community. So there are other good news stories. A good news story about Yuendumu, a child care centre operated by Judith McKay. A brilliant example of a community working with the local person, providing opportunities for 40 to 60 children, to see 14 people, Indigenous people, being training and getting a certificate in child care. And again, there are a lot of other examples like that and these are in your media kit. So again Minister it is a pleasure getting the Report today and I look forward to following up with this particular exercise because clearly the communities do believe that the role of Coordinator General is to support the implementation in a much more action oriented way. Thank you very much.

JOURNALIST: Minister you’ve said in the 29 areas there are structural concerns, and why do you think that’s happened? How long will it take to address those issues?

JENNY MACKLIN: I think it will take different periods of time in different communities. As the Coordinator General has just highlighted, some communities do have the range of services that we would expect to see in a community or a town of that size. And that’s the objective of this task, is to do everything we can to identify the sorts of services that we would expect in a town in regional Australia of a similar size. So whether or not they have a certain level of police, whether or not they have a swimming pool, whether or not they have access to the sorts of services that we could expect to find in a small country town of a similar size. So in the Report the Coordinator has gone through each of those different service types and you’ll be able to see that it varies dramatically across remote Australia. That’s what we’re trying to highlight. It will take different periods of time depending on the level of gap that exists between service delivery in different parts of the country.

JOURNALIST: Just on the Northern Territory situation. There’s about 38 per cent of children referred for dental care have been seen according to the latest (inaudible) of the Institute of Health and Welfare.

JENNY MACKLIN: Those figures that have just come out last night, I think, is that right, these are the ones you’re referring to – do demonstrate just how important it is that we have follow up to the child health checks that we have done as part of the Northern Territory Emergency Response, and as I understand it, there’s been over 3,000 children have received a dental check. We know that there’s a need for further follow ups to be done and for my colleague, the Minister for Indigenous Health, is obviously very concerned to make sure that those follow ups are done for dental health, for ear, nose and throat checks. All of these areas we know are critical to the needs of children’s health.

JOURNALIST: Is funding an issue in that situation?

JENNY MACKLIN: There is more funding available. Part of the issue is making sure that we have the numbers of professionals available to deliver these follow up health checks. So sometimes it’s a matter of getting the appropriate professionals into place and supporting them in the way that they need. But we certainly have funding available.

JOURNALIST: Just on that point of funding Minister. A report yesterday showed that although there’s been a 250 per cent increase in Government funding directed towards Indigenous communities over the past decade, the benefits haven’t actually been directed towards them because of the untargeted nature of that particular funding. Is this something that you’re mindful of in this particular program?

JENNY MACKLIN: I think that’s particularly in relation to health?

JOURNALIST: Health, that’s correct.

JENNY MACKLIN: Yes. That’s really a fundamental issue for the Coordinator General. It is making sure that the money that we have made available and this Government has put a very considerable amount of money, additional money, on the table for Indigenous affairs. Through the Council of Australian Governments we’ve in fact added $4.6 billion for health, for housing and other important areas. So that’s why we’ve appointed Brian Gleeson to the job of Remote Services Coordinator General. To make sure we get the best out the money that we have allocated. There’s a lot of money being put on the table. We now want to make sure that that is implemented in a way that benefits Aboriginal people.

JOURNALIST: You’ve said time is of the essence on the building program. What assurance has been given to the local people that they be consulted in that process?

JENNY MACKLIN: There’s been extensive consultation already and that’s built into the housing program. But what we’ve got to make sure of is that we not only consult but that we also get the houses built and refurbished and that we meet our employment targets as well. So we’ve got a number of objectives. We do want to consult, we do want people’s local input. We also want to make sure we get the houses built, and that we get the employment targets delivered. So we’ve got to make sure we do all of these things as we get this housing program rolled out.