Transcript by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Alice Springs town camps – Doorstop, Parliament House Canberra

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JENNY MACKLIN: I’m very please to be here with my colleague and the Member for Lingiari Warren Snowdon. The Federal Court decision today now gives the green light to the Federal Government with the Northern Territory Government proceeding to make major investments to improve the living conditions of people in the Alice Springs town camps. We’ve had far too long a delay because of the court action but we are very pleased now to be able to get on with the job of improving infrastructure, improving housing for what can only be described as appalling living conditions.

JOURNALIST: How quickly will you be able to start moving?

JENNY MACKLIN: We will have to wait a week until the injunction is lifted, that’s a decision of the court and then we hope to get into the town camps and start the clean up straight away. Of course now that it’s so close to Christmas it’s going to make it more difficult to get the actual building underway but we hope to be able to start the clean up as soon as the week period is over.

JOURNALIST: How long do you think it will take to start it and then finish it?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well we have a huge program to get underway, we have one hundred million dollars to spend on upgrading infrastructure and this is the most basic infrastructure we are talking about – water, sewerage, lighting – all of the things that other Australians consider essential to healthy living. All of this is needed in these town camps. We’re going to build 85 new houses and upgrade many other houses so it is a very large amount of work. We’ll get in there as soon as we can. We know that there’s a big cleanup to do in the first instance and we also know that unfortunately because of the delay the Christmas period is going to intervene.

JOURNALIST: There’s talk about having an appeal, will that affect you timetable?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well, if there’s an appeal of course, that means there will be further delays and the people who live in these most appalling conditions in the Alice Springs town camps are the people who will suffer. I hope that those who are thinking about any further legal action will have the conditions that people are living in in these town camps at the front of their minds. That’s what we’re thinking about, we have at the front of our minds the terrible conditions that people in the Alice Springs town camps are living in. We have a hundred million dollars to spend on upgrading housing, building new houses, improving infrastructure and we want to work with local people to get on and do that building program.

JOURNALIST: Barbara Shaw from the Mount Nancy Town Camp says that the Government needs to work with people and not dictate to us and that this isn’t helping the ‘Close the Gap’ objective. What’s your response to that?

JENNY MACKLIN: I think if you have a look at what the Judge himself said, this was Justice Mansfield today in his decision and I’m quoting him he says ‘indeed it’s difficult to see what more the Minister might have done’. What he’s talking about is the extensive consultation that’s gone on, the extensive negotiation that’s gone on, the extensive negotiation period that was conducted between the Government and Tangentyere Council, the housing associations over a long period of time. The opportunities that we gave to people to come to public meetings and put their point of view. We agree that it is very important to work with people, that’s what we want to do, we want to get on with building new houses, upgrading houses, improving infrastructure and we intend to do that with the people in the town camps in a respectful way

JOURNALIST: There have been complaints that the consultations were retrospective once a decision had already been made. Do you have a response to that?

JENNY MACKLIN: We’ve been consulting and negotiating with Tangentyere Council, with the housing associations, with the residents in the town camps for more than two years now. It’s been a very intensive program of consultation, one that we thought was important, one that Justice Mansfield has recognised. We now have a decision, let’s get on with the job of improving the lives of the people who live in these town camps they deserve so much better than they’ve had for far too long.

JOURNALIST: Where will the people live during the clean up period?

JENNY MACKLIN: We’re going to have to look at transitional housing just like we’re doing in other parts of the Northern Territory. We’ll upgrade houses, we’ll obviously look at opportunities for temporary accommodation – all of these things are being planned.

JOURNALIST: Warren Snowdon, if we can just ask, Town Camps in your electorate – how do you think they’ll benefit from these changes?

WARREN SNOWDON: By the very obvious way that has been described by the Minister and I’ve been around Alice Springs for 30 years, there are very few places in Australia that have worse living conditions than the Alice Springs town camps. I make no apology for the fact that the Minister has worked so hard to try and get a result to make sure that these people live in living conditions that you or I would find acceptable. As a result of this court decision we will be able to now do that.