Transcript by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Essendon Football Club, UN Rapporteur, Indigenous national representative body – Doorstop, Melbourne

E & OE – Proof only

JENNY MACKLIN: Congratulations Essendon Football Club for developing the first Reconciliation Action Plan for an AFL Club. The Essendon Footy Club has shown over a long period of time outstanding leadership, both on and off the field, when it comes to Indigenous issues. Outstanding leadership on the field of course is probably best demonstrated by Michael Long. But so many great leaders off the field as well, demonstrating the opportunities that this Club provides for Indigenous people who are involved in working for and supporting this Football Club. So my sincere congratulations to the Club for their great work developing this Reconciliation Action Plan and all the work that they do for Indigenous people.

JOURNALIST: How do you respond to criticisms from James Anaya of the UN that the intervention is discriminatory?

JENNY MACKLIN: I had a useful discussion with Professor Anaya yesterday and he raised a number of issues with me, many of which I agree with. One in particular that it is critical that if we’re to move forward and close the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, then we really have to work together in partnership. And that’s why yesterday one of the important contributions to Indigenous affairs was from Tom Calma, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, and the release of his way forward for a new national representative body. But as I said to Professor Anaya yesterday, we also as a Government and as a country have to confront the realities of Indigenous people, particularly in remote parts of Australia. We also have to confront the realities that so many Indigenous people in Australia face, the terrible levels of poverty, the shocking levels of violence or child abuse, the problems with overcrowded housing. I know that issues like income management in the Northern Territory and alcohol controls are controversial. But, for me, when it comes to human rights, the most important human right that I feel as Minister, I have to confront, is the need to protect the lives of the most vulnerable, particularly children, and for them to have a safe and happy life, and a safe and happy family to grow up in. These are the rights that I think need to be balanced against other human rights.

JOURNALIST: What’s it like being a Minister hearing such a damming report?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well that why I think it’s important to always be very clear about what it is that you want to achieve. And what I want to achieve is to work to do everything I can to protect the most vulnerable. And the most vulnerable to my mind, are children, and women, and the elderly. I think of women who I met, a renal dialysis patients, elderly women, living outside a house on mattresses in the Alice Springs town camps. I’ve got a responsibility to provide a better life for these women, these elderly women. I have a responsibility to do better by the vulnerable children who are subjected to abuse because of alcohol. These are the jobs that I have and I intend to get on with it.

JOURNALIST: What changes will you make to the NT intervention after your discussions with Professor Anaya?

JENNY MACKLIN: As a Government, we have commenced some months ago on a major process of consultation with people living in Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory on the shape of the emergency responses we go forward. So we’re engaged in those consultations still. They are around issues like the alcohol controls, income management, and pornography controls. And of course what we’re hearing from people on the ground, is that there’s a wide range of different views. Some people recognise the very strong value of alcohol controls, the very strong value of income management to their families. So many of these families, the women tell me it’s putting food on the table for their kids that used to be spent on grog. I don’t think anyone could disagree that that isn’t a good thing. But we’re in a process of those detailed consultations. We’ve indicated that we do intend to put legislation into the Parliament later this year to make sure that the suspension of the Racial Discrimination Act is ended but we’re in the process of consultation right now.

JOURNALIST: How do you respond to the view that the (inaudible)

JENNY MACKLIN: I think one of the important things to recognise first of all is that there’s an enormous amount of work gone into the development of (inaudible) a national Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representative body. I’d just like to take the opportunity today to thank Tom Calma and his steering committee for the terrific work that they’ve done, consulting widely around Australia, on the shape of this new body. This is a body that they consider, after extensive consultations, is the way forward. They want to make a break with the past, they want to look forward and have a body of high ethical standards, and they want to have a body that is able to provide advocacy and advice to Government. Advocacy on behalf of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and advice to Government. I think it’s a very significant piece of work and of course the Government’s going to give it very serious consideration.

JOURNALIST: Just back on the NT intervention and Professor Anaya. Are you prepared to make the key measures of the emergency response more tailored?

JENNY MACKLLIN: As I indicated to you a moment ago, we’re in the process of consultation. We’re talking with Aboriginal people themselves in the Northern Territory about their views on each of the measures as part of the Northern Territory Emergency Response. I think this process of consultation is very important and we’re getting a wide variety of responses. And I do want to add that all the evidence that I have in front of me is that the alcohol controls and income management have helped put food on the table for Aboriginal children. And that’s a very significant finding.