Transcript by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Launch of Shut Out: The Experience of People with Disabilities and their Families in Australia, alcohol restrictions in the Northern Territory, Alice Springs town camps – Doorstop, Melbourne

*** E & OE – Proof only ***

JENNY MACKLIN: I am very pleased to be here with my Parliamentary Secretary, Bill Shorten, to receive this very significant report Shut Out which has been produced by the National Council on Disability and Carers. It’s been presented to Bill Shorten and I as a description of the issues and problems that people with disabilities face in the Australian community today.

Their stories about being shut out from so many opportunities that other Australians just take for granted. We are pleased that in our first eighteen months in office we have been able to deliver a very significant increase to the funding going to the States and Territories for services for people with disability. We’ve increased the disability support pension, and of course, there are many other things that we’ve been able to achieve in our short time in office.

But what this report shows is that we have a very, very big job in front of us. And today we’re very pleased to receive this report and to indicate how determined we are to work with people with disability; to work with their representatives; to work with parents and teachers; to work with employers to make sure that people with a disability have the same sorts of opportunities that each and every one of us would hope for our children, for our brothers and sisters, so that they can live and grow in our community.

JOURNALIST: Minister, despite that funding increase that you announced today, the perception is the system is chronically underfunded. How much of an indictment is that on your Government?

JENNY MACKLIN: This really is an indictment on all governments past, all governments past, and of course, of varying political persuasions have to take responsibility for the results in this report. We have significantly expanded the amount of money going to State and Territory Governments. We’ve signed a new Commonwealth/State Disability Agreement. We’ve significantly expanded the indexation available under the new National Disability Agreement. But what this shows is that we’ve got a lot more work to do.

JOURNALIST: How are you going to educate the community?

JENNY MACKLIN: One of the jobs is of course for us to work with the media. To get the good stories out there about people with disability really achieving. Achieving in employment, in the arts, in the media themselves. Some of it is about recognising that there are positive things happening and demonstrating that people with disability if given the chance can really meet their potential.

JOURNALIST: About the fact that there’s been a huge funding announcement. In fact you spoke about it in your speech, Mr Shorten, about educating the community, to get the message across to the people who don’t have disabilities, about the problems confronted by people who do.

BILL SHORTEN: I think Australians have a funny attitude towards disability. On the one hand when they hear about children or people with disabilities their heart goes out to them. But on the other hand I think a lot of Australians are uncomfortable with the challenge that talking and working with people with disability represent. People with disability are no different to you and I but for an accident at birth, or something that’s happened in their life. The problem is that a lot of Australians are uncomfortable with people with disability and a lot of Australian employers are uncomfortable about employing people with disability. We’ve got to change the mindset and that’s a combination of regulation and the positive promotion. There’s a lot more that can be done and not just by the Federal Government but by the private sector, by all levels of government. At the moment it’s fair to say that we have literally 1.3 million Australians who are severely or profoundly disabled, and half a million full time carers who in many ways are eternally exiled in their own country. And it’s a responsibility not just of Government but all of Australians, to say, hey, we want you to be part of the life we are living.

JOURNALIST: You spoke about the importance of political will during your speech, how confident can Australians be that you as a Government will actually act on this report?

BILL SHORTEN: Well, we’ve got the runs on the board to demonstrate that we’re committed to doing more in the area of disability. Literally over a billion dollars in extra transfer payments, pension payments, to the disability support pensioners. We’ve doubled the amount of money we give the States, and we’ve certainly shown a willingness to roll up our sleeves with toughening anti-discrimination laws. But there’s so much more to be done. I think for Australians and for Australian Governments at all levels, we’ve just got to make the decision that people with disabilities count and we’ve got to start looking at their ability not their disability.

JOURNALIST: It’s not just funding though. There are laws that overlap between State and Federal that often cause families trouble. Is this something that the Federal Government’s looking at?

BILL SHORTEN: We’ve inherited a chaotic system in many ways, and that doesn’t mean ill will on the part of the States. But in Australia there are over a hundred different parking schemes. There are twenty-one different aids and equipment schemes. There are over thirty regulations or laws which cover the transport of support or assistance animals around Australia. So there is a big agenda to do with the overlap. Councils every day have good laws on paper about proper planning and access and then keep granting exemptions to everyone so that the protections which allow not just people with mobility impairments, but young mums, pensioners, they just can’t access a lot of the buildings in our community because different levels of Government keep having sets of regulations and then granting exemptions.

JOURNALIST: Minister, on the Northern Territory law, what purpose does it serve continuing on the law that requires people to sign up for more than $100 worth of takeaway alcohol?

JENNY MACKLIN: I’d just like to say at the outset how critical it is and how committed we are to strong alcohol controls in many parts of remote Australia. What we’ve seen is that alcohol is the source of a lot of violence particularly in Aboriginal communities. And so we are determined to continue to work especially with Aboriginal people in remote parts of Australia, including in the Northern Territory, to make sure that alcohol is not the scourge, and is not the source leading to the terrible levels of violence that we see. That said, the evidence is that this system that was put in place a little while ago to measure and count the amount of money being spent by individuals in the Northern Territory, the $100 rule as you call it. The evidence is that it has not been effective. We have put out a discussion paper on this and many other issues in the Northern Territory. It’s out for discussion now, but it’s certainly been recommended to us that we look at other ways to control the supply of alcohol, other ways to reduce the consumption of alcohol, that this measure has not been effective.

JOURNALIST: How many grog runners have been caught because of this system?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well, as I say, the evidence before us is that this system has not been effective. We indicated that in the discussion paper that we released a couple of months ago. We are consulting widely on that measure and other measures that have been put in place as part of the Northern Territory Emergency Response. We are in the process of consultation right now. But certainly all the evidence shows that that particular measure has not been effective. That said, I just want to reiterate how critical it is that we have strong alcohol controls on the supply of alcohol, and of course, making sure that we have good alcohol rehabilitation services as well.

JOURNALIST: In relation to the Aboriginal town camps issue which is currently before the Federal Court, what do you say to the charge that you have been heavy handed in your approach to that issue?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well, as you rightly point out these matters are before the courts. I just want to say broadly, that we have been consulting and negotiating with both Tangentyere Council and individuals, the housing associations in the Alice Springs town camps, over the last twelve months or so. We had an agreement with Tangentyere Council that July before last, so July 2008. At that point they agreed to a 40 year lease. They agreed to the Northern Territory Government taking responsibility for tenancy management. Unfortunately, they reneged on that deal. We put forward around thirty-odd different concessions during the negotiations that were conducted over the last twelve months. So it’s been a very significant program of consultation. All that said, nevertheless, we have to confront the reality which is the conditions of life for people living in these town camps is nothing short of horrific. Horrific.

I just want to say one more thing. These are horrific conditions, and it’s my responsibility to act. I have $100 million that I want to be able to invest in these town camps. To build new houses, to build 85 new houses. To upgrade homes, to fix the infrastructure, the roads, the lighting, the sewerage, the water. We want to be able to deliver that to improve the living conditions of people in these town camps.

JOURNALIST: Yet Minister one of the arguments put up against that approach that you’re taking is that you do not have to acquire a house to fix it?

JENNY MACKLIN: Of course, everywhere where a State Government, or a Territory Government, invests in public housing, they require security over the land on which they’re building that public housing. Normally when a State or Territory Government is building a public housing unit or home, they require freehold tenancy. In this case, we’re requiring a lesser form of security, a 40 year lease. But in each and every case where Governments are building public housing, security of tenure is perfectly normal.

JOURNALIST: Minister, just back on the $100 grog law, what discussions have you had with the Northern Territory Government about getting rid of the law?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well, as I’ve already indicated to you, we have a discussion paper out. It’s out for public discussion now, of course including with the Northern Territory Government, but equally with Northern Territory remote communities, other people in the Northern Territory, but the evidence to date is that it has not been successful. I just want to reiterate though, how determined we are to make sure that we have strong laws to make sure that the violence created through alcohol is reduced. The violence that women and children in particular in Aboriginal communities, the violence that they face, has to be reduced. And one of the things that we have to do to control and reduce that violence is to see stronger alcohol controls